The Finger Lakes region is home to many incredible gorges. While some, like the ones at Buttermilk Falls State Park, Stony Brook State Park, and Watkins Glen State Park, are well known and see a ton of visitors, Cascadilla Gorge is a hidden gem.
Cascadilla Gorge is located in the heart of downtown Ithaca, less than a mile from the popular Ithaca Falls. A half-mile trail winds its way through this gorge, passing 8 waterfalls as the gorge drops more than 300 feet.
The tallest waterfall in the gorge is said to be as much as 80 feet in height, though, in my opinion, it’s a few feet shorter than that.
This gorge is unique in that it’s more commonly used as a path between downtown Ithaca and Cornell University, as opposed to being primarily used by nature-lovers.
Because this gorge is a popular route for residents, the trail is nearly entirely composed of man-made paths and stairs, instead of more natural paths. While some of this infrastructure dates back to the 1920s, much of what you see today is a bit newer than that.
This creates unique scenes with modern stairwells next to waterfalls and stone bridges over the creek.
While I usually prefer more natural spots, the paths here been very well done and don’t distract much from the beauty of the gorge. At the very least, the ease of access here more than makes up for what the path takes away.
When to Hike Cascadilla Gorge
Like many other gorges in the region, Cascadilla Gorge is closed seasonally. This trail is quite dangerous when it’s icy, so it closes when ice begins to form in the fall and stays closed until it is all melted in the spring.
This means that it is typically from sometime in November through sometime in April.
You can check the status of the gorge on the website of the Cornell Botanical Gardens.
Like many Finger Lakes waterfalls, Cascadilla Gorge is best hiked when water levels are high, such as in the spring or after a decent rainstorm. However, even when water levels are low, it can still be a good choice.
In fact, the photos in this article were taken when other waterfalls in the region were quite dry. As you can see, Cascadilla Gorge tends to retain water after many other waterfalls in the region.
Obviously, weekends tend to be busier at Cascadilla Gorge, though since this doesn’t see as many visitors as other waterfalls in the region, it’s not as crowded. Nevertheless, hiking on a weekday is always a better option if you want to enjoy the trail in peace.
Where to Park for Cascadilla Gorge
There are several places to access Cascadilla Gorge, but the best place to start your hike is at the entrance along Linn St. There is a small park, known as Treman Triangle Park, at the entrance that can be found at the following coordinates: 42.442997, -76.494438.
The trail starts at the back of this tiny park beyond the typically-open gate.
There is parking along several streets surrounding the park, including a pull-off directly across the street along Linn St. that can accommodate a handful of cars.
While there is no charge to hike the gorge, depending on where you park, you may have to pay the parking meter. Obviously, make sure to observe the “No Parking” signs in the area.
If you’d rather park at the top of the hike, there is parking along College Avenue near the trailhead at the following coordinates: 42.442811, -76.485231.
Hiking the Cascadilla Gorge Trail
Starting from the bottom (as that’s where most non-students start their trek), the trail starts out relatively easily. Within a few steps, the trail passes into the heart of the gorge and small waterfalls are soon visible.
Even though the trail gains a decent amount of elevation in the gorge (over 300 feet), it is primarily on concrete and stone steps, which makes it a fairly easy climb.
While walking, make sure to watch your step, however. There are a fair number of areas along the trail where there is no railing on the sidewalk, and a slip would result in a 4-foot fall onto the hard rocks that make up the creek bed.
About halfway up the trail is one of the gorge’s most dramatic waterfalls, which is located just after you cross beneath the Stewart Avenue Bridge.
Here, there is a large concrete and stone stairwell directly adjacent to a beautiful waterfall. Just above the waterfall, there is a historic stone bridge that crosses over Cascadilla Creek.
Above this waterfall, there are several more beautiful waterfalls, including a large one that is located just before you reach the College Avenue Bridge.
After this waterfall, the trail climbs the hill and reaches College Avenue. If you cross the street, you can pick up more of the trail, which continues for another third of a mile and ends at Hoy Road in the heart of the Cornell University campus.
However, beyond College Avenue, the trail has a very different feel and is located well above the creek for the most part instead of adjacent to it. That being said, there are a couple more small waterfalls that can be seen and this upper part of the trail is open year-round.
In my opinion, however, unless you just want to keep walking, College Avenue is a good place to start your return hike back to your car.
The fastest and most scenic route is simply to retrace your steps back through the gorge. However, if you really want to go a different way, there are sidewalks along the roads that will take you back to your car.
Obviously, these roadway routes aren’t as scenic, and they are a bit longer in distance, as well.
Without a doubt, Cascadilla Gorge is one of the hidden gems of Ithaca. If you are looking for a spot that’s unique, incredibly beautiful, and isn’t as crowded as some of the other waterfalls near Ithaca, this is a great spot to check out.
Looking for even more great spots to visit in the Finger Lakes? Check out Wells Falls, Shequaga Falls, and the grave of Mark Twain.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]