Paterson Great Falls National Historic Site

Paterson Falls National Historic Site tips and images @handbookofnaturestudy

Back in October our family was able to visit the state of New Jersey and what a surprise New Jersey was to us! It was so much more rural than expected and we fit in a visit to a very interesting place, Paterson Great Falls National Historic Site. It may not have been as majestic as other national parks or sites but it was by far one of the most interesting ways to look back in time to see how the natural feature of the town’s waterfall influenced history and industry in New Jersey. Paterson was the first planned industrial city in the U.S., established back in 1792.

october 2015 Paterson Falls National Historic Site (3)

It was  a raining afternoon with showers but we were still able to get out and explore the small park. We started on one side of the Pasaic River where you can look over and see the falls. There were a few people there braving the rain but we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

october 2015 Paterson Falls National Historic Site (4)We crossed over the street and found the very small visitor center that the national park service had set up. The only thing of note is that they have guided tours available or you can opt for a self guided tour of the area as you learn about the industrial history of the area.

october 2015 Paterson Falls National Historic Site (6)Our son was interested in visiting the Paterson Museum which is just one block from the national park visitor center. This was a great decision! This place has so many interesting things and we took time to look at just about everything, including a sampling of the locomotives that had been built here in the past. This engine is actually one that helped to build the Panama Canal back in the day.

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Of course, my son the pilot was interested in learning all about the history of Wright Aeronautics in Paterson. Amazing things to look at and learn about! The museum also catalogs the history of other Paterson manufacturers like Colt Revolvers as well the local silk industry.

october 2015 Paterson Falls National Historic Site (19)

Back outside we walked back down the street and then over the river to the closest viewing spot for actual waterfall which is in Mary Ellen Kramer Park. I can imagine this place after a hard rain or in the springtime being a magical place with lots of water. During our visit, the falls were not that impressive but still a nice surprise during our brief trip through New Jersey.

october 2015 Paterson Falls National Historic Site (20)

You can tell from the photo that the waterfall is really right in the middle of the town. I got the idea that this park is going to be vamping up its offerings so take a look at their website before you visit for any new features of the park that may strike your fancy. I was wishing I had more time to walk the town and take some “artsy” kinds of photos of the old brick buildings. I can always find something of interest wherever I go.

I am learning a great deal about the difference between a national park and a historic site. Historic sites can be interesting and beautiful but they don’t have the WOW factor of awesome vistas or natural phenomenon. For our family, we enjoy both experiences. I love to learn about most anything so visiting Paterson Great Falls made a memorable afternoon with my husband and son.


  • There are no entrance fees for the historic site or museum.
  • Junior Ranger program is available.
  • You can get your National Parks Passport stamped at the small visitor center.
  • 35 miles or 50 minutes from JFK Airport
  • Lots of eating options within walking or short driving distance.
  • This park is easily done in a couple of hours or shorter if you just want to stop and look at the waterfall.
  • We combined our visit with a visit to Morristown National Historic Site (entry to come here on my blog).


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  1. excellent !

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