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Detour

NY’s Ausable Chasm, the oldest natural attraction in the Adirondacks

An overlook for visitors at prehistoric Ausable Chasm, N.Y.

JANET MENDELSOHN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

An overlook for visitors at prehistoric Ausable Chasm, N.Y.

AUSABLE CHASM, N.Y. — When I was growing up, I saw bumper stickers promoting Ausable Chasm everywhere. But what was it? A recent ferry trip from Burlington, Vt., solved that childhood mystery. The chasm, five minutes by car from the Port Kent ferry dock, is the oldest natural attraction in the Adirondacks. Since 1870, more than 10 million visitors have hiked the trails to see cascading waterfalls and the two-mile gorge caused by geological faults and the Ausable River cutting through sandstone over the past 500 million years.

The whole place feels like you have stepped back in time. From scenic trails to souvenir shop and cafeteria, it’s an unpretentious tourist destination. We chose a self-guided walk through woodland to natural stone, cliff-edge paths with views of rock formations such as Elephant’s Head and the Devil’s Oven Cave. Marked trails offer varied levels of difficulty, mostly easy; some intimidating with steep stairs to narrow ledges; all well-fenced for safety. When a malfunction for raft float trips meant an hour’s wait, we kept walking.

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For tubing trips, bring water shoes or sneakers (no flip-flops). Mountain biking, summer evening lantern tours, cross-country skiing, and a new three-hour rappelling and cable traversing tour are other options. We loved the one-hour ferry crossing with its distant views of shadowy blue mountains. And those bumper stickers? “For years, staff plastered them on every car in the parking lot till people complained,” a staffer said. They’re not sold anymore.

Ausable Chasm  2144 Route 9, 518-834-7454, www.ausablechasm.com, $16 ages 13 and up, $9 children 5-12, free under 5. Additional fees for rafting-tubing, rappelling.

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