The Cascadilla Gorge Trail is a beautiful hike through an urban gorge in the town of Ithaca, NY. The hike takes you along a riverbed where you’ll see at least 6 cascading waterfalls.
This is a great warm-up hike for some of the other nearby trails and one that you should not miss when visiting the area. You can get an idea of what you might encounter on some of the longer gorge trails, too. It is similar in many ways, although it is nestled right in downtown Ithaca.
Ithaca is known for being home to Cornell University, which makes hiking here even more special because it is a part of the Cornell Botanical Gardens. If you want to explore the area, check out this guide for hiking the Cascadilla Gorge trail.
Cascadilla Gorge Natural Area
With so many different natural beauties in the Ithaca area and around the Finger Lakes, it’s hard to pick out which one is the best. Each has its draws, and the Cascadilla Gorge Trail is no different.
If you’re staying in Ithaca, the trail is really easy to access. It’s also shorter than some of the other gorge trails in the area, so this trail is a great warm-up if you plan to visit some of the others. If you’re a waterfall chaser, you certainly won’t be disappointed with a visit to the Cascadilla Gorge.
This glen is an oasis in the middle of the town of Ithaca.
Cascadilla Gorge Trail At A Glance
Location: Downtown Ithaca, NY, in the Cornell University Botanical Gardens
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 42.44300079 latitude, -76.48069763 longitude
Distance: 1.3 miles
Features: Multiple waterfalls, stone pathways & stairs, deep gorge walls
Where to Park to Hike the Cascadilla Gorge
With the location in downtown Ithaca, street parking is always an option, although at some times it will be easier to find than others. Look for parking either on Linn Street or East Court Street.
As a last resort, you can park in the Hoy Road Parking Garage. It is at the opposite end of the trail, so you’ll get a better glimpse of the many waterfalls on the way back up the trail.
If you’d like to park and leave your car for the day or the weekend, there is a bus system available to use around town, also.
There is a bus stop near one end of the trail, on Linn Street at Court. Alternatively, if you want to hike the trail in a different direction, there are access points near Cornell’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.
Ultimately, we’d recommend beginning the hike from Treman Triangle Park on Linn Street. This way, you’re walking upstream, and you’ll get the best views of all the waterfalls the first time without having to turn around to enjoy them.
This trail can be quite busy on weekend afternoons, so you’ll want to arrive early to have more room to roam on the trail.
Hiking the Cascadilla Gorge Trail
This trail, beginning at Linn Street, rises 400 feet over to create more than a handful of waterfalls to admire. You’ll have to pass through an iron gate. The gate will be open when the trail is accessible and conditions are appropriate for hiking.
You’ll quickly be treated to your first waterfall views as you begin to climb up the gorge on the carefully crafted stone pathway, constructed in the 1920s.
There are plenty of stone steps at multiple points along the trail. They’re well-crafted and sturdy for the most part, but there are steep drops to the sides sometimes. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes. Especially when the ground is wet, you won’t want to navigate those stairs in flip-flops.
This lower section of the trail is only 1/3 mile long. Just strolling along, you can reach the College Avenue entrance to the trail in Collegetown in under one hour. This includes stopping for a few photos and enjoying the views!
From here, there are two options. You can continue across College Ave to hike the upper section of the gorge trail, which is typically open year-round. Your other options are to turn around and hike back where you came from along the lower gorge trail or to catch a ride back to your vehicle via another mode of transportation!
Upper Cascadilla Gorge Trail
If you want to extend your hike, continue on over College Avenue and along the creek for the upper part of the trail. This section stays higher up along the gorge wall, so you’ll get more of a birds-eye-view of the water below.
There is only one small water feature along this section of the trail, too. Because there isn’t as much to see, many people skip this portion, so you might be able to get away from some crowds and enjoy a peaceful walk if you’d like.
You’ll have to use this section if you choose to park in the Hoy Road Parking Garage. It provides access to the rest of the trail segments.
Best Time to Hike Cascadilla Gorge
Spring and early summer are great times to visit the gorge to see the waterfalls flowing in all of their glory.
The colorful fall foliage in autumn can make for some stunning photos. Just be prepared for some crisp mornings and chilly evenings. Rain or morning dew on fallen leaves can also be quite slippery.
The Cascadilla Gorge Trail is closed in the winter due to dangerous conditions. While the Finger Lakes region can be beautiful in the winter, this trail won’t be accessible. Plan to visit during one of the three other seasons.
There has been a lot of focus on safety surrounding Cascadilla Creek and the gorge in recent years. There have been tragic accidents in the area, and Cornell has put together safety information, especially for incoming freshmen on their campus, but valuable for everyone.
The Nathaniel Rand ’12 Memorial Gorge Safety Education Program is the result of safety education efforts, named after a student who tragically died in an accident in the summer of 2011.
It wouldn’t hurt to brush up on some safety tips, though, just before your visit.
Some of the main risks include:
- Slipping from the edges of the gorge
- Being hit by falling rocks
- Drowning in the quick-moving streams
Check out the informational signage, safety brochures, and gorge safety video prior to your visit.
Frequently Asked Questions
We know you have been wondering. These are the most common questions we hear regarding this trail. Hopefully, you can find what you need here.
Can you swim in the Cascadilla Gorge?
No! The currents are swift and there are plenty of hidden undercurrents. The rocks can be slick and catch you off guard. There have been tragic accidents in the gorge. There are places to swim in the area, but this is not one of them. Stay out of Cascadilla Creek!
How long is the Cascadilla Gorge Trail?
In total, if you begin at the Linn St. trailhead and hike the entire trail including the upper gorge, your hike will be about 1.3 miles. If you only choose to do the lower section as an out-and-back hike, this should end in about 0.6 miles of hiking.
How many waterfalls does the Cascadilla Gorge have?
There are 6 waterfalls in the lower gorge, with plenty of other features and rapids to enjoy on the hike. The tallest one is over 50 feet tall. The upper gorge also has 2 waterfalls flowing under footbridges. We wouldn’t say they’re as impressive as those on the lower section, but it’s still a nice hike.
Are dogs allowed on the Cascadilla Gorge trail?
Dogs are currently permitted on the trail here, but the drops are steep and there are lots of stairs. If your dog has mobility issues or is not exceptionally well-behaved, we wouldn’t recommend taking them on this one. Since parts are out and back, you’ll be crossing paths with other hikers and you wouldn’t want your dog putting its or anyone else’s safety in jeopardy.
Where to Stay in Ithaca
Downtown Ithaca is beautiful, with plenty of arts, culture, restaurants, and other places to explore. You could easily spend a few days here. There are plenty of options for places to stay! Here are options for every budget:
Budget: Rodeway Inn & Suites Ithaca
Mid-Range: Argos Inn
Luxury: The Statler Hotel at Cornell University
Glamping: Firelight Camps
More Nearby Places to Explore
Ithaca, New York has no shortage of outdoor activities with plenty of trails, waterfalls, and lakes to explore. Here are some great nearby places to check out:
Falls Creek Gorge: Similar to the Cascadilla Gorge, this trail is also located on Cornell’s campus and provides access to stunning waterfalls over a great hike. It ends at the beautiful 150-foot tall Ithaca Falls.
Buttermilk Falls State Park: While there isn’t any swimming access in the Cascadilla gorge, there is a natural pool for swimming below Buttermilk Falls. The gorge trail here also leads through some beautiful forested areas and fun rock formations throughout the creek.
Robert H. Treman State Park: Just a short drive from Buttermilk Falls, Robert H. Treman is a great spot for hiking. Although the waterfalls aren’t quite as plentiful along the trails, this is a can’t-miss park in the Ithaca area.
Taughannock Falls State Park: Do you want to check out the tallest single-drop waterfall in the state of New York? It’s only about 10 miles from the Cascadilla Gorge Trail. The hike to reach the falls is easy, so this is a great stop if you have a few extra hours.
Watkins Glen State Park: While it is about 40 minutes away by car, we just can’t leave it off the list. Watkins Glen has been named one of the best state parks in the country in the past, and it has one of the best gorge trails.
If you haven’t been hiking in the Ithaca area yet, there is no time like the present to start exploring. There are tons of trails around town, but the Cascadilla gorge trail is definitely worth checking out. This short, stunning hike takes you through the beautiful gorge, past waterfalls, and along the scenic Cascadilla creek prior to it spilling into Cayuga Lake.
And did I mention that it’s less than 2 miles long, round-trip?!