Buttermilk Falls State Park
By: Len Dawson
Climb impressive stone staircases through a steep wooded gorge and along the shoulder of one of Ithaca’s most gorgeous cascading waterfalls at Buttermilk Falls State Park.
|The falls and swimming area at Buttermilk Falls State Park by L. Dawson|
Named for the impressive cascade that pours from Buttermilk Creek, the main waterfall is at the bottom of a beautiful gorge cut by erosion after glaciers receded from Central New York. As you hike up beside the falls and along the gorge trail, there are several waterfalls to see.
|Steps along the Gorge Trail|
The several hundred randomly spaced and often steep stairs of the gorge trail are a great cardiovascular workout.
Some hikers may prefer to enter from the Upper Park as the Gorge Trail offers some rocky terrain (you will want to wear proper footwear), but on the way to the large falls you will see nine small cascades and several interesting rock formations, which make the hike worth the extra effort.
Less ambitious hikers can avoid the ascent by beginning at Upper Buttermilk Park and walking down the gorge to be picked up at the Lower Park. The trailhead to the upper trail is across the street from the entrance to Upper Buttermilk Park.
Directions--the park can be accessed in two ways:
The Upper Park has extensive picnic areas, BBQ grills, and a level paved walking path.
To get to Upper Buttermilk Park, take Routes 13, 34, and 96 south for about two hundred yards then turn left onto Sand Bank Road. At the fork in the road (about two miles), keep to the left to stay on Sand Bank Road. At the ‘T’, turn left onto West King Road. Upper Buttermilk Park is about two miles ahead.
If you are looking for quick access to the main falls, the swimming area, restrooms, and campsites, then entering from the Lower Park will be the best bet.
Larch Meadows, in the Lower Park behind the ball fields, is a great place to see an abundance of wildlife. There are also numerous trails to explore and a guided gorge tour that runs from July 4th - Labor Day.
|Jay DeVivo captures Buttermilk Falls in full force after a hard rain.|
Always picturesque, Buttermilk Falls may be a small trickle in mid-summer, flowing at high intensity in the spring, or surrounded by colorful foliage in the fall. The falls offer an especially spectacular and rushing display during the Finger Lakes' rainy season.
The park is open year-round, but hiking trails close in November for the winter months. Though the trails are closed during the winter, the often icy or frozen falls are worth a visit for a wintry photo opportunity.
Seasonal admission to Buttermilk Falls State Park is $7 per car, though the day pass is also good at the other Robert H. Treman parks: Upper Buttermilk, Upper Enfield, Lower Enfield, and Taughannock Park. For park information call (607) 273-3440.
If you are hungry when you leave the upper park, continue on West King Road rather than retracing your route.
Turn north (left) at the intersection of Route 96B and follow it all the way down the hill into Ithaca. As you proceed down the hill you’ll see glimpses of Cayuga Lake in the distance. There are a dozen or so casual but enjoyable eateries along Aurora Street (Route 96B) between State and Seneca Streets.
If you are a shopper, Ithaca’s pedestrian mall is also located at the foot of Aurora Street hill. Turn west (left) on Seneca Street to get back to Routes 13, 34 and 96.