Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

Park Overview:

The park commemorates “The Cradle of American Industry."

Trail Uses:Hiking, Handicapped
Dogs:Dogs on leash
Trail Miles:
Park Acreage:35 acres
Web Map:NPS, scroll to map link
Park Description:

The Great Falls of the Passaic River, located in Paterson, N.J., is the site of an early, successful initiative to establish a “national manufactory” in post-revolutionary America.  As part of the Mercantilist vision of Alexander Hamilton, the country’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Paterson become America’s earliest planned industrial city with the incorporation of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (S.U.M.) in 1791. The 77-foot-high Great Falls (the second highest waterfall in the East after Niagara Falls), provided water power to cotton mills through a network of narrow canals or raceways.  In 1913-14, the S.U.M. hydroelectric station was completed at the base of the falls, one of the earliest such plants in the country.  The building still stands, as do the raceways carrying water.

Over the passage of time, as cotton textiles gave way to silk, Paterson became known as “Silk City.”  The mill district that is now (partially) incorporated into the Great Falls National Historical Park also included manufacturers of Colt revolvers and some 12,000 railroad steam locomotives.  

The area’s labor history is as significant as its industrial history.  Between 1880 and 1900, workers organized 140 strikes against mill owners in concerted actions intended to improve their wages and working conditions.  Historically, the most momentous strike occurred in 1913 when local silk workers walked off their jobs and fiery leaders from the radical Industrial Workers of the World union (I.W.W.) brought national attention to the workers’ struggles. The American Labor Museum at the Botto House in nearby Haledon, N.J. commemorates this transformative event in Paterson’s history.  The Paterson Museum, a partner with the National Park Service, and Lambert Castle, situated near the top of close-by Garret Mountain, both focus on Paterson’s industrial history and feature one of its principal mill owners.

The Great Falls National Historic Landmark District, designated in 1976, encompasses 119 acres. The Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, established in 2009, includes 35 of these acres.

There is no fee for admission to the national historical park, but local museums generally charge modest entrance fees.


Trails Overview:

Great Falls in Winter (NPS photo)The Welcome Center, at 65 McBride Avenue Extension across from Overlook Park, is a great place to begin a visit -- check their website for seasonal hours. It is where the self-guided Mill Mile tour starts. This walking tour introduces visitors to the remarkable history, geology, social and cultural importance of the area around the site of the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. An on-line brochure describing the 10-stop tour – which includes a map -- is available, as is a free downloadable audio tour app (from I-Tunes and Google Play Store) and a number to call using a cell phone along the way.   The Tour is an educational project of the Hamilton Partnership for Paterson.  

The National Park Service also offers Guided Introductory Tours seasonally. Led by a National Park Ranger, a volunteer, or a member of the Great Falls Youth Corps, it takes roughly one hour and covers one mile.  See the website link in Contact Information below for a schedule, follow the "Plan a Visit" tab. 

“Trails” largely consist of city sidewalks with uneven surfaces.  A graphical representation map of the park (use link near top of this page)  identifies such major features as the Great Falls, mills (both standing and in ruins), the S.U.M. Hydroelectric Station, the upper, middle and lower raceways, street names (for navigation), smaller local parks, cultural centers, several public parking areas, and (important in an urban setting) public restrooms. 

To complement a visit with a more woodsy hiking experience, Rifle Camp Park and Garret Mountain Reservation, two interconnected Passaic County parks just a short drive from the mill district, have a combined trail network of 13 miles on roughly 800 acres of parkland. 



From I-80 West, take Exit 57 B-A. Follow the Downtown Paterson signs. Turn left at second light onto Cianci Street, and left at first light onto Market Street for 1/4 mile. Turn right onto Spruce. Go one block and turn right onto McBride Avenue Extension, then immediately left into Great Falls Overlook parking area.

From I-80 East, take Exit 57 B, circle onto Grand Street exit. At end of exit ramp turn left onto Grand. At second light on Grand turn right onto Spruce Street. At second light on Spruce bear right onto McBride Avenue Extension, then turn immediately left into the Great Falls Overlook parking area.

From the Garden State Parkway use the “Directions” link on the park’s webpage under Contact Information.

New Jersey Transit provides regular train service (including weekends) to Paterson on its Main Line.  Trains leave from Hoboken, but connections from New York City are available via PATH trains from World Trade Center or 33rd Street to Hoboken, or NJ Transit trains from Penn Station to Secaucus Junction. The walk from the Paterson train station to Overlook Park at the Great Falls is about 0.8 mile. 

NJ Transit Bus Route 161 connects the 42nd Street Port Authority Bus Terminal with Paterson, stopping near the NJ Transit train station.

See also Location Tab at top of page.

Contact Information:National Park Service, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park