The Best Finger Lakes Waterfalls and Tips for Visiting Them

If you’re looking for nature, scenic views, lakes and waterfalls, look no further than the Finger Lakes of New York! At around 4 hours from NYC, the Finger Lakes Region is an incredible weekend getaway. There is plenty to do  here such as tour the state’s largest wine region, go boating on one of the glacial lakes and visit a number of Finger Lakes waterfalls.

About the Finger Lakes Region

The Finger Lakes Region is home to a group of 11 glacial lakes. These narrow lakes, carved out by ice, run North to South and were formed about 10,000 years ago.

The largest lakes are Seneca, Keuka, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Skaneateles and Owasco. Canandaigua is the cleanest lake and Seneca has the more popular wine trail.

How many Waterfalls are in the Finger Lakes?

The short answer is, countless! There are small waterfalls, secrets waterfalls, big waterfalls, gorge waterfalls, you name it!  I don’t know if you could ever actually count them all, but to give you an idea , there are 150 within 10 miles in the Ithaca area and Watkins Glen has another 19!


Video: Best Waterfalls in the Finger Lakes

Finger Lakes Waterfalls Map


Buttermilk Falls

  • Trail length: .75 miles up to the top for 1.5 mile total
  • Location: Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca
  • Parking: State Park Fee; $8

Buttermilk Creek turns into Buttermilk falls is an easy park and view waterfall. You actually will even be able to see it when you’re pulling into the parking lot!

There is a short but strenuous gorge walk going up one side of the falls, over the top and down the other side. If you work up a sweat the natural pool is waiting for you at the end to cool you off! Lifeguards are on duty on certain days.

If you want to stay overnight, see if you can book yourself a spot for camping!


Buttermilk Falls, Finger Lakes Waterfalls

Buttermilk Falls

Shequaga Falls

  • Trail length: None
  • Location: Village of Montour Falls
  • Parking: Small lot at South Genesee Street or street parking

A beautiful falls smack dab in the middle of a village. It’s basically in the back yard of the local houses! Shequaga Falls sits sin the back of a little park. Entrance is  free and  pets  are allowed on a leash. The park allows you to get quite close to the falls, as the water runs under it.

Shequaga Falls or “Tumbling Waters” is located close to Watkins Glen so you could tie both in to a day of exploring.


Watkins Glen

  • Trail length: 1.5 miles up, 2.4 mile total
  • Location: Watkins Glen State Park
  • Parking:  Parking at Visitor center requires an $8 fee, There is a some free parking around the Village of Watkins Glen

There are three entrances to Watkins Glen State Park; Main, North and South. If you’re going just to do the hike, I recommend using the Main Entrance. Here you will take the Gorge Trail up and take the Indian Trail back down to the village and parking area.  (Unless the one way system is not required at the time, then you can retrace your steps back down)

This route gets very busy in the summer as it’s the most popular Waterfall to visit in the Finger Lakes Region, and for good reason! Within two miles, the glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along its course. You will walk up 832 steps!

The most notable falls on the trail are  Rainbow falls and Cavern Cascade. At each of these you will have to walk behind part of the falls and you will definitely get sprayed with water. Be careful because the trail, especially in these locations, can be slippery and wet.

To Avoid Crowds:

Come as soon as the park opens and during the week if possible. This is the most popular waterfall to visit in the Finger Lakes Region.


Grimes Glen

  • Trail length: .75 miles out and back for 1.5 mile total
  • Location: Naples
  • Parking: Small free lot at the end of Vine Street.

On Grimes Glen Trail you have the chance to see three waterfalls. The first two you will be blatantly obvious as you follow the trail, but the third falls is only accessible by hiking up the side of the second falls. You will see a rope to the left of the falls to guide you. I did not attempt to see the final falls as it’s definitely not the safest route.

Grimes Glen Trail runs upstream along Grimes Creek and at some points you have to get into the creek itself, therefore your shoes will get wet! It can be slippery so you should take caution on the rocks.

I really enjoyed this short hike for its interesting path up the creek. I’ve not done many walks where you had no choices but to get in the water!

After your walk I highly recommend stoping for lunch at Roots Cafe for extremely fresh, home made food in a funky Victorian home.

TIP**Water shoes suggested as the trail goes up a creek and you will most likely get wet.


Taughannock Falls

  • Trail length: .75 miles out and back for 1.5 mile total
  • Location: Ulysses, NY
  • Parking: State Park Fee; $8 per vehicle / Overlook is free 1 hour parking

Can you believe Taughannock Falls is taller than Niagara Falls?!  This 215 foot waterfall was an incredible sight from both the overlook and the basin.

To get to the Overlook (featured image on this blog post), put Taughannock Falls Overlook View Point in to your GPS. There is a visitors center and parking here where you’ll be just a few steps from the overlook!

To get to the basin you should look for the Gorge Trail. The trail head and parking is off 89 next to the Taughonnock Falls Inn.

The other two trails; North Rim, South Rim, are accessible from the overlook parking or from the basin.

The surge of the falls will depend on the time of year. In summer, it’s usually much drier and therefore the falls aren’t as voluminous.

Where to stay nearby: Taughonnock Falls Inn

A boutique hotel just steps from the trail head! Ideal for that early morning start. The hotel boasts pet friendly accommodation and a restaurant on site.

Ithaca Falls

  • Trail length: No Hike, Park and walk in
  • Location: Ithaca Town, Lake Street
  • Parking: Small free lot + Street parking

It’s no wonder a known slogan for the area is “Ithaca is Gorges.”  As I mentioned, there are over 150 waterfalls within 10 miles!!  Ithaca and the surrounding area were literally carved out by glaciers that formed gorges millions of years ago.

I actually almost skipped visiting this waterfall and I’m so glad I didn’t! The force of the water was incredible and it was cool how close to the falls you could get.

WARNING: The soil at Ithaca Falls has shown high levels of lead. It has been contaminated by the gun factory nearby. Stay on the trail where gravel has been placed on top of the soil.

Ithaca Falls New York

Ithaca Falls

Lucifer Falls

  • Trail length: 2.25 miles total
  • Location: Robert Treman State Park
  • Parking: State Park Fee; $8 per vehicle

Lucifer Falls is located just 6 miles from Ithaca.

The 2 mile rim trail takes you to the best of the falls along the way. You’ll get a view from the basin as well as from  above as you continue the trail.

Swimming is allowed in the lower falls.


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Hector Falls

  • Trail length: N/A
  • Location: Burdett
  • Parking: A pull off with room for a few cars

Another falls close to Watkins Glen, Hector Falls is an epic roadside falls. You can see it as you are driving or choose to pull off of the road for a longer look. If you put “Finger Lakes Waterfall Resort” into your GPS it will take you past the falls.


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Carpenter Falls

  • Trail length: 600 feet / longer options
  • Location:  Marietta, Intersection of Appletree Point Road and Carver Road
  • Parking: Small free lot

I didn’t have a chance to visit Carpenter Falls on my recent trip, but I definitely want to next time! The information I was able to find out on it is a bit vague, so as soon as I go I will update here!



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Waterfall Photography Tips

Like with all photography, lighting and time of day is key! You definitely don’t want a huge shadow across the falls you’re photographing or the sun harshly reflecting off the water. I would avoid mid day and go closer to sunrise and sunset when possible.

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail has pretty good lighting through out the day as the falls are within the gorge and blocked from the sun directly.

Taughannock Falls is very open to light and the sun sets directly behind it. I went to the overlook close to sunrise and really loved how it looked, though i was actually about 20 minutes later than I wanted to be. After that, I headed to the basin and again the lighting was gorgeous.

Water flow can vary depending on the time of year. In summer waterfalls are generally drier and the falls won’t look as full, so don’t be disappointed if it’s smaller than you expected.

Finger Lakes waterfalls will be busier with people in the summer and on the weekends.  Opt for early mornings and weekdays when you can.


Where to Stay in the Finger Lakes

If visiting waterfalls while in the Finger Lakes Region is a main priority, Ithaca or Watkins Glen are both good options to base yourself.

There are actually not an abundance of hotels and resorts in the Finger Lakes Region. Many New Yorkers have second homes here and renting a house is quite common for vacationers.

Full accommodation guide to the Finger Lakes coming soon!


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