New York Waterfalls: Hunting The Best Upstate & Finger Lakes Falls

by Mark & Kristen Morgan
New York Waterfalls Watkins Glen in Summer Rainbow Falls one of the best waterfalls in New York

Waterfalls evoke emotion, raise questions about nature, inspire us and are even regarded as world famous landmarks. We’re on a hunt to visit the most awe-inspiring, fun, intriguing and beautiful waterfalls in the state of New York.

Many people consider New York to be yellow taxi’s, towering skyscrapers and Kevin McCallister’s favorite place to set up traps for Harry and Marv in Home Alone 2.

But New York State is so much more than its flagship city.

In fact, New York is larger in area than Mark’s home country, England – and Upstate New York (which many consider to be anything North of the city) is literally overflowing with waterfalls.

You can visit one of the world’s most famous waterfalls on the Canadian border, head North into the Catskills and towering Adirondack Mountains or road trip the dramatic Finger Lakes gorges.

Try as hard as you like, but it is difficult not to be impressed by plunging and cascading waterfalls.

This is the guide you need to start your own New York waterfall hunt!

*Please note this post may contain affiliate links. If you click on one of them, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! We recommend only products we use and as always, all ideas or opinions expressed in this post are entirely ours. Thank you for the support and happy travels!*

Waterfall at night in Letchworth State Park near Rochester NY

We plan to visit as many New York waterfalls as possible and each time we will add to this list. It will be a continuously growing article filled with information to help all lovers of nature plan their waterfall trips.

We would appreciate any suggestions for waterfalls you know of that we should include in this list, you can comment right at the end of this article to let us know. Thank you!

(Niagara Falls is top of our list once COVID restrictions are lessened and we can cross to the Canadian side)

Short hikes are sometimes required to reach waterfalls, therefore we will include any hiking trail details so you know what you’re up against. It also helps decide what to wear!

You will find our top recommendations for lodging near each waterfall. We’ve only suggested the best value for money hotels with a focus on best location.

We’ve written comprehensive travel guides about many of the waterfalls / State Parks and you can click any of the buttons to read those full articles.

Okay, in no particular order, let’s dive into the list!

Middle Falls at Letchworth State Park

Middle Falls at Letchworth State Park New York Finger Lakes Waterfall

Letchworth was voted the best US State Park (chosen by USA Today readers) back in 2015 and it is clear to see why the park is so popular.

Often referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon of the East’, Letchworth’s deep gorge is flanked by towering rock cliffs as high as 550ft through which the Genesee River flows towards Rochester and eventually Lake Ontario.

You can hike over 60 miles of trails throughout the 17 mile stretch of Genesee River inside Letchworth State Park. However, the stars of the show are three stunning waterfalls: Upper, Middle and Lower.

Not the most original names but easy to understand!

Middle Falls is the tallest, widest and most powerful of the three Letchworth waterfalls. Several viewpoints from extremely close up to hundreds of feet away allow you to choose the perspective you like most.

Our favorite is from Inspiration Point, far enough back to open up the landscape and include the Genesee River as well as Upper Falls complimented by its 200ft high bridge.

Hiking: You can hike to Inspiration point but you can also park just 50 meters away, take a deck chair and watch the sun set just to the right of Middle Falls.

Letchworth Falls State Park Middle Falls near Rochester NY Nicknamed Grand Canyon of the East powerful wide falls
  • Waterfall Height: 107 ft
  • Waterfall Crest: 250-300 ft
  • Waterway: Genesee River
  • Nearest Major City: Rochester, NY (55 miles)
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring, Summer & Fall
  • Where to Stay: Letchworth Farm

Lucifer Falls at Robert H Treman State Park

Lucifer Falls at Robert H Treman State Park near Ithaca NY overlook from Rim trail perspective

Lucifer Falls is an incredibly attractive cascade waterfall flowing out of a stunning gorge and plummeting 115ft over multiple tiers of rock into Enfield Creek.

What makes it so attractive is the dramatic gorge opening up into the Creek and a fairytale-like stone path hugging tightly to the cliff edge.

Two viewpoints offer entirely different perspectives of Lucifer Falls. Rim trail is the quintessential distant view from which you can absorb the beautiful scene uninterrupted and Gorge trail brings you to within 10 meters of Lucifer Falls’ upper section.

Further down Robert H Treman’s 2.25 mile Gorge Trail you can enter Enfield Creek and wade as close as you dare to the drop zone of Lucifer Falls, as long as the waterfall is lightly flowing.

Hiking: Park at Upper Entrance for much shorter hiking distances to Lucifer Falls from both Rim overlook and Gorge viewpoint (around 0.5 miles).

Lucifer Falls Robert Treman State Park from side view wispy waterfall at the end of summer after drought
  • Waterfall Height: 115 ft
  • Waterfall Crest: 25-30 ft
  • Waterway: Enfield Creek
  • Nearest Major City: Ithaca, NY (5 miles)
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring, Summer & Fall
  • Where to Stay: Hampton Inn or La Tourelle

Lower Falls at Robert H Treman State Park

Lower Falls at Robert H Treman State Park near Ithaca New York people jumping in pool from diving board

Lower Falls is located a few miles downstream of Lucifer Falls at Robert H Treman State Park. It’s worth hiking the fantastic 2.25 mile Gorge trail from top to bottom to see the entire creek.

Lower Falls admittedly would be more impressive if it hadn’t been transformed into a swimming hole complete with its very own elevated diving board. But hey, we all need a little fun in our lives, right?!

Enfield Creek narrows into a tunnel-like ravine as it nears the end of its flow and plunges 30ft into the designated swimming area which has become so popular with families.

Although not the most beautiful, powerful or exhilarating, it is quite rare to swim (without breaking rules or being in danger!) at the base of a waterfall of such scale, which is why we had to include it in this list of New York waterfalls.

Hiking: Lower Falls is less than 5 minutes walk along a flat, mobility friendly path from Robert H Treman main parking lot and features picnic areas.

Robert H Treman state park lower falls waterfall from rim trail distant view through trees
  • Waterfall Height: 30 ft
  • Waterfall Crest: 20 ft
  • Waterway: Enfield Creek
  • Nearest Major City: Ithaca, NY (5 miles)
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring, Summer & Fall
  • Where to Stay: Hampton Inn or La Tourelle

Buttermilk Falls at Buttermilk Falls State Park

Buttermilk Falls State Park near Ithaca NY dry waterfall sloping rock face through green trees

Buttermilk Falls is one of the most popular State Parks around Ithaca, NY thanks to a short but exceptionally scenic Gorge trail featuring pothole pools and dozens of small waterfalls dropping from less than 1 meter.

You get a lot of bang for your buck at Buttermilk Falls State Park and its namesake waterfall is the perfect way to begin your visit. Right at the entrance, 165ft high creamy frothing water (like Buttermilk!) slips, slides and glides down an angled slab of rock into a swimming pool.

The most striking feature of Buttermilk Falls is how the water seemingly bursts out of a dense tree lined hillside, much like an enormous waterslide. When we visited, water was so low that Buttermilk Falls was almost dried up.

Therefore, instead of including 2 photographs of a dry rock, we thought it better to share an image of the beautiful gorge from further upstream, showcasing Buttermilk Falls’ most photogenic attribute.

Top-tip: Don’t visit after a long drought. There won’t be any water running down sloping Buttermilk Falls!

Hiking: Buttermilk Falls is at the entrance but to reach the fantastic multi step punchbowl falls you will need to hike 0.75 miles up Gorge trail.

Buttermilk Falls waterfalls shallow at the top end of gorge trail Ithaca New York finger lakes
  • Waterfall Height: 165 ft
  • Waterfall Crest: 45 ft
  • Waterway: Buttermilk Creek
  • Nearest Major City: Ithaca, NY (3 miles)
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring, Summer & Fall
  • Where to Stay: Hampton Inn or La Tourelle

Ithaca Falls in Downtown Ithaca

Ithaca Falls huge slab of rock with multiple cascades in downtown city near Cornell university

One of the surprise packages of New York waterfalls has to be 150ft high and 175ft wide Ithaca Falls, which is completely unexpected considering it is in a city center.

Surrounded by Cornell University student housing districts, Lower Falls is the must visit waterfall of a half dozen found along Fall Creek.

You can also visit Rocky Falls, Forest Falls and Triphammer Falls if you follow Fall Creek as it cuts through Cornell University campus, which is basically a small town of its own!

Reaching Lower Falls requires a very short and easy walk alongside a rocky river bed but the area is small and often jam packed full of tourists or families of students. In Spring when the snow melts and water levels rise, there will not be much room to maneuver for photographs.

Top-tip: There is a small graveled parking lot right opposite the trail entrance with free parking.

Hiking: No more than 0.2 miles to reach the falls from parking lot.

Close up of Ithaca Falls waterfall lightly flowing at the end of Summer
  • Waterfall Height: 150 ft
  • Waterfall Crest: 175 ft
  • Waterway: Fall Creek
  • Nearest Major City: Ithaca, NY (1 mile)
  • Best Time to Visit: All Year
  • Where to Stay: Marriott or Argos Inn

Taughannock Falls at Taughannock Falls State Park

Taughannock Falls State Park overlook view of Taughannock Waterfall in the distance beyond stone staircase New York waterfall tallest single drop east of Rockies

Taughannock Falls is one of the most visually impressive waterfalls in New York, if not the entire United States, although we know it doesn’t look that way in our photo – we visited after a drought!

The spectacular single drop plunge waterfall plummets 215ft into a deep bowl-like depression in the Earth and can be viewed from right at the drop zone or from an incredible viewpoint hundreds of feet away.

You can walk along a flat gorge trail (or even the dry creek bed itself when dry) to reach the base of Taughannock Falls, which in Spring and early Summer will be crashing over the ledge 215ft above.

Taughannock Falls overlook has to be one our favorite views in New York. It is perfectly positioned for a front-on unobstructed view of heart shaped cliffs encircling the waterfall which lead to Taughannock Falls itself in the distance.

Top-tip: Visit in peak Fall season to see the waterfall surrounded by beautiful Autumnal foliage and take home the most amazing photographs.

Hiking: 1.5 mile roundtrip to the base of Taughannock Falls is flat, very easy and well worth it.

Close up of Taughannock Falls waterfall near Ithaca ny with awesome wooden bridge spanning the creek in foreground
  • Waterfall Height: 215 ft
  • Waterfall Crest: 30-40 ft
  • Waterway: Taughannock Creek
  • Nearest Major City: Ithaca, NY (9 miles)
  • Best Time to Visit: All Year
  • Where to Stay: Taughannock Inn or Glass Magnolia

Rainbow Falls at Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen gorge trail rainbow falls beautiful waterfall in New York State

Watkins Glen is one of the most spectacular gorges we’ve ever seen and we genuinely felt as though we’d been transported into another world.

Although Watkins Glen gorge boasts 19 waterfalls, none compare to the spellbinding scene at Rainbow Falls. We’re talking front cover of nature magazines imagery here and this is one tough act to beat in the best New York waterfall race.

See the wafer thin but wide sheet of water plunging from the ledge and meeting Triple Cascade in those smooth potholes below?

That is Rainbow Falls and it is one of 2 waterfalls you can walk underneath as you hike the popular one way Watkins Glen Gorge Trail.

Prepare to be awe-struck but also prepare for crowds, unless you visit early on a weekday morning in Spring or Fall.

Hiking: Rainbow Falls is roughly 1 mile into Gorge trail from the main entrance. The total Gorge / Indian Trail loop is around 3 miles and contains 800 steps.

New York Waterfalls don't come much better than rainbow falls at Watkins Glen finger lakes small waterfall but incredible scenery
  • Waterfall Height: 101 ft
  • Waterfall Crest: 20 ft
  • Waterway: Glen Creek
  • Nearest Major City: Rochester, NY (81 miles)
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and Fall
  • Where to Stay: Harbor Hotel or Idlwilde Inn

New York Waterfalls Photography Tips

While smartphones today can easily cut it for social media platforms, in order to take home some truly memorable images (and be able to edit them well) you need a mirrorless or DSLR camera.

Waterfalls are one of our favorite types of photography because you can really change how an image looks using a camera. Running water is the same as falling water so these tips remain true for both.

    • Mirrorless or DSLR camera, lens with focal length to suit the scene. Close up like Rainbow Falls or underneath Taughannock Falls, use a wide angle (12-35mm). Middle Falls from Inspiration Point would be better at 50-80mm.
    • Tripod for stability to capture the silky waterfall effect OR find a spot you could set your camera on a wall. Put a spare hoodie or jacket between the wall and your camera for protection.
    • Shoot 0.3 second to 3 second exposures using shutter speed priority mode with ISO as low as possible (100). Start at 1 second and then at faster / slower shutter speed until you’re happy with how the water looks.
    • Alternatively, use a fast shutter speed like 1/1000th to freeze water droplets as they fall. You can then hand-hold without tripod or blur.
    • If you’re just starting out, shoot in RAW & JPEG. You can use your jpeg now but once you have more experience you will be grateful for the RAW file you can go back to and edit in post.
    • Visit early in the day before intense daylight but if it is bright, use an ND filter to stop down the light or CPL filter to dim any glare.
    • Check for spray on your lens regularly.

Our Photography Equipment

To give you an idea about what is ‘in our bag’ we’ve listed below the equipment we use for photography. We started small and have expanded as we developed.

You certainly don’t need the most expensive gear and can easily get amazing images with entry level or mid-range cameras/lenses – although it does help! We used our entry level camera for some of the waterfalls in this post.

  • Sony a-6000 – Our first camera and now backup! Used this with Sigma 16mm f1.4 for some of these waterfalls. Traveled the world with us, fantastic entry level camera for beginners to decide if photography is something they enjoy. We fell in love with photography and eventually upgraded to …
  • Sony A7R IV – One of the best cameras on the market and we couldn’t be happier. Lightyears jump in quality, options, performance and complexity! Watkins Glen was one of our first shoots with this incredible camera.
  • Sony FE 24-105mm f4 G Lens – Our walk around lens, workhorse and great for portraits as gets into the 70-90mm focal length range. Almost went for the 24-70 GM but saved US$ 1,000 to put towards … 
  • Sony FE 16-35mm f2.8 GM Lens – This best-in-class landscape lens is next on our shopping list. Heavy, bulky and expensive but we want f2.8 for shallow depth of field and astro.
  • Vanguard Alta Pro 2 Carbon Fiber Tripod – Awesome, light, rock solid tripod that is more flexible than a ballet dancer!

New York Waterfalls Map

Click into the interactive map, zoom in / out and move around the area to find all waterfalls and nearby hotel recommendations.

  • Maroon – Locations of all New York waterfalls covered in this expanding list
  • Purple – Best value for money hotel recommendations close to each waterfall

Pin This Post To Follow As It Grows!

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We hope this helped you plan your New York waterfalls hunt!

Which is your favorite waterfall? Have you visited any of the Finger Lakes falls?

Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit to any falls.

And do leave a comment below if you have any recommendations for the list!

Don’t forget you can look at all our itineraries and USA specific travel guides to help plan your next trip!

-Happy Travels-

Valuable Resources For Your Next Trip

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  • Planning a Trip: Planning a trip can be daunting, take the stress out of planning by breaking things down into manageable steps | Plan a Trip
  • Wellness: It is more important than ever to take care of your mind, body and soul when traveling short or long term | Travel Wellness
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