Salmon River Falls Unique Area
Salmon River Falls Unique Area encompasses 112 acres of land in the town of Orwell in Northern Oswego County. The 110 foot Salmon River Falls and the scenic gorge are the popular attractions of this wonderful parcel of state land.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Salmon River Falls was part of lands occupied by the Five Nations of the Iroquois Indians. The Salmon River Falls, located nineteen miles upstream from the mouth of the river where it enters Lake Ontario, was the upstream barrier to fish migration including native Atlantic salmon. The Onondaga, Oneida and Cayuga tribes of the Iroquois Nation used the falls as fishing ground where they annually harvested salmon. European settlement of the Salmon River area started in the early 1800's. Atlantic Salmon runs ceased by the 1860's as development of dams in the lower river blocked migration.
The history and use of the Salmon River and Salmon River Falls from the early to late 1900's was driven by the development of hydroelectric power facilities. In 1912 the Salmon River Reservoir was created to harness the water power diverting water from the fall through a 10,000 foot pipeline from the Salmon River Reservoir to the power station at Bennett's Bridge. Summer flows were diverted to practically only leakage: the falls lost its tourist appeal.
During the 1960's public use increase along with camping, drinking and drug use, graffiti and cliff diving. Accidents resulted in injuries and deaths.
In 1993 Niagara Mohawk Power Company was directed by the New York Power Authority to divest all the land they owned along the Salmon River which were not essential to their core business of hydroelectric generation. In 1993 Niagara Mohawk developed a comprehensive plan which guided the sale of land. As part of the plan Niagara Mohawk sold 1700 acres of land and 13 miles of conservation easements and fishing rights along the Salmon River to DEC. Salmon River Falls was part of that transaction.
In 1996 when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission renewed Niagara Mohawk's operating license a new requirement was made directing Niagara Mohawk to make minimum flow releases to enhance aesthetic beauty of the falls.
The 110 foot waterfalls and 3000 foot long gorge are the key attributes that attract the public's interest to view the area. Within the gorge there are sheer cliffs and steep slopes as high as 120 feet. There are four plant communities located on this property. Most of the upland forest acreage is a Northern Hardwood Plant Community dominated by deciduous hardwood species. Major species include sugar maple, red maple, American beech, yellow birch, black cherry, white ash and red oak. There is a Hemlock Plant Community dominated by conifer species mixed with northern hardwoods. Major species include eastern hemlock, white pine, red maple, American Beech and yellow birch. The Shale Talus Slope Woodland Community is found on the banks of the gorge and would be described as a steep slope of various sized rocks and soil with small patches of woodland adjacent to cliffs. The overstory consists of mainly hemlock and northern hardwoods. The Shale Cliff and Talus Community is the sheer cliffs and loose or fallen rocks with a sloping bottom of rock debris. On the cliff faces are ledges that may contain some soil and plant growth. Most of the plant cover is herbs. Birds-eye primrose and yellow mountain saxifrage are two uncommon plants located within this community. These plants are considered threatened under State law and their site locations need protection from disturbances.
Salmon River Falls Unique Area is managed through the Salmon River Falls Unit Management Plan. A Unit Management Plan (UMP) guides the DEC's land management activities on several geographically related forests for a ten-year period, although a number of goals and objectives in the plan focus on a much longer time period. Each UMP addresses specific objectives and actions for public use and forest management.
To improve, yet protect the area the Department instituted several projects. An 1100 trail from the parking area to the falls had existed for years. In 2003 the parking area was upgraded and the trail was reconstructed to be more accessible for those with mobility impairments. There are a couple of viewing areas.
In 2000 the Gorge Trail was built leading from the Falls Trail to the bottom of the gorge. This 600 foot trail is a steep demanding trail only suited for the physically fit. There are two sections of stairway. The trial was built by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) trail crew under contract with DEC. In 2008 maintenance and improvement work was again done on the trail by the ADK trail crew. A viewing area was constructed facing the falls and plunge pool.
Extending upstream from the Falls Trail is the Upper Falls Trails which is approximately a one mile trail that runs along the north side of the River to Dam Road. The trail was built with the help of the Oswego County Youth Bureau in 1995
The River Bed trail leads from the end of the Falls Trail to the river bed upstream of the falls. This short, treacherous, steep, eroding trail was upgraded in 2008 as steps built by the ADK trail crew.
Additional hiking is available on the old abandoned Wooliver Road going south of the west end of the parking area.
***Stay Safe- Bring A Friend When Out In The Forest***
Salmon River Falls Accessible Trail
The 1,100 foot wheelchair accessible trail provides an enjoyable hiking experience to the beautiful scenery of the 100-foot falls. There is designated accessible parking. The tree-shaded hardened-surface trail runs along the northern edge of a deep gorge, with the Salmon River below. There are handrails at the overlook and a guardrail along the edge of the trail. There is no port-a-john at this location.
Full listing of DECs Accessible Recreation Destinations.
From Route 81 take the Pulaski exit and head east on State Route 13 to Altmar. Turn onto County Route 22 at Altmar and go past the Salmon River Fish Hatchery, to Bennett's Bridge. Continue north on County Route 22 and take a right turn heading east on Falls Road .The parking area is on the right about one mile up the road.
Salmon River Unique Areas Rules and Pending Regulations
For your safety and protection of the resource, the following regulations are in place:
- A restricted area exists around and including the cliff face, plunge pool and falling rock zone. All public access is prohibited within the restricted area including swimming and wading in the plunge pool. Access is prohibited within 15 feet of the falls edge and all cliff edges
- The throwing or causing of anything to fall over into the gorge is prohibited.
- The River Bed Trail is closed from November 15th to May 1st and during high water events
- The Gorge Trail is closed from November 15th to May 1st and during high water events. Only registered ice climbers may use the Gorge Trail during winter months.
- The Salmon River Unique Area is closed to the public from sunset to sun rise.
- It is illegal to possess alcoholic beverages, glass containers or paint while on the property.
- Open camp fires are prohibited.
- Camping is prohibited.
- Rock climbing is prohibited on Salmon River Falls Unique Area.
- Ice climbing is prohibited on the falls and restricted use area, but is allowed on the gorge cliff face down river of the falls restricted area. All ice climbers must register each day of use
- Keep pets under control and on leash while other forest users are around.
- Horses are prohibited on the hiking trails of the unique area.
- Unauthorized use of motor vehicles is prohibited. This includes snowmobiles, cars, trucks, motorcycles and ATV's.
- All State Forests are Carry in Carry Out facilities.
- Unauthorized cutting of live trees or new trail building is prohibited.
State Forest Office (M-F 8 am-4 pm): 315-298-7467
Forest Ranger (Law Enforcement/Emergencies): 315-625-7261
DEC Forest Ranger Dispatch: 518-408-5850