The Finger Lakes section of New York is a beautiful part of the state. The ice age glaciers and local geology have created a large collection of river gorges along with the eleven lakes themselves. Last week I wrote about Buttermilk Falls, a beautiful set of cascades. It is beautiful, but not an easy hike. Another gorgeous gorge, and one with a much easier walk is at Taughannock Falls State Park.
Located eleven miles north of Ithaca, on the western shore of Lake Cayuga, the park offers some of the best hiking, swimming, fishing and boating, all in one place. Taughannock Falls State Park straddles NY-96, with its eastern section along the water. This lake-front section offers access to a beach, a fishing pier and the park’s boat-launch and marina. There are plenty of picnic tables and places for kids to play. It is a great place to come for the day, set up a picnic and enjoy everything the lake has to offer.
The highlight of the park is on the other side of the road. This is where you will find Taughannock Creek and the hike to the falls. The trail starts at the parking lot and takes you to the Lower Falls, a 15 foot drop leading to final leg of the creek before the lake. From this point, the trail follows the edge of Taughannock Creek. One really fun thing is that during the summer, when water levels are low, you can leave the trail, and hike up the bed of creek. The bed is limestone, with very little dirt, so you can walk it without getting your shoes wet or dirty. Being in the middle of gorge offers some amazing views.
Of course, the goal is Taughannock Falls, itself. Unlike the cascades of Buttermilk Falls, Taughannock is a drop falls, 215 feet high. Even in July, when there is not a lot of water in the creek, it is an impressive sight. The difference in the two falls is due to different geological features, even though there is only a 20 mile distance. The ground at Taughannock is primarily shale, so the rock has eroded in a more vertical pattern.
Taughannock Falls State Park has other trail options, including two that climb up to the top of the falls, one on each side of the gorge. You can also drive up to top and take a short hike to an overlook point.
There are lots of wonderful hikes in the Ithaca area. Buttermilk Falls and Taughannock Falls State Parks are options to really enjoy nature.
Nuts and Bolts
Taughannock Falls State Park is located along route NY-89, approximately 11 miles north of Ithaca. Parking fees are $8/day.