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Location / Directions / Maps

Location:  Southwest of Taughannock Falls State Park; on Cayuga Lake; town of Ulysses; Tompkins County; New York.

Maps: Google MapTopographic; Trail map (pdf); Interactive map.

GPS Coordinates: Denison Falls: (N 42.51768 / W 76.55977)
Cayuga Nature Center entrance: (N 42.51915 / W 76.55463)

Directions: The Cayuga Nature Center is located at 1420 Taughannock Blvd, Ithaca, NY 14850, about 2.5 miles down the road from Taughannock Falls State Park.

From the North: Take NY-89 south from US-20. Follow NY-89 all the way to the south end of the lake. The Nature Center is on your left.
Or use exit 41 from I-90 to NY-414/Ridge Rd south.
Make a left onto NY-318 and follow it for 4.1 miles.
Turn left and then an immediate right onto NY-89.
Follow NY-89 all the way to the south end of the lake. The Nature Center is on your left.

From Ithaca: Take NY-89 North for 6.5 miles.

Use Google Maps to get you there.

Parking: The Nature Center has dedicated parking for about 40 cars.

Weather

ITHACA WEATHER

Information / Accessibility / Accommodations

Number of falls: 1

Size/Types: A 20 ft tall narrow cascade down a wooded and unnamed tributary. It’s flanked by a large playground-like treehouse.

Best time to visit: Spring and fall. Avoid dry summers.

Flow: Low. It tends to dry by mid-summer.

Waterway: An unnamed, 3-mile-long tributary to Cayuga Lake.

Time: A hike directly to the falls is about 15 minutes, but the Cayuga Nature Center is much more. You can spend several hours to half a day to experience it all.

Seasons/Hours: The lodge and activities were closed for the COVID-19 pandemic, but trails remained open regular hours. Trails are open daily, 10am to 5pm, April through October.

Admission: Admission fees, which include the trails are $3 for adults, $2 for seniors and students, $1 for kids. During the pandemic, the trails were open for free. Check the website for status updates on this.

Handicap Accessibility: Many of the facilities are accessible. but the trail to the falls is gravel and may pose some difficulty for chairs. It may be fine though.

Pets: No pets allowed.

Accommodations: 5 miles of walking trails; restrooms; exhibits; live animals; aquarium; educational resources and events; guides; summer camps.

Description

Founded in 1981, the Cayuga Nature Center is a community and tourism resource for education and insight into the natural history and ecology of the Cayuga Lake basin. Of course, any exhibit on the environment of the Finger Lakes would not be complete without a gorge and one waterfall. The 20 ft tall Denison Falls fits in perfectly and has the most unique way to view it: from a 6 story tall tree house. The falls is an easy site, with a mild gravel pathway leading from the parking lot.

In addition to the falls, 5 miles of hiking trails and 100 acres of woodland, the Center’s 1939 lodge has the largest public aquarium in the Finger Lakes, exhibits on local ecology, wildlife, and history. The Center runs multiple educational programs throughout the year and learning camps in the summer.

Hiking / Walking Trails

Difficulty: Easy (all trails)

Markings: Well marked with signs and well-maintained. The primary trail to the falls is gravel.

Distance: About 800 ft down the gravel “All People’s Trail” (one-way).
Hike along the stream trail to get up close to the stream and falls. This one is a bit longer at 900 ft one way.

Description: The People’s Path to Treetops:
From the parking area, head around the right side of the lodge along the gravel path. This is known as the “People’s Path”
Soon you will pass an animal enclosure on the right and then a pavilion shortly after on the left.
The path will branch when it comes to the Pollinator’s Garden. Keep right.
You should see a tall wooden structure coming up on the right. This is the Treetops Treehouse. Head there.
You can observe the falls from the treehouse itself or from the platform below.

The Stream Trail (and possible creekwalk):
Pick up the purple Stream Trail across the driveway from the parking area. And hook left at the junction. This will take you down to the creek. If water levels are low, you could creekwalk up to the falls, or cross over and follow a narrow and barely marked trail along the north rim of the gorge. The view of the falls is pretty obscured from the north rim, though.

 

Map: Trail map (pdf); Interactive.

Cayuga Nature Center Interactive Map

History

The waterfall is named after Marion Denison Ehrhart (1918-1988), a teacher and naturalist from the Ithaca area.

In 1936, the Ernest T. Paine family donated 74 acres of land to the Cayuga Preventorium, an organization founded in 1914 for therapeutic treatment of Tuberculosis (TB), which primarily operated on the east side of Cayuga Lake.  With modern medicine and antibiotics putting an end to TB, the Preventorium shifted focus to other cardio-pulmonary therapies.  The site here was used as housing for children recovering from cardiac and other diseases beginning in 1939 when the lodge was constructed.

The property was used by the Preventorium until WWII, when it was closed. Cornell University used it for student housing from some time beginning in 1950. From the 1960s on, it was used by various camps and institutions, primarily for housing and gatherings, but only occasionally. It was unused most of the time. It wasn’t until 1975 that BOCES, Ithaca schools, and Onondaga Nature Center worked to reopen the former lodge as an environmental education center. It was incorporated as a private non-profit educational organization in 1981.

Cayuga Nature Center Media

Videos

 

YouTube video

Contributor Photos & Art

At this time I have not been able to get out to this site and photograph yet. In the meantime, those with suitable photos or original works of art, who would like to be featured here, please contact me. Photos, paintings, and illustrations would be subject to quality review, and not all will be accepted. Your work can be accompanied by a link to your site/store/insta.

Who to Contact

Cayuga Nature Center
1420 Taughannock Blvd.
Ithaca, NY 14850
607-273-6260
cayuganaturecenter.org

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