At the end of the last ice age, as the glaciers receded, the ice carved out the beautiful topography of the Finger Lakes Region. The effects of these glaciers can be seen in the multiple waterfalls that cascade down along the various creeks and streams as they make their way to Cayuga Lake through the gorges and gullies of the Finger Lakes region. Among these beautiful areas, Ithaca is famous for its waterfalls. Many of the area parks have a gorge trail following the creek where you can find overlooks that provide stunning views of these wonders of nature carved by glaciers centuries ago.
While the gorges and trails are amazing for recreation and hiking, they can also be very dangerous. Use caution when on the trails and practice safe and responsible use of the gorges. Stay on trails or within designated areas. Swimming is prohibited.
Waterfalls around Ithaca, NY
Fall Creek Gorge and Waterfalls
Fall Creek is the largest stream draining into Cayuga Lake. Fall Creek Gorge begins just west of Beebe Lake, north of the main campus at Cornell. As Fall Creek flows through the deep rocky gorge it plunges over six dramatic waterfalls, the last of which is Ithaca Falls, located in downtown Ithaca. Between Beebe Lake and Ithaca Falls, the creek flows down six named waterfalls in Fall Creek Gorge include Foaming Falls, Forest Falls, Rocky Falls aka Sibley Falls and Triphammer Falls, and Horseshoe Falls.
- Triphammer Falls on Fall Creek – is a 55 ft multiple cascading fall located at the intersection of University and East Ave., on Cornell campus.
- The Foaming Falls on Fall Creek – is a 15 ft cascading fall, 110 stone steps below the suspension bridge.
- Forest Falls on Fall Creek – is a 25 ft cascading waterfall
- Rocky Falls on Fall Creek – is a 25 ft cascading waterfall
In 1990, the State of New York designated the 1.8-mile stretch of Fall Creek, from Cayuga Lake to the Triphammer Falls foot bridge, a Recreational River, which mandates preservation in a free flowing condition, protection from development, and restoration of its natural, scenic, and recreational qualities.
Parking areas: This loop can be accessed from four trailheads:
- On University Avenue across from the Johnson Museum of Art.
- Behind Risley Hall on North Campus
- From the south end of the bridge that crosses Fall Creek on Stewart Avenue
- At the north end of the pedestrian suspension bridge off of Fall Creek Drive
Ithaca Falls is the region’s most powerful and most impressive waterfall as Fall Creek takes its final plunge 100 feet or so down into Cayuga Lake. You can get the best view of the falls from the bridge over Lake Street or on the foot path that runs along the creek. If you follow the trail along the creek, you can see the ruins of the old mills that used to operate there in the 1800’s. The pool at the bottom of the falls is a favorite spot for fisherman to fish for lake trout and salmon. Swimming is prohibited.
Directions: from Downtown Ithaca, take Aurora St. north to Lincoln St. Turn right on Lincoln, then take an immediate left onto Lake St. The Falls will be on your right. There are two small lots up on a hill just south of where Lake St crosses Fall Creek.
Cascadilla Creek Gorge and Cascadilla Falls
Cascadilla Creek Gorge connects the Cornell campus to Downtown Ithaca from College Ave. to Court St. Along the way, the creek drops 400 ft past nine main waterfalls and some smaller ones, the largest being 50 ft. Cascadilla Falls has a 20ft multiple cascading fall right under College Ave., the first on the popular gorge trail. Despite being located in the city of Ithaca, this urban waterfall scene will make you feel surrounded by nature’s wonderous beauty.
The gorge trail walk is 1.3 miles and has many stairs. You can access a trail through the gorge from the “Treman Triangle” off of Linn Street in downtown Ithaca and at the trailhead behind the Schwartz Performing Arts Center. After eight years of renovation work building trails and stairs, including a new concrete and stone staircase to replace an old wooden staircase in the gorge, the Cascadilla Gorge Trail is open again.
Ludlowville Falls on Salmon Creek
If solitude is what you prefer, Ludlowville Falls on Salmon Creek is usually pretty quiet, as it doesn’t get the traffic that the falls closer to downtown Ithaca get. A 35 foot multi-plume cascade over hard limestone forms the beautiful Ludlowville Falls. This is one of the easiest waterfalls to visit in the area, as it is just a short walk to the back of the park to view the falls, and you can easily walk a trail down to the creek for a closer look.
Directions: Located northeast of Ithaca in Ludlowville Town Park on the southeast end of Cayuga Lake, in the Town of Lansing. Take 34B to the southeast end of Cayuga Lake. Turn Right onto Ludlowvile Rd. and drive straight to Ludlowville Town Park on your left, just past Salmon Creek Rd.
Denison Falls @ Cayuga Nature Center
Cayuga Nature Center is located on a hillside overlooking the west side of Cayuga Lake in the Town of Ulysses. There you will find Denison Falls, a peaceful 21ft cascading waterfall in a picturesque wooded gorge. It’s an easy walk from the parking area to the scenic overlook. The Cayuga Nature Center is good low-tech fun, with the great treehouse, the animals and the grounds and exhibits to explore.
Directions: From Ithaca, go North on Rt. 89 about 5 miles to the signed entrance of Cayuga Nature Center on your left.
Lick Brook Falls @ Sweedler Nature Preserve
The Sweedler Nature Preserve has multiple waterfalls that cascade down along Lick Brook on its way to Cayuga Lake, including one that is nearly 140 feet tall. There are hiking trails to follow in the forest along the rim of Lick Brook gorge that lead to the High Falls of Lick Brook.
Directions from Ithaca: Follow Rt. 13 south past Buttermilk Falls State Park and take an immediate left on Sand Bank Rd. Continue 1.6mi and bear right on Town Line Rd. The small trailhead parking area is on your immediate right.
Additional waterfalls and gorges found close to downtown include:
- Taughannock Falls State Park – a worthwhile place to visit during your trip to the Finger Lakes. The park is located on Rte. 89 approximately 8 miles north of Ithaca or 4 miles south of Trumansburg.
- Buttermilk Falls State Park – Buttermilk Creek descends more than 500 feet in a series of cascades and rapids as it flows down through the steep valley toward Cayuga Lake, forming a natural pool at the base of Buttermilk Falls.
- Robert Treman State Park – features nine miles of hiking trails through Enfield Glen. Follow winding trails along the gorge past 12 waterfalls, including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls.