Put on your favorite fuzzy hat and gloves, because I’m going to take you on a tour of a beautiful winter wonderland that I got the chance to explore recently. Ausable Chasm allowed me to experience a snowy two hour trek that has never been more fun, or breathtaking.
The Chasm offers many summer activities such as white-water rafting, trail-hiking and their super-cool Adventure Trail (see it here), but did you know they also offer guided and unguided tours of "the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks" in the winter too? If you haven’t seen the roaring river on a perfect, glimmering wintry day, then you are missing out!
My mom tagged along with me on this adventure and on a 32 degree day in Upstate New York we were worried about staying warm, but after 30 minutes of walking we found that the light layers we were wearing were perfect for this active winter trek.
Winter tours can be either one hour or two, unguided or guided at 10AM or 2PM. Tours must be booked ahead of time by either calling or booking online and start at $25 per person (ages 8+). Going unguided is completely fine, but being our first time, we decided to opt for the guided tour and we highly recommend it! Our tour guide, Caleb, was amazing and gave us a different perspective on the Chasm then we would have gotten by just wandering on our own. The guided tour also allows access to the Inner Sanctum trail, which takes further into the Chasm - definitely worth it!
Ice cleats are also a must on these tours and are available for rent at the Chasm ($5 a pair). They made a world of difference when crunching around the fresh-fallen powder.
And with the proper footwear, we were off!
The first stop was a large mounted rock with bilingual signage standing next to it for all of those unguided tours. Caleb explained that this ancient sandstone slab and all of its ripples indicated a time when our area was covered by the Cambrian Sea well over 1,500 years ago!
The next stop was a similar sandstone rock with a bit of a mysterious background. Caleb explained the story of how these marks were made thousands of years ago by an animal with little claws and a narrow tail that dragged behind it. No fossil matching this description has been found in our area.
After a few more minutes of beautiful scenery, we reached the famous Elephant's Head rock. We stood on a wooden deck hovering above the chasm, and looked to the other side where two major fault zones created this amazing rock formation that just so happens to look like an elephant's head.
My favorite part of our exploration was a tall cliff etched from calcium-filled sandstone rock, dubbed the “Post Office”.
If you're scratching your head as to why there would be a "post office" here, you're doing the exact same thing we did, but the Caleb told us the reason for the name and its pretty cool. The calcium in the rock makes the sandstone soft and easy to inscribe on, which resulted in people leaving letters and notes stuck to the wall by pushing in pins and tacks. There were times when the entire cliff was covered in little weather sheets of paper, hence making it look like a very disorganized Post Office. Now, people have just resorted the etching words and names into the rock, so next time your are visiting, be sure to leave your mark at the Chasm's Post Office.
As you can see in this picture, the side of the cliff has been weathered away,leaving hundreds of nooks and shelves as a testament to its easily worn nature.
Jacob’s Well is just a few staircases away was another mind-blowing example of nature in its most creative forms. This literal hole in the solid rock of the cliff was weathered away from hundreds of years of sand and water swirling in a little eddy in the rock. Eventually, it was ground down to the size it is today: over two feet wide in places, and a good 8 feet down.
For those of you who have been white water rafting at the Chasm during the summer, you'll know that the rafts used are a tough, neon orange rubber. Did you know that only a short time ago the rafts were made of wood? Thankfully, those boats were retired in favor of the safer ones used today. This part of the river is where the rafts are easily lowered down the side of the chasm using a conveyor belt and pulley system. In the past, the boats had to be manually carried up the side of the cliff at the ending point and then driven on a truck back to the starting point. Can you imagine!? .
After this point, it was a light walk back around to the beginning, pinching off the loop by crossing another white-frosted bridge.
This was the last leg of the journey, and I can wholeheartedly tell you that this adventure was a great one! Definitely one of the most beautiful memories I have of winter on the Adirondack Coast. The crisp smell of the air, the vibrancy of the snow against the rock, sounds of crashing water from below...all things that are even more amazing in person.
Ausable Chasm has been operating since 1870, making it the longest operating natural attraction in the United States and whether its during the Winter, Summer or Fall, it is definitely worth the visit!