Why Paterson Great Falls Should Be On Your NJ Bucket List


Good news, if visiting a waterfall is on your bucket list, but you 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 how to make the most of your visit to Paterson Great Falls, and check out the other waterfalls around NJ too. (feature photo credit: istock/Brian Logan)

Paterson great Falls NJ Mom

Checking out Paterson Great Falls through a child’s eyes. Photo Credit: @mc.mmg

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 Paterson Great Falls wasn’t always a tourist attraction—they played a significant 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.

paterson great falls NJ Mom

A beautiful site— the power generating station at the Passaic River and Paterson Great Falls in New Jersey. Photo Credit: istock/Vladimir Senyatkin

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 Mary Ellen Kramer Park. Though the walking bridge over the falls is closed for reconstruction, 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. Park staff is on-site Wednesdays through Sundays to answer any questions you might have and give tips on the best places for photo ops. And when it’s time for lunch or an afternoon snack, grab a picnic table or bench, or lay out a blanket for a picnic on a shady spot of grass. If you want 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. On weekends, you can find additional spots in the Franklin Mill parking lot, 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.

For more information, visit the Paterson Great Falls website, Instagram, and Facebook.

Paterson Great Falls
72 McBride Avenue Extension
Paterson, NJ 07501
(973) 523-0370

Have you been to Paterson Great Falls in NJ? 

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About Author

Caroline is a writer from central Jersey who loves checking out new boardwalks and beach towns (current faves include Long Branch and Ocean Grove), admiring the foliage and walking around downtown Princeton, and singing along to music—often with her younger sister. One of her favorite jobs was being a camp counselor and helping out at local, family-friendly events. She can regularly be found ordering a pie to go from Romeo's in Plainsboro, her favorite pizzeria.