One of the must-see-sites on the Mohawk Towpath Byway is the Cohoes Falls on the east side of North Mohawk Street as you travel out of the City of Cohoes. Cohoes Falls drops the Mohawk River over 90 feet before it’s confluence with the Hudson River. This feature provided a major barrier to travel by Native Americans and has major significance in Native American History. This was a destination for early Europeans visiting the “new world”. Navigating around the falls became an early challenge for engineers building the original Erie Canal. On the other hand the drop in elevation provided early opportunities for hydro power during the Industrial Revolution. This is an important source of renewable energy today. Brookfield Renewable Power operates the hydropower plant located adjacent to the Falls on School Street.
You can see a resent image of the Cohoes Falls from the web cam located at the USGS gauging station.
Fact: The average discharge over the Cohoes Falls is 27,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). This varies, of course depending on the weather and how much power is being generated next door at the power plant. The only falls east of the Rocky Mountains that is larger is the Niagara Falls which has an average discharge of 100,000 cfs. During winter ice melt or other flood event on the Mohawk River the flow over the falls is one awesome and thunderous spectacle. At flood stage the discharge can exceed 100,000 cfs.
Access: The whole family will find something unique here; the site is handicapped accessible; free admission; tour buses welcome with special parking provided; and what you see changes daily depending on the season and on the weather.
Directions: From the north and west travel south from State Route 9 on the Cohoes Road. The Mohawk River will be on your left. As you enter the City of Cohoes the street name changes to North Mohawk Street. Look for a packing area on your right. From Interstate 797 go north to the end of the highway at Cohoes. Go straight onto VanCortlandt Street which becomes North Mohawk Street. Follow the street up the hill as it becomes North Mohawk Street. After you pass School Street on your left begin looking for a parking lot on your left. The parking lot is just beyond the bus stop/parking slip. Cross the pedestrian friendly cross walk to Falls View Park. A great place to see the Falls “head on” is from the overlook park. Walk down the sidewalk to School Street and follow School Street a short block to the end.
Other nearby features include:
The remains of Lock 18 which was operational from 1842 to 1915. It’s located just up slope and south of the Falls View Parking lot.
Also visit the locks that carry present day watercraft around the Falls. There are 5 of them along Flight Lock Road in Waterford.
Other important attractions are described in the Discovery Guide of the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway.
What’s to see? It depends on the time of year. During the winter icy conditions you are welcome to the entrance of Falls View Park and the interpretive signs constructed by Brookfield Renewable Power in cooperation with the National Park Service and City of Cohoes. Overlook Park at the end of School Street is also open year round.
In early spring the bridge across the power canal will be open during daylight hours. As spring high water subsides a stairway to a lower level including an excellent fishing platform between the USGS gauging station and the power plant discharge will be open. During weekends in the summer when conditions permit a second stairway is open to the floor of the Mohawk River flood plain. Here you can see the falls from its foot providing a natural and upfront view with all the fall’s magesty.
Daylight hours are the best time to see the falls, but first light, evening twilight and even moonlight and ambient street lighting can provide a unique observation.