Don't go jumping waterfalls Please, keep to the lake People who jump waterfalls Sometimes can make mistakes -Sir Paul McCartney
When you think of waterfalls in New York State, Niagara Falls is probably what first comes to mind. However, you can find other impressive waterfalls in the Finger Lakes region of New York. These waterfall hikes in the Finger Lakes are some of my favorite parts of the state.
While the Finger Lakes are most known for their vast number of wineries, the area is also full of stunning waterfalls and gorges. Many of these waterfalls can be reached by hiking “gorge-ous” trails! The waterfall hikes in the Finger Lakes
During the last ice age, the receding glaciers left behind deep gouges in the earth. These glacial valleys created gorges and the long, finger-like lakes for which the area is named.
The drainage from the lakes creates excellent conditions for growing wine grapes, and the gorges create perfect backdrops for various sizes of waterfalls.
The whole area is just beautiful, with the rolling green hills of vineyards, a myriad of state parks, and the long strips of lake water. My perfect day in the Finger Lakes includes waterfall hikes in the morning and winery tastings in the afternoon!
The hikes to the Finger Lakes waterfalls include varying levels of length and difficulty. Some include both an easy and a more moderate option. Each offers a beautiful reward at the end of the hike.
Note: Make sure to wear good hiking shoes or boots, as the waterfall hikes can be slippery at times!
The Finger Lakes are located in what I would consider central New York. (Though folks in NYC would just call it “upstate”.) There are eleven Finger Lakes, and the area stretches from Syracuse to the east and Geneseo to the west.
The waterfall hikes in this post are all in the southern area of the Finger Lakes region, near Ithaca, NY. The Finger Lakes make a great weekend getaway from NYC!
- From NYC: The drive to Ithaca takes four to four and a half hours.
- From Syracuse: The drive to Ithaca takes an hour to an hour and a half.
- From Buffalo: The drive to Ithaca takes about three hours.
From NYC: JetBlue and Delta have flights from JFK and United Airlines offer flights from LaGuardia Airport, both into Syracuse. Non-stop flights from NYC take about an hour and a half, and then from Syracuse it is an hour and a half drive to Ithaca.
Having a car in the Finger Lakes is probably the best way to get around. The roads stretching along the lakes offer some pretty views, and having a car allows for flexibility in your schedule.
Note: If you pay for parking at one state park, that parking pass is good for the rest of the day, so you can fit multiple Finger Lakes waterfall hikes in one day if you’d like.
Where to Stay
Staying in the city of Ithaca will put you in a prime location for getting to Buttermilk, Taughannock, and Lucifer Falls. Watkins Glen is just a 35-minute drive away.
Located on the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca is a bustling college town with waterfalls you don’t even need to hike to! Whether you’re looking for campgrounds or hotels, Ithaca has lots of options for accommodations.
There are also some great Airbnbs in between Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake, which not only puts you in between all the waterfall hikes but near some great wineries as well.
Four Awesome Waterfall Hikes in the Finger Lakes
Buttermilk Falls offers not only some beautiful waterfall hikes in the Finger Lakes, but it’s a pleasant place for a picnic or a swim as well. (It was too chilly to swim when I visited, but the swimming hole at the base of the falls looks fun!)
You don’t have to hike to see the main falls at Buttermilk Falls State Park; in fact, you can see it from the main parking lot. However, I highly recommend hiking the Gorge Trail and Rim Trail loop.
This 1.6-mile loop is rated as moderate, as there are quite a few stairs, especially right at the start. You’ll want to stop every few minutes though, not just to catch your breath, but to take photos of the beautiful little falls along the path!
The trail follows Buttermilk Creek, which you can cross to continue on to the Rim Trail back to the parking lot.
For a shorter hike, you can also just hike the Gorge Trail and back, which is about 0.65 miles long.
Watkins Glen State Park is probably one of the most popular waterfall hikes in the Finger Lakes, and for good reason! This beautiful gorge is stunning no matter what time of year, although it is closed during the winter months for safety reasons.
You can find up to 19 Finger Lakes waterfalls on this relatively easy hike. You’ll wind through the glen via stone staircases and tunnels as you take in the 200-foot cliffs from which the water streams.
Take the Gorge Trail from either the main or south entrance to the Mile Point Bridge. There you can either turn back around, or cross the bridge and take the South Rim Trail back. This gives you a pleasant hike about two miles long.
Watkins Glen is one of the Finger Lakes waterfall hikes where you definitely want to have good shoes, as it gets very slippery. Plus, be prepared to get wet when you pass beneath the falls!
When I was first becoming familiar with Finger Lakes waterfalls, I had not heard of Lucifer Falls…turns out it’s my favorite one! Located within Robert H. Treman State Park, Lucifer Falls is an impressive 115-foot waterfall.
Park at the Upper Entrance of the park. You’ll see an old grist mill that was built in 1839 in which you can find public restrooms.
The Gorge Trail here is a loop trail that is a little over a mile. However, it is still rated as moderate due to all of the stairs. You’ll get a good workout plus awesome views of the falls and surrounding glen from above. There are spots to rest if you need to!
Lucifer Falls is, to me, almost a hybrid of Buttermilk Falls and Watkins Glen. There are bridges to cross, stairs to climb, and towering cliffs.
For a longer hike, you can continue on the Rim Trail for a 4.3-mile loop.
Taughannock Falls is probably the most majestic of the Finger Lakes waterfalls. At 215 feet, this amazing waterfall plunges into a gorge below that you can easily hike to. It’s a giant reward for such little effort!
The Gorge Trail at Taughannock Falls State Park is a little under a mile one way, and it is pretty flat. You can walk along the trail; or, depending on the water level, you can walk within the riverbed itself. There is a large parking lot, and the trail begins right at the edge of it.
This trail is extremely popular, especially during the warm months. To avoid crowds, try visiting early in the morning and/or on a weekday.
You can also view Taughannock Falls from above. Just put “Taughannock Falls Overlook” into your GPS, and it’s a quick drive away from the main parking lot. You’ll find a small visitor center there as well.
If you’re short on time, just stopping at the overlook is a great way to still enjoy Taughannock Falls.
If you’re in the area, be sure to check out these other Finger Lakes waterfalls! Many don’t even require any hiking.
- Aunt Sarahs Falls: This fan-shaped waterfall can be seen from Route 14, just south of Watkins Glen.
- Hector Falls: This waterfall can also be seen from the road. Just pull over just past the bridge on Route 414.
- Triphammer Falls: Located on Cornell University’s campus, this waterfall can be seen from the Triphammer Foot Bridge or East Ave. Bridge.
I hope you get a chance to hike to these beautiful Finger Lakes waterfalls! They say, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” and on these hikes, I’d say that is true! While the waterfalls are stunning, the trails to get to them are peaceful and pretty. I mean, there’s nothing like the sound of running water through the trees- am I right?
The Finger Lakes region has so much to offer, from its waterfalls to its wineries. I’m already looking forward to returning this summer!
Have you ever been to the Finger Lakes? What are your favorite Finger Lakes waterfalls? Let me know!
Pin this post for a future trip to the Finger Lakes: