Rainbow Falls is simply magical. Plummeting from the airy heights of the Great Range in the Adirondack Mountains, Cascade Brook has etched away at the heart of the High Peaks to form a miniature box canyon so narrow that it rarely sees complete sun. What results is a stunningly beautiful micro-ecosystem and one of nature’s most impressive and refreshing natural showers.
The one downside to Rainbow Falls is its location. Situated squarely on Adirondack Mountain Reserve land, there are a few prickly points hikers must be aware of when accessing the falls. First, dogs are strictly forbidden on AMR land, leash or not. Secondly, despite the well maintained dirt road that parallels the East Branch Ausable River all the way to Lower Ausable Lake, non-members are restricted to foot traffic only. That being said, it is great that non-members are able to access any of the hikes on AMR at all.
From the St. Huberts parking area and trailhead, hikers will follow a paved road for 0.5 miles and parallel a golf course some of the way. At the tennis courts, turn left onto Lake Road Way to reach the gated dirt road and trail register. From here, a handful of trails parallel the Lake Road to Ausable Lake, where the spur to Rainbow Falls begins.
While following the Lake Road all the way up is the most direct route, the East River Trail allows hikers to avoid the constant bus and truck traffic of the road and enjoy the surrounding forest. The trail parallels the East Branch of the Ausable River, rising and following gradually. A few openings in the trail provide excellent views up and downstream as well as access to the river itself, which is cool and inviting.
Roughly 3.3 miles up the East River Trail a bridge spans the river just below a moderately sized dam that creates Lower Ausable Lake. Follow the bridge and signs for Rainbow Falls. The trail begins climbing steeply at first, but it quickly levels and begins paralleling the trickling Cascade Brook. As hikers approach the falls, the trail weaves closer to the brook, along vertical rock walls and over small boulders. An early view of the falls will likely leave even the most seasoned of hikers hustling up the trail to get a better look.
The rest of the world falls away once you reach the base of the falls. The sky is enclosed by dark rock walls, and the air is filled with mist and a hissing of falling water. Lush green vegetation lines the left wall, while jumbled chunks of boulders slowly erode directly below the falls. Refresh yourself with a dip below the chilly curtain, or enjoy from afar. Either way, Rainbow Falls is worth the hike.
For those seeking bonus views, the access trail to Indian Head and Fishhawk Cliffs is directly across the Lake Road from the bridge to Rainbow Falls.