Thacher Park offers spectacular cliffs in nearby location

For those of us of a certain age, a “lost world” movie should feature not computer-generated dino-re
The cliffs in John Boyd Thacher State Park in New Scotland.
The cliffs in John Boyd Thacher State Park in New Scotland.

Thacher Park

For those of us of a certain age, a “lost world” movie should feature not computer-generated dino-realism but two giant lizards wrestling on a screen, projected behind actors who are focused on their lines.

The movie is set, if memory serves, atop a plateau with steep cliffs thousands of feet high, somewhere in the Venezuelan jungle, and so cut off from modern time.

You don’t find cliffs like that around here. But John Boyd Thacher Park comes closest.

John Boyd Thacher Park

WHERE: 1 Hailes Cave Road, New Scotland

WHEN: 7 a.m.-sunset daily. Nature Center open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Sundays

MORE INFO: 872-1237,

The state park is situated along the Helderberg Escarpment, which the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation says is one of the richest fossil-bearing formations in the world.

Thacher Park contains six miles of limestone cliff-face, from the top of which are panoramic views of the upper Hudson and lower Mohawk valleys. On a clear day, you can see the office towers of downtown Albany and even to the Adirondack and Green mountains.

One of the most interesting spots to visit is the Indian Ladder Trail, which runs on a narrow path about 60 feet below the cliff tops. People who take the path — which isn’t without risks — are rewarded with a chance to walk behind not one but two waterfalls, and pass a cave where a local Tory hid out during the American Revolution.

There are no longer ladders, but there are steep steel stair steps at either end of the trail, which is off state Route 157, reachable from either Albany to the east or the village of Altamont to the west.

Signs posted before hikers head down the steps caution them to watch out for loose stones and wet ground. Those warnings are well taken. It’s a great hike for children, but not those too young to be aware of their surroundings. The trail is narrow, and there are no fences or guardrails, so the sense of adventure is palpable.

On the other hand, kids won’t have to duck as much to fit their heads under the low rock passage near Minelot Falls near the trail’s east end. The falls drops more than 60 feet and is spectacular, but water seeping from the surrounding rock leaves the path wet and a little slippery.

Hikers walk behind that waterfall, as well as Outlet Creek Falls a little farther west. It’s a novel-enough experience that teenagers snap selfies with water pouring behind them in the background.

When not taking in the waterfalls, check out the enormous surrounding limestone formations. It’s a little like a trip into an underground cave, but in broad daylight.

Best place to park

A new park visitors’ center is being built at the trail’s west entrance — so for this summer the best place to park is the LaGrange Bush picnic area near the eastern trailhead. Bathrooms are nearby.

Many people prefer to hike back to their starting point by going along the top of cliffs, where rustic wooden fencing protects people from stepping too far, and there are numerous vistas of the valley nearly 1,000 feet below.

A mile or so to the east is another large parking lot, where a snack bar is open on weekends and a monument sign helps visitors identify some common landmarks visible, like the Empire State Plaza. The view is full of woods, but the Guilderland Industrial Park is front and center in the medium distance.

John Boyd Thacher was a one-time Albany mayor and state senator who owned the land and whose widow donated it to the state in 1914.

Thacher Park is a spectacular place to visit in the summer, and it’s also breathtaking in the fall, when the cliffs will be alight with color.

Here’s a link to all the stories we’ve written about fun things to do this summer. And share your ideas for Summer Days at or at [email protected]

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