for free!
 This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Preferred" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Niagara Gorge - Impassable Zone, NY

Guide 1 Triplog  0 Topics
  5 of 5 
no permit
45 1 0
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Difficulty 4.5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Loop 4.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 541 feet
Elevation Gain -261 feet
Accumulated Gain 753 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 8.27
 Interest Off-Trail Hiking & Perennial Waterfall
 Backpack No
 Dogs not allowed
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45  2022-09-23 Mike_W
author avatar Guides 57
Routes 87
Photos 3,471
Trips 236 map ( 1,336 miles )
Age 51 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred May, Oct, Sep, Apr → 9 AM
Seasons   Late Spring to Early Autumn
Sun  4:57am - 7:28pm
Official Route
0 Alternative

Impassable for most; passable only for extreme hikers
by Mike_W

 Likely In-Season!
Several decades ago, on the United States side of the border, there was a wide gorge trail that extended North of the Whirlpool bridge and continued to the Whirlpool Basin. Due to a massive rock slide and perhaps multiple rock slides over several decades, this trail no longer exists and has not been reconstructed since. A route has been documented through an area called the "Impassable Zone" in a publication called "Secret Places of Western New York". The Impassable Zone is the area that is North of the end of the Great Gorge Railway Trail and continues to what is now called the Whirlpool Rapids trail.

The Great Gorge Railway Trail follows the path of the former "Great Gorge Route" of a railroad that once carried passengers from 1895 to 1935. [ read more ]

The Whirlpool Rapids are rated 6 on a navigatable scale from 1 (easiest) to 6 (most dangerous). Whirlpool Rapids at White Water Walk are traveling at about 48km/hr or 30mph, creating the Whirlpool Rapids - "Class 6 white-water rapids". The Whirlpool Rapids consists of 4 kilometers of 3-5 meter standing waves, making this stretch of whitewater the largest/finest series of standing waves in North America.

The "Impassable Zone" is a technical bushwhack that is about 1/2 mile long. There are scree slopes that appear to be at a 45-degree angle and possibly even steeper. It would not be wise to attempt this without a lot of hiking and bushwhacking experience. A fall into the river in this area would be fatal. So, if you attempt this difficult hike, be sure you know what you are up against. Proceed with extreme caution!

I read an account of a 50-gallon barrel/drum being thrust 20 feet in the air in the whirlpool rapids area after going over the falls minutes earlier. The water is said to be 40 feet deep in this area and there are strong undercurrents. Apparently, this barrel/drum was traveling under the surface of the water and was forced to the surface before being shot up 20 feet in the air. Over the years, many have greatly underestimated the force of the water. Daredevils, expert kayakers, and expert swimmers have been killed all along the rapids areas. Even when the currents appear to be slow it can be extremely dangerous because of undercurrents and rocks or other obstacles below the surface.

This hike bridges the gap between the Great Gorge Railway Trail and the Whirlpool Rapids Trail. The bushwhack is about 1/2 mile long and involves walking over scree, climbing up some steep areas, and spider crawling / sliding down some steep areas. The rest of the hike follows the scenic Great Gorge Railway trails and Whirlpool Rapids trails.

Start at the Great Gorge Railway trailhead just South of the Whirlpool bridge on the United States side. There is a staircase going down here. It should only take a few minutes to get to the bottom and at this point you would have traveled about 0.15 miles. At the bottom, turn right and walk North under the Whirlpool bridge. In this area, the currents are very strong at there are some great photo and video opportunities. After you have traveled a total of roughly 0.38 miles, the official trail ends. Proceed only if you are an expert hiker and have read the warnings above.

When you walk past the official end of the trail, you will see a path that leads through the brush. Shortly you will come up to a cable stretching between 2 trees. Use this cable for support. Next, there is a rope leading down a steep rocky area to some flat rocks which are on the shore of the raging river. Take your time and stay a safe distance from the water. This is another great photo opportunity.

Going to the North along the river's edge, these rocks will end just up ahead so the only safe way at this point is to go back up the way you came. Once you reach the cables, you should be able to slowly walk North. Use the trees for support where you can and it's important to get good footing here. Continue North and you will cross a small scree field and then you will see a larger scree field up ahead. It's easier and safer to cross the larger field up near the top where the ground is flatter. You'll notice that the scree is not so difficult to walk on. You'll likely sink 4 to 12 inches at every step. You'll reach an area in the scree where you can see all the way to the water and there isn't any brush in the way. Continue heading along the same line here. When you pass this area you will see some brush down below. Carefully work your way down at this point. There should be some boulders and it should be possible to follow the edge until you see a 40-foot tall massive boulder called Titan rock. In this area, you will be able to hike under a boulder to get to another boulder that is closer to the raging river.

Continue following the rocky shoreline. Be careful as some rocks may be slippery, especially if they are wet or covered with algae. Eventually, after roughly 1/2 mile of bushwhacking, you should see a faint trail that leads to a better trail. After being on the Whirlpool Rapids trail for roughly 0.6 miles you will see a rocky viewpoint where the river turns. These flat rocks are another great photo opportunity. Continue following the river Northeast around the bend. After roughly 0.7 miles you will see a staircase going up. These stairs lead up to Whirlpool State Park and will take 5 or 10 minutes depending on your conditioning. Once at the top you are on the Niagara Gorge Rim trail. Follow this trail South to the area where you parked. Congratulations, you have completed the "Niagara Whirlpool Impassable Zone"!

Check out the Official Route and Triplog.

This is a more difficult hike. It would be unwise to attempt this without prior experience hiking.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2022-09-24 Mike_W
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

     Permit $$

    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Buffalo or Grand Island, take I-190 North to Exit 21 for NY 384/Buffalo Ave. Take Buffalo Ave. West for 2.6 miles and take the exit for Portage road. Take Portage road for 1.5 miles and then turn right onto Main Street which is also Route 104. Stay on this route for roughly 0.4 miles and turn left on Cleveland Ave. After 450 feet take the next right on Whirlpool street. Follow the signs to the trailhead for the Great Gorge Railway trail which should be on the left side.

    From Canada and points North, take Route 104 South to Findlay road and turn right. Then, after 0.1 miles turn left at Whirlpool street. Continue for 1/2 mile, and follow the signs to the trailhead for the Great Gorge Railway trail.

    Another good place to park is Whirlpool State Park. The same loop can be accomplished from this starting point.
    page created by Mike_W on Sep 24 2022 8:44 pm
     90+° 8am - 6pm kills
    Avoid Heat Illness - stay cool

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