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  • Writer's pictureDan Wagner

Four Days in New York's Finger Lakes: A Waterfall Lover's Dream

Nestled among deep gorges, cascading waterfalls, rolling hills, and pristine lakes, New York's Finger Lakes Region boasts not only breathtaking beauty but also rich historical significance. The eleven lakes—Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, and Otisco—originated as modest streams flowing northward through narrow V-shaped valleys.

Approximately two million years ago, advancing glaciers moved southward, covering the valleys with ice. As the ice sheets pushed south, they carved and transformed the valleys, shaping them into expansive U forms. Over countless millennia, the glaciers gradually melted, giving rise to the iconic Finger Lakes we admire today.

While the lakes themselves are undeniably beautiful, the true gems of the Finger Lakes Region are the gorges and their waterfalls. This region is home to over a third of New York's 3,200 documented waterfalls, including the tallest single-drop falls east of the Rocky Mountains. During a four-day trip in the fall, we spent our time hiking to waterfalls and having relaxing evenings in some great bed and breakfasts.

Day 1: Silver Lake

Middle & Upper Falls (0.5 miles/150')
Inspiration Point
Lower Falls (0.5 miles/150')

We began the trip exploring the park that earned the USA Today Readers Choice Award for the best state park in 2015—Letchworth State Park. Within the park, colossal waterfalls cascade down the vertical walls of a gorge that plunges over 500 feet along a twenty-two-mile stretch of the Genesee River. Once the ancestral home of the Seneca people, they named the land Sehgahunda, meaning "vale of three falls." First, we took in the views from both Middle and Upper Falls, which required very little hiking.

Middle Falls Letchworth

After this, we, visited the William Pryor Letchworth Museum located behind the Glen Iris Inn, right near where we parked for the falls. Then, we drove over to Inspiration Point, one of my favorite spots in the park.

Inspiration Point Letchworth

After viewing the falls from Inspiration Point we drove a mile and a half along Park Rd to the Footbridge Nature Shoppe, picked up the Gorge Trail, and hiked down to Lower Falls. The fall colors at Letchworth were close to peak, which meant the following week would be swarming with crowds.

Lower Falls Letchworth

Afterward, we grabbed a bite to eat in Mount Morris and headed to the Allegiance Bed & Breakfast, which was a great choice.

Day 2: Canandaigua Lake

Balloons Over Letchworth
Grimes Glen (1.1 miles/200')
Conklin's Gully (3.4 miles/650')
Shequaga Falls
Deckertown Falls (0.3 miles/60')

Our second day kicked off with a sunrise hot air balloon excursion over the gorge courtesy of Balloons Over Letchworth. The rides are highly contingent on weather conditions and we were fortunate to have a calm morning.

Letchworth balloon ride

We then drove out to Grimes Glen Park where we hiked up Grimes Creek to reach the first of two waterfalls, a 60-foot cascade.

Grimes Glen Falls

A quarter mile later we reached a second 60-foot-tall waterfall.

Grimes Glen Falls

On the right side of the falls, we stumbled upon a small cave known as Devil's Bedroom. On the left side, a set of ropes called my name, offering an ascent up the steep hillside to reach the top of the falls. In researching the park's history, we discovered that in 1882, a local fossil hunter named Dana Luther uncovered the remains of a 350-million-year-old fossilized tree in this area—an ancient relic, among the oldest trees ever found on Earth. Referred to as the Naples Tree, the historic find has been housed at Albany's New York State Museum since 1887.

Continuing in the High Tor area, Conklin's Gully and its twelve waterfalls were a short five-minute drive away. This turned out to be the most adventurous hike of the trip, as the entire trail was hiked within the creek bed and up through waterfalls. By the time we were done hiking up the stream, we had ascended at least eight waterfalls and were soaking wet.

Conklin's Gully

We then drove about an hour east of Conklin's Gully to Shequaga Falls, a 165-foot-tall roadside waterfall. The falls derive their name from the Seneca language, translating to "tumbling waters."

Shequaga Falls

A short five minute drive from Shequaga Falls led us to the trailhead for Deckertown Falls, a three-tier falls with a total drop of around 50 feet. The trail initially appeared to end at the first, smaller cascade, but after looking around a bit we found a way to get up to the higher cascade.

Deckertown Falls

Tonight, we stayed at the Magnolia Place Bed & Breakfast.

Day 3: Seneca Lake

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail (1.6 miles/400')
Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail (1.8 miles/150')

We began day three with an early start out to Watkins Glen State Park, a former Conde Nast Traveler and USA Today Readers Choice Awards winner for best state park in both New York and the country. I had previously read how crowded it gets here, but we thought we'd give it a try. Turns out, it was about as bad as Angels Landing used to be before they went to a permit system. The park was beautiful, but I don't think I'd ever go back there again given how crowded it was. It took about two and a half house to hike a mile and a half, and aside from grabbing a photo of Rainbow Falls, I was pretty irritated with the people.

Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen

After we left Watkins Glen, we drove thirty minutes to Taughannock Falls State Park to hike out to Taughannock Falls. Significantly less crowded, the hike was really enjoyable and the falls were flowing great for that time of year. At 217-feet-tall, it's actually 33 feet taller than world renowned Niagara Falls. According to legend, a Delaware chief named Taughannock was killed by a group of rival Iroquois and thrown over the falls.

Taughannock Falls

Afterward, we checked into the Inn at Taughannock Falls, relaxed, and then grabbed dinner. As the day was winding down, we headed over to the Taughannock Falls Overlook for sunset.

Taughannock Falls

Day 4: Cayuga Lake

Ithaca Falls (0.2 miles/flat)
Cascadilla Gorge (1.3 miles/300')
Lucifer Falls (1.1 miles/250')
Buttermilk Falls (1.6 miles/450')

We began our last day in the area with a very short walk out to Ithaca Falls, a 150-foot-tall waterfall located not far from Cornell University.

Ithaca Falls

We then drove a few minutes to Cascadilla Gorge and hiked a paved trail through the gorge featuring eight waterfalls ranging from 8 feet to 50 feet.

Cascadilla Gorge

Afterward, we stopped for lunch and headed to Robert H Tremen State Park to hike the Rim and Gorge Trails Loop. The entire hike was gorgeous, but Lucifer Falls, a 112-foot-tall cascade, stole the show.

Lucifer Falls

Wanting to check out as many areas as time permitted, we left for Buttermilk Falls State Park. There, we hiked the RIm and Gorge Loop along Buttermilk Creek, highlighted by the 165-foot-tall Buttermilk Falls.

Buttermilk Falls New York

While we were driving home, both Jackie and I agreed that the only thing we would have changed was skipping Watkins Glen and spending more time elsewhere. Other than that, it was another great trip full of a ton of great views and relaxing evenings.


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