As you approach Ausable Chasm, the ground falls away. River-carved walls sink hundreds of feet below. Only the top half of the chasm remains visible above the deep black water. The sandstone alone is a unique experience in the sea of grey anorthosite throughout most of the Adirondacks.
No matter the season, Ausable Chasm is an incredible sight. Come winter, a blanket of bright snow reveals every edge and pocket in the rock. Even to repeat visitors, the solitude and season of winter provide a completely different experience with every visit.
My first time at the chasm
Captivating audiences since 1870, Ausable Chasm is one of the oldest running attractions in the United States. My interest was no different than those visitors' 150 years ago.
I started on the Adventure Trail -- a “via ferrata'' involving cable bridges and ladders traversing the walls of the river. The views from the Adventure Trail are unparalleled and provide a perspective that is only attainable when suspended high above the center of the chasm.
Following the via ferrata, I was encouraged to ride on the raft float to the end of the chasm. The river guide kept me laughing throughout the trip and had a wealth of knowledge about the history and quirks of Ausable Chasm. I couldn’t help but gawk as he pointed out remnants of past high water marks and told us of the unbelievable depths throughout the river.
Combined with my hike of the Rim Trail at the end of the day, I had experienced the chasm from top to bottom and had still not seen everything it had to offer.
Daydreaming about winter
My visit fell long before any snow had fallen, but I was mesmerized by the photos I had seen of a winter in the chasm.
As I started my hike, I imagined the enormity of the ice formations on the chasm walls, the quiet of the slow moving water, and the solitude of a winter morning there.
I fantasized about stopping for breakfast and a hot coffee at Sweet Little Things Bakery in Keeseville before bundling up for a snowshoe on the Rim Trail.
I even came close to wishing away the last colors of fall in exchange for snowy pillows on the tall sandstone columns.
How does Ausable Chasm change in the winter?
In the summer, people flock to see the roaring falls, test themselves on the adventure trail, and float down the river. Come winter, the crowds dissipate, and the gorge lies vacant, awaiting the slow trickle of people who are lucky enough to experience it’s expanse in a more intimate setting.
Guided hikes become snowshoe and microspike tours. The 25 miles worth of mountain biking behind the campground becomes cross-country ski terrain. Waterfalls become massive pillars of ice, and the chasm is virtually empty.
This leaves winter guests with the largest natural attraction in the Adirondacks all to themselves.
So, what do you need to know?
While the selection of activities shrinks with the cold weather, the views certainly don’t.
The main attractions for the season are the snowshoe and microspike trails. Depending on conditions, the two-mile Rim Trail is open for self-guided tours. The visitor center rents all of the necessary equipment, though self-guided tours are limited to children ages eight or older.
Two-hour guided tours through the Inner Sanctum trail are also available. That tour is limited to children ages 10 or older.
Condition dependent, ice climbing may be available to groups. You can inquire about those packages via the contact tab on their website.
So, next time the snow falls, bundle up, stop by your favorite coffee shop, and hit the trail.