Taughannock Falls State Park is an outstanding highlight of New York’s Finger Lakes region and site of the tallest single drop waterfall East of the Rocky Mountains: the incredibly photogenic Taughannock Falls.
But what makes Taughannock Falls so special?
The answer lies in its striking topographical surroundings.
A bowl shaped depression in the Earth (like a gigantic amphitheater) is encircled by towering 400 ft high cliffs, with the mesmerizing 215 ft tall single drop waterfall crashing right out from its center.
The best part? Mother Nature just so happens to have created a perfectly unobstructed overlook hundreds of feet away for us to enjoy the view. Great job, MN!
Draw an imaginary heart symbol – base of the V is the overlook, arcs are the cliffs and the joining point in the top center is Taughannock Falls.
A gorge hiking trail allows you to walk into the amphitheater and ends within a stones throw of the plunging water for mightily impressive up close views. So, you can be blown away from above and below the picture perfect Taughannock Falls.
In this comprehensive travel guide we will focus primarily on what you can expect from hiking Taughannock Falls State Park Gorge Trail and its ultra scenic overlook.
In addition, you will find information about parking options, entry fees, FAQ’s, camping, nearby accommodation and restaurant options.
Let’s dive in!
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Taughannock Falls State Park Factfile
Where is Taughannock Falls State Park?
Taughannock Falls State Park is located on the Western flank of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York.
The popular college town of Ithaca, NY is the perfect base for exploring Taughannock Falls when combined with Buttermilk Falls, Robert H Treman and Watkins Glen State Parks as part of a wider Finger Lakes road trip.
From downtown Ithaca, simply follow the scenic route (NY-89 N) along Cayuga Lake for around 15 minutes until you see signs for Taughannock Falls State Park.
Distances from nearby major cities:
If you’re flying into the region to tour the Finger Lakes wineries or State Parks, here are the closest airports for you to consider:
Parking and Entrance Fee at Taughannock Falls State Park
Parking at Taughannock Falls is easier than at nearby Robert Treman and Buttermilk Falls State Parks.
You will find a tiny parking lot right at the entrance to Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail but this will fill up very quickly each day.
Don’t worry if you can’t find a space, you can park around 50 meters from the edge of Cayuga Lake in a huge overflow parking lot, located less than 1 minute drive away on the opposite side of the main road.
As you pass through a ticket booth you will pay US$ 8 per vehicle, which you can pay by cash or card.
It will take you less than 5 minutes to walk back to the beginning of Gorge Trail.
Taughannock Falls Overlook & Upper Parking Lot
The awesome overlook of Taughannock Falls has it’s own very small parking lot and visitor center, but expect this lot to fill up early every day between April and October.
If you’re visiting on a weekend or a holiday, this parking area will be chaotic all day. You can park at Upper Falls (Black Diamond Trail) and walk 15 minutes back to the overlook along North Rim Trail.
Personally, we would rather park further out and walk to the overlook but we’ll leave that one up to you!
Note: Overlook parking is free for 1 hour.
Taughannock Falls Overlook
Before we jump into the short hike up Gorge Trail to the base of the waterfall, let’s begin with the monumentally epic vista from Taughannock Falls Overlook.
We must admit, we were deeply disappointed the waterfall was running almost completely dry but we can have no complaints visiting at the end of Summer after a long drought. Without question we will visit again in Autumn and Spring to witness the waterfall in all its might.
A beautifully crafted stone staircase at the overlook creates a postcard (and instagram!) perfect image. Photographers simply can’t miss this overlook, but expect company.
Don’t forget the overlook is part of the North / South rim 2.9 mile loop trail if you’re looking for more hiking opportunities in the area.
Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail
After you’ve been blown away by the distant view, it’s time to get up close and personal. Head down to the Gorge Trail entrance and let’s walk through what you can expect to find.
Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail Distance: 1.9 mile roundtrip
Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail Difficulty: Very Easy
A few minutes after you begin walking up Gorge trail you will find Lower Taughannock Falls, a 20 ft shelf-like fall with an incredibly flat rim.
You could put a spirit level anywhere on the ledge and your bubble would be right in center.
As you can see in our image, Taughannock Creek was running extremely dry, not a good sign of things to come!
In Spring and early Summer lower falls looks great with a heavy flow as water spreads across the flat surface and gently cascades from various points.
You can choose to follow a gravel track flanking the creek or walk along the creek bed if it’s as dry as you can see here. Roughly half of all visitors we saw walked up the entire creek bed.
The creek is completely safe to walk along when it is dry but eventually you will see signs telling you to leave the creek and re-join the designated path.
Taughannock Falls Gorge trail is very short, flat and easy. Basically no elevation is gained or lost which makes the trail perfectly accessible for families with very young children or those with mobility issues.
The final stretch of path leads you through a forested area and eventually brings you out into an opening where you can see a wooden bridge …
Underneath Taughannock Falls
You will cross the bridge from left to right as you look at the image above. Turn to the left for your first sight of Taughannock Falls from up close.
Water will crash noisily out of the tree lined cliff top in Spring and early Summer but after a drought, well the trickle you can see is all you can expect!
Once you’ve crossed the bridge, follow the path as it turns slightly left and comes to a dead end.
When there is such little water in the landing zone and running through the creek, you will encounter no problems with stepping over the wall and walking around the small stoned surface.
From close up the low volume of water flowing becomes more apparent but if water is crashing over, please don’t go out into this area!
Although it is difficult to imagine this wispy thin fall being the tallest single drop waterfall East of the Rocky Mountains – it is!
On our visit, Taughannock Falls flow was like turning off a faucet 3/4 of the way but just about leaving a steady drip, drip, drip into the sink.
That being said, it was still enough to appreciate the vast depression we found ourselves in. No matter how much water is crashing or trickling over the ledge, this is still a fascinating landscape.
Photography at Taughannock Falls State Park
Arriving early at the awesome Taughannock Falls overlook is key to you getting the best image possible. Landscape photography is always easier with fewer people to contend with, especially in confined spaces.
- Taughannock Falls is West of the overlook, which means at sunset you will be shooting into the sun until it disappears. The sun is behind you at sunrise and it takes a while to light up the waterfall.
- Once the sun rises you have shadows and blown out skies to contend with. The morning we visited was worst case, just a plain blank canvas of grey overcast cloud. A day with cotton wool clouds (cumulus) would be better but wait for the sun to disappear behind a cloud.
- Focus stacking is an option even if you shoot with a narrow aperture for greater depth of field. Take 3 of the exact same image on a tripod but focus on foreground (the stairs), middle ground (the waterfall) and distance (clouds if there are any).
- Use an ND filter to stop down the light on a bright day.
- Try framing your image so the top of the waterfall is the top of your frame (ie cut out the sky completely).
Close up photographs of Taughannock Falls are much easier to compose. You have more freedom with framing and using subjects such as the bridge.
- Take a lot of photographs from right underneath the waterfall to all the way back behind the bridge.
- If you can, try standing 50 meters behind the bridge and zooming in to make Taughannock Falls appear closer to the bridge (compression).
- You will have to be patient and wait for a clearing of people on the bridge or use photoshop.
What Facilities are Available at Taughannock Falls?
There are some picnic benches near the entrance to Gorge Trail but no restaurants or cafes so bring your own food and drinks!
You can hire kayaks and paddle boats right from the overflow parking lot to take out into Cayuga Lake.
Are Dogs Allowed at Taughannock Falls State Park?
Yes, dogs are allowed on the trails but must be kept on leashes no longer than 6 feet.
Is Swimming Allowed at the Park?
You can swim at one designated area known as South point which is on the opposite side of the main road from the entrance to Gorge trail. Swimming in the creek is prohibited.
Are there any other Hiking Trails at Taughannock Falls?
Yes, you can hike a 2.9 mile scenic loop around North and South Rim trails, effectively circling Taughannock Falls. This trail includes the awesome overlook.
Is it Worth Visiting Upper Taughannock Falls?
If water is running heavily, definitely take the time to walk or drive to 100 ft high Upper falls. The impressive falls drop into a tube-like cylindrical canyon and you can see this from close to a birds eye view.
Best Time to Visit Taughannock Falls State Park
The most important thing to consider when visiting Taughannock Falls should be volume of water. We visited in early Fall and it was almost dry but that doesn’t mean it will be next year or the year after that.
Check 14 day weather forecasts and start planning your visit if there’s a lot of rain predicted.
Taughannock Falls State Park will be extremely busy on weekends between April and October, particularly during holidays.
Best time of Year – Do you want water or color?! Spring is the best time for heavy running waterfalls as snow melts, but Fall is best for vibrant foliage. Summer is hot and busy while in Winter you can ice skate, snow shoe and cross country ski. The gorge trail is open year round.
Best time of Day – The earlier you arrive, the quieter the trails and overlook will be. Typically, the busiest period at the park is between 10am-3pm.
Where To Eat Near Taughannock Falls State Park
Trumansburg is just a 4 mile drive from Taughannock Falls State Park and features a number of highly rated eateries:
Where To Stay Near Taughannock Falls State Park
Are you only visiting Taughannock Falls? Or do you plan to include Robert H Treman and Buttermilk Falls as part of a wider Finger Lakes road trip?
If you are taking in all of Ithaca’s State Parks, we recommend staying North of Ithaca one night for Taughannock Falls before moving Southwest of Ithaca the next day for Robert Treman and Buttermilk.
Alternatively, you might prefer to set up base in the built up downtown of Ithaca for a long weekend?
Either way, there are a number of excellent options for staying in and around Ithaca. Remember the more flexible your dates, the better chance you have of saving money.
Let’s take a look at some of the best hotel options in the Ithaca, NY area for you to consider:
Northwest Ithaca for Easier Access to Taughannock Falls
Staying a night close to Taughannock Falls means you can enjoy the waterfalls and hiking, plus spend some time around Cayuga Lake and eat in Trumansburg.
The ‘Inn at Taughannock Falls’ is the obvious and most convenient accommodation for Taughannock Falls. The Inn is stunning and located right at the entrance to Taughannock Falls Gorge trail!
However, the perfect alternative is a historic bed & breakfast we stayed at called Glass Magnolia in Interlaken, just a few miles from Taughannock Falls. The hosts are extremely welcoming and friendly, plus the homemade breakfast was excellent.
Click on either hotel name to check prices and availability for your dates.
Downtown Ithaca For Central Location & Amenities
Staying centrally in Ithaca works best if you’re staying in the Finger Lakes region for 3 or more days because you won’t have to rush around the State Parks. Plus, over that period you will need amenities on your doorstep.
Here are the best accommodation options in downtown Ithaca:
Southwest Ithaca for Robert H Treman and Buttermilk Falls State Parks
There are 4 budget friendly hotels ideally located within 1 mile of Buttermilk Falls and 3 miles of Robert Treman. They couldn’t be any more convenient if you plan to visit these parks after Taughannock Falls.
You can get a night for between US$75-150 depending on your date of visit, including breakfast.
Click on each of the 4 hotel names to see availability and prices for your dates:
Camping at Taughannock Falls State Park
If hotels are too expensive or you’d prefer to be outdoors surrounded by nature, there are 68 campsites and 16 cabins at Taughannock Falls for you to consider.
Camping at Taughannock Falls State Park is open from Mid April – Mid October and requires a 2 night minimum stay. Peak season is end of June – end of August.
Off season: US$ 18 per night
Peak season: US$ 28 per night
Cabins open Beginning May – Mid October and require a minimum stay of 2 nights in off season but full 7 nights minimum stay in peak season (end June – end August).
Off season: US$ 59.50 per night but you have to stay minimum 2 nights, so your total 2 night stay is US$ 119. Weekly cost is US$ 238, which offers much better value.
Peak season: US$ 400 per week with 7 night minimum stay.
Taughannock Falls State Park Map
Click into the interactive map, zoom in / out and move around the area to find all recommended restaurants, hotels, points of interest and parking lots.
- Purple – Hotel recommendations in and around Taughannock Falls and Ithaca, NY
- Light Red – Restaurant recommendations in and around Trumansburg, NY
- Dark Green – On site tent / RV / cabin accommodation and pavilion
- Blue – Gorge / Rim Trails
- Maroon – Parking lots at each entrance
- Orange – All points of interest for hiking and waterfalls
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