The outstanding plunge of Taughannock Falls is one of the Northeast’s most exceptional natural attractions. At 215 feet (66 meters) tall, this fall is the highest single drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. To put things in perspective, it is about 33 feet higher than Niagara Falls; it only fails to compare in volume.
About Taughannock Falls
Tauhannock Falls includes a history of geology; Devonian Era rocks accumulating in a shallow sea 360 million years ago, massive ice sheets shaping the landscape up to 2 million years ago, and the movement of glaciers between 2 million and 10 thousand years ago. Now add in the natural erosion process of the past 10,000 years, and the “hanging valley” you see today is picture perfect.
Taughannock is a Native American name believed to be derived from a combination of the Algonquin and Iroquois languages meaning “in the trees” or “great fall in the woods”. It is also possible to have been named after a Lenape chieftain, Taghkanic, that was killed in a battle near the falls. You can decide which sounds more interesting to you.
Hiking to See Taughannock’s Plunge
Taughannock Falls State Park offers a gorge and rim trail which both have unforgettable views of the waterfall and its creek that empties into Cayuga Lake. Each of these marked trails offers something different. Trail distances are one way and do not include round trip. You will need to double the Gorge Trail or combine the North and South Rim Trails for an accurate hiking distance.
- Gorge Trail: 0.75mi. Easy (if you stay out of the creek)
- South Rim Trail: 1.125mi. Moderate
- North Rim Trail: 1.5mi. Moderate
Gorge Trail of Taughannock Falls
The Gorge Trail is a flat, wide-open trail through the forest that starts at the parking lot and ends at the bottom of Taughannock Falls. This trail is very accessible for all. There is a small foot bridge in front of the falls, but you can easily lift a stroller or receive similar help to go up and down its few steps.
On the Gorge Trail you have direct access to Lower Falls (pictured above), Taughannock Creek, and Taughannock Falls. It is a great reward if you have limited time, energy or ability.
We were fortunate to visit during the summer at a time when the creek was at a low water level. Exploring the creek is loads of fun. When the water level is low, you can actually walk the creek bed up to the falls. Swimming is at your own risk since there are no lifeguards here, but that doesn’t stop anyone.
Walking on the creek bed makes your hike a lot more challenging, but interesting. The bed is made of limestone which is smooth with pits and ripples. (This is due to the chemical erosion of acid rain reacting with the rock.) There are areas where the water collects into swimming holes, but watch out for the true residents of the creek. We viewed a water snake which is considered harmless (non-venomous), but eerily similar looking to the venomous water moccasin which isn’t native to New York (Thank goodness!).
Rim Trail of Taughannock Falls
The outstanding plunge of Taughannock Falls becomes a monumental view from the distance and height of the Rim Trail. This trail is a bigger endeavor that rewards you with seven scenic overlooks and the 100 foot tall Upper Falls that can’t be viewed from the gorge.
New York State Parks offers you some cheats if you want to skip the Rim Trail, but still enjoy the view. There are parking areas next to the Upper Falls near the end of the South Rim Trail and the Visitor Center Overlook along the North Rim Trail.
Visit Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls State Park sits right at the tip of Cayuga Lake, the longest of the Finger Lakes. You can walk across the street and enjoy the beach and amenities before or after your hike to the falls.
Things to Know When Visiting Taughannock Falls State Park
- Swimming is prohibited in the gorge
- Lifeguarded swimming in Cayuga Lake is available seasonally
- The rock bed of the creek can be slippery. If you choose to walk through shallow areas, it is at your own risk. Water shoes with grip bottoms are strongly recommended. Use caution.
- Dogs are allowed supervised and on a leash no longer than 6 feet in length. Proof of rabies inoculation should be readily available. Pets are not permitted in buildings, playgrounds, and guarded beaches unless they are service animals.
- Campsites and cabins overlook Cayuga Lake.
- Other amenities: picnic area, concessions, playground, boat launch, fishing, stand-up paddle boarding, sledding slopes, cross country skiing, and natural skating ponds
Planning a Trip to Taughannock Falls State Park
- Park website: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/taughannockfalls
- 1470 Taughannock Blvd., Trumansburg, NY 14886
- Park is open year round from dawn to dusk.
- Vehicle entrance fee $8, collected April 27th- October 20th
- Empire Pass Card Holders- Free entry
- New York State Park entrance fees are transferable throughout the day; valid all day at all NYS Parks. (You can visit multiple parks in the same day with the same entrance ticket which is very helpful in this region with multiple parks close together.)
- The Gorge Trail and Overlook are open year round. Other (unmarked) trails are only open April-October due to dangerous snow and ice conditions.
- Camping is available by reservation only. Visit: www.reserveamerica.com
- Campsites, Cabins and Marina transient slips are available per night
- Pavilions are available mid April through mid October via reservation application
Family Adventure Rating for Taughannock Falls State Park ❤️❤️
Cost– State Parks are always a low cost adventure. If you’re within driving distance you only have minor travel expenses and the entry fee for your vehicle. A family of five can enjoy this park with the cost of some gas (possible tolls), entry fee, and a picnic lunch; creating as low cost a trip as allows for a full day adventure. To keep overnight expenses down, consider camping at the state park or avoiding hotel stays during peak college times (ie; graduation weekend, move-in weekends, etc.).
Parking & Transportation– There are parking lots at the beginning of the Gorge Trail and across the street at Cayuga Lake. There is also parking at two of the overlooks. You are twenty minutes north of Ithaca, a popular area and college town (most notable Cornell University and Ithaca College). If you don’t have your own transportation, Ithaca has it covered. There’s an international airport and coach bus transportation to and from major cities. Once you’ve arrived you have the option for car rentals, bike rentals, and taxi or ride share services. Parking is abundant throughout the area, but areas can fill up fast during peak visiting times.
Location- This location is top notch if you love nature and waterfalls. If you search, you will find several along your route. Ithaca alone boasts more than 100 waterfalls within ten miles of its downtown! You are also at the tip of the longest finger lake, Cayuga Lake. If you’re yearning for a little civilization, you can find some fun neighborhoods surrounding the colleges.
Day Trip or Overnight– There is so much to do and see in this area, I would suggest making it an overnight adventure. We stayed two days and only made a dent in the long list of places to explore. If you only have time for a day trip, then Taughannock Falls State Park is a great choice if you combine Cayuga Lake. If you’re pressed for time and just want more waterfalls, you can combine this park, the Lower Falls at Robert H Treman and Buttermilk Falls. These two falls are located next to their parking lots and allow you to transfer your entry ticket from Taughannock so you don’t pay for parking again.
Experience– It is always a good experience to get out and savor nature, especially with people you enjoy. Being able to explore nature with the five senses grounds us emotionally and improves our well being. Everyone in the family is always happiest wandering freely, getting dirty and/or wet, and discovering new things. These marvelous state parks supply us with an abundance of natural “toys” and activities to keep us busy in a healthy way.
Combination– There is an endless collection of waterfalls and outdoor adventure to explore in this area. If you have the time here are some other areas of interest: Robert H Treman State Park, Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca Children’s Garden, Businessman’s Lunch Falls, Fall Creek Gorge Natural Area, Ithaca Commons and Cornell University Campus. For more ideas check out: www.visitithaca.com