Waterfall cascades through Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, New York

Buttermilk Falls, New York

The Buttermilk Falls is named for its frothy and churning water that resembles the item of the same name - buttermilk. Like, nearby Robert H Treman State Park, which houses Lucifer Falls, Buttermilk Falls was a gift from Robert and Laura Treman to become a state park. That said, Buttermilk Falls State Park isn’t known to be the home to one waterfall, but 10 in total, which further continues to magnetize tourists to the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York within the Adirondack Mountains.

Geography Of Buttermilk Falls

Buttermilk Falls, Ithaca, New York
Buttermilk Falls, Ithaca, New York. 

A stunning location within the Finger Lake region, Buttermilk Falls resides southwest of Ithaca in Tompkins county. The Finger Lakes are praised for the abundance of green space, serving as an escape from cities such as Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany. For this reason, Upstate New York or central New York state welcomes all for outdoor recreation. As for Buttermilk Fall State Park, which houses the waterfall of the same name, the upper and lower portion of the park promotes various activities. Buttermilk Creek - which runs off Cayuga Lake to the north, offers visitors a small lake, playing fields, picnic area, and hiking around woodland forests and the gorge’s rim. The lower part of the state park contains several natural pools, playing fields, campgrounds, and a wetland with a hiking trail.

Geology Of Buttermilk Falls

Waterfalls along the Gorge Hiking Trail in Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, New York
Waterfalls along the Gorge Hiking Trail in Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, New York. 

Buttermilk, in addition to being beautiful, offers some awe-worthy natural features. Visitors will notice the unique angular and fractured slabs within the gorge. These layers of Devonian shale and sandstone hint at the erosion that took place during the last ice age within the Finger Lakes region. Approximately 20,000-30,000 years ago, Buttermilk Creek receded from the glacier-covered Lake Cayuga. As a result, it created the hanging valley where the water flows down. The Gorge Trail offers the best example of this decline, as the trail drops 600 feet through the Cayuga Valley. Of the ten waterfalls in the park, the largest is Buttermilk Falls, best described as a “staircase waterfall” dropping over 90 feet. A feature to note comes at the upper end of Buttermilk Falls State Park, known as the Pinnacle Rock. This towering example of a stack rock formation is widely described among locals as the “Leaning Tower of Pisa.” Here you find the 19-foot-tall Middle Pinnacle Falls and examples of naturally occurring potholes. This will lead to the Upper Pinnacle Falls, which is 18 feet tall.

Hiking Trails Of Buttermilk Falls

Rim Trail at Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, New York
Rim Trail at Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, New York. 

Of the hiking trail at Buttermilk Falls State Park, the Buttermilk Fall Gorge Trail is the most popular and sees large crowds for hiking and swimming from the trailhead located at the camping office. The Gorge Trail runs 0.65-miles in length and traces along the west side of Buttermilk Creek, showcasing the sandstone gorge and its lesser waterfalls. Once at the end of the Buttermilk Falls Gorge Trail, visitors have the option to continue on the 0.67-mile Bear Trail, which is an excellent option for those who prefer a peaceful hike or to bird within an untouched woodland forest. There is the option of completing the loop around Buttermilk Creek by simply crossing a footbridge at the end of the Buttermilk Falls Gorge Trail that leads to the Buttermilk Fall Rim Trail. Running at 0.82 miles in length, this moderately difficult trail features the west side of Buttermilk Creek with circular pools, a series of smaller waterfalls, and the cliffs of the gorge under a shaded canopy of the woods. Before reaching the end of the Rim Trail, there is the option to branch off onto the Owl Creek Trail. Although moderately challenging, hikers, who opt to take this less crowded trail, are rewarded with a scenic vista and overlook at the end of the trail. Lastly, the 1.02-mile Larch Meadow Trail Loop next to the Camping Office offers fields for outdoor recreation but allows visitors to peer at the wetland species found within the Cayuga Valley up close. As for all of these trails, dogs are permitted as long as they remain leashed at all times.

History Of Buttermilk Falls

Buttermilk falls received its name from early accounts of its appearance that were regarded as white churning waters that appeared like buttermilk. In 1924, 164 acres were gifted by Robert and Laura Treman. Henceforth, Buttermilk Falls State Park acquired additional acreage in the years to come, growing to 811 acres in total.


More in Places