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A Local’s Guide to Their Favorite Waterfalls around Downtown Ithaca

The waterfalls I am going to highlight are Businessman’s Lunch, Cascadilla Falls and Ithaca Falls. All of three are accessible by foot or bike. Just a reminder: It’s always advisable to wear solid, supportive footwear when walking, hiking or wandering trails that lead to waterfalls, where you are likely to encounter dirt paths and stone steps that can be slippery.

Businessman’s Lunch Falls

This waterfall is a quick stroll from the Downtown Visitor Center and, as its name implies, a great place for a picnic lunch. So before you head out, I suggest that you grab some provisions at Collegetown Bagels in City Centre Ithaca.

To get there, make a right hand turn out of our door and walk straight ahead until you reach the Ithaca Commons. Turn left and continue to Aurora Street. Cross the street and City Centre is about halfway down the block on your right. Check out the wide array of mouthwatering sandwiches and salads, grab some fresh local coffee to go, and maybe a sweet treat for dessert.

Now you’re ready for the hike to Businessman’s Lunch Falls. Retrace your steps to Aurora Street and turn left on Route 96B, crossing the bridge and turning left onto Hudson Street. After about 100 feet, take Giles Street and continue walking for a quarter of a mile. You’ll come to a gray suspension bridge and a rest area on the left. Look for stairs on the left and take them down to the creek (there’s a handrail that I recommend to avoid slipping). Follow the dirt path at the bottom of the stairs to the falls. I usually sit on a rock or tree stump while eating my lunch. As always, the rule for disposing of trash is “carry in, carry out”.   

Businessman’s Lunch is one of the hidden gems of the area, so close to the hustle and bustle of downtown, and yet so secluded. One last note: This waterfall is accessible year-round, but I would discourage visiting it in the winter months. The dirt path leading to the waterfall can become very slippery then.

Cascadilla Gorge Trail

Looking for a light workout that includes some of the most spectacular waterfalls in downtown Ithaca? Check out Cascadilla Gorge Trail! And it’s so easy to find from our Downtown Visitor Center.  

Out the front door, take a left and walk straight down North Tioga Street for two blocks. Turn right on Court Street and follow to the end.  The Cascadilla Gorge Trail lies straight ahead.  

What I like most about Cascadilla is its proximity to downtown and the beautiful stone steps that run through it. Approximately a half-mile up those stairs is Collegetown, the daytime and nighttime hangout spot for Cornell students. It’s pretty quiet here in the Summer, but packed with students the rest of the year.

After walking up the steps, I like to reward myself with some mango bubble tea from the Panda Tea Lounge on Eddy Street.  Then I take a little stroll onto the Cornell campus. Walking into campus on College Avenue takes me by the architecturally impressive Cornell Law School.

One of my favorite views on campus is from Libe Slope. To get there from the Law School, continue walking straight into the campus along Ho Plaza, a charming path lined with trees that passes the iconic McGraw Clock Tower. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a performance by one of the chimemasters that perform concerts throughout the year. Libe Slope lies in front of the Clock Tower, and that’s where I like to sit and look out over Ithaca.

On the way back into town through Cascadilla Gorge, consider dropping in at one of the local eateries in the Dewitt Mall. Getting there is easy, just head for the Visitor Center but take a right down Seneca Street when you reach The Commons. The mall will be on your right at the end of the block.

Dewitt Mall is not your typical mall. It used to be the old Ithaca High School, which is readily apparent from its red brick façade covered with ivy. Currently, it’s home to the Dewitt Café, the famous Moosewood Restaurant and a variety of small shops.  I like browsing the vintage jewelry at Pastimes Antique or picking up another specialized rubber duckie at The Cat’s Pajamas. The Dewitt Mall has a fun, off-beat and quirky vibe that welcomes visitors and locals alike.

Cascadilla Gorge with steps

Ithaca Falls

This iconic waterfall is within walking distance of Dewitt Mall. Or, if you’d rather two-wheel it, there’s a respectable bike lane along Cayuga Street. If you didn’t bring a bike, you can rent one from the Outdoor Store on The Commons.

Your journey to Ithaca Falls will take you through the Fall Creek neighborhood. The water from Casacdilla Gorge runs through the neighborhood, hence the name Fall Creek. Leaving Dewitt Mall, walk straight down North Cayuga Street. Along the way you’ll see Gimme! Coffee, a local coffee shop that’s a popular hangout spot in town. A quick stop for refreshment and you’re on your way down Cayuga Street. At Falls Street, turn left and continue to the end of the block and Ithaca Falls.

For me, Ithaca Falls is a comforting and constant symbol of the beauty Ithaca has to offer, and I love the fact that there are at least two ways to view it. The first is from the green bridge, which is a particularly great vantage point during the months when there are no leaves on the trees.  The second option is from the base. Just walk down the dirt path behind the bridge to the slabs of stone next to the falls. The morning it is a good time to visit because there are fewer people, except for a few fishermen wading along the creek. You can hear the soothing sounds of water running over the rocks and watch the sun rising over the falls.

Finally, Ithaca Falls is close to Cayuga Lake, which should not be missed. Take Lake Street heading west to Gibbs Street. Gibbs Street will bring you to Stewart Park and the Cayuga Waterfront Trail. Stewart Park has one of the best views of the lake. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset while sitting on one of the swing benches.

To get back Downtown without walking or biking back, I recommend hopping on the local bus called the TCAT (Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit). The bus stop is in the small traffic circle just before Stewart Park; look for the 13 bus to go downtown. The bus fare is $1.50 per person cash, exact change only.

Overall, you don’t necessarily need a car to experience the waterfalls in Ithaca. And, if you want to expand your search outside the city limits, TCAT offers routes that go to neighboring waterfalls like Buttermilk and Taughannock during the summer months.

Editor’s note: This blog was written by Maia, one of our associates at the Visit Ithaca Visitor Centers and a lifelong resident of the Ithaca area. She drew on her vast knowledge of Downtown Ithaca to create a walking/biking itinerary of waterfalls and attractions that are easily accessible from the Downtown Visitor Center, located inside the Tompkins County Center for History and Culture on the Ithaca Commons. She also shares some of her favorite hangout spots and travel tips.

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