Waterfall chasing is a thing! And there are hundreds of waterfalls to discover in the Finger Lakes region of central New York state. The Finger Lakes region derives its name from the 11 glacial lakes shaped like long fingers. The area is best known for its impressive gorges formed by water and ice over 10,000 years ago.
Rainwater flowing down the steep walls of the gorges formed hundreds of Finger Lakes waterfalls. A road trip is the best way to experience the many waterfalls in the area. Some require a hike, and others are visible right from the road!
Watkins Glen State Park
The place to start your waterfall road trip is Watkins Glen State Park – home to 19 waterfalls! Well known for its natural beauty, the park lies within the quaint town of Watkins Glen. Entrance to the park is on Franklin Street, which makes it easily accessible and, as a result, very popular with tourists. To avoid crowds, visit early in the day and on a weekday, if possible.
The entire park is nearly two miles long, making it an easy half-day hike. The main Gorge Trail — and the one with the best views of the caves and waterfalls — is well maintained and gradually ascends 400 feet, with 800 steps along the way, to the top. The path is family-friendly so kids and mobile adults can enjoy a day immersed in nature’s glory carved from sandstone rocks over thousands of years. Note: Leashed dogs are allowed on the outer rim trails but not on the Gorge Trail.
While there are 800 steps, the path is suitable for all fitness levels as most visitors, awestruck by the dramatic landscape, take the hike slowly and often stop to snap photos.
The Cavern Cascade is the first of two waterfalls that you will walk behind on your journey up the Gorge Trail. Be careful of your cell phone and camera gear, as you may get some spray, which is pleasantly refreshing on a steamy day!
Further up the path is Rainbow Falls – quite possibly the prettiest waterfall you’ll ever see and the second of the two waterfalls that you will walk behind. This narrow flow of water plunges over the cliff face thick with ferns.
The Central Cascade is the highest waterfall located in the gorge, plummeting 60 feet below. A perfect photo-op is the bridge that crosses directly over top of this waterfall, providing the ultimate bird’s-eye view.
The Gorge Trail is open from mid-May to late October, depending on the weather. Be sure to check the Watkins Glen State Park website for details before you visit. The site When to Be Where has lots of useful tips for your visit to Watkins Glen State Park, too.
More Waterfalls in The Finger Lakes Region
Also in Schuyler County, just south of Watkins Glen, is the Village of Montour Falls. The village is considered the southern gateway to the Finger Lakes Region and is known for its natural and historical beauty. Shequaga Falls is visible from West Main Street and is one of the 20+ waterfalls in the “Valley of Tumbling Waters.”
Taughannock Falls is the tallest waterfall in New York State and is one of the major natural attractions in the Northeast. Taughannock Falls State Park’s namesake waterfall plunges 215 feet (exceeding Niagara Falls at 167 feet), over rocky cliffs that tower nearly 400 feet above the gorge. The hike to the falls is scenic and relatively short at 3/4 of a mile, so there’s no good reason not to see this wonder of nature while you’re in the Finger Lakes region. Spectacular views can also be had on the gorge and rim trails above the falls and from below at the end of the gorge trail. Located in Trumansburg, NY north of Ithaca.
The devil is in the details, and while you’re in the area, you shouldn’t miss Lucifer Falls in Robert H. Treman State Park, south of Ithaca. With proper planning and an early start, it’s very doable to see both Taughannock Falls and Robert H. Treman State Park on the same day.
Lucifer Falls drops 115 feet cascading over many layers of rock. While the image above was shot near the top, gazing up from the base of the creek offers the best views. A bonus is the natural swimming pool at the base of the falls.
In Ithaca, 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. Buttermilk Falls is visible from the road, which makes it an excellent choice for families with young children or those who are physically challenged.
The upper park has a small lake, hiking trails through woodlands and along the gorge and rim, picnic areas, and playing fields. The lower park has a campground, natural pool, and playing fields bordering Larch Meadows – a wetland area with a nature trail.
Watkins Glen State Park is at the southern end of Seneca Lake, the largest of the glacial Finger Lakes and the deepest lake within the state. If you haven’t explored the waterfalls in the Finger Lakes Region, isn’t it about time you experienced the natural beauty of central New York state?!To help you plan your trip, visit Watkins Glen tourism site for information on where to eat, drink, stay, and do. Be sure and check the New York State Parks website for opening and closing dates, hours of operation, trails, and camping information as well.
All photographs by Harrison Sutcliffe Photography. All rights reserved (c) 2019 Harrison Sutcliffe. For more information or to purchase prints, please visit Harrison Sutcliffe Photography.
If you’re awestruck by these spectacular waterfalls, PIN this image to your Pinterest boards and add the Finger Lakes to your travel bucket list!