How To Hike The Cascadilla Gorge Trail In Ithaca, NY



Cascadilla Gorge Trail waterfalls in Ithaca NY

The Cascadilla Gorge Trail is a scenic hike in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It connects downtown Ithaca with Cornell University and it’s unique because students often use it as a shortcut. The hike is about a half mile one way and features several waterfalls ranging in height from 8 to 80 ft.

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about hiking the Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Ithaca including where to park, what you can expect and how to take the best photos of the gorge.

Our Cascadilla Gorge Trail Experience

Mark and Kristen Morgan from Where Are Those Morgans standing in front of a waterfall in the Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Ithaca NY
Mark and Kristen at the top of the Cascadilla Gorge

Kristen grew up in the New York Finger Lakes and we also temporarily lived in the area when Mark first immigrated to the US. We no longer live here, but we return every year to visit family. We hiked the entire Cascadilla Gorge Trail from bottom to top and back down again during our most recent visit to Ithaca NY at the end of April 2023. Despite several visits to the Ithaca and Watkins Glen areas, we had never hiked Cascadilla Gorge until this latest trip.

It instantly surpassed our expectations and we think it’s easily one of the best things to do in Finger Lakes. The trail had just opened for the season so the water was in full flow as it crashed through the deep and rugged gorge. We saw very few others as we slowly climbed steps and zig zagged up through Cascadilla Creek. Our cameras also got a real workout as you’ll see later in the guide. Read more about us.

What Is The Cascadilla Gorge Trail?

Sign marking the beginning of a hike with important information for walkers
Sign showing the gorge trail is closed from sunset to sunrise

The Cascadilla Gorge Trail is a picturesque hike along Cascadilla Creek, which connects Cornell University with Downtown Ithaca. We think it’s one of the best things to do in Ithaca because it’s a well manicured trail featuring about 10 waterfalls next to a series of stone steps.

You can walk the trail up or down and there is about 400 feet of elevation change from top to bottom. However, you’ll have to contend with several sets of stone steps throughout the hike, which can become slippery during high water volume in spring or when the leaves fall in autumn.

From the top of the main gorge trail you can also hike an additional small and flat loop called the Upper Cascadilla Gorge Trail. It follows a dirt path with very little elevation gain to bring you closer to Cornell’s campus.

The gorge trail is open between the end of April and the end of November every year. It closes for winter due to safety concerns from the ice and snow. These estimated time frames are weather dependent and may change with any significant snowfall on either side of the winter season. You can Check AllTrails for recent comments to see if the trail is open.

The upper loop trail is open year round but may be unmaintained in the winter, so hike at your own risk. Snowshoeing the small loop trail may be a fun alternative in the winter months. We included the Cascadilla Gorge waterfalls in our guide to the best Finger Lakes waterfalls because it’s such a beautiful and easily accessible spot to visit in Ithaca.

Trailhead Locations

Plaque marking the beginning of a creekside hike
Old plaque marking the upper trailhead

The Cascadilla Gorge hike can be accessed from two different points in Ithaca, NY. One entrance is at the top of the gorge near Cornell and the other is at the bottom of the gorge not far from Ithaca Commons.

Here are the official trailhead locations:

  • Top – The corner of College Avenue and Oak Avenue
  • Bottom – The corner of Linn Street, Terrace Place and East Court Street

The upper loop trail continues on the opposite side of College Avenue to the main gorge trailhead entrance. You can walk from the Ithaca Commons to the bottom Cascadilla Gorge Trailhead in less than 10 minutes.

Travel Tip: We started at the bottom of the gorge and hiked to the top. It was a beautiful way to see Cornell and makes for a great day trip. However, you can hike both ways depending on your itinerary.

Cascadilla Gorge Trail Parking

Small waterfall hidden partially by green bushes with flowers
Waterfall partially hidden by plants and flowers

Parking in Downtown Ithaca is easy enough but parking near Cornell can be challenging because most lots require permits. We recommend starting and ending the Cascadilla Gorge Trail hike at the lower trailhead near downtown for this reason.

Let’s take a quick look at parking for your hike:

Lower Trailhead

There is no dedicated parking lot close to the lower Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Downtown Ithaca. Look for a small park called Treman Triangle Park which is located near the entrance. You can park your car on the streets around the trailhead or leave your car parked near Ithaca Commons and walk to the trail. We left our car on E Buffalo Street near Dewitt Park for reference.

Travel Tip: Look for signs stating how long you can park and at which times of the week.

Upper Trailhead

Parking around the Cornell campus is difficult in term times, so we recommend trying to park in Dryden Road Garage instead. It’s close to the upper trailhead and the popular Collegetown Bagels which could be a worthwhile stop either before or after your hike.


Cascadilla Gorge Trail Walkthrough

Hiker with boots and socks walking up stone steps
Close up of Kristen’s hiking boots on the trail

The total length of the Cascadilla Gorge Trail including the upper loop is around 1.5 miles out and back. From start to finish, the hike should take around 1 hour 30 minutes, but plan for more time if you want stop for photos along the route.

You’ll gain approximately 400 feet in elevation on the ascent, before descending the exact same way on your return. We lost count after climbing 300 steps but it gives you an idea about the trail type.

Hiking only the gorge up and down without including the additional flat loop at the top is a 1.0 mile out and back trail. If you hike only the Gorge Trail, it will take less than an hour.

OK, let’s walk through the entire Ithaca Cascadilla Gorge Trail using our own experience as a guide.

1. Enter The Gorge

Hiker crossing a wooden bridge over a narrow river on a sunny day with blue sky and green leaves at the start of the cascadilla gorge trail in Ithaca New York
Kristen walking across the bridge at the lower entrance

Park along E Buffalo Street near Dewitt Park and walk 10 minutes to reach the lower trailhead. Cross the wooden bridge and you’ll enter the gorge. After a minute or two you’ll reach the first waterfall and set of steps. The gorge begins to narrow and zig-zag around meandering bends.

When we visited in April, the water was flowing very heavily and the flowers were starting to bloom. It was absolutely stunning. This lower section at the Linn Street trailhead is also accessible for motorized scooters and wheelchairs for around 300 feet until it reaches the first stone staircase.

2. Climb The Stone Staircase

Hiker walking along a path next to a creek with steps and waterfalls ahead
Kristen walking along the central part of the Cascadilla Gorge Trail near the Stewart Avenue Bridge

You’ll climb several sets of steps as you pass through the gorge. It’s picturesque throughout and you should stop as often as possible for photos or simply to enjoy the waterfalls. Once you pass underneath the Stewart Avenue Bridge, this marks the half way point in the gorge.

Next you’ll cross the ornate Cascadilla Creek Bridge which is exceptionally photogenic in the fall season when earthy colored leaves cover the old stone. It’s a fun vantage point so enjoy the views.

3. College Avenue Stone Arch Bridge

Stone arch bridge and waterfall in Ithaca, New York
The most impressive waterfall in the gorge is near the stone arch bridge on College Avenue

After passing by several small and medium sized waterfalls you’ll eventually reach the largest waterfall series flowing underneath the picturesque College Avenue stone arch bridge. It’s about 80 ft in height and it begins almost directly underneath the bridge.

This is the best photo spot along the Cascadilla Gorge Trail and it marks the end of the main gorge if you begin at the bottom. You’ll climb a longer series of steps with a switchback which leads you right out of the gorge.

4. Upper Cascadilla Gorge Trail Loop

Hiker walking through forest on a flat and wide trail
Kristen walking around the flat upper loop at the top of the gorge

Cross the road and look for the upper trail loop on the other side of College Ave. Walking anti-clockwise you’ll pass through trees on a flat gravel path until reaching another waterfall underneath Eddy Dam Bridge.

Cross the bridge, climb the steep bank and you’ll then walk alongside the back of a Cornell University building for a minute or two. This is the least enjoyable part of the hike, but it’s flat so enjoy it while you can.

Hiking Tip: If you’re short on time, we recommend skipping the loop trail and sticking to the main section of the gorge. This is where you’ll see the best parts of the trail.

5. Hike Back Down The Gorge

Hiker sat on stone steps enjoying the view into waterfalls hiking along the Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Ithaca NY
Mark stopping to enjoy the waterfalls

Eventually you’ll cross the metal Trolley Bridge which will bring you back to the loop and College Avenue. Take care on the way down with wet and slippery steps a potential issue here after rainfall.

Don’t forget to look back at the waterfalls for any photo opportunities you may have missed when taking deep breaths on the way up.

READ: Where to find the best waterfalls in Ithaca

Photography In The Cascadilla Gorge

Moss covered stone wall inside a creek in upstate New York
Moss covered wall running alongside the creek

Throughout the entirety of your hike in Cascadilla Gorge, it’s photogenic and you’ll naturally stop several times to take photos of waterfalls. The gorge twists and turns through the compass directions so you may have to contend with direct sunlight hitting waterfalls or lighting up the gorge at times.

It’s no Watkins Glen Gorge Trail, but the Cascadilla Gorge Trail is free, in the middle of town and surprisingly striking. Without question the best time to photograph Cascadilla Gorge is early morning or early evening when the light is soft and dim.

Bridge and waterfall behind a thick tree trunk in the foreground on the Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Ithaca NY
Using objects to frame photos on the hike

If you’re visiting with your camera and tripod, the most important thing to remember is your ND filter so you can capture long exposures. You’ll need it to stop down the light for at least a 1 second exposure. If you can, try exposing for 2 and 3 seconds so you can choose your favorite image in post editing. In the fall, use leaves in trees and on the ground to frame your images.

Don’t have a camera and tripod? Not a problem!

You won’t be able to expose silky waterfalls with a smartphone camera, but you can still take home great photos from the gorge. Our advice is to use objects in the foreground like rocks, steps or a moss covered wall to give the photo more elements.

Photography Tip: Turn your smartphone upside down and capture your images with the camera almost on the ground.

Best Time To Hike

Cascadilla Creek in Ithaca, NY with stone walkway and gently cascading waterfalls
The picturesque Cascadilla Creek in Ithaca NY

You can see the most powerful water flowing through Cascadilla Creek in late spring when the gorge opens, rain is frequent and the snow is melting. This is why we visited in April and it was a good time to see the waterfalls, but the skies were very overcast with chances of rain and it was a bit cooler.

However, summer is a great time to hike the Cascadilla Gorge Trail because the weather is warm, the student crowds are not in town and the leaves are a deep green color.

Fall brings both a huge positive and negative to photography inside Cascadilla Creek. You benefit from spectacular reds, oranges, yellows and browns, but the water level is much lower and the waterfalls are less impressive. So it’s a trade off depending on what you want to see.

Swimming is strictly prohibited in the Cascadilla Gorge due to dangerously strong currents. Student and tourist safety is paramount, so the gorge is often patrolled by Cornell University campus police and you don’t want to get caught in the water.

More Waterfalls In The Area

Narrow gorge with lightly flowing water and a stone walkway
Another photogenic part of the hike

Are you planning to visit several waterfalls on your trip to Ithaca?

We spent a full day hunting waterfalls around Ithaca in April 2023 and had a fantastic time. There are plenty of awesome falls to find right in town or you can drive to the nearby state parks to see even more stunning waterfalls.

Here are more falls for you to visit in town:

  • Businessman’s Lunch Falls (Wells Falls)
  • Ithaca Falls
  • Triphammer Falls

Here are the best waterfalls near Ithaca:

READ: Best state parks in New York

The Morgan Conclusion

The Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Ithaca, New York is a short yet beautiful trail following the Cascadilla Creek. Hikers will follow a series of intricate stone staircases as they climb their way through the gorge passing several waterfalls. It’s a unique spot because it’s also used by many students as a shortcut through campus.

Is the Cascadilla Gorge worth visiting?

Yes, we think hiking the picturesque Cascadilla Falls Trail is one of the very best things to do in Ithaca, NY. It’s free, incredibly photogenic and it even serves as a way to get around the city from Downtown Ithaca to Cornell University.

The hike up Cascadilla Falls Trail is short but it does involve climbing around 300 stone steps from the lower trailhead to the upper trailhead. It’s not a hard hike, but anyone who has specific issues with climbing a large amount of steps may want to give this one a miss.

More From The Finger Lakes

More From Upstate New York

Want more New York content? Head over to our New York Travel Guides to explore the Finger Lakes, Adirondacks and the best of NYC.

We hope this guide to hiking the awesome Cascadilla Gorge Trail helps with planning your trip to Ithaca, NY!

Please let us know if you have any questions about visiting the gorge or Ithaca in the comments below.

Happy Hiking,

Mark and Kristen

Enjoy this Cascadilla Gorge Trail hiking guide? Pin it for your visit!

Note: This article contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

All Rights Reserved © Where Are Those Morgans, LLC. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, maps, graphics, etc.) in whole or in part is strictly prohibited.

Leave a Comment