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Hiking to the Six-Story Treehouse at the Cayuga Nature Center Near Ithaca

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There are few things that feel more magical than a treehouse, and did you know that there is a unique six-story one that you can visit in Ithaca, New York?

Sitting just outside of downtown Ithaca, on the southwestern shores of Cayuga Lake, you’ll find the Cayuga Nature Center and their fantastic treehouse, known as Tree Tops. The center is run by the Paleontological Research Institution, which also manages the nearby Museum of the Earth.

Tree Tops was built in 2000 by students from Ithaca High School, and is great fun for both kids and adults to explore.

Boy walking towards the treehouse at the Cayuga Nature Center near Ithaca NY
The treehouse at the Cayuga Nature Center is a ton of fun to explore.

While the interior of the structure features little more than the wooden supports and stairs necessary for the structure, the exterior has a very unique look thanks to the thousands of sticks that line the walls of the treehouse. These sticks both help to cover the exterior of the structure and help it to blend in a bit into the wooded hillside.

Wanting to see this amazing treehouse near Ithaca, my family and I visited on a beautiful summer day.

The Lodge at the Cayuga Nature Center near Ithaca NY
The Lodge at the Cayuga Nature Center.

The Cayuga Nature Center sits on 100 acres of land with over five miles of hiking trails that cross through many different habitats on a hillside over Cayuga Lake. During my family’s visit, we focused on the western portion of the center, starting with the parking area directly in front of the Lodge.

The Lodge is the main building at the Cayuga Nature and holds its indoor displays. These include information about the area’s history and ecology, as well as the largest public aquarium in the Finger Lakes. Unfortunately, the Lodge’s hours are somewhat limited, so I wasn’t able to go in and check it out during my visit.

That just gives me an excuse to come back, though!

Buzzard in an enclosure at the Cayuga Nature Center in the Finger Lakes
Don’t miss the animal enclosures along the trail.

The hike to the treehouse starts from trails on the backside of the Lodge, which are open daily from dawn to dusk even if the building itself is closed. The trail back here is unmarked at the start but is obvious as it’s the only one that heads away from the building.

Just a few feet behind the Lodge, the gravel path passes several enclosures with animals inside. These are part of the menagerie on display at the Cayuga Nature Center and are all animals that were rescued and couldn’t be returned to the wild. These displays offer a nice peek into some of the local wildlife.

To reach Tree Tops, continue following the gravel path away from the lodge, making sure to stay to the right at the trail split by the pollinator garden.

The treehouse at the Cayuga Nature Center in Ithaca, NY
Walking up to the treehouse.

About two-tenths of a mile from the nature center, you should see the six-story treehouse in the woods. Cross the small footbridge to reach the base of this incredible structure.

Deep in the gorge next to the treehouse, you’ll see Denison Falls. This waterfall is named after Marion Denison Ehrhart, who was a local teacher and naturalist.

This 20-foot waterfall only flows well when water levels are high, but is definitely a neat spot to view if it has water. However, as you can see from my photo, there was almost no water here during my visit.

Denison Falls at the Cayuga Nature Center near Ithaca New York
Denison Falls wasn’t flowing well when I visited but still added a nice sound to the forest.

If you are looking for an impressive waterfall, though, you’d be better off heading a few miles north to Taughannock Falls State Park.

The treehouse doesn’t have any specific highlights and because of the trees that surround it, doesn’t have any great views. Still, it’s a ton of fun to climb, and the stairs make it easy for both kids and adults to check out most of the spaces

Boy climbing in the treehouse at the Cayuga Nature Center in Ithaca NY
Climbing the treehouse is a lot of fun.

My young kids really loved this spot and had a ton of fun running up and down the stairs and hiding in the nooks and crannies. Just note that there are a few spots where kids could have small falls, so if you are visiting with younger kids, make sure to keep an eye on them.

Once you’ve finished enjoying Denison Falls and the treehouse at Cayuga Nature Center, you could simply retrace your steps back to your car, but we decided to head the long way around, and hike on some of the trails here.

Family hiking on the trails at the Cayuga Nature Center in Tompkins County NY
There are several miles of fun hiking trails at the center.

We ended up hiking the Black Diamond Connector Trail to the Meadow Trail, which made for a short but really nice and beautiful loop through the western edge of the property.

Ultimately, I really had a fantastic time exploring a small portion of the grounds at the Cayuga Nature Center and seeing the treehouse and Denison Falls. I definitely can’t wait to visit again to check out the interior of the Lodge, see the waterfall with nice flow, and hike more of the trails at this fantastic hidden gem in Tompkins County.

Cayuga Nature Center can be found at 1420 Taughannock Blvd in Ithaca, NY.

Looking for more places to visit nearby? Check out Ithaca Falls, the Sciencenter, Newfield Covered Bridge, and the best waterfalls in the Finger Lakes.

More nearby places worth exploring

Find more things to do in the Finger Lakes

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