Good news if visiting a waterfall is on your bucket list but don’t want to travel far—you can head to the Paterson Great Falls, the second-largest waterfall by volume east of the Mississippi. Yes, NJ has a jaw-dropping waterfall where you can experience all the thrills of water thundering down without the huge crowds or tourist traps. The 119-acre Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park is located on the Passaic River with plenty of space for exploring, having a picnic, catching a water spray, and snapping selfies at the observation sites. Scroll down to find out about how to make the most of your visit to the Paterson Great Falls, and for more things to do around the falls, check out our favorite spring attractions, what’s on our spring bucket list, and these other amazing waterfalls around NJ.
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Brush up on your history about Paterson Great Falls
The breathtaking and impressive Paterson Great Falls waterfall is beaten only by the famous Niagara Falls and towers at a whopping 77 feet high and about 300 feet wide, pouring up to two billion gallons of water down the falls each day. Yet the Paterson Great Falls weren’t always a tourist attraction—they played a major role in then-Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s decision to create Paterson’s industrial city in 1791. He realized that the waterpower of the falls could provide much-needed energy for manufacturing factories. At one point, over 40,000 people worked in the factories and relied on the falls to power the industry. The falls provided power from the river for over 150 years, spanning three centuries and making Paterson the world’s center for producing silk, cotton, and locomotives. Want to learn more about this fascinating history before you go? Check out these fast facts or this in-depth description.
See the Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park up close
Stopping off the highway and parking is one way to see the breathtaking Paterson Great Falls, but you can also get up close to them at the Mary Ellen Kramer Park. The Park is adjacent to the Falls on Maple Street and has many spots with spectacular views to snap selfies and feel the water spray. And when it’s time for lunch or an afternoon snack, grab a picnic table or bench, or layout a blanket and have a picnic on a shady spot of grass. If you are looking for an insider’s view of the Falls, reserve a ranger-led, guided tour for you and your fam, or download the free Mill Mile app for a self-guided audio walking tour. Your kiddos can also become junior rangers for the park—they’ll learn about the park’s history, understand its importance, and receive a fun badge recognizing their contributions.
What to know before you go to Paterson Great Falls
The outdoor viewing areas of the falls are open year-round, and the park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. The best parking spots are at the Overlook Park parking lot at 72 McBride Avenue Extension. There’s also limited parking along Maple Street, near an entrance to Mary Ellen Kramer Park. You can find additional spots in the Franklin Mill parking lot during the weekends, down the street (on McBride Avenue Extension) from the Overlook lot. And be sure to plan if you want to book a guided ranger tour—sign up online at least two weeks in advance if you want to go.
Paterson Great Falls
72 McBride Avenue Extension
Paterson, NJ 07501