Taughannock Falls

Cayuga Lake / Ulysses / Tompkins County, New York, USA

Rating: 3     Difficulty: 2
Taughannock Falls


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Taughannock Falls (rhymes with "mechanic") is one of the signature attractions of the Finger Lakes area. Indeed, it was certainly one of those waterfalls where it seemed like we saw it many times before actually coming here in person!

We managed to experience this waterfall in a couple of ways. The first way was via the Gorge Trail, which started from a car park right near the western banks of Cayuga Lake. The trail was 3/4-mile in length (1.5 miles return) and was mostly shaded and flat, which was welcome considering the heat and humidity of our early Summer visit. We even saw some people decide to walk inside Taughannock Creek itself instead of the trail to beat the heat.

We also noticed some interpretive signs discussing the ecology and geology of the gorge, which seemed to have glacial origins. In addition, we passed by an attractive smaller cascade near the beginning of the trail at the car park, which conspired to keep us on the trail a bit longer. The trail ended right at the falls where fences and railings were put in to discourage people from getting closer to the falls (probably due to the fragile nature of the cliffs surrounding the amphitheater which were prone to rock falls).

Given the harsh lighting of the day, we actually did this trail twice on the same day. In the morning, the sun cast some pretty harsh shadows and bright zones wreaking havoc on our photos. So we came back in the late afternoon to redo this trail under better lighting conditions. It was under that second visit that there was a whole bunch of chairs all lined up as if the falls was the center of attention to a captive audience (though the show or seminar was well over when we showed up).

The other way we experienced this waterfall was from the rim of the amphitheater overlooking Taughannock Falls itself as well as where the gorge came to its dramatic and abrupt end. This was a drive-to viewpoint so it got to be pretty busy here, but it was still definitely worth checking out. As a matter of fact, the cover of our coffee table book about Waterfalls and Gorges of the Finger Lakes was taken from here.

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Direct view of Taughannock FallsDirect view of Taughannock Falls
Descending towards the upper viewpoint for Taughannock FallsDescending towards the upper viewpoint for Taughannock Falls
While Julie and I were aware that Taughannock Falls was one of the more famous waterfalls around Ithaca, we also enjoyed Ithaca FallsWhile Julie and I were aware that Taughannock Falls was one of the more famous waterfalls around Ithaca, we also enjoyed Ithaca Falls
Sign greeting us at start of the trailSign greeting us at the start of the trail

Cascade near the beginning of the Gorge TrailCascade near the beginning of the Gorge Trail

Different look at that cascadeDifferent look at that cascade

Julie staying in the shadow while hiking to Taughannock FallsJulie staying in the shadow while hiking to Taughannock Falls

Further along the trailFurther along the trail. Note the folks on the right hiking inside the creek itself!

At the falls, but in suboptimal lightingAt the falls, but in suboptimal lighting

Julie walking back alongside Taughannock CreekJulie walking back alongside Taughannock Creek

Approaching the crowded upper viewpointApproaching the crowded upper viewpoint

Missed the showMissed the show

Back at the end of the Gorge TrailBack at the end of the Gorge Trail. Julie checks out the falls.

Zoomed in look at Taughannock Falls from the upper viewpointZoomed in look at the falls from the upper viewpoint

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Direct view of the falls from its base

Focused on a cascade near the start of the trail

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We got to the car park for the Gorge Trail by taking route 89 north of Ithaca for about 8 miles as it follows alongside the western bank of Cayuga Lake. The parking area (fee required) is on the left.

For the upper lookout of the falls, you can leave from the car park mentioned above, then go across the bridge heading north a short distance before turning left onto Falls Rd (my map says it's Taughannock Park Rd). Then follow this road a little under a mile to another car park area where a short walk down some steps leads to a nice overlook of the falls and gorge amphitheater.

For geographical context, Ithaca was about 156 miles (under 3 hours drive) east of Buffalo, 167 miles (3 hours drive) west of Albany, or 233 miles (4.5 hours drive) northwest of New York City.

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For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.

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

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Ruth's and Taughannock Falls 
Check out Ruth's waterfalls. Taughannock Falls is my number one, located near Ithica NY. It is the highest falls in the Eastern U.S. I spent 3 years at …

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