The Niagara and Onondaga Escarpments
in Western New York State

    What is an escarpment? One definition is a cliff or steep slope separating two comparatively level surfaces.

    The Niagara and Onondaga Escarpments formed over millions of years through the differential erosion of rock layers that vary in hardness. The Niagara Escarpment has a cap rock of Lockport Dolostone. It is from the Middle Silurian Age dating back about 425 million years. The Onondaga Escarpment has a cap rock of Onondaga Limestone. It is from the Middle Devonian Age dating back about 388 million years. These rock layers are more resistant to erosion than the rock layers above and below them. Over time the less resistant rocks weather and are eroded away by the action of streams. The escarpments are not a continuous cliff along their lengths. There are substantial breaks and portions are buried by glacial deposits. Neither escarpment is formed by faulting.

Escarpment Map

Niagara Escarpment Photo     In Western New York State the Niagara Escarpment begins at Lewiston and trends easterly to just beyond Rochester, a distance of 79 miles. The Onondaga Escarpment begins at Buffalo and trends easterly to just beyond Caledonia, a distance of 62 miles. The crest elevation of the Niagara Escarpment near Lewiston is 600 feet above sea level. The crest elevation of the Onondaga Escarpment near Buffalo is 650 feet above sea level. Between the two escarpments is a comparatively flat area known as the Tonawanda Plain.
    The Niagara Escarpment existed long before the formation of Niagara Falls. Without the escarpment's cap rock of Lockport Dolostone the falls most likely would have not formed. Instead a series of long rapids may have materialized.

Escarpment Crossection

Onondaga Escarpment Photo
    Two rivers, the Niagara and Genesee, have eroded deep gorges into the Niagara Escarpment, creating impressive cataracts. Many smaller streams also flow over the escarpment's crest and created smaller waterfalls. The Onondaga Escarpment becomes more noticeable east of Buffalo, and in some areas there is a cliff that is upwards of 30 feet in height. Major streams that flow over it are Ellicott Creek, Murder Creek, Tonawanda Creek, and Oatka Creek. All of which have formed interesting waterfalls.

    The tables below list many of the falls found on the Niagara and Onondaga Escarpments. They are a subjective list of most of the waterfalls I know of. A few waterfalls were intentionally not included because of landowner sensitivity issues or other reasons. The tables are not intended to encourage anyone to search out the falls.

Niagara Escarpment Waterfalls
Name County Height Access
1 Hermit's Cascade Niagara 5 Niagara Falls State Park
2 Second Sister Falls Niagara 5 Niagara Falls State Park
3 Third Sister Falls Niagara 7 Niagara Falls State Park
4 Bridal Veil Falls Niagara 181 Niagara Falls State Park
5 American Falls Niagara 183 Niagara Falls State Park
6 Devil's Hole Falls Niagara 10 Devil's Hole State Park
7 Spring Cave Cascade Niagara 280 Artpark State Park  Upper section is 150 feet
8 Fish Creek Falls Niagara 320 Destroyed in 1962  Fish Creek Spillway is 50 feet
9 Andrix Falls Niagara 5 Private Property
10 Plank Road Falls Niagara 12 Private Property
11 Thrall Hill Falls Niagara 26 Private Property
12 Thrall Hill Falls, Lower Niagara 5 Private Property  Formed in 2021
13 The Ancient Falls Niagara 27 Private Property
14 Indian Falls Niagara 6 Rollin T. Grant Gulf Wilderness Park
15 Culvert Cascade Niagara 50 Private Property
16 Northledge Cascade Niagara 15 Private Property
17 Cottage Ravine Falls Niagara 7 Private Property
18 Toenniessen Falls Niagara 6 John B. Austin Nature Trail
19 Notron's Falls Niagara 24 Royalton Ravine Park
20 Mill Falls Niagara 19 Private Property
21 Washboard Falls Niagara 27 Private Property
22 Otto Dam/Falls Niagara 10 Private Property  Can be seen from Slayton Settlement Road
23 Jeddo Creek Orleans 24 Private Property
24 Shelby Center Falls Orleans 10 Private Property
25 Medina Falls Orleans 22 Erie Canal Towpath
26 Albion Falls, North Orleans 5 Private Property
27 Albion Falls, South Orleans 10 Private Property
28 Clarendon Falls Orleans 26 Clarendon Town Park
29 High Falls Monroe 96 High Falls Terrace Park
30 Middle Falls Monroe 20 Lower Falls Park
31 Lower Falls Monroe 110 Lower Falls Park
32 Tunnel Falls Monroe 5 Corbett's Glen Nature Park
33 Postcard Falls Monroe 6 Corbett's Glen Nature Park

Onondaga Escarpment Waterfalls
Name County Height Access
1 Serenity Falls Erie 8 Forest Lawn Cemetery
2 Freddie's Falls Erie 5 Private Property
3 Williams Mill Falls Erie 7 Glen Park
4 Glen Falls, Upper Erie 5 Glen Park
5 Glen Falls Erie 27 Glen Park
6 Sawmill Falls Erie 5 Private Property
7 Sawmill Falls, Lower Erie 5 Private Property
8 Akron Falls Erie 44 Akron Falls County Park
9 Akron Falls, Upper Erie 20 Akron Falls County Park
10 Indian Falls Genesee 20 Indian Falls Log Cabin Restaurant
11 Morganvill Falls Genesee 27 Private Property
12 Le Roy Falls Genesee 6 Mill Street Overlook
13 Buttermilk Falls Genesee 58 Private Property
14 Spring Thaw Falls Genesee 27 Private Property
15 Onondaga Falls Genesee 22 Private Property

    The data on these tables is for informational purposes only. If you try to search out the waterfalls listed as being on private property please ask for permission to enter the property.

Recreation on private property is a privilege granted by the landowner, NOT A RIGHT.

    For views of the rock layers that make up the Niagara Escarpment follow the Earl W. Brydges Artpark Gorge Trail (7). Click here for a Trail Map.

    For views of the rock layers that make up the Ondaga Escarpment you can visit the Onondaga Escarpment Unique Area or the Clarence Escarpment Sanctuary at 9554 Greiner Road, Clarence, New York.

This page was inspired by Karen Limardi.

Copyright © 2022 by Scott A. Ensminger.
This information may not be reproduced without written permission.

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