Exploring New York’s Taughannock Falls State Park
Twenty minutes outside of the waterfall capital of New York (Ithaca) and along the western shores of Cayuga Lake is Taughannock Falls State Park. The park has three main waterfalls: the Upper Falls, the Lower Falls, and Taughannock Falls along with plenty of hiking trails. The name for Taughannock Falls is believed to either been derived from the Delaware Indian Chief Taughannock or from the Delaware word taghkanic, which means “great fall in the woods.”
The main feature of this very popular state park is the 215 foot waterfall, Taughannock Falls. The falls is said to be the highest drop east of the Rocky Mountains and 48 ft. taller than Niagara Falls (which stands at 167 ft.), but with a significantly lower water volume. The park contains a 400 ft. deep gorge through layers of sandstone, shale and limestone.
The gorge was once completely covered in water during the Middle to Late Devonian period (about 385 million years ago). The history of the sea levels rising and falling in this area can be seen in the different layers of rock throughout the gorge, including the limestone, shale, and siltstone.
The different seasons will give viewers a much different experience, with summer seeing lush greenery, the falls months seeing the perfect combination of vibrant colors, bare trees in the late fall and early spring, and ice and snow covered in the winter. All views are great, so it really depends on what you are looking for!
Park Hours: Year round from dawn to dusk
Entrance Fees: $8 per car
Camping Fees: $18-28 per night (with an additional $5 fee for non NY residents)
- Water Fall Viewing
- Boat Launches
- Boat Rentals
- Ice Skating
- Stand Up Paddle Boarding
- Sledding/Snow Shoeing
While exploring Taughannock Falls State Park you are bound to run into some wild life:
- Turkey Vultures
- Red Fox
How to Get There
The easiest and best way to reach Taughannock Falls State Park is via car. If you are coming from the Ithaca area, take Route 89 North about 8 miles outside of Ithaca and you will come upon the Taughannock Falls parking area. There are three parking areas throughout the park that give you easy access to all three trails.
Address: 1740 Taughannock Blvd, Trumansburg, NY 14886
The Falls Overlook
The Falls Overlook is the fastest and easiest way to view the falls. Just off a parking area along Taughannock Park Road and beside the visitor’s center is the Falls Overlook. The overlook provides great views of the falls from above and the surrounding cliffs and creek below. The overlook is a must stop for any visit to the park.
Taughannock State Park offers plenty of great hiking options, ranging from easy to moderate. The Gorge Trail takes you along a flat path to the base of the falls while the North and South Rim Trails offer a little more of a challenge.
The Gorge Trail
The Gorge Trail is the easiest of the trails with the most rewarding view. The Gorge Trail is a 0.75 mile trail along the Taughannock Creek that takes you to the base of Taughannock Falls. There is a parking area along NYS Route 89 that will give you direct access to the trail.
The trail takes you past the Lower Falls, another must see waterfall at the park. The view at the Lower Falls depends greatly on the flow of the creek. You will also find many smaller waterfalls located along the creek.
The trail is a flat, gravel path that is easily doable for all ages and hiking ability and is more comparable to a walk in the park than a true hike. Nevertheless, it is a great walk through the gorge and the views of the falls are fantastic! When the water levels are low, you can even walk along the stone slabs through the creek and search for fossils (which are plentiful due to the history of the park being covered by by water)!
South Rim Trail
The South Rim trail is a 1.125 mile moderate trail along the southern rim of the gorge with a 430 ft. elevation gain. The trail begins at one of two parking areas, depending on which direction you are going. You can access the trail from the Jacksonville Road parking area or from the parking area off of NYS Route 89.
The majority of the trail is flat but the section of the trail near the entrance to the Gorge Trail contains two large, uneven stair cases that make for a steep climb. If you choose the Jacksonville Road parking area the trail will be mostly flat until you come to just about the end of the trail, where you will meet the staircases.
Along the trail you will be greeted with great views of the gorge and Taughannok Creek below, which is a sight to see all in itself. You will also be able to see the very top of Taughannock Falls from one point along the trail.
North Rim Trail
The North Rim trail is the more popular trail because it takes you past the visitor’s center and Falls Overlook (which can also be reached by car). The North Rim trail is also the longest at about 1.5 miles and is similar in difficulty to the South Rim Trail.
If you choose, you can combine the South and North Rim Trails for an approximately 3 mile loop trail. You can also add in the Gorge Trail, which sits at the entrance to both trails.
The Multiuse Trail
Located directly across from the parking area for the Falls Overlook is the entrance to the multiuse trail. This is a series of trails used for hiking, running, and cross country skiing. The trails have gentle inclines and are easy to navigate. A feature of this trail is Rice Hill, which will provide you with great views of Cayuga Lake. The length of the trails equals about two miles and has an elevation change of about 150 ft.
Black Diamond Trail
The Black Diamond Trail is a 8.44 mile trail from Taughannock Falls State Park (the Jacksonville Road parking area) to Cass Park in Ithaca. The trail will take you past ravines, lush greenery, and a patch of grazing Bisons at the Glenwood Farms.
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