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Keeseville, New York

Ausable Chasm

This sandstone gorge in Upstate New York is known as the "Little Grand Canyon of the East." 

For almost 150 years, travelers have left messages at the “Post Office” rock formation in Ausable Chasm in the Adirondacks.

A mile-long gorge cut by the Ausable River, Ausable Chasm was a thriving industrial center during the mid-19th century. Power for iron mining and logging was aided by the rushing Rainbow Falls at the head of the gorge, and many mills and factories lined the river. Industry in the area began to wane towards the end of the century, the final nail in its coffin coming in 1890 when a large nail factory shut down. But the chasm continued to draw visitors to what had become known as the “Little Grand Canyon of the East.” Several movies were filmed there in the early 1900s, including “Perils of Pauline.”

Inside are rock formations with names like the Devil’s Oven, Elephant’s Head, the Cathedral, and Column Rock. There is one particularly popular spot, where the rocks are porous and naturally divided into little cubby holes, called the Post Office. Ever since the chasm was opened to the public in 1870, visitors would climb down to tack messages into the soft rock that was formed into these little square “mail boxes,” with notes and letters going back and forth between family, friends and hikers.

Decades of tacks took a toll on the soft rock, so to avoid further erosion a station for a logbook was built in 2004, so new visitors can still use the Post Office, but now more environmentally-friendly. Man-made erosion isn’t the only way the chasm has suffered in recent history. The year 1996 saw two of the worst periods of flooding recorded in the area, with back-to-back washing out of roads and bridges and extensive damage to infrastructure. But the owners rebuilt, both times, and Ausable continues to draw visitors down into the chasm to hike, go rafting, rock climb — or just leave a message.

Know Before You Go

Ausable Chasm is in the Adirondacks, about 3 miles west of Lake Champlain and 40 miles south of the Canadian border. The land is privately owned by the local power company and run as an attraction, so expect to pay the basic entry fee for access. There are also extended tours for rafting and rock climbing (check the website for details). Basic admission is $17.95 (age 13+), which gives you access to the trails. Kids age 5-12 are $9.95, and under 5 are free. They open every day at 9am, close at 4pm in the spring and fall, 5pm in the summer, and 3pm in winter.

There is a welcome center and gift shop on the premises, and admission to the attraction pays for a hike through the canyon. For an additional fee, you can take a raft, or inner tube the remainder of the way, to the end of the chasm. A very family friendly activity, when the water is high (early in the spring, or during heavy rains) the water can be a bit bumpy, but for the most part, it is an smooth and beautiful ride between the high canyon walls.