Wells Falls , also known as Businessman's Lunch Falls, photographed from below, with a rusty abandoned Van Netta water plant on the left.
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Location / Directions / Maps

Location: South end of Cayuga Lake; Southeast of Downtown Ithaca; Adjacent to the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve; Tompkins County; New York

Maps: Google MapTopographicInteractive map.

GPS Coordinates:

  • Preserve Parking Lot: N 42.43269 / W 76.48411
  • Wells Falls: N 42.43358 / W 76.48511

Directions: From East Green St in Downtown Ithaca, head east on NY-79 for about a mile.
Make a right onto Water St (across from the cemetery).
At the end of Giles St, make another right and look for the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve entrance on your left.
The parking lot is about 500 feet into that entrance.

Or use Google Maps.

Parking: The lot at the wildlife preserve has room for about 20 cars. If this lot is full, you may be able to park at the trailhead on the west side of the Giles St Bridge.

YouTube video

Weather

ITHACA WEATHER

Information / Accessibility / Accommodations

Number of falls: 1

Size/Types: A uniquely shaped 38 ft tall cascade adjacent to an old mill. It’s topped with a dam of about 20 ft in height.

Best time to visit: Year round.

Flow: Consistently moderate.

Waterway: Six Mile Creek, which, is a pretty short waterway on paper. It starts in the town of Caroline to the east, passes through Brooktondale and then heads through the valley here towards Ithaca. It has some sizable tributaries draining down from South and Snyder Hills, giving it a decent amount of flow. It hooks around the south side of the city of Ithaca, and then merges with the Cayuga Inlet just before emptying into Cayuga Lake.

Time: Count on a quick trip. 5 minutes to see the falls, another 15 to check it out from below.

Seasons/Hours: Open year-round, all day.

Admission: Free.

Handicap accessibility: No.

Pets: Allowed if on a leash.  For your pet’s safety, and the safety of other hikers, keep your pet on the leash.

Swimming: Not allowed.

Accommodations: Parking, hiking trails, biking trails, wildlife viewing.

The dam at Wells Falls (Businessman's Lunch Falls) and the old Van Netta pumping station
Wells Falls, photographed from below, with the old Van Netta water plant visible behind it.

Description

AKA: Businessman’s Lunch Falls, Van Natta’s Dam Falls

The abandoned Van Natta Pumping Station that lines Six Mile Creek at the falls is almost completely reclaimed by nature. Covered in ivy and obscured by trees, it is the perfect complement to a waterfall with such character. Six Mile Creek passes through nearly 10 miles of parks and preserves to Van Natta Reservoir, constructed in the late 1800s as a source of drinking water for the budding city. Here the Van Natta Dam creates the first drop in a massive waterfall that then cascades into two more tiers as it fans out into the wider gorge below.

While certainly an appealing falls to view, I did find it tough to frame perfectly with my camera, while keeping the interesting abandoned plant in frame. A quick scramble below the falls to the west yielded a fantastic look at more of the natural bottom 2/3rds of the falls. It obscured the top dam. Either way, it was a quick and easy stop while visiting Ithaca, and despite a full parking lot at the preserve, I had the falls to myself.

Wells Falls is also known as Business Man’s Lunch Falls, which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. That name most likely comes from its proximity to Downtown Ithaca, and perhaps being a nice spot to have lunch during the week. The name Wells Falls has two potential sources: one possibly being from the stone potholes, or wells, in the bedrock below the falls.  It’s odd considering “well” is not really a familiar term for these geologic features, but also I did not observe many in the area. The alternative source is perhaps that the reservoir and pumping station were constructed to provide a source of drinking water for the city. It’s possible that ‘well’, in this case, is a synonym for fresh-water source.

Wells Falls information
A closeup of Wells Falls up against the Van Netta water plant

History

The site was originally home to a grist mill built in the 1880s by James and John E. Van Natta. This is the same Van Natta family that helped found Ithaca Gun Works at the Ithaca Falls site.

In 1893 the mill was replaced with a pumping station which used the same dam. The station provided drinking water for the city, although suspicion arose when a typhoid outbreak in 1903 caused residents to point fingers at the new water source and the plant’s hasty construction as a cause. As a result, a purification plant was then constructed nearby. The pump station received an upgrade in 1906 and a dam upgrade in 1925. The plant was shut down in the 1940s. While there was a proposal to convert the site to a hydroelectric facility in the 1980s, nothing came of it.

A modern wastewater treatment facility now exists across the street, although I have not been able to pinpoint the discharge site. All the more reason not to swim below the falls.

Well Falls and the Van Natta dam and water plant

Hiking / Walking Trails

Difficulty: Easy.

Distance: Crossing the street from the parking lot. Another 10 minute walk and you can make your way to the base of the falls.

Markings: Dirt paths.

Description: From the preserve parking lot head north and cross Giles St. Head west across the bridge to the other end and turn right. From there you can see the falls from above. Follow the dirt trails down the hillside and work your way towards the creek to see it from below.

Maps: See the interactive map below

A wide view of the dam above Wells Falls and overgrown Van Netta water plant.
A wide view of Wells Falls and the Van Natta Water pumping station

Wells Falls Interactive Map

Wells Falls Media

Well Falls Videos

More coming soon…

Interesting Stuff

Mulholland Wildflower Preserve

A part of the Six Mile Creek Natural Area, the preserve features natural meadows, shrub thickets, marshland, and several of the city’s reservoirs. It’s a great place for botanical and wildlife observation, as well as hikes and runs.

Potters Falls

Southeast of here is Potters Falls and a 60 ft dam that was constructed shortly after the Van Natta Pumping Station. The dam holds back Six Mile Creek Reservoir. You can find your way to Potters Falls from here by heading south on the Greenway Trail and East Gorge trail for about 2.4 miles.

A wide view of the dam above Wells Falls and overgrown Van Netta water plant.

Photography Tips

Van Natta Pumping Station

  • The station is boarded up and off limits. Photograph from the exterior only. It doesn’t lend itself to the perfect composition with the neighboring falls, unless you crop in tight.
  • Bring a variety of lenses. If the sky is interesting, include it in a wide shot. Otherwise, you may want something with a little more reach.

The Falls

  • Head down below the falls to get a different angle, but keep out of the water or a ranger may call you out.

Silky Water Effect

  • To get that smooth cotton-candy look to the falls, you need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter on your lens. The ND filter will block some of the light from entering the lens without altering the color, and thus allow your shutter to stay open longer. This blurs the water and creates a soft white gloss to the foamy areas of the falls.  Check out the article for the all the details.

More tips

  • See the Articles for more photography tips.
Van Natta Pumping Station, overgrown with trees, and part of Wells Falls
10 Must-Visit Waterfalls in Ithaca, NY

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A selection of the most popular and accessible waterfalls around Ithaca in the Finger Lakes Region of New York.

Who to Contact

City of Ithaca
Department of Public Works
Phone: 607-274-6527
cityofithaca.org/208/Public-Works

NYSDEC Region 7
615 Erie Blvd.
West Syracuse, NY 13204
Phone: (315) 426-7400
Web: dec.ny.gov

Van Natta waterplant, overgrown with trees and vines with Wells Falls in the foreground.

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