Are you looking for some new spots to explore this year in western New York? Maybe you’re headed to the Finger Lakes region and looking for some outdoor adventure? If yes, then add Stony Brook State Park to your list. The Stony Brook waterfalls make this park a fantastic spot to get out and explore.
Located in Steuben County, New York, Stony Brook State Park was established in 1928, though it was an attraction for visitors well before. Today, the park covers a total area of 568 acres in and around the rocky gorge. The park offers visitors a wide range of recreational facilities such as hiking trails, picnic areas, playgrounds, semi-natural swimming pools, tennis courts, and baseball fields.
The stars of the show at Stony Brook State Park are the three major waterfalls. These include the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls. Each waterfall is unique and provides a beautiful view. In addition to these three major waterfalls, there are multiple smaller falls and water features to discover along the trails.
If you like to explore beautiful creeks and gorges, then Stony Brook should certainly be added to your list of places to adventure in. Let’s get to exploring the Stony Brook waterfalls!
Where is Stony Brook State Park?
Stony Brook is located near the town of Dansville, New York in Steuben County. It’s on the western side of the Finger Lakes and about an hour’s drive south of the city of Rochester, NY. The park is just 2 miles from interstate 390, accessed via Route 36.
How to Explore the Stony Brook Waterfalls
There are 3 main trails where you can explore all of the corners of the Stony Brook Gorge from above and below, in addition to east and west Snowmobile Trails. Get up close and personal to the waterfalls by hiking the Gorge Trail, get a bird’s eye view from the East Rim Trail, or wind through more forested lands on the West Rim.
The Gorge Trail is a point-to-point trail that travels along the creek at the bottom of the gorge. It’s only 0.75 miles in length, but it can easily be combined with either of the rim trails for a scenic loop.
We’d recommend beginning from the main parking area at the North Entrance of the park. This way, you’ll be hiking upstream on the trail and won’t have to look back at all the waterfalls and features.
You’ll have to climb up quite a few stairs this way, so just mentally prepare ahead of time! This may not be the best trail for those with significant mobility issues, and it isn’t wheelchair accessible.
From the main parking lot, head towards the stream and away from the picnic area through the metal gate.
The Gorge Trail covers different types of terrain including crushed stone, dirt footpaths, and stone stairs. You will cross over multiple bridges, including a beautiful old stone bridge before reaching the first of the main waterfalls.
The first two, Lower and Middle, come in fairly quick succession. After seeing many other smaller water features, the Gorge Trail then travels away from the waterway. The views of the Upper Falls from this trail are not the best, especially in the months when leaves fill the trees.
Some recommend going off-trail down into the creek bed to get the best views. This act, however, does not follow Leave No Trace principles, so we would absolutely advise against leaving the trail. We do have another recommendation for you, though!
The trail ends shortly after the Upper Falls, climbing quite a few stairs to reach the top of the gorge. After reaching the end of the Gorge Trail, we’d recommend continuing over to the East Rim Trail, where you can find views of the Upper Falls from atop the steep gorge wall.
For the best views visit in the spring before the leaves cover or later in the fall.
Either of the two Rim Trails, west or east, can be combined with the Gorge Trail to make a loop. The East Rim Trail is a little longer at 1.5 miles, and the West Rim Trail covers 0.85 miles. If you’d like just a bird’s eye view of the entire park, then combine both of the rim trails for their own loop
The rim trails are a little bit of a change of pace from the Gorge Trail. The scenery travels through wooded forest land, once in a while catching a glimpse of the views below. Prepare for some steep inclines and stairs on these trails, as well.
Take either of these two trails, and you can return right back to the same parking lot where you left your car at the beginning of your adventure.
Alternatively, if you are staying at the park’s campground, we’d recommend taking one of the rim trails to the other side of the park. Then, walk back towards the campground on the Gorge Trail to get the same spectacular waterfall views mentioned above.
Other Points of Interest in Stony Brook
This state park is full of history. Before it was owned by the state, Stony Brook was a popular tourist destination during the summer months. During the late 1800s, the nearby railroad made the area easily accessible.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) put in much work with some of the bridges, trails, and facilities in the park.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the remnants of the old rail bridge that used to allow summer visitors from all over the region to explore the area. You may also find evidence of the area’s past industries at points, especially at the site of the old saw and grist mill within the park grounds.
Keep your eyes peeled for the history throughout the park!
Stony Brook Park Map
While the trails and facilities are quite easy to find and follow, park maps can always be useful. If you’d rather have a paper copy, stop by the park office upon your arrival to familiarize yourself with the area. You’ll find the park office just inside the north park entrance.
Stony Brook State Park Hours and Fees
There is a vehicle entrance fee that must be paid upon entrance from Route 36 at both the north and south ends of the park.
Fees are typically charged from the beginning of May through the middle of June on weekends and holidays, then daily through Labor Day. After Labor Day, the park goes back to charging only on weekends and holidays
Fees are only charged during daytime hours, but be sure to check the Stony Brook State Park website or contact the park office ahead of time for the most accurate day-to-day entrance requirements.
Day use areas are open from dawn to dusk.
What to Know Before You Go
There are plenty of things to consider prior to planning a visit. Here are a few things we recommend paying particular attention to.
Despite being smaller scale than some other nearby state parks, this one will still be quite busy in the summer months. On a warm summer weekend, you’ll find plenty of people splashing in the stream-fed pool. Plan to visit during a weekday, early in the morning, or on a cloudier day if you wish to have better conditions for photography and potentially hiking.
Can You Go in the Water at Stony Brook State Park?
No! Not outside of the natural stream-fed and guarded swimming area, that is. Wading in the waters outside of this area or swimming in the plunge pools is forbidden and is an offense that could reward you with a hefty $250 fine. Remember to leave no trace. This is essential to maintaining the natural rugged beauty of the park for generations to come.
There are overnight facilities at both a tent and RV campground and a small collection of rustic cabins. These sites do not provide any electricity or water at each site, but there are restrooms, showers, and water available near most campsites.
Spending the Day at Stony Brook
There are large picnic areas with charcoal grills and picnic tables within Stony Brook, so you could certainly plan to refuel here with a packed lunch and spend an entire day between hiking and exploring. Sports facilities include tennis, volleyball, and basketball courts, as well as baseball fields.
Pets at Stony Brook
Pets are permitted at Stony Brook State Park in most areas. These areas include both campsites and day-use areas. Be sure to pay attention to all signage and directions around the park for the most up-to-date restrictions.
There is a maximum capacity of two pets per campsite.
Pets should be kept on a 6 foot or less leash, or they can be kept in a crate at the campground. They must be supervised at all times. Be sure to have proof of vaccinations, including rabies, if any of the park staff members ask to see it.
No pets are permitted in swimming areas, park buildings, and playgrounds. Check with current park regulations regarding exploring the Gorge Trail and Stony Brook waterfalls up close. The exception to these rules can be found with service animals.
Where to Explore Nearby
The Finger Lakes region is full of extremely beautiful scenery to take in. Some of the most beautiful state parks in the entire US are not far away! With the beautiful views come larger crowds, but there are also stunning lesser-known areas nearby where you may be able to get away from the crowds.
Letchworth State Park
Letchworth State Park is less than 20 miles away and the entrances at both the northernmost and southernmost aspects of the park can be reached in less than 30 minutes. Voted the best attraction in the entire state of New York, it is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” and features the Genesee River.
The views throughout the park are spectacular. The deep gorge and fascinating rock formations are awe-inspiring. It is much larger with many more miles of trails to explore. A visit to both Stony Brook State Park and Letchworth State Park could certainly be combined into one trip.
Watkins Glen State Park
Another stunning park in the Finger Lakes region of New York, Watkins Glen can be found near the southern tip of Seneca Lake next to the town of the same name. On the Gorge Trail of this park, you’ll come upon 19 waterfalls to discover.
The park also boasts a large campground with 5 loops of sites for both RVs and tents.
Watkins Glen is about 55 miles to the east, and you should allot about an hour of time to drive one way between the two parks.
Both of these parks can also become quite busy during the summer months due to the popularity and accolades that they have received in years past. This should not deter you from visiting but merely manage your expectations. You should not expect to be hiking alone on the trails.
Really, you cannot go wrong with any of the parks throughout this area of New York. There seems to be something stunning to see around every turn.
Stony Brook State Park, however, is an absolutely beautiful place to visit and should not be left off your list. It offers plenty of activities and attractions. Whether you want to go hiking or swimming, there are many things to do at this park. The waterfalls are definitely the star of the show. They offer a breathtaking view of nature. Certainly plan to check out the Stony Brook waterfalls and trails on your next visit near the Finger Lakes of New York!