Hiking the stunning Cascadilla Gorge Trail is one of the most unmissable things to do on a visit to Ithaca NY. We are going to show you exactly how to hike the striking Cascadilla Gorge Trail, including where to park, what you can expect from the hike and taking photos in the gorge.
Is Cascadilla Gorge Trail worth it?
Yes! The Cascadilla Gorge is a real highlight in Ithaca. You will be amazed by waterfall after waterfall cascading down through the narrow Cascadilla Creek. The best part is that this incredibly picturesque walk in the center of Ithaca is completely free.
In this guide we will cover:
- What is the Cascadilla Gorge Trail?
- Where do you park?
- Walkthrough of the fun hike
- How to take the best photos
- What else is nearby
Let’s hike the Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Ithaca NY!
What Is The Cascadilla Gorge Trail?
The Cascadilla Gorge Trail is a picturesque hike up or down Cascadilla Creek, which connects Cornell University with Downtown Ithaca. It has to be one of the most scenic walks to class in the US!
There are 6 large waterfalls and several smaller falls throughout the Cascadilla Gorge Trail, as well as 400 feet of elevation change from top to bottom.
You will 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 Cascadilla Gorge Trail you can also hike an additional small and flat loop called the Upper Cascadilla Gorge Trail.
We included the several Cascadilla Gorge waterfalls as one combined entry in our guide to the best Finger Lakes waterfalls because it is such a beautiful and easily accessible spot to visit in Ithaca.
Is The Cascadilla Gorge Trail Open?
The main Cascadilla Gorge Trail connecting Cornell with Downtown Ithaca is typically open between the end of April through the end of November each year. It closes for winter each year.
These estimated time frames are weather dependent and may change with any significant snowfall on either side of the winter season.
The Upper Cascadilla Gorge Trail section 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.
Our Cascadilla Gorge Trail Experience
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 is 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 will see later in the guide!
Where Are The Trailheads?
The Cascadilla Gorge Trail 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 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 Cascadilla Gorge Trail continues on the opposite side of College Avenue to the main gorge trailhead entrance.
You can walk from Ithaca Commons to the bottom Cascadilla Gorge Trailhead in less than 10 minutes.
Cascadilla Gorge Trail Parking
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 Ithaca for this reason.
Let’s take a quick look at parking for your hike.
There is no dedicated parking lot close to the lower Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Downtown Ithaca.
However, 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.
Look for signs stating how long you can park and at which times of the week.
Parking around the Cornell campus is difficult in term times, so we recommend trying to park in Dryden Road Garage instead.
It is 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
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 will stop for photos along the route.
You will 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 mile out and back trail.
OK, let’s walk through the entire Cascadilla Gorge Trail using our own experience as a guide.
1. Start At The Bottom
Park near Ithaca Commons and walk 10 minutes to reach the lower trailhead. Cross the wooden bridge and you will enter the gorge.
After a minute or two you will reach the first waterfall and set of steps. The gorge begins to narrow and zig-zag around meandering bends.
Accessibility: This lower section at the Linn Street trailhead is accessible for motorized scooters and wheelchairs for around 300 feet until it reaches the first stone staircase.
2. Climb And Enjoy
You will climb several sets of steps as you pass through the gorge. It is picturesque throughout and you should stop as often as possible for photos or simply to enjoy the waterfalls.
Pass under the Stewart Avenue bridge marking roughly the half way point in the gorge.
Next you will cross the ornate Cascadilla Creek bridge which is exceptionally photogenic in the fall season when earthy colored leaves cover the old stone.
3. College Avenue Stone Arch Bridge
After passing by several small and medium sized waterfalls you will eventually reach the largest waterfall series flowing underneath the picturesque College Avenue stone arch bridge.
This is probably 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 will climb a longer series of steps with a switchback which leads you right out of the gorge.
4. Upper Cascadilla Gorge Trail Loop
Cross the road and pick up the upper trail loop on the other side of College Ave.
Walking anti-clockwise you will 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 will walk alongside the back of a Cornell University building for a minute or two. This is the least enjoyable part of the hike.
5. Hike Back Down The Gorge
Eventually you will 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!
Want more Ithaca Waterfalls? Read our popular guide on where to find waterfalls in Ithaca after you finish this travel guide.
The entirety of your hike through the Cascadilla Gorge Trail is photogenic and you will 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 is 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.
How Can You Take The Best Photos In The Gorge?
The most important thing is to remember your ND filter if you are planning to take your camera and tripod to capture long exposures.
You will 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.
A good tip is to turn your smartphone upside down and capture your images with the camera almost on the ground.
Best Time To Hike The Cascadilla Gorge Trail
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.
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 a huge negative to photography inside Cascadilla Creek. You benefit from spectacular reds, oranges, yellows and browns, but the water level is much lower so waterfalls are less impressive.
Can You Swim In The Cascadilla Gorge?
No, 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
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. Not including the nearby state parks, there are plenty of awesome falls to find right in town.
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:
- Buttermilk Falls – Buttermilk Falls State Park
- Lucifer Falls – Robert H Treman State Park
- Rainbow Falls – Watkins Glen State Park
- Taughannock Falls – Taughannock Falls State Park
Cascadilla Gorge Trail FAQ’s
Let’s take a quick look at some of the most frequently asked questions about hiking the Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Ithaca, New York.
Yes, hiking the picturesque Cascadilla Falls Trail is one of the very best things to do in Ithaca, NY. It is 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 is 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.
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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 Cascadilla Gorge below in the comments.
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Their work has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications.