Taughannock Falls State Park is home to one of the most beautiful and impressive waterfalls in New York State. With a drop of 215 feet, Taughannock Falls is the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. It is actually higher than Niagara Falls! Yet, Niagara Falls clearly has a much larger volume of water.
Taughannock Falls is one of the most unique waterfalls in New York State and there are so many reasons to visit. Not only is this waterfall extremely photogenic, but it is also easy to access and can be visited year-round. Taughannock Falls should be on everyone’s New York State bucket list. It is truly one of the most incredible and jaw-dropping waterfalls I have ever seen.
This Taughannock Falls State Park guide includes everything you must know about the Taughannock Falls overlook, the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail, and even a secret waterfall you may not know about.
Where is Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls State Park is located on the western side of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It is only 15 minutes from the small city of Ithaca, New York. Ithaca is known as a popular college town and is home to incredible waterfalls and state parks. Due to its location, Taughannock Falls can be a great addition to a trip to Ithaca or can be done in a day trip from nearby cities.
How to Get to Taughannock Falls State Park
Due to the central location of the Finger Lakes region, Taughannock Falls State Park is within driving distance from almost everywhere in New York State and even many surrounding states. You will need a car to get to and around the region. If you don’t have a car, be sure to book your rental.
Taughannock Falls State Park is located just off New York State Route 89, which runs parallel to Cayuga Lake. This makes it very easy to get to. Taughannock Falls makes a great detour on a road trip, as you can make a quick stop at the Taughannock Falls Overlook or stretch your legs on the easy Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail.
If you are flying into the region, here are the closest airports to fly into. Be sure to check flights using Skyscanner.
- Rochester International, NY – 85 miles (1h 35m)
- Syracuse International, NY – 73 miles (1h 25m)
- Buffalo Niagara International, NY – 135 miles (2h 15m)
- Newark, NJ – 230 miles (3h 55m)
Don’t forget to book your rental car to pick up at the airport when you arrive.
Parking and Entrance Fees at Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls Overlook
Parking at the Taughannock Falls Overlook is free. This is really beneficial because many people only stop for a quick view of Taughannock Falls from this scenic overlook. If you have limited time, this is a quick and cost-effective way to see Taughannock Falls.
The parking lot at Taughannock Falls Overlook is fairly small and tends to fill up on the weekends. I have never had an issue getting a spot, but depending on the time of day and day of the week, you may have difficulty finding parking. But most people just stop for a quick view at the overlook, so if you wait a few minutes a spot is bound to open.
Access to the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail is at the Main Entrance, where you will find a small parking lot. This parking lot, as well as the parking lot across the road, is $9. On a slower day, you should be able to get parking at the small lot by the Main Entrance. However, on busier days, there is overflow parking available.
When there is no parking available at the main lot, drive across the street to the huge overfill lot on Cayuga Lake. From here, it’s a quick walk across the road to get to the start of the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail.
While there is a fee to park, there is no entrance fee to the park. And if you’re planning on visiting multiple state parks in one day, your parking pass is good for the entire day for any New York State Park. You can check out nearby Buttermilk Falls State Park and Robert H. Treman State Park that day with the same parking ticket.
Consider purchasing an Empire Pass, which gives you unlimited entry to most of New York State Parks.
Upper Parking Lot
The Upper Parking Lot at Taughannock Falls State Park is where you can find the parks’ hidden waterfall. Parking at this lot is free. From here, you can explore the hidden waterfall at Taughannock Falls State Park and even walk down the road to the Taughannock Falls Overlook if there is no parking available in that lot.
Taughannock Falls Overlook
If you do one thing while visiting Taughannock Falls State Park, be sure to visit the Taughannock Falls Overlook. While the Gorge Trail is nice and allows you to get up close to the waterfall, this scenic vista offers an unparalleled view of Taughannock Falls.
The Taughannock Falls Overlook is almost effortless to get to. After parking, you simply need to walk a few steps and are rewarded with this incredible waterfall view. This overlook makes Taughannock Falls the perfect waterfall to visit if you have a time limit or are a non-hiker. There is no hiking involved to see this view of Taughannock Falls. That means you can easily squeeze in one last waterfall on a trip to Ithaca or for a road trip stop.
While I have hiked the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail on various occasions, there have been many instances where I simply stopped at this overlook. Any visit to Taughannock Falls State Park, even short visits, has always been worth it.
A small stone staircase leads to a closer vantage point of the waterfall. This staircase also makes for the perfect photo opt! The trees and staircase create an epic framing of Taughannock Falls in the distance. This is a great spot to take photos of Taughannock Falls, especially in the Fall.
From the Taughannock Falls Overlook, you get a birds-eye view of the splendor that is Taughannock Falls. This overlook is quite small though and can get very crowded. But it’s worth waiting on the crowds to see the view. P.S. you don’t need to walk down the stairs to see a view of Taughannock Falls. You can see the waterfall from the top of the stairs. Though walking down the stairs offers the best possible views.
In addition to the viewpoint, at Taughannock Falls Overlook you will also find the visitors center and bathrooms.
Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail
After getting a birds-eye view of Taughannock Falls from the overlook, it’s time to hike the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail. If you’ve hiked other gorge trails in the region, such as the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail, you’re in for a surprise. The Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail is nothing like the other iconic gorge hikes in the Finger Lakes. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its merits. While you are not in an extremely picturesque gorge with whimsical stone staircases like some of the other gorge hikes, you also don’t have to climb any stairs on this hike.
The Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail is one of the easiest and most beautiful hikes in the region. It is an extremely easy 1.9-mile roundtrip hike. The trail is wide and mostly flat. It is very easy and quick to hike this trail. You don’t need any prior hike experience for this.
The first thing you will encounter along the gorge trail is Lower Falls. Lower Falls is a 20-foot Taughannock Creek. This waterfall is such a nice introduction to what lies ahead.
After stopping to check out Lower Falls, follow the designated gorge trail to get to Taughannock Falls. Alternatively, when the water levels are low in the summer, you can walk through the creek. During this time, the water levels can be so low that many parts of the Taughannock Creek are completely dry.
Walking along the creek makes hiking the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail feel a bit more adventurous. It is completely safe to walk the creek, provided that the water levels are low enough. Walking in the creek can also make the path less crowded, as this is a high-trafficked trail. There will be signs indicated when it is time to re-join the Gorge Trail. The tree-lined trail with the high gorge walls, make this hike very scenic.
You will know that you are nearing Taughannock Falls when you reach the wooden bridge on the Gorge Trail. This bridge crosses the babbling Taughannock Creek and leads to the base of the waterfall.
From the bridge, there is a stunning view of Taughannock Falls with the creek and rocks in the foreground. I couldn’t help to stop and take a photo from this spot. This is one of my favorite spots to take photos of Taughannock Falls.
Once you cross the bridge, you will turn left toward the waterfall. There is a large viewing area to see Taughannock Falls, allowing you to truly appreciate this 215-foot tall waterfall. Taughannock Falls is set back inside a depression in the rock wall that appears to be like an amphitheater.
Depending on the water levels, you could be viewing a waterfall that looks strikingly different from the photos you have seen. When the water levels are high, a large volume of water flows at Taughannock Falls. Yet, when water levels are low, Taughannock Falls may be a mere trickle.
There is a small wall at the base of Taughannock Falls, which states to not proceed beyond that point. This is for safety reasons, as there are some falling rocks and the power of Taughannock Falls can be quite strong. If the levels are high, follow the signage and do not proceed over the wall.
When the water levels are low, there tends to be quite a few people crossing beyond that point to get closer to Taughannock Falls. When the water levels are low, you shouldn’t have any problems if you choose to step over the wall to get a closer look. Yet, be careful and respectful of other people visiting. I didn’t find it necessary to climb over the wall. The view from the barrier sufficed.
After you are done enjoying views of the incredible Taughannock Falls from below, you will turn around to retrace your steps on the Gorge Trail. The trail was incredibly easy and there’s almost zero elevation gain. Whenever I have hiked the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail, I’ve seen people of all ages on the trail and even strollers.
Taughannock Falls State Park Swimming
Technically, swimming is not permitted in Taughannock creek. Yet, when I visited on a hot day in the summer, there were tons of people cooling off in the shallow water of the creek. Most people were swimming in the “pool” below Lower Falls. And other people were cooling off in the low water higher up the creek. The water at this time was so low, that I wouldn’t even consider it to be swimming. You should be safe to take a quick dip in the creek.
However, there is absolutely no swimming under Taughannock Falls.
For the official Taughannock Falls State Park swimming area, head across the street (the overflow parking area) to the monitored swimming area off South Point in Cayuga Lake.
Upper Falls- The Hidden Falls at Taughannock Falls State Park
Your waterfall adventure at Taughannock Falls State Park isn’t over just yet! There is a “hidden” waterfall at Taughannock Falls State Park that not a lot of visitors know about. I didn’t find out about this waterfall until my third visit to the park.
To get to Upper Falls, the “Hidden Falls”, you will want to drive to the Upper Parking Lot. From the parking lot, it’s a quick walk to an abandoned, but easily accessible railroad bridge that crosses the gorge. The bridge sits at the end of both the North and South Rim Trails, which form a loop around the park.
From the bridge, look down and you will see the impressive Upper Falls from above. It is quite the experience to look down and see this waterfall thundering below the bridge. I can’t imagine how incredible the railroad trip across this bridge must’ve been when it was in service.
Unfortunately, there is no way to get to the base of Taughannock’s Upper Falls. Yet, the view from above is quite beautiful and a wonderful addition to your visit to this state park.
Best Time to Visit Taughannock Falls State Park
When considering when to visit Taughannock Falls State Park, the main thing to consider is the volume of water. You want to make sure there has been adequate rainfall before your visit. Rainfall can differ year by year, so you will really need to check the forecast before visiting.
Visiting after heavy rainfall will ensure that you see a heavy flowing Taughannock Falls. There are times when it has been so dry that Taughannock Falls is a mere trickle of water coming down. Not to say that it is still not worth visiting, yet the lightly flowing waterfall is far less impressive than the full force that Taughannock Falls can be.
There are some other things to consider when planning when to visit Taughannock Falls State Park.
Best Time of the Year
Spring tends to be one of the best times to visit Taughannock Falls State Park. Usually, this tends to be the most constantly rainy season in the Finger Lakes. And there is always plenty of water from the melting snow of winter. That means that visiting at this time will almost ensure that you will see a heavily flowing waterfall.
Summer can be very dry. There have been times when Taughannock Falls seems to have almost completely stopped flowing. If you choose to visit at this time of the year, be sure to check the weather forecast and recent photos of Taughannock Falls on social media. The benefit of visiting in the summer is nice weather and plenty of other waterfall activities in Ithaca, such as swimming in waterfalls.
Fall can be hit or miss in terms of the flow of Taughannock Falls. Again, this is very dependent on how wet or dry the season has been. Yet, even with a low-flowing waterfall, the fall foliage makes this park exceptionally beautiful.
Taughannock Falls State Park is open year-round, meaning you can even appreciate this waterfall in the winter. This is one of the few gorge hikes in the Finger Lakes that is open in the winter, so it is a great way to experience the beauty of this region during the colder months. The perks of visiting in the winter are a guaranteed heavy waterfall flow and fewer crowds.
Best Time of the Day
In comparison to other parks in the area, I wouldn’t say that you need to beat the crowds at Taughannock Falls. It can get busy on the afternoons on weekends, yet from my experience, the trail is never overcrowded. Since the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail isn’t a confined set of stairs, like other gorge trails in the region, there is a lot more space to spread out. That being said, an early morning visit will allow you to visit the trails without as many people.
Where to Stay near Taughannock Falls State Park
When choosing where to stay near Taughannock Falls State Park, there are two options I would recommend. The first being, in nearby Ithaca, New York. There are plenty of accommodation options in Ithaca as well as other State Parks and things to do during your visit. Another option is the hotel near Taughannock State Park. Located directly next to the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail is The Inn at Taughannock Falls. Being able to wake up and head to the trail and be right across from the lake is such a perfect way to spend your time. Seriously this is one of my dream hotels in the Finger Lakes.
Hotels Near Taughannock Falls State Park
The Inn at Taughannock Falls
While I have yet to stay here (next trip, perhaps?), I couldn’t think of a more ideal place to stay when visiting Taughannock Falls State Park. The Inn is really cute and sits on a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake. And you are so close to the park, you can wake up and explore Taughannock Falls.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Ithaca
I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites on my most recent trip to the Finger Lakes. This was a nice budget-friendly hotel that was perfect for a full itinerary of waterfall hopping. The best part about this hotel is their quick buffet breakfast, which helped me get my day exploring started faster.
Things to do Near Taughannock Falls
There are endless things to do near Taughannock Falls State Park. You can easily spend a full day or a weekend getaway enjoying the beauty and diversity of this region. From waterfall hopping, lakeside activities, and wineries.
- Spend some time on Cayuga Lake
- Explore nearby waterfalls at Buttermilk Falls State Park and Robert H. Treman State Park
- Drink your way through the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
- Check out the Ithaca Farmers Market
Taughannock Falls State Park Wrap Up
Taughannock Falls State Park is a must-visit in the Finger Lakes. This waterfall is one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. When Taughannock Falls is flowing at its full force, it is hands down one of the best waterfalls in New York. The best part about Taughannock Falls is that it is easy to get to, and you don’t need to spend much time here in order to appreciate this waterfall. With that, you can squeeze a visit to the Taughannock Falls Overlook on any trip through the Finger Lakes and people of varying skill levels can enjoy this New York State Park.
You Might Also Like: