Waterfalls are the reason that Ithaca, New York, profits from the slogan, “Ithaca is GORGES!” More than 150 waterfalls flow within an area of 10 square miles. There are plenty of hikes and walks to let you explore their natural beauty. The college town of Ithaca is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, and in addition to the Ithaca Commons there are other lovely highlights to experience.
Ithaca Has Waterfalls Aplenty
If you’ve not seen the waterfalls in Ithaca, New York you can’t fully appreciate the popular slogan, “Ithaca is Gorges!” (You’re bound to see it on a t-shirt or two.) There are more than 150 waterfalls flowing throughout the town! Signs at their bases and on trails often tell the stories of how the waterfalls and gorges came to be. They were “carved out” thousands of years ago by glaciers. There is some amazing history to be learned.
Robert H. Treman State Park
We started at Robert Treman State Park. We teased my daughter that our hike would take us along trails with names like Lucifer Falls and the Devil’s Kitchen. She was a bit skeptical, but sure enough, these winding, narrow gorge paths were seemingly full of “brimstone.” Well, it was actually shale! (Luckily, no fire in sight that day.) We ate lunch at the Historic Gristmill, sitting at the base of a small waterfall behind the mill. We’d ordered to-go from one of the popular sandwich spots in town, Gorgers Subs. Their bread is homemade throughout the day. The salads and sandwiches are very tasty and generous in portions.
Trails and Glens
Enfield Glen is also a beautiful scenic area to walk through. If you’re traveling during a season when the humidity is higher, bring some bug repellent and sunscreen. Park rangers say the trails that run parallel to Enfield Creek are some of the best to see. Those trails follow the creek as it plunges almost 500 feet down.
Getting the All Clear
We were there early in the season so some trails were still being checked by specialists. The rangers explained they scale the trails and the gorges up and down to make sure nothing big is going to fall. The gorges are made mostly of layers of shale. During the winter months, water gets into the cracks in the rocks. Freezing and thawing causes rocks and debris to loosen and fall. But, because of numerous cliffs that hang over the trail, you can’t hear the rocks falling! So, thank you to the team that takes on the dangerous task of scaling the gorge walls so our walk is safe!
Lucifer Falls was an impressive 115 feet of water splashing down and well worth the walk. In total, there were six trails in the park we could have taken ranging from a third of a mile to three miles long. (The three-mile trail is a section of the Finger Lakes trail that winds through the park.)
Swimming in the Falls
And while it was too early in the season to swim, the Lower Falls at Treman State park make for a popular swimming spot. It’s the spot where it’s easiest to see the falls without going too far. And as the swim area is lifeguarded, families feel safer about enjoying their swim.
The next day, our waterfall walk was at Cascadilla Falls. This gorge trail connects Cornell University’s campus to downtown Ithaca. We started in the downtown figuring we’d tackle it from the bottom up. We’d use the trip down as a reward and made dinner reservations in town for our return. Upon arrival, we asked several people working in the town where the trailhead was and they didn’t know. That surprised us. If you had really cool, waterfall trail running through your town, wouldn’t you want to know where it started?
Watch Your Steps
The half-mile trail is considered moderate/strenuous in difficulty. Perhaps that’s because it’s chock full of stairs! Some stairs are made from the naturally occurring rock. Others are man-made. There are areas in which it leveled out for a bit. But it served as a great bit of cardio-exercise on the way up. And along the way, you’ll see six different waterfalls.
What You’ll See
The lower trail head starts at Cascadilla Park (logical!). And the upper trailhead begins near the College Avenue Bridge. The falls themselves are 20 feet high and cascade down with multiple other mini-falls along the way. There were also some amazing rock formations holding up structures such as a fraternity “clubhouse.” Arriving at the top we walked through a good portion of Cornell University’s campus. There is ample diverse and interesting architecture to be seen. The college’s main street offers plenty of restaurants and bars for those attending, families, and friends who may be visiting. Walking back down, the creek drops 400 feet past nine different waterfalls.
A Special Meal
Once we made our way back down the trail we had dinner to look forward to. We strolled through the Ithaca commons while walking to the restaurant. The commons are an outdoor walkway where you’ll find a selection of independent stores, restaurants, art and more. Our stomachs grumbled. We were hoping for a treat.
Dinner at Moosewood
My husband and I both grew up eating recipes from the famous Moosewood Cookbook. Located within walking distance of our waterfall walk was the Moosewood Restaurant! This restaurant is internationally regarded as one of the top vegetarian/vegan restaurants in the United States. In addition to producing 12 vegetarian cookbooks, the restaurant chefs win many important food awards. That said, we kept our expectations a bit lower so as not to be disappointed. We weren’t. Everything was fresh, delicious and flavorful. Our 12-year-old found plenty on the menu to interest her as well. And she still made room for their famous homemade brownie and ice cream for dessert.
On day three, sadly, we had to head home. We passed plenty of B&B’s, farms. And yes, we saw some waterfalls from the car as we headed out of town. Ithaca is a reasonably-priced getaway that offers striking nature as well as pleasant civilization. It is indeed, “gorges.”