When it comes to hiking, we’re always on the lookout for new trails. In the Finger Lakes region, the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail is one you should have on the top of your list.
Here is all the information you’ll need to know to plan your upcoming Taughannock Falls hike.
Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail: An Easy Waterfall Hike
This hike is great for people who want to see beautiful waterfalls while exploring nature. The hike is very accessible on a flat, crushed stone path. Those with mobility issues may find that this trail is one they are able to navigate. Strollers are permitted, too. Exploring, photographing, and enjoying the outdoors is possible for everyone!
The state park offers a fantastic view of the falls and gorge trail. There are plenty of trails to hike around the park, and the gorge trail leads to the star of the show in this state park.
Here are all of your Taughannock Falls hike options, including the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail!
What Makes Taughannock Falls So Special?
This is the tallest waterfall in the state of New York! That’s why it is so special. The main waterfall plunges 215 feet, 33 feet further than Niagara Falls! It’s actually the tallest waterfall in the northeastern US.
Even in the state of New York, there are so many beautiful waterfalls, but this is one of the most notable.
You can do many other hikes at Taughannock State Park and in central New York, but none offer such a unique experience as this one. You will be amazed while hiking through this gorgeous natural wonderland.
Where is Taughannock Falls State Park?
You’ll find this beautiful state park in the Finger Lakes region, on the western side of Cayuga Lake. It’s not far from Ithaca, which is located on the southern tip of the lake.
Distance from Notable Cities:
(These are approximate driving distances and times. Depending on your location in each city, traffic, construction, etc. your drive may vary!)
- Ithaca, NY: 10 miles (15 minutes)
- Watkins Glen, NY: 20 miles (30 minutes)
- Syracuse, NY: 65 miles (1 hour 15 minutes)
- Rochester, NY: 80 miles (1 hour 25 minutes)
- Buffalo, NY: 150 miles (2 hours 30 minutes)
- Albany, NY: 175 miles (3 hours 10 minutes)
- New York, NY: 230 miles (4 hours 20 minutes)
Hours of Operation
Some parts of the park are open all year round. Day-use areas are open from dawn to dusk.
Camping is typically available in the park from late May through early October in both campsites and cabins in the park.
Swimming is also typically available from early July through early September during the day.
Please check with the park office to stay updated on the most current openings, closures, and conditions prior to your specific visit dates.
There is a $9 fee for vehicle entrance into the park. There is a pay station at the lot entrances on the side of the park closest to Cayuga Lake and the beginning of the gorge trail.
The fees are charged from 6 am to 6 pm from mid-May to mid-October. During peak season, fees are charged daily. During the shoulder seasons, fees are only charged on weekends and holidays.
Once you pay the fee for the day, you can move your car freely from lot to lot without any further fees. Make sure you save your ticket stub as proof!
If you’re driving a commercial vehicle or bus, fees are different. Just be sure to check with the park office prior to your visit if you have specific questions about your particular vehicle.
Seeing the Spectacular Taughannock Falls: Taughannock Falls Overlook
There are a couple of ways to see the picturesque Taughannock Falls, and there are also a few other spots you should visit while on your hike through the park.
The overlook from above is actually along one of the rim trails, and you can drive to a visitor center right there.
This is where you can get some great views of the falls from the top. While it isn’t a strenuous trail, you will need to walk down a few stairs to reach the viewing area.
During the fall, when the leaves change colors, catch the power of this impressive waterfall after heavy rain for the best experience.
Park Hiking Trails
Options for hiking the Taughannock gorge include the rim trails, gorge trail, and some other nearby trails to explore to get away from the crowd.
These details will provide some insight into which trails are best to satisfy the intentions of your hiking adventure. Plus, we’ll give you an idea of how long these hikes take so that you know what to expect before you head out.
Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail – Details
- Distance: .75 miles, one way
- Type: Out and Back
- Difficulty: Easy
- Surface: Gravel
The Gorge Trail is the easiest hike in the park. Park at the parking area on NY 89. If the trailhead parking lot is full, there are others across the road around the picnic areas and marina. While it’s a little bit of a walk across a very busy road, it still allows you access to the trails.
Beginning from the parking lot, the gorge trail is extremely easy to follow along the creek. You’ll see the first water feature just a short distance from the parking lot. To the left, notice the south rim trail stairs quickly head uphill.
The gorge trail is crushed gravel and is easy to navigate. You won’t need to worry about unsteady footing if you stay on the path. Even wheelchairs, strollers, and other assistive devices can be used on this trail. It’s flat and wide enough for people to pass each other easily.
There isn’t a lot of distance to cover on this hike, either. The gorge trail is only 3/4 of a mile long, so most can cover the 1.5 total miles in less than an hour.
This trail is an out-and-back trail, so once you reach the waterfall, you’ll return on the same trail that you came in on.
You can hike this trail year-round.
North Rim Trail – Details
- Distance: 1.5 miles
- Type: Point to Point
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Surface: Dirt
The North Rim Trail is where you will find the best views above Taughannock Falls. While you can drive to the viewing area near the visitor center, there are spots to peak out into the gorge and another spot to view the main falls from above.
Otherwise, most of the trail is through wooded areas. There are plenty of stairs to climb, too. Remember, the gorge walls are 400+ feet tall in spots!
You can also catch a glimpse of the upper falls. The views are not as open, but it’s still another waterfall that you can see around the Ithaca area.
The trails are dirt paths at the top, but the staircases are basic stone constructions. Make sure you wear sturdy footwear and prepare for mud at the top if there has been any recent rain.
The best way to hike this trail is to combine it with the south rim trail to make a loop of around 3 miles. You’ll get to see the gorge from all angles!
There is metal fencing along stretches of the trail that are close to the gorge edge. While it does help with safety along the trail, it is also a reminder that this is a high-traffic park.
While parts of this trail can be hiked year-round, the lower portion towards the lake where the stairs are located closes during the winter. Navigating those stairs when they are covered in ice can be extremely dangerous!
South Rim Trail – Details
- Distance: 1.2 miles
- Type: Point to Point
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Surface: Dirt
When combined with the north rim trail, this makes a great loop of nearly 3 miles around the park. While it is a great hike through nature, this stretch of trail has the least amount of views. That doesn’t mean you should skip it!
There are a couple of wide-open views of the vast gorge below. The upper stretch of the trail can be very muddy, especially during the spring and after rain. Wear appropriate footwear (no flip-flops!) for this one.
Like the north rim trail, there are plenty of stone steps to get down to the lower part of the trail. There is also metal fencing in spots to protect from the steep drops.
The lower half of this trail does close during the winter, too.
- Distance: 2 miles
- Type: Loop
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Surface: Dirt
If you want to get away from some of the crowds in the park during the summer, this is the trail to take! It begins across the street from the overlook parking area.
While the trail is well-marked and easy to follow, it almost seems tucked away in plain sight. Most people just go to the overlook, check out the bird’s eye view of Taughannock Falls, and drive away!
The multi-use trail travels through wooded areas down towards Cayuga Lake. It is especially beautiful during the fall months when the leaves are changing in vibrant colors.
The trail is considered moderately challenging and covers dirt surfaces.
Black Diamond Trail
- Distance: 8.5 miles
- Type: Point to Point
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Surface: Gravel
Although the black diamond trail isn’t entirely within Taughannock Falls State Park, it is another trail option if you’re looking for some different scenery.
Great for both hiking and biking, this is a great way to reach the park if you’re staying in Ithaca. Hike or bike a section of it or the entire trail.
There aren’t any significant inclines, but there is a gentle incline from Ithaca headed up towards the state park.
There are picnic tables and benches scattered along the trail where you can stop for lunch or a snack break.
Much of the scenery includes fields and farmland, which provides a little variety when compared to the other Taughannock trails.
Planning Your Visit to Taughannock Falls
Compared to some of the other state parks in the area, Taghannock is pretty easy to navigate. It has a small feel to it, too. You won’t be driving for hours from one side of the park to reach the other side of the park.
Taughannock Falls State Park Parking
Whether you want to begin your hikes from the gorge trailhead or near the upper falls, there are parking areas nearby. If you’d like to just drive to the overlook along the rim trail, there is parking available just a short walk from the viewpoint.
There are also parking areas along the Cayuga Lake shores, where fishing and swimming are available.
Parking in all of these lots does require paying the parking fee at the beginning of the day. While there aren’t booths at all lots, park staff does travel around during the day, so skipping the fee could result in a larger fine!
Other Activities (Swimming and Camping)
While there is no swimming available in Taughannock Creek along the gorge trail, there is a designated swimming area on Cayuga Lake. While the lake can be a chilly swim during much of the year, the water can be refreshing after a hot summer hike.
Camping is also a popular activity to enjoy while you visit the park. Camping here gives you easier access and more time to enjoy the park. There are facilities for tents, camping trailers, and even cabins to spend the night.
The park has many activities that can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages. Taughannock offers fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, and much more.
When to Visit
Really, there isn’t a bad time to visit this area. While things can be buried in snow during the winter months in the Finger Lakes and many park facilities close, the area is still quite beautiful in the winter. There are snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating facilities in the park during that time of the year.
During the spring months, the waterfalls and Taughannock Creek are going to be flowing at their full power, which is really a sight to see.
Summer can become busy with visitors, but this is the time to enjoy the park and nearby Cayuga Lake activities.
During the fall, when the leaves change and color the gorge walls in bright reds, oranges, and yellows, the park is transformed. Although it’s another busy season, that’s for good reason. The forest hikes are absolutely beautiful.
Where to Stay Near Taughannock Falls
There are both campsites and cabins within the park, which are popular for overnight stays. Reservations can be made in advance through their ReserveAmerica portal.
If you’re not staying in the campground or one of the park’s cabins, then the best place to stay is the Inn at Taughannock Falls. The inn is conveniently located within the park, and it provides comfortable rooms, some with terraces, and a beautiful garden.
Nearby Ithaca also has many hotels, inns, bed & breakfasts, and more close to Cornell University and Ithaca College. You can both the outdoors and the comforts of town by staying in Ithaca.
You can also day trip from many of the other beautiful state parks in the area, such as Watkins Glen, Buttermilk Falls, Robert H. Treman, or Fillmore Glen State Parks.
These are some of the most frequently asked questions that we’ve come across. Hopefully, these answers help with your trip planning!
Are Dogs Allowed at Taughannock Falls State Park?
Dogs are permitted at Taughannock, but there are a few restrictions. If you’re staying at a campsite, there is a 2 pet per site limit. Your pups also must remain on a leash at all times.
Pets are not permitted, however, on the playgrounds, in the buildings, or on the guarded beach.
If you’re planning to take your dog, make sure you have a copy of rabies vaccines. The park staff may ask to see it.
Is Swimming Allowed at the Park?
There is swimming at Taughannock Falls State park, but not in the gorge. It can be dangerous to go into Taughannock Creek, so you should stay on the gorge trail. There is a swimming beach located on the other side of NYS Route 89, on the shore of Cayuga Lake.
Head over there if you want to cool off in the water after your hiking adventures. You can access it next to the fishing pier, right across the road from the gorge trail entrance.
Are there any other hiking trails at Taughannock Falls?
Check out the multi-use trail and the black diamond trail after you hike both rims and the gorge trail at Taughannock Falls. You can hike for miles on the other trails through the park!
Is it Worth Visiting Upper Taughannock Falls?
Yes! We’d say so. It’s definitely worth visiting Upper Taughannock Falls. There are two reasons why we think so. First, it’s a short hike.
Second, it is kind of forgotten about, so you may be able to get away from the crowds a little more at the upper falls.
Lastly, you can get views from the top of the gorge up here, so after hiking around through the bottom of the gorge, go up and get a different perspective from the top!
Where to Visit Near Taughannock Falls
- Cascadilla Gorge
- Buttermilk Falls State Park
- Robert H. Treman State Park
- Watkins Glen State Park
- Finger Lakes National Forest
- Fillmore Glen State Park
If you haven’t been hiking lately, now is definitely a great time to go. There are tons of trails throughout New York State, but few compare to the beauty of Taughannock Falls. These hikes take you through the gorge, past cascading waterfalls, and along a trail lined with vegetation and wildflowers. And once you’re done, you can relax under the stars camping near the trails.
What better way to spend a weekend than taking in the wonders of nature?