Looking for a quintessential Ithaca activity? Hit the trails, then follow it up with a great meal!
There are over 100 waterfalls within 10 miles of Ithaca—a superlative no other town in North America can claim—which means that many local trails take you right past one or more! We’ve listed a few of our favorite hikes here… along with a restaurant recommendation for each of them because we just can’t help ourselves.
When you’re ready to set out, be sure to visit Out on the Trails for a complete guide to trails in Tompkins County. It’s a fabulous resource which allows you to search for trails by length, difficulty, activity (such as biking or wildlife watching), and location.
Cascadilla Gorge Natural Area
Cascadilla Gorge Natural Area: The first time we hiked through Cascadilla Gorge we were entranced by how thoroughly immersive a trail linking two densely populated areas could be. You can begin at the base in Downtown Ithaca—just two blocks from The Commons—or at the top in Collegetown, mere steps from the Schwartz Performing Arts Center. The ascent is made easier by stone and concrete steps and bridges criss-crossing the creek, and we like to take frequent breaks to absorb the beauty.
Recommended food nearby: Stay hydrated with a beverage named after your horoscope, 90’s cartoon characters, or modern pop icons: every Collegetown Bagels location offers a rotating menu of smoothies, milkshakes, and iced or hot coffees and teas. Stop at the CTB on North Aurora Street near the base of the trail, or the location on College Avenue at the top of the gorge.
Sweedler Preserve at Lick Brook
Sweedler Preserve at Lick Brook: We first hiked here after living in the area for 25 years and were astounded that in all that time we’d never been before. It’s maintained by the Finger Lakes Land Trust and is certainly a lesser-known trail; parking is along the side of the road and there is no entrance fee. The path through the preserve is a peaceful walk in the woods, albeit a steep one, and the act of following the painted blazes keeps you alert. When you ultimately reach Lick Brook Falls you feel as though you’ve discovered it all on your own!
Recommended food nearby: There is very little near this preserve, so we usually drive back into Ithaca for food. Our most memorable hike was on a brisk fall day (Black Friday, to be precise) and we followed it up with hearty and delicious Phở from Saigon Kitchen.
Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail
Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail: The Overlook at Taughannock Falls State Park gets the most visitors, but the Gorge Trail is our favorite way to experience this natural wonder. The path is wide and level, just under a mile long, and leads you past Lower Falls on your way to the base of the 215-foot drop of Taughannock Falls itself. The curvature of the gorge walls around the basin of the falls creates a stunning effect, and we always feel a little awe-struck when we reach the base, no matter how many time we’ve visited before.
Recommended food nearby: Mere minutes from Taughannock is the peaceful main street of Trumansburg, NY. For dinner, visit Hazlenut Kichen and enjoy a seasonally-sourced meal in a cozy space with a view of the open kitchen.
Robert H. Treman Gorge Trail
Robert H. Treman Gorge Trail: Though we don’t hike at Treman often, this trail has a special place in our hearts because we said our vows here! (At the exact point of the trail pictured in this photo, to be specific.) Several sets of stone staircases bring you right up next to Enfield Creek, the 115-foot Lucifer Falls, and other stunning features along the way. We especially enjoy making a loop of the Upper Gorge Trail and the Rim Trail to enjoy the park from all angles. Taking a dip in the stream-feed swimming hole at the foot of a waterfall is also worth a visit, whether you choose to hike or not!
Recommended food nearby: After a day spent at Tremen the last thing you’ll want to do is be stuck indoors, so kick back and relax at Ithaca Beer Company. Their spacious lawn is open to all ages with fire pits, cornhole, and an outdoor kitchen serving food sourced so locally that you can see the garden from where you sit. (Should it rain, their indoor bar and taproom kitchen are also a great option.)
Cayuga Waterfront Trail
Cayuga Waterfront Trail: A bit different from the other entries on this list, the Cayuga Waterfront Trail is a paved, 5.5 mile trail—simultaneously longer and more gentle than the rest. It runs along the south shore of Cayuga Lake and crosses the Inlet, connecting Stewart Park, Steamboat Landing (home to the Ithaca Farmer’s Market), and Cass Park. This trail serves as a recreation way for the area, so you’ll often pass dog walkers, runners, and bikers. Historical signage can be found throughout, extending its reach beyond the present. To traverse the path more quickly, rent a bike from Ithaca Bike Rental located next to Stewart Park, or hop on a Lime Bike – Ithaca’s dockless bike share.
Recommended food nearby: On Saturdays, Sundays, and Thursday evenings the Ithaca Farmer’s Market is an absolute must. In particular, Macro Mamas during the Saturday market offers wholesome, delicious, seasonal meals and desserts with options for everyone, no matter your dietary preferences.