Discover The Best Hiking Near Ithaca: 10+ Trails With Beautiful Waterfalls
September 15, 2022
If you’re looking for the best hikes near Ithaca, you’re in the right place! Ithaca, New York is one of the best cities to visit in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Not only is the city home to Cornell University, it has so many stunning gorges and waterfalls. If you’re interested in a trip full of chasing waterfalls, Ithaca is the perfect base to discover some of the best hiking in the Finger Lakes.
This is based on my experience spending two weeks in Ithaca in September 2022.
Please remember to pack out all trash, stay on the trail and respect the area you’re visiting. It was unfortunate to see a lot of trash at some of the Ithaca city parks. For more information on how to leave no trace, visit lnt.org.
Ithaca has something different to offer in every season, but in order to enjoy the hikes on this list, you’ll want to visit between June and October. Portions of some parks (like Watkins Glen) close during the winter and spring months due to icy conditions.
To enjoy beautiful fall foliage and great weather, I recommend visiting in the fall! Fall foliage usually peaks during the first two weeks of October. I visited in September and while it was too early for fall colors, the weather was perfect!
- 4.2 miles, 875 feet of elevation gain, rated moderate
- $10 per vehicle
- 40 minutes from Ithaca
Watkins Glen is an iconic park known for its 400-foot deep gorge carved by the Glen Creek. Many consider it to be the best place to hike in the Finger Lakes. Within the gorge, there are waterfalls of varying sizes, layers upon layers of rocks and an easy, paved trail to follow.
Watkins Glen can get extremely crowded, so it’s best to start early to avoid the crowds. I started at 7am and it only began to get crowded as I was hiking back.
One of the most unique aspects for me was walking behind multiple waterfalls. Plus, there are a couple of tunnel sections where you go through the rocks. It’s really neat to see the way they’ve built the trail inside the gorge.
The main trail in Watkins Glen is hiking into the gorge. In addition, you can also hike along the rim and beyond the gorge to see a train bridge and a lake. I hiked a 4.2 mile loop that included all of these spots. If you’re short on time, stick to the gorge trail for a shorter 2 mile hike.
The famous gorge trail is typically closed between November and May, so be sure to visit in the summer or fall to see the most iconic areas!
If you are short on time, be sure to include Watkins Glen in your Finger Lakes itinerary!
Pro Tip: Your fee for one New York state park can count towards other parks you’re visiting on the same day. Be sure to hold onto your receipt!
- 1.6 miles, 462 feet of elevation gain, rated moderate
- $9 per vehicle
- 8 minutes from Ithaca
Buttermilk Falls State Park is located just a few minutes outside of Ithaca and features an incredible gorge to explore. The gorge has at least 10 waterfalls that you’ll pass in less than a mile; the tallest is 165 feet. While the gorge isn’t as deep as Watkins Glen, I was impressed with the seemingly endless waterfall views, the color of the water and rock column areas.
I recommend hiking a loop to explore the gorge first and then hike back on the rim trail. The gorge trail has a lot of steps: 462 feet of elevation gain in 0.7 miles. The rim trail is steep in a couple areas, but overall is a steady decline hiking down through the forest. All of the best views are on the gorge trail.
In the summer, a swimming area is open at the base of the falls. There are also picnic areas and campsites available.
The gorge trail closes between November and April, but you can still see the main waterfall a short walk from the parking lot. Visit in the summer or fall to get the full experience!
- 4.5 miles, 810 feet of elevation gain, rated moderate
- $9 per vehicle
- 10 minutes from Ithaca
Robert H. Treman State Park is another beautiful gorge right outside of Ithaca that features a large, narrow gorge and some epic waterfalls along the way. Lucifer Falls is the tallest waterfall in the park with a 114 foot cascade, and you’ll also be impressed by Lower Falls (or Enfield Falls) at 70 feet.
There are parking lots at both ends of the gorge in this park. I parked at Lower Falls and then hiked a loop trail of the gorge and rim trail. The most interesting part of the gorge hike was closer to the upper parking lot surrounding Lucifer Falls. If you have less time, you could hike about 2 miles in and out of the gorge from the upper lot, and then drive to see Lower Falls.
If you’re okay with a longer hike, the gorge and rim is 4.5 miles with 810 feet of elevation gain. There are some areas of ups and downs during the rim trail and the best views are in the gorge.
The gorge is stunning and I was amazed by the height of the walls surrounding Lucifer Falls. This park is very close to Buttermilk Falls State Park, so you can easily visit both in one day. Don’t miss either of these parks on your trip to Ithaca!
- 1.8 miles, 183 feet of elevation gain, rated easy
- $9 per vehicle
- 15 minutes from Ithaca
Taughannock Falls State Park is located about 15 minutes north of Ithaca and features an epic waterfall that is 215 feet tall.
The trail to reach the falls is mostly flat and wide, it’s even stroller or wheelchair friendly. The trail follows along the Taughannock Creek so there are some nice views along the way. The total trail is about 1.8 miles and rated easy.
When you reach the waterfall, it is incredible to look up at the giant canyon walls. Be sure to follow the posted rules on the end of the trail, as it is dangerous to get too close to the waterfall.
The park is also a great place to spot peregrine falcons who nest on the cliffs, so you may see birds flying above you.
In addition to the gorge trail, I highly recommend driving up to the Taughannock Falls Overlook Visitors Center for a great view overlooking the waterfall. If you have more time, you can also hike the entire rim trail for a 3 mile hike.
- 3.5 miles, 613 feet of elevation gain, rated moderate
- $8 per vehicle
- 30 minutes from Ithaca
Fillmore Glen is another beautiful gorge not far from Ithaca. This park is typically less crowded than most of the others and has a beautiful forest full of moss and ferns in addition to the multiple waterfalls.
As is common for most of these parks, I hiked the gorge trail in and took the rim trail out. The park has 5 beautiful waterfalls and many beautiful views of the stream along the way. One of the most impressive can be seen a short walk from the parking lot and has a grotto behind it.
In the summer, there is a swimming area available. If you’re looking for a less crowded hiking trail in the Finger Lakes and want to experience a forest that feels like a fairytale, make sure to add Fillmore Glen to your list!
- 1.1 miles, 298 feet of elevation gain, rated moderate
- In Ithaca
The Cascadilla Gorge trail is right in the heart of Ithaca and features 9 waterfalls. The trail actually connects Cornell University to downtown Ithaca - what an epic walk to class!
The gorge drops 400 feet and the first waterfall, Cascadilla Falls, is 20 feet. The entire trail is paved and has steps throughout. The trail is 1.1 miles out and back and definitely worth the adventure.
There is street parking nearby but no designated parking. Go early to get a spot.
- 4.1 miles, 492 feet of elevation gain, rated moderate
- In Ithaca
Six Mile Creek is an adventurous hike located right on the edge of Ithaca. The trail includes creek views, waterfalls, a reservoir and more.
Begin this trail from the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve and you’ll start walking along the Six Mile Creek. There are some lovely views along the way and a few small waterfalls. After about a mile, you’ll reach a dam and take a trail uphill for views of a reservoir.
There are a couple of different trails to choose from and it’s easy to get confused. I recommend using All Trails for navigation. Some areas of the trail are steep, hard to follow and involve climbing on tree roots. Be prepared with proper hiking shoes.
Swimming is not allowed in the reservoir, but some do it anyway. Make sure to stay safe and follow the rules.
After the reservoir, you can continue through the forest to reach Potter’s Falls. Potter’s Falls is a 25-foot waterfall that is a perfect place to sunbathe or have a picnic.
After the waterfall, you can continue just a bit further to see a second reservoir, Ithaca Reservoir. It’s only about 0.1 miles away, but we decided to turn back because it was a steep climb.
Overall, this trail is a great adventure if you’re up for a bit of a challenge. It’s full of variety, free to visit and a lot of fun.
- 0.2 miles, 2 feet of elevation gain, rated easy
- In Ithaca
Ithaca Falls is located in the city and there is a very short walk to see it up close. Park in the gravel lot and it’s about a quarter mile to reach the waterfall.
The waterfall is 150 feet tall and 175 feet wide with a series of cascades. It is one of the most impressive and powerful waterfalls in the area. In the early 1800’s, several mills operated from the power of the falls and their ruins are still visible today.
This is a quick stop, but a beautiful one. The waterfall is definitely worth seeing.
- 0.2 miles, 42 feet of elevation gain, rated moderate
- In Ithaca
To see Well’s Falls, it’s a very short hike located just a couple minutes from downtown Ithaca. The trail is 0.2 miles and will lead you down a hill to a great view of Well’s Falls.
The waterfall is 65 feet tall including a 30-foot dam at its base. The falls are right next to an abandoned pumping station, which used to provide drinking water for the city. Now it has been abandoned since the 1940s.
The unique mix of nature and man-made structures make this waterfall one of most unique places in Ithaca. It can be seen quickly and is worth a quick stop during your Ithaca trip.
- 0.1 miles, 3 feet of elevation gain, rated easy
- 15 minutes from Ithaca
Ludlowville Park is about 15 minutes outside of Ithaca in the town of Lansing. This unassuming city park is home to a 35 foot tall waterfall that is spread wide as it cascades over a rock face. The rocks underneath create a cave and there is a deep pool of water.
You will park in the lot, walk across the lawn and then take a short trail down (to the right of the fence) to get a closer look at the falls. This a great quick stop to make on your way to or from other destinations around the Finger Lakes.
There are four beautiful waterfalls right in the middle of Cornell’s Campus! They are all part of the Fall Creek Gorge, which also connects to Ithaca Falls.
Here is some information and parking tips for visiting these waterfalls. I recommend going early or late to avoid traffic and find a parking spot.
- Triphammer Falls: Park at the Cornell LGBT Resource Center and walk a short loop around 2 bridges for a great view of the falls.
- Rocky Falls: Park at a small parking lot on Falls Creek Drive next to the Fall Creek Suspension Bridge. You’ll have a view of Rocky Falls from the bridge. I stayed parked here for the next two waterfalls as well.
- Horseshoe Falls: Continue on from the Fall Creek Suspension Bridge on the Gorge Path. There is a path with steps down to get a closer view of Horseshoe Falls. The hike is just over a half mile.
- Forest Falls: Walk along the Stewart Bridge for a view of Forest Falls to the East and great views of the surrounding area to the West. Forest Falls was my favorite of the four waterfalls because you get a clear view of the waterfall and surrounding canyon walls. The gorge trail connects between Stewart Bridge and the Fall Creek Suspension Bridge.
I hope this list helps you discover the best hiking trails near Ithaca! To help give you everything you need to plan a trip to Ithaca, here is information on where to stay in Ithaca and some of the best places to eat and drink.
To be in a central location in Ithaca, I recommend staying downtown near Ithaca Commons. Argos Inn is a boutique hotel in a historic mansion that has a great mix of modern and vintage decor. The Hilton Garden Inn is another great option that is said to be clean and offers great value. Both of these are within walking distance of Ithaca Commons so you’ll have plenty of restaurants nearby.
There are also several hotels located right outside of Ithaca near Buttermilk Falls State Park. You may find lower prices or easier parking in this area. I recommend checking out the Holiday Inn Express & Suites.
The Finger Lakes are known for their many beautiful wineries, breweries, cideries and farms in addition to the vast hiking opportunities. Here are my favorite cideries and breweries I visited, plus some great restaurants in downtown Ithaca!
Finger Lakes Cider House is a gorgeous place to eat and drink with views of Cayuga Lake. Plus, it’s right down the road from Taughannock Falls. Here you’ll find farm to table cuisine, live music and wood fired pizza in addition to the cider.
They take pride in supporting local farms and using organic ingredients. All the ingredients are locally sourced from the Finger Lakes. The menu changes frequently, but you can find charcuterie, grilled cheese, fresh salads and pizza on Friday nights. I was really impressed with the wild mushroom pizza.
Their ciders are made in house and they have a mix of both sweet and dry varieties. I really enjoyed the Fruit of the Bloom cider made with ginger. They even have ice cider, fermented from the juice of frozen apples (similar to ice wine).
Whether you come for the food, the drinks or the views, the atmosphere here is amazing and it’s the perfect spot to spend an evening in the summer or fall.
South Hill Cider is located in a beautiful setting complete with their own apple orchard, U-pick flowers, fire pits and a surrounding view of rolling hills. During the summer months and into fall, there is a beautiful variety of flowers to enjoy and take home.
South Hill serves delicious cider along with farm to table food with unique flavors. I enjoyed the lemon thyme cheese curds and all of the ciders that I tried.
Grist Iron Brewing is another place that offers incredible views along with great food and drink. It sits above Seneca Lake and is the perfect place to watch the sunset.
I enjoyed a flight of their sour beers and especially loved the Bikini Bottom Bomb Smoothie Sour. I also really enjoyed the Veg Head pizza. If you’re a beer drinker, I definitely recommend checking out this spot during your trip to the Finger Lakes.
Grist Iron is a bit further outside of Ithaca but worth the drive and could be a great place to visit after your trip to Watkins Glen.
Lev Kitchen is centrally located in Ithaca Commons and serves a Yemeni flatbread called Malawach, a cuisine common in countries like Israel, Lebanon and Syria. As described on their website, it’s a mix between a croissant and pita bread.
Their food is delicious and had me craving more. I really enjoyed the Haloumi Malawach which includes halloumi cheese, greens, walnuts and jam. I also liked the Shakshuka Malawach and the Kennebec French fries loaded with cilantro, cheese, peppers and more.
This is a great spot for take out or for eating in, and the unique food offering makes it a unique gem in Ithaca.
Collegetown Bagels (and Ithaca Bakery, owned by the same company), serve an amazing selection of breakfast sandwiches, bagels, soup and more. Collegetown Bagels was even ranked one of the top 30 college sandwich shops in America.
I really enjoyed a sandwich with portobello, pesto, cheese and spinach from Collegetown Bagels, and a sunrise breakfast sandwich with avocado, red onion and egg from Ithaca Bakery.
While these restaurants are great for to-go options, they also have fun events. Ithaca Bakery has a happy hour and trivia nights if you come in the evening. Either one is great to visit for a delicious sandwich (perfect hiking fuel!) during your time in Ithaca.
If you’re looking for a nicer meal, Moosewood is a James Beard award-winning restaurant that was first established in 1973. They serve an all vegetarian menu made with farm to table ingredients and also have a famous cookbook.
I enjoyed the rich, truffle pasta (Strozzapreti al tartufo nero) and the sourdough bread with olive oil. You’ll want to make an advance reservation for this spot.
Indian Creek Farm is not a restaurant, but a farm where you can pick your own produce and purchase local products. And in the fall, they serve delicious, mini apple cider donuts.
I was so impressed by the variety of crops that you can pick. They have over 100 items growing and each month offers something different. You can find over 60 types of apples, strawberries, peaches, pears, squash, brussel sprouts, eggplant and more.
After picking your produce, you can enjoy fresh apple cider donuts along with hot cider. Indian Creek Farm is right outside of Ithaca and a great stop to make during your travels through the Finger Lakes.
The Finger Lakes are an underrated fall destination that are full of so many incredible waterfalls! I hope this guide helps you plan your trip and see some of the most beautiful places in the Finger Lakes.
For more travel around New York state, check out my guide to visiting Buffalo, New York.
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