Tooley Pond Road in St. Lawrence Co. offers a range of family-friendly hikes, sights
By Betsy Kepes
The Tooley Pond Road along the South Branch of the Grasse River is perfect for a winter family hike as each of the seven short trails ends with a surprise.
We elect to climb a mountain first (there are two with trails). Coming from DeGrasse we drive past the trail to Basford Falls and Sinclair Falls and park where a small sign says Clarksboro Trail. We find ways to get over, under or around the gate that blocks the public from driving up a logging road. The 19th-century author Irving Bacheller called our destination Look Out Hill.
Our gang—two mothers, a dad, and three boys—sprints up the first hill, thirsty for adventure. The trail has stone steps, not easy to navigate in snowshoes, but in deeper snow they’d be completely covered. We help each other in the steepest spots from sliding downhill.
The summit of Look Out Hill has a satisfying view to the northwest of miles of forested hills that lead to the St. Lawrence Valley. We hear a distant roar and look to the southwest to see the frothing water of Twin Falls.
Going down is easy and soon we’re back at the car. Next, we decide to drive to Rainbow Falls, the most magnificent of the Tooley Pond Road waterfalls.
More to Explore
Tom French does a deep dive into the Tooley Road waterfalls, which guidebook author Barbara McMartin called “the most magnificent waterfalls in the park”
From the trailhead we walk through an open hardwood forest that leads to a wooden bridge. The boys stop. It looks scary, this narrow bridge with cold water churning under it. Do we continue or do we turn around?
We choose to brave the bridge and pair up with one adult per boy to make the short journey. We stay paired as we approach Rainbow Falls. Here the trail edges close to a narrow canyon where the river plunges in a spectacular waterfall. In winter the mist from the falls freezes into pillowy formations of yellowish ice. When the boys wonder about its odd color, we ask them to notice the Grasse River here. Its water looks like root beer, darkened by tannins in the boggy terrain upstream.
After we recross the scary bridge, the trail is easy and the boys rush ahead. Back at the car we look at the map. Copper Rock Falls has the longest of the waterfall trails, half a mile. It meanders through the woods to a long slope of rapids. But with limited daylight, we decide to save that hike for the next adventure.
We drive downriver and park in what was once the village of Clarksboro. Old maps show a hotel and a school amid a cluster of houses. A bridge crossed the river at a narrow spot and horses pulled wagons filled with iron ore to a blast furnace on the island between the falls. Now the remains of the huge brick furnace are the only evidence of the settlement.
The bridge that once made it easy to get to the Twin Falls island has disappeared. On a warmer day we could cross on a pile of logs but in this cold weather we decide that the possibility of wet boots, or even a soaked snowsuit, make it not a good choice. Instead, we tromp down to the shore below the island.
We’re at the view the guests at the hotel would have seen as they sat on the porch at the end of the day. In his autobiography, “Coming Up the Road,” Bacheller wrote: “We reached Gordon’s delightful log inn just before dinner. How pleasant were its comforts, its cleanliness, its hospitable atmosphere after the rude camp at Tuley Pond. The falls roared out a welcome to me. Gordon gave us a friendly greeting. The house was nearly filled with guests.”
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A version of this article first appeared in a recent issue of Adirondack Explorer’s magazine.
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