You wouldn’t expect to find a National Park in a northern New Jersey urban area, but just off Route 80 there it is – Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park!
Paterson, in Passaic County, was the nation’s first planned industrial city. Alexander Hamilton had a vision spurred by the water power of the falls, to have Paterson rival the Industrial Revolution developing in England in the late 1700s. It worked, and silk mills, cotton mills and other factories came to the city and remained in operation until the post World War II era. Of course, the Great Falls remain and are a true natural beauty.
The falls have received distinctions since 1967 when they became a National Natural Landmark, but the National Park designation only happened in 2009. Now the area is managed by the National Park Service, with park rangers on duty at all times, at a building in Overlook Park.
We planned our first visit to Paterson Great Falls to coincide with the National Park Service 99th birthday. The Great Falls Youth Corps held a clean up of the park area along with kid friendly activities, so what better day to visit? We (4 kids and one adult) signed up to volunteer and spent an hour cleaning up the area in the shadow of the falls with one unique thing – there were no falls! In order to thoroughly clean the area the water was diverted, and professionals worked in the high up areas. The great volunteers at the Youth Corps led groups through the surrounding parks, then led us through informational sessions; testing water with the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and learning about ecosystems in the area. The day of service ended with a Lenni Lenape “soccer” game by the falls, enjoyed by all.
There’s not always a special event at the falls, of course, but it’s a picturesque spot for a visit any day. Starting August 28, Mary Ellen Kramer Park will be open for viewing of the falls, and the pedestrian bridge over the falls is scheduled to reopen in Fall 2015. The park is open year round, and the falls do freeze in the winter! While you’re in the area, visit the Paterson Museum and explore the Paterson Great Falls Historic District; many of the mill buildings remain.
If you go to Paterson Great Falls:
- Picnic tables are available at the falls, but we spread out a picnic blanket and enjoyed our lunch in the shade.
- There are steps or a ramp to get down to the lower area at Overlook Park.
- Admission is free and ample parking is available.
- A welcome center is open across the street from Overlook Park from 10AM-4 PM daily.
- There are three tour times a day in the Summer (check website for updated information)
The Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park is at 72 McBride Avenue, Paterson, Passaic County.
For more Paterson Great Falls photos visit our Facebook album. Visit our Jersey Family Fun listing of New Jersey National Parks to find another spectacular place to visit!