Lower Falls Rochester

Geologic History of the Rochester Area

These day trips explore Rochester’s geological history with drumlins, eskers, kames, kettles, fossils, house-sized boulders, and mesmerizing meromictic lakes, showcasing the amazing features of our corner of the Earth.

Best of Rochester - Day Trips Around Rochester book

Day Trips Around Rochester, New York

City of Rochester

Lower Falls Maplewood
view of Lower Falls from the Driving Park Bridge

Lower Falls Gorge

City of Rochester

In the Lower Falls section of the Genesee River gorge, the material at the bottom was deposited 430 million years ago and at the top 410 million years ago. Thus, you are looking at 20 million years of geological deposition in a gorge carved in the last 10,000 years.

Seth Green Fishing Access Lower Falls Rochester
Seth Green Drive Fishing Access Road

You can begin your exploration of the Genesee River from either Maplewood Park on the west side or from the east side, starting at the Seth Green Genesee Riverway Trail parking lot. From there, you can walk down towards the fishing access.

Learn more: lowerfalls.org, Thomas X. Grasso’s Geology and Industrial History of the Rochester Gorge Part One, Lower Falls Foundation, NYSGA

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Maplewood Park & Rose Garden

Maplewood Park is a linear park that follows the river from Driving Park and the Lower Falls to just north of Route 104, ending at the pedestrian bridge over the Genesee.

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High Falls on the Genesee River

High Falls is the name of the waterfall, the neighboring historic district, and the future Rochester High Falls State Park.

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Exploring The Genesee River

At Genesee Valley Park, the river merges with the Erie Canal and continues north through Rochester before reaching Lake Ontario.

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Roc the Riverway Weekend: October 6–8, 2023

Enjoy Roc the Riverway Weekend with activities highlighting the beauty, history, and significance of Rochester’s majestic Genesee River.

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Mount Hope Cemetery kettle in fall
Mount Hope Cemetery kettle in fall

Mount Hope Cemetery

City of Rochester

Mount Hope is part of the Pinnacle Range, but it has unique characteristics. Join a Geology Tour to explore the fascinating history of Ice Age landforms such as kames, moraines, and kettles. You’ll also learn about the rocks used to create gravestones, mausoleums, and the ground beneath you. Additionally, you’ll discover the influential residents who have contributed to the sciences during their time above ground.

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Mount Hope Cemetery

Mount Hope Cemetery’s winding roads are best explored on foot for a glimpse into the area’s rich history, ecology, and geology.

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Cobbs Hill Pinnacle Hill summer
View of Pinnacle Hill from Cobb’s Hill

Pinnacle Range

City of Rochester

The five highest hills in the area are Cobb’s Hill, Pinnacle Hill, Highland Park, Mount Hope Cemetery, and Oak Hill, which is currently the University of Rochester campus. The Oak Hill Country Club was situated next to the river from 1901 to 1921 before moving to Pittsford.

Thanks to the early advocates for its preservation, the Pinnacle Range remains untouched by development. All major infrastructure, such as the Erie Canal, subway, and expressway, were routed around the area.

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A Range of Possibilities: Exploring Rochester’s Pinnacle Hills

The Pinnacle Range along Rochester’s southern border is a glacial moraine created by the retreating Wisconsin Glacier 12,000 years ago.

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Cobbs Hill + Washington Grove

The peaceful view from Cobbs Hill, along with the friendly people walking and taking it all in, make it a unique Rochester experience.

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Highland Park in Rochester

Highland Park has even been described as a museum of exotic trees, many of which are the tallest of their species in the state, though few are native.

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Monroe County

Mendon Ponds Devil's Bathtub
The Devil’s Bathtub

Mendon Ponds

Mendon

Mendon Ponds Park covers 2,500 acres and features 21 miles of marked trails that take you through woodlands, wetlands, and glacially-created landforms. The park is named after its four main ponds—Hundred Acre, Round, Quaker, and Deep Ponds. One of the park’s unique features is Devil’s Bathtub, a rare meromictic lake that is approximately 47 feet deep at its lowest point. In 1969, Mendon Ponds Park was designated as a National Natural Landmark due to its geological history and the presence of significant kettles, kames, eskers, and bogs.

Learn more: Glacial Geology of Mendon Ponds Park, Glacial Geology

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Mendon Ponds Park

Mendon Ponds is Monroe County’s most expansive park, with woodlands, ponds, wetlands, and 21 miles of color-coded trails across 2,500 acres.

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Greater Rochester

Bergen Swamp
Bergen Swamp

Bergen Swamp

Bergen

The Bergen Swamp is a 10,000-year-old natural ecological succession after the glaciers’ retreat. The lichens were the first organisms to grow on the barren rock left by the retreating glaciers. It is the first private environmental land trust in the United States to be chartered as a New York State living museum and the first site of its kind to be designated a National Natural Landmark.

Geologic History: Chimney Bluffs State Park

Chimney Bluffs

Huron

The bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario provide a fascinating glimpse into our geological history. These delicate drumlins rise 175 feet above the lake and are part of a large group of drumlins in New York State. There are approximately 10,000 drumlins located between Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes.

Wayne County Drumlins cover
Clyde, NY

Driving through Wayne County’s landscapes, you may encounter the drumlins, which, while not as otherworldly as Chimney Bluffs, are still fascinating.

Learn more: Drumlins in Wayne CountyNew York State Geological Association 2000 Guidebook page 116

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Chimney Bluffs State Park

The bluffs in Chimney Bluffs State Park are fragile drumlins, like all of the truncated drumlins along this section of shoreline.

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Explore The Lake Ontario Seaway Trail

The Lake Ontario Seaway Trail runs along the southern Lake Ontario shoreline, from Fort Niagara in Youngstown to Fort Ontario in Oswego.

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Honeoye Lake from Harriet Hollister
Honeoye Lake from Harriet Hollister

Finger Lakes Region

The Finger Lakes consist of 11 long, narrow, roughly parallel lakes that are oriented north-south, resembling the fingers of outstretched hands. The southern ends have high walls cut by steep gorges. Seneca and Cayuga Lakes are two of the deepest in North America, with bottoms below sea level.

The lakes were formed over the last two million years by glaciers carving old stream valleys. The actual depth of the carved rock is well over twice as deep, but it has been filled with sediments. There may be as much as 1000 feet of glacial sediment in the deep rock trough below the lake bed.

Learn more: Paleontological Research Institute

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Explore New York’s Finger Lakes Region

The Finger Lakes region is a popular tourist destination, featuring 11 lakes, charming cities and villages, and scenic farmland.

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Grimes Glen Second Fall
Grimes Glen, second waterfall

Grimes Glen

Naples

After taking a short walk along the creekside trail through Grimes Glen, you will need to wade through the water for half a mile to reach the first 60-foot waterfall. Continuing along the creek for another half mile will lead you to the second waterfall, a picturesque cascade of the same height. To return to the parking lot, simply retrace your steps.

Learn more: Ontario County

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Grimes Glen in Naples

Grimes Glen is public, free, and you are encouraged to wade up the creek to the first and second waterfalls, both 60-foot cascades.

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Explore Naples

Nestled in the hills at the southern end of Canandaigua Lake, Naples is known for its beautiful natural surroundings and annual Grape Festival.

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Things to do around Rochester NY: Letchworth State Park NY
Letchworth State Park

Letchworth

Castile

The walls of Letchworth State Park’s Genesee River gorge provide a glimpse into four hundred million years of geologic history. Sedimentary rocks are formed from sand, shells, pebbles, and other material fragments that accumulate and harden over time. These rocks are generally soft and prone to crumbling. The gorge primarily contains shale, with some limestone and sandstone. The red layers appear due to iron oxide deposited during high oxidation.

Learn more: Geocaching Letchworth

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Explore Letchworth State Park

Letchworth has something for everyone, from hiking one of the park’s 29 trails and picnicking beside a waterfall to taking a scenic drive.

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MacKay Wildlife Preserve
MacKay Wildlife Preserve

MacKay Wildlife Preserve

Caledonia

Geologists have studied the amazing rocks found within the preserve’s 26 acres; some were determined to be 380 million years old. These rocks contain fossils from the time when the area was covered by a tropical sea. Toward the field wall, there is a sea of moss-covered boulders. Science teachers from Cal-Mum bring their classes here to explore the geology and biodiversity.

Walking along the trails of the nature center at Genesee Country Village and Museum, you’ll notice similar rock formations. This is because they share the same backyard, which spans the land between Flint Hill Road and NY-5.

Learn more: History of MacKay Wildlife Preserve

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MacKay Wildlife Preserve

Visitors to MacKay Wildlife Preserve will find a sea of round moss-covered boulders, a collection of hardwoods, and unusual land formations.

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Genesee Country Village & Museum

The Genesee Country Village is a living history museum with 68 structures on 700 acres, making it the largest museum of its kind in New York.

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Surrounding Counties

Eternal Flame Trail flame
Eternal Flame

Eternal Flame

Orchard Park

The Eternal Flame, where natural gas escapes through the shale into a sheltered grotto beneath Shale Creek’s 35-foot waterfall, is not actually eternal, despite its name. If the flame goes out, it’s a good idea to bring a lighter to reignite it. To find the Eternal Flame Trail in Erie County’s Chestnut Ridge Park, start from the large parking lot on New York State Route 277/Chestnut Ridge Road and follow the trail markers to a staircase with approximately 135 steps. Then, proceed to follow the creek upstream.

Learn more: EPOD USRA Eternal Flame

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🔥 The Eternal Flame Hiking Trail

The Eternal Flame, where natural gas escapes into a sheltered grotto beneath Shale Creek’s 35-foot waterfall, is not actually eternal, despite its name.

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Green Lakes State Park red
Green Lake

Green Lakes

Fayetteville

Green Lakes State Park, situated in Fayetteville just 15 minutes east of Syracuse, is renowned for its turquoise-colored glacial lakes and the old-growth forest known as the Tuliptree Cathedral. Private boats are not permitted on the lakes due to their sensitivity, but rentals are available, including clear-bottom tandem kayaks. Additionally, Round Lake has been designated as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Learn more: NYSGA

Howe Caverns
Inside Howe Caverns

Howe Caverns

Howe Caves

If you’re starting from Rochester, it’s important to note that Howe Caverns is a bit of a drive—about three and a half hours away. Despite the distance, it’s definitely a must-see if you’re looking to take a day trip from Rochester. I made the trip there and back in one day, but that was only possible because the tour itself was relatively short, and we didn’t stop to explore other areas along the way.

Howe Caverns were formed over six million years ago by natural processes predating the woolly mammoth’s appearance. They are among the few living limestone mineral caves worldwide.

The limestone beds formed by ancient sea creatures were relatively soft compared to other rock formations such as marble and granite. As a result, rainwater trickling down from the ground quickly eroded the top layers of the limestone. This process created small cracks that opened to the layers below, allowing rainwater to dissolve the limestone.

Over time, small cracks expanded into extensive openings, allowing underground streams to flow through. These streams gradually carved out the incredible cave formations and winding passageways of Howe Caverns. Millions of years ago, sea creatures left behind solid limestone deposits, which were later shaped by the gentle yet persistent flow of underground brooks and streams.

Learn more: Science & Geology of Howe Caverns

Little Rock City
Little Rock City

Little Rock City

Little Valley

Little Rock City was not formed by glaciers but through mountain-building events known as orogenies. The base for Little Rock City was formed as sediment from surrounding areas was deposited over the Rock City State Forest. Over hundreds of years, gravity erosion of the landscape began to separate non-resistant rock layers from those that were highly resistant, leaving us with the large boulders that are present today.

Learn more: 4 Rock Cities Near Rochester, Cattaraugus County Geology Trail

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Little Rock City in Rock City State Forest

It is free to explore Little Rock City. You could spend 20 minutes or two hours wandering through the boulders, some as large as houses.

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Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Earth in Ithaca NY
Museum of the Earth in Ithaca

Museum of the Earth

Ithaca

The Museum of the Earth focuses on life beginning in the Cambrian Period and explores the Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history. Visitors will learn about the Phanerozoic Eon, which includes the Paleozoic era (the era of plants), the Mesozoic era (the era of dinosaurs, birds, and the breakup of Pangaea), the Cenozoic era (the era of mammals), and our current Quaternary period (the Ice Age and the arrival of humans).

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Museum of the Earth

The Museum of the Earth focuses on life beginning in the Cambrian Period, but it covers Earth’s history spanning 4.5 billion years.

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Best New York Attractions - Niagara Falls American Falls
Niagara Falls American Falls from the Crows Nest

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls has changed significantly over time due to geological shifts. Around 16,000 years ago, a glacier covered the area, and when it receded, water from the Great Lakes caused the falls to erode the hard rock, forming the Niagara Gorge. Currently, the falls are moving upstream at about one foot per year. It is projected that in approximately 50,000 years, the river could erode back to Lake Erie. The region’s geological layers, formed around 440 to 425 million years ago, consist of limestone, shale, sandstone, and dolostone, with visible marine fossils.

Learn More: New York State Museum – Niagara Gorge Geology

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Explore Niagara Falls, USA

Niagara Falls is majestic year-round, and I recommend going at different times throughout the year to witness the uniqueness of each season.

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Panama Rocks scenic
Panama Rocks

Panama Rocks Scenic Park

Panama

Panama Rocks Scenic Park contains the world’s most extensive formations of glacier-cut, ocean-quartz conglomerates, forming a ridge half a mile long. The history of the rock formations dates back about 400 to 350 million years ago (Ma) during the Devonian period.

To provide perspective on the age of these formations, it is believed that the first animals classified in the genus Homo appeared only 2 million years ago. Modern humans (Homo sapiens) are believed to have originated about 200,000 years ago.

Learn more: Panama Rocks Scenic Park, 4 Rock Cities Near Rochester, Tour Chautauqua

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Panama Rocks Scenic Park

Watch your footing, know your limits, and use common sense when it comes to climbing on the boulders at Panama Rocks Scenic Park.

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Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve
Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve

Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve

Blasdell

Find and collect 380-million-year-old animal and plant fossils that once flourished in an ancient tropical sea that covered Western New York at Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve. Managed by the Hamburg Natural History Society, take a guided tour to learn about the 54-acre quarry before searching for fossils to take home.

Learn more: Penn Dixie Field Guide; They’ll never run out of fossils at Penn Dixie

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Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve

At Penn Dixie, you keep every fossil you find, though it takes a keen eye and persistence to find the fossils, many of which are smaller than pebbles.

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Watkins Glen Cavern Cascade
Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen State Park is situated in the heart of the small town of Watkins Glen, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The glen stretches two miles, making it perfect for a day trip. While the park offers a well-maintained walking path, it’s not an easy stroll and is not accessible. The gorge trail can be wet from spray (so wear good walking shoes/boots and bring a spare pair to change into), and the majority of the walk consists of climbing 800 rock stairs if you go the entire length. The elevation rises 520 feet from the Main Entrance to the Upper Entrance.

That said, it’s also one of the most transcending, awe-inspiring, and wondrous displays of nature’s beauty on Earth!

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Explore Watkins Glen

The heart of the village of Watkins Glen is the 1.5-mile-long gorge, a truly breathtaking and awe-inspiring showcase of nature’s beauty.

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Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park is one of the most transcending, awe-inspiring, and wondrous displays of nature’s beauty on Earth.

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Book Roadside Geology
PURCHASE ON AMAZON

Learn more about our geologic history and geoscience

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11 National Natural Landmarks Near Rochester

These National Natural Landmarks, recognized for their outstanding biological and geological resources, are all within a two-hour drive of Rochester, NY.

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Gorge Trails Near Rochester

Gorge trails call out from their deep, dark, and cool caverns. If you haven’t already, start checking these spectacular trails off your list.

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Easy Waterfalls

Not all waterfalls are hidden in dark ravines. Many of the region’s most stunning waterfalls can be viewed from the road or a short walk.

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4 Rock Cities Near Rochester

Explore these cool, mossy rock cities near Rochester, like Little Rock City near Ellicottville and Thunder Rocks in Allegany State Park.

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Swimming Holes

On a hot day, you can sit under a waterfall, swim in a lake, or jump in a creek at one of these refreshing natural swimming areas.

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50 New York State Parks Within a Two-Hour Drive of Rochester

Venture into one of these New York State Parks within a two-hour drive of Rochester and discover what makes them unique.

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The Darkest Skies Near Rochester

Locations northeast of Rochester close to Lake Ontario, or south of US-20 in the Finger Lakes will offer the darkest sky near Rochester.

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24 Hidden Places Around Rochester

From secret gardens to enchanting waterfalls, exploring hidden places around the Rochester area is the ultimate way to add some spice to your travel experiences.

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36 Places to Immerse Yourself in Green

I find green to be a soothing color, especially when surrounded by it. Here are some of my favorite places to go green!

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Transcending Places

Instead of being an escape, I see these places as opportunities that encourage us to transcend space, time, and our state of mind.

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Mount Hope Cemetery fossil close
Barrier wall in Mount Hope Cemetery

Where are your favorite spots to explore Rochester’s geologic history?

Your insights and experiences are valuable. Please share them in the comments.

Debi Bower, Day Trips Around Rochester NY

Debi Bower is the founder and creative director of daytrippingroc.com and author of the award-winning book Day Trips Around Rochester, New York.

People often ask me if I get free access to places while exploring. The answer is no unless I’m invited to previews or granted behind-the-scenes access as part of my media role. Generally, I don’t mention my project, Day Trips Around Rochester, NY, because I want the same experience you would have. I create and share content simply because it brings me joy. I would appreciate your support—a cup of coffee or two to help fuel future field trips—if you have found valuable information here that has helped you explore the Rochester area.

2 thoughts on “Geologic History of the Rochester Area”

  1. This website was well worth my time exploring and reading. I shall save it for future reference and will send its link to my children and grandchildren. Thank you.

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