Close your eyes and imagine this: The smell of pine is in the air. A cool breeze hits your cheeks. A Fair-Trade hot pumpkin spice latte is clutched tightly in your hand. And a beautiful canvas of colors surrounds you. Now open your eyes. Where are you?
If you said hiking a trail in the middle of fall in Ithaca, we’d say you’ve picked a great place! Ithaca is one of the best places in the Finger Lakes for viewing fall foliage because of its abundance of nature hikes, waterfall trails, and lakeside strolls to enjoy. Enveloped in bursts of vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges, the trails surrounding Ithaca present visitors with spectacular leaf-peeping opportunities. October is the prime month for peak fall foliage discovery in the Finger Lakes Region. With so many fall hikes to explore in Ithaca, you’re bound to find that perfect “Insta-worthy” picture you have been hoping to capture this season.
Looking for the trails in Ithaca that offer the ultimate fall hiking experience? We asked our Site Supervisor for the Taughannock Visitor Center, Rachael Atkins-Walpole, which fall trails she often recommends to visitors, and she gave us her list of the Best Fall Hikes in Ithaca. You’ll often hear us boasting about the gorgeous waterfalls that make Ithaca famous, but we have to say that this list might just give those hikes a run for their money!
Best Fall Hikes in Ithaca
Robert Treman State Park – One of the most popular attractions in Ithaca, Robert Treman State Park offers multiple hiking trail options, including the Upper Gorge Trail which connects to the Upper Rim Trail for a mile-and-a-half loop. There are moments of this hike that are a bit more strenuous than other Ithaca hiking trails, however, the views are breathtaking. Climb the many stairs, pass by the rushing waterfalls, and find yourself above a tree canopy blanketing the area with incredible fall colors. The reward is worth the work!
- Black Diamond Trail – The Black Diamond Trail is a beautiful 8.3-mile rail trail to walk, run or bike any time of year but is particularly beautiful in the fall. Whether you are starting in Cass Park, Taughannock Falls State Park, or any of the pull-over spots where the trail crosses a road, you go from tree canopies to expansive fields, along with small waterfalls and lake views.
- Sapsucker Woods – An easy 4-mile trail network, this area is considered one of the best places for bird watching in the area and it’s also perfect for enjoying fall colors! Park at the trailhead just south of Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, journey through the trees, and take in the sight of the seasons changing right before your eyes.
- Bear Trail at Upper Buttermilk – The Bear Trail winds along Buttermilk Creek through hillside woodlands, then connects to the Lake Treman Trail. There are excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife. Moderate 3 miles round trip over a beautiful stone bridge, and through stunningly scenic vistas of bright fall colors.
- Roy H. Park Preserve – Park on Irish Settlement Road and set out on a fall hike across more than 1.5 miles of trails, including a universally accessible boardwalk that offers visitors a path across Six Mile Creek. Enjoy waterfall views, breathtaking fall foliage, and possibly even some wildlife viewing. Bring your leashed pet along for the hike, too!
- South Hill Recreation Way – This 3.5-mile trail system is the perfect place for a relaxing fall stroll or even a nice bike ride through the colorful trees. The South Hill Recreation Way is located on an abandoned railroad bed in Ithaca and is dotted with benches and picnic tables, making it a great place for families, including pets, to enjoy fall together. Take a hike, go for a run, or pedal a bike here and enjoy the awe-inspiring wooded areas, creeks, and small gorges along this great fall trail!
- Lick Brook Falls at Sweedler Nature Preserve – is a great less traveled trail that is so pretty in the fall. The trail is located just south of Ithaca between Buttermilk Falls State Park and Robert H Treman State Park. There is a steep, strenuous 500 foot climb however the views of the gorge and the various falls make it worth the climb. There are a number of trails within this nature preserve. You can either park off of Sandbank Rd and walk down to the falls and then back up, or park down off of Route 13/34 and walk in and up.
Tip: Located on the Finger Lakes Trail, South Hill Cider borders the nature preserve. You can access a trail right at the orchard…ask a South Hill Cider staff member for assistance!
Visit Ithaca this fall for pet-friendly hiking trails, beautiful vistas, and unmatched fall fun. Fall in Ithaca is best experienced while out exploring our many hiking trails, as Rachael Atkins-Walpole suggests. And after all the hiking is done, retreat to downtown Ithaca for seasonally inspired cocktails and food pairings. As the leaves begin to change from green to yellow to red through September and October, there are few better places in the Finger Lakes for fall foliage viewing than Ithaca!
Safety tip: The NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) encourages every outdoor enthusiast to wear blaze orange, pink, or another bright color, especially during fall and winter. Doing so will allow these individuals to be seen more easily and from greater distances. Many parks, forests, and nature preserves allow for hunting and trapping during the designated seasons regulated by the DEC.
More About Rachael Atkins-Walpole: Originally from England, Rachael has been working with Visit Ithaca since 2009. She enjoys encouraging her kids to unplug by spending time outside riding bikes and exploring trails in and around Ithaca. In addition to being an active mother and the Site Supervisor at the Taughannock Visitor Center, Rachael holds the title of designated I Love NY “Leaf Peeper” for Tompkins County, meaning she reports on the changing leaves on a weekly basis from mid-September through the end of October. Fall images by Rachael Atkins-Walpole.