Buttermilk Falls & Taughannock Falls State Parks

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Taughannock Falls State Park (top) and Buttermilk Falls State Park (bottom)

This past weekend we decided to plan a spontaneous trip to Ithaca, NY to see one of my favorite bands play at the State Theatre (woo, Guster!). Since my partner didn’t want to drive two hours home late at night, he proposed we stay the night in Ithaca after the concert – and I agreed on the condition that we check out at least one of the amazing nearby state parks. Luckily I don’t ever have to twist his arm to get him to join me on an adventure, and he was as excited as I was to see a fun show and check out some new parks.


This was my second time seeing Guster at the State Theatre, and it is one of my favorite venues. I always have a blast and enjoy the historic building‘s unique architecture. Ithaca, NY is in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, located at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake. The Finger Lakes are a popular visitor destination for the many wineries and breweries, outdoor recreation, historic sites and beautiful parks.

Buttermilk Falls State Park

After grabbing breakfast at a quaint local eatery, The State Diner, we decided to check out Buttermilk Falls State Park first since it is located right in Ithaca. According to the NY State Parks website, “Buttermilk Falls State Park takes its name from the foaming cascade formed by Buttermilk Creek as it flows down the steep valley side toward Cayuga Lake.”


My dad and stepmom joined us in our spontaneous adventure and led us to the park after breakfast. They weren’t interested hiking the trails with us, but we stopped to check out the falls near the Lower Park Entrance and take some pictures.

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After saying goodbye to my dad and stepmom, we set out for a hike up the Gorge Trail to the Upper Park Entrance, coming back down via the Rim Trail.


The Gorge Trail is a really nice easy-to-moderate hike and offers great views of cascading falls along Buttermilk Creek. A little more than half way up the Gorge Trail is a lean-to rest area, which makes for a nice spot to stop and take a break if needed. Unfortunately, as is too often the case with well-traveled and easily accessible trails, there was a bunch of litter and debris around the area of the lean-to. Nothing ruins a gorgeous day in nature’s playground quite like someone else’s trash.

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We made our way up to the Upper Park Entrance at a casual pace, stopping often to photograph the beautiful waterfalls. When we got up to the Upper Park Entrance, we looked around a bit where the Bear Trail continues up to Lake Treman, but we decided to just head back down to the Lower Park Entrance so we would have time to check out another park on the way home.

The Rim Trail follows Buttermilk Creek opposite the Gorge Trail, and is set back a bit farther away from the gorge with a wooded dirt trail. We made it back to the parking lot less than an hour after we started. We were only expecting to hike about 1.5 miles in total, according to the trail map, but MapMyRun showed a total distance of 2.8 miles. We did go a bit off trail to check out the Upper Park area, but I’m not sure how else to account for the extra 1+ mile.

Next on our spontaneous adventure to-do list was Taughannock Falls State Park in Trumansburg, NY. Since we drove past the park on our way to Ithaca the day before, we knew this was a stop we could easily make on the way home. The park’s namesake waterfall is the highest vertical-drop waterfall in the northeastern United States, plunging 215 feet.

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We drove up to the Falls Overlook to get a first glimpse at the spectacular falls before hiking the Gorge Trail for a better view. Side note – we have hiked a “Gorge Trail” at each of the last three state parks we’ve visited, must be a popular trail name!


The Gorge Trail is .95 miles long and offers a self-guided audio tour at several points along the trail. Full disclosure: the company I work for provides the cell phone tour and web app service for the Finger Lakes Region of New York State Parks, so I was very excited to finally see the park and check out the audio tour as well!

It was quick, very easy out-and-back hike along the Gorge Trail. The view of Taughannock Falls from below is even more incredible than the view from the overlook above.


On the way back, we hiked through the creek most of the way since the water level was low enough.


Both parks offer great scenic hikes that are short enough to be done in an hour or less. Of course there are more trails to explore if time permits, and we hope to visit both parks again in the future to check out what the other trails have to offer.

Have you visited any Finger Lakes State Parks? Share your favorites in the comments below!

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