GPS: West Entrance: (N 42.44302 / W 76.49411)
East end at College Ave: (N 42.44324 / W 76.48519)
Directions: Located just south of Cornell University in the city of Ithaca, on the south end of Cayuga Lake. Park alongside E. Court Street, which is off of N Cayuga St. Then head east toward Linn St. and start heading north (left). The entrance will be on your right (look for a small community park).
Google Directions to the corner of E Court and Linn St.
Parking: There is no parking provided for this park. You can park along some of the side streets. Linn and East Court St. are often used.
Number of falls: 8 waterfalls (6 major falls).
Size/Types: Frothy cascades down shale and limestone. From small drops to wide cascades, reaching 54 ft high, with sizable plunge pools.
Best time to visit: Spring through fall.
Flow: Moderate; though it does tend to dry in summer.
Waterway: Cascadilla Creek, a tributary to The Cayuga Inlet, which empties into Cayuga Lake.
Time: 30 minutes to an hour. More if you are photographing.
Seasons/Hours: Open daylight hours. April through November or first freeze. The trail is highly dangerous when icy. The trail is often closed for repairs. Please observe and respect the “Posted Trail Closed” signage and do not proceed if closed.
Admission: Free. Parking may be metered.
Handicap accessibility: To the grassy park off of Linn , but not into the gorge. The creek and possibly one waterfall is visible from there.
Pets: Not allowed. For their safety and the safety of others, we recommend you do not take your pet on the gorge trail.
Swimming: Not allowed. Swimming in the gorge is prohibited and the area is often patrolled by campus police.
Accommodations: Trail; informational signage.
1 Plantations Road
Ithaca, NY, 14850
Cascadilla Gorge is a popular trail connecting the Cornell University campus to Collegetown, a district of Ithaca south of the campus. It is often used by students as a shortcut between the two. So widely used, it is often referred to as “the staircase,” both for the tumbling step-like cascades and for the grueling climb as you ascend the trail to campus.
Although packed with development on both the north and south rims, you would probably not realize this while walking the trail. The gorge is deep and narrow, hiding you from the busy city above and providing this glen a natural serenity. Just as they did with Watkins and Fillmore Glen parks, the Civilian Conservation Corps originally constructed the stone pathways and bridges that wind through the gorge, crossing the creek when necessary, and ascending the towering waterfalls.
The gorge drops over 400 feet from Cornell campus to downtown Ithaca, carving through layers of shale and sandstone. There are multiple waterfalls here with six sizable ones. As you make your way up the trail, each cascade seems to roar louder than the next. The many overhangs and soft shale cliffs pose a slight danger as large stones fall often in spring, with small stones falling every few minutes. The small crackles and pops you’ll hear when deep in the gorge are a constant reminder that it is ever-changing. Often massive rock slides will destroy portions of the trail, forcing closure for repairs. Usually this happens in the winter as water seeps into the cracks in the rocks, freezes and expands, prying apart the stone.
The trail begins in a small community park, with plenty of visible sunlight in downtown Ithaca and ends in a damp, botanically-rich narrow section of the gorge below the Cornell Center for Theater Arts. Several small pools and dry banks along the way give students and area residents an opportunity to read a book in the shade or dip in the refreshing water.
Due to the high frequency of recreational use, as well as the near 100% development of the surrounding area, the fragility of the Cascadilla Creek ecosystem is a strong concern. The gorge has an array of unique micro-ecosystems spread throughout the different elevations and within different moisture and sun-exposed portions. Constant disruption from visitors and polluted run-off from the city above threaten their stability. Cornell Plantations, which manages the gardens and natural space around the University, cares for the gorge and is committed to maintaining it for public enjoyment.
Difficulty: Gets progressively more difficult. There are a lot of steps to climb.
Markings: Just the stone walkway.
Distance: 7,800 ft one way.
From Treman Triangle Park, follow the path upstream. You first pass a 20 ft cascade on the right, then a gradual cascade that curves around a bend. Note the island in the center of this one. An 11 ft cascade is up ahead and then a narrow 22-footer called Stewart Falls. A stone CCC bridge will take you across the creek. Continue up the path past the next 20 ft cascade, the wide 35 ft Lower Falls and finally you’ll end up at the 50 ft Upper Falls (also known as Cascadilla Falls or Giant’s Staircase) just below College Ave. Continue to the steps that lead to the Cornell campus. You can turn around to go back or cut through the campus and streets to get back.
The creek and trail extend beyond College Ave, but there’s little in the way of waterfalls. Climb the steps to the Cornell Campus, cross College Ave and head back down into the gorge to continue.
View Cascadilla Gorge in a larger map
Once used as a stone quarry, the gorge has changed drastically from its natural state. Some of the surrounding buildings rest upon foundations from Cascadilla-quarried rock.
In 1909, Cornell alumnus and trustee Robert H. Treman gave Cascadilla gorge to Cornell University to maintain for public education and enjoyment.
The rock that comprises the gorge is a great source of brachiopod fossils.
Throughout the trek you may notice artistic stacks of stones called cairns. Although they look mysterious, they are built by visitors. It’s a form of public art. Feel free to make one while you are there.
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