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Day Tripper: Waterford Harbor and Cohoes Falls

Day Tripper: Waterford Harbor and Cohoes Falls
Bob Murphy

Day Tripper brings you the information and inspiration you need to get out locally. Families, culture-seekers, adventurers, and thrill junkies will all find something worth hitting the road for– mountains, museums, parks, casinos, breweries and vineyards– and always within a day’s travel of home. So open your door. It’s time to explore.

Cohoes Falls View Park offers a great place to take in some scenic vistas. Flows over Cohoes Falls can reach 90,000 cubic feet per second in the springtime thaw.

Last week, my friend Bert, a Richmond, VA native and fellow graduate of the University of Florida, was passing through after a weekend in Montreal and decided to see what the Capital District of Upstate New York had to offer. Bent on checking out some local history, we decided to check out Waterford Harbor and Cohoes Falls.

Waterford Harbor
Less than 10 miles
Southern Saratoga County

We took off down Routes 4 & 32 and ended up on Waterford’s quaint downtown corridor of Broad Street. The Village of Waterford is the oldest continuously incorporated village in the United States and is slightly smaller than Mechanicville. Waterford Harbor is located at the south end of Second Street, so we found street parking and walked south towards the water.

Waterford Harbor marks the conflux of the Erie and Champlain Canals. These waterways propelled settlement and economic growth in New York State during the 1800s.

To our surprise, the harbor had a moderately-sized parking lot and picturesque harbor house and historical welcome center. Waterford Harbor is the traditional terminus for both the Erie Canal, which travels westward to Buffalo, and the Champlain Canal, which travels northward to Lake Champlain and passing Mechanicville along the way.

In addition to the welcome center, the harbor also offers an interesting walking feature along the embankment. Pavement stretches along the water’s edge depicting a map route tracing a nautical journey from New York City north on the Hudson River to Waterford and then west on the Erie Canal to Buffalo with all the portages in between. Not to be forgotten, the northern entrance to the welcome center depicts a similar map of the Champlain Canal’s route from Waterford to Lake Champlain.

When walking along this historic harbor, it is amazing to consider the significance this place had on the economic vitality of 19th century New York State and, ultimately, the settlement of the Midwest. The navigable waterway provided by the Erie Canal allowed industry in Western New York and the Great Lakes Region to reach the large markets of New York City and subsequently larger national and international markets.

Today, the harbor is a nice place to picnic, grab a quick workday lunch, or do some fishing. Canal boats adorn the dock and travelers arrive and depart daily, looking for local places to grab a bite to eat.

After admiring Upstate New York’s 19th century ingenuity, we hopped back in the car and continued south towards Cohoes. There, we got a look at what the Erie Canal was built to overcome: severe grade changes in the Mohawk River. Specifically, we went to see Cohoes Falls.

Cohoes Falls
About 11 miles
Northern Albany County

When completed in 1872, the Harmony Mills was the largest cotton manufacturing facility in the world. Today, the site is being restored as residential lofts.

Located just to the west of the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, Cohoes Falls is the second largest waterfall in New York State, bested only by Niagara. With 15 minutes to kill, Bert and I took the opportunity to check out the view of the falls from the former textile district of Cohoes.

Amidst renovated factories turned high-end lofts and former worker tenement houses, a small park is hidden just above a cliff over the Cohoes Gorge below. Cohoes Falls Park is a great place to take a lunch hour or step away from the work day in general. It makes sense that apartments in the Harmony Mill Lofts are a bit on the pricey side.

Power produced from the volume of water here allowed Cohoes’ Harmony Mills to become the largest cotton manufacturing complex in the world in 1872.

It was remarkable to consider the contrast of the falls’ natural beauty set against the Victorian and industrial architecture of the Harmony Mills Complex. While the relationship between the two is overtly clashing, the undertone present in the park is one of symbiosis.

It is hard to explain because the 19th century industrial might of Cohoes was built from sapping some of the natural beauty of its falls. But something about viewing the magnificent falls from the old mills takes you back to a by-gone era.

Coming out of this haze of nostalgia, we left Cohoes and returned home. We had caught a glimpse of how the relationship between the natural environment and human ingenuity had propelled the economy and settlement of New York State. And all this before noon.

Cohoes Gorge sits below the falls along the Mohawk River. Cohoes Falls View Park also offers sweeping views of the gorge and Hudson Valley to the northeast.

Getting to Waterford Harbor:

Head south on Route 4 & 32 toward Waterford
Turn left onto Broad Street
Take 1st right onto Second Street
Parking lot is on the right, just before a bridge

Getting to Cohoes Falls:

Head south on Route 4 & 32 toward Waterford
Turn right onto Broad Street
Keep left at the fork
Continue south on Route 32 toward Cohoes
Turn right onto New Courtland Street
Continue straight onto North Mohawk Street
Cohoes Falls View Park will be on the right, just beyond the Harmony Mills complex

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