Buttermilk Falls

Ithaca / Tompkins County, New York, USA

Rating: 1.5     Difficulty: 2
Looking directly at the Buttermilk Falls with trail going up on the right
Buttermilk Falls is a series of cascades said to total around 500ft in cumulative height.

The last 80ft is what we think the majority of visitors see as it shows itself to people entering the state park bearing the falls' name. During our visit, upon approaching the bottommost waterfall, it felt as if we walked into a recreational swimming pool as there were steps fringing the edge of the plunge pool as well as a lifeguard on duty. Indeed, there was lots of activity at the base of the falls to offset the heat and humidity of a lazy Summer's day in June.

As inviting as the pool was to cool off, we continued on the steep but well-developed trail that climbed alongside the stream responsible for the falls. The higher we went, the more cascades we saw and the quieter it got. Each cascade had their own character with different ways of enjoying them. In one instance, we saw a couple people lounging on lawn chairs in the middle of one of the cascades itself!

In one stretch of the trail, we entered a tight gorge area where we saw evidence of the power of the water that created such a chasm. Such gorges seemed to be a common characteristic in the Finger Lakes.

We eventually walked probably 1/2- to 2/3rds of the 1.6-mile loop. Had we done the entire loop, the signs here said we would've also seen formations like Pinnacle Rock as well as Pulpit Rock as well potentially more cascades comprising the Buttermilk Falls. Even though we took the Gorge Trail, there's certainly the option of returning on the other side of the stream via the Rim Trail. Perhaps next time, we'll do the whole thing.

Directions: From Ithaca, head south on Hwy 13 (Elmira Rd) for a couple of miles to the well-signed turnoff on the left for Buttermilk Falls. There's a toll and large (but busy) car park for the falls and recreation area.

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A pretty creative way to beat the heat of Summer at Buttermilk Falls
One of the many waterfalls comprising Buttermilk Falls
Gorgeous panorama from the top of the bottommost of the Buttermilk Falls
The busy swimming area at the base of the fallsThe busy swimming area at the base of the falls

Profile of the bottommost fallsProfile of the bottommost falls

Looking down from the top of the bottommost fallsLooking down from the top of the bottommost falls

Context of the couple enjoying themselves in one of the upper Buttermilk FallsContext of the couple enjoying themselves in one of the upper cascades

Side view of cascades coming out of a narrow gorgeSide view of cascades coming out of a narrow gorge

Focused on one of the cascades near our turnaround pointFocused on one of the cascades near our turnaround point

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For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.

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