Ithaca Falls

Ithaca / Tompkins County, New York, USA

Rating: 4     Difficulty: 1
Ithaca Falls
Ithaca Falls is probably our favorite of the Finger Lakes region of Western New York. We think it could very well be the largest of the waterfalls in the region with a reported 75ft height and a 100ft width plus year-round flow on Fall Creek draining into Cayuga Lake. There are conflicting numbers regarding its dimensions as we've also seen it reported to be as much as 150ft high and 175ft wide.

Despite its impressive dimensions, the access to the falls was strangely not well-signed nor did it feature well-developed infrastructure (e.g. a well-defined trail leading to it). Instead, we kind of winged it as we followed some people from a car park with limited space towards Fall Creek then walk upstream along a wide trail of use flanking the creek from there. That said, I'm pretty sure that when in doubt, after leaving the car, you could always look for Fall Creek from the road bridge (on Falls St; see directions below) and then follow the banks of the creek up to the falls. It only took us about 5-10 minutes or so of walking.

From what we could tell, this was still a popular waterfall given its ease of access (once you know where to look) and its proximity to Cornell University. Yet despite this, we felt it retained some degree of tranquility and peace often lacking in such waterfalls so close to a developed town or city.

Like many of the waterfalls in the Finger Lakes region, the underlying bedrock of the falls was a thin, flaky rock known as shale, which I believe is quite common here. It was because of this property that the falls possessed a ripply appearance that was friendly to long exposure photographs with a tripod (with the proper lighting conditions, I might add).

Julie and I visited this waterfall twice on the same day. The first time, we saw Ithaca Falls at the height of day on a gorgeous sunny day. At that time, there were a handful of people cooling off in its waters or just chilling out in the shade caused by the nearby overhanging shale cliffs. The bright sun also made the scene very bright making it tough to take that long exposure shot, which was the reason why we decided to come back later in the day.

In the late afternoon, I was able to get that long exposure shot. The scene was also much quieter, but this time around we saw locals fishing right at the base of the falls. Clearly, this was a waterfall that can be enjoyed in all kinds of conditions, and I can only imagine students at Cornell University could easily get into waterfalling simply by checking out the area around their campus and the college town of Ithaca itself.

Although we didn't do this, I understand there was another smaller waterfall further upstream of Ithaca Falls. But we'll have to wait to say anything more about it until the next time we actually get a chance to see it.

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Angled view of Ithaca FallsAngled view of Ithaca Falls
Cooling off at Ithaca FallsCooling off at Ithaca Falls
Nearby Ithaca Falls was Buttermilk Falls which featured an attractive glen as well as this view back towards the forest and town from the top of the lowermost drop of the fallsNearby Ithaca Falls was Buttermilk Falls which featured an attractive glen as well as this view back towards the forest and town from the top of the lowermost drop of the falls
Approaching the falls in the early afternoonApproaching the falls in the early afternoon

People staying cool in the shadePeople staying cool in the shade

A father and daughter enjoy the falls from its other sideA father and daughter enjoy the falls from its other side

Now approaching the falls in the late afternoonNow approaching the falls in the late afternoon

Now the entire amphitheater is under shadowNow the entire amphitheater is under shadow

Some folks trying their luck at fishingSome folks trying their luck at fishing

Last look at the falls before we leftLast look at the falls before we left

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In order to get to the falls, I recalled we had to go northbound on Hwy 13. But just before the 13 became a freeway as it was about to leave Ithaca, there was a street light on either Lincoln or Dey Street (I forgot), where we turned right.

Once we were off the main highway, we could have followed Lincoln all the way to Lake St (though I think we followed Falls St, which was just one block north of Lincoln, and took Falls St all the way to Lake St). The obscure car park was along Lake St between the intersection of Falls St and Lincoln St.

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

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