We, in NEPA, live about 110 minutes away from Middle Earth. If you like taking walks in amazing places, you should visit Ithaca.
Aside from seeing some of the coolest gorges in the country, this college town (Cornell, Ithaca College) has been dubbed “The smartest town in America.”
As I noted in my “Seneca Lake” entry, my husband and I visit the Finger Lake area frequently. About every few weeks, in fact. My youngest daughter just started at Syracuse in August, so we now have even more reasons to go upstate. We love life in upstate New York! Often, when we visit Seneca Lake, we go up the west side of the lake on Rt 14, then come down the east side of the lake on 96 and follow 96 to 89 to finish our day in Ithaca before we head home.
The easiest route directly to the Commons is 81 North to Exit 8 in NY: Whitney Point. Make a right off of the exit, and a left at the traffic light. Follow Rt 79 straight until you get into Ithaca, then go straight until you can’t go straight anymore! Look ahead-welcome to Ithaca Commons! If you make a right right here (N. Aurora St.), in the next block, you’ll see a parking garage on your left with a Black Eyed Susan mural on it-you can park in here for free on weekends. And you should. You should check out the commons-especially American Crafts, The Moosewood Restaurant, The Mahogany Grill, Viva Taqueria, and Mockingbird Papierie. I adore these places! GPS: Ithaca Commons.
But, when I go and take people, we arrive early and I usually go directly to Ithaca Falls. Follow this street (N. Aurora St) past the garage for several blocks to the end at E. Lincoln Ave., make a right and go to the end, and make a left and park to check out Ithaca Falls. GPS: Ithaca Falls. (It was a little dark and chilly this day below in early spring, but the Falls were insane!)
Depending on your interests/hobbies, you can opt to check out the Ithaca Community Garden and the Farmers Market. If you like these in general, Ithaca’s are very fun! You can follow E. Lincoln Ave back out of the Ithaca Falls area and head to the traffic light, make a left on Rts 34 & 13, and the upcoming signs will direct you to make a right at 3rd St. into this area after a few blocks. GPS: Ithaca Farmers Market.
Once you’re finished there, you can come back out and make a right on Rt 34 & 13, follow it to W. Buffalo St, make another right then follow signs for Rt 89. Cayuga Lake is on your right-gorgeous. In about 8 miles, you’ll enter the Taughannock State Park area (locals pronounce this toh-gan-ah). Follow 89 just past this area and make a left at the “Falls Overlook” sign. This is Taughannock Falls. There are seasonal public restrooms here. GPS: Taughannock Falls.
When you are finished here, maybe you’d like to hit a few wineries! Make a left back onto 89. Americana and Lucas Wineries are not far up the road. If you’re hungry AND thirsty, I recommend The Boatyard Grill for lunch. You can make a right turn on 89 instead, and head back down towards town. Once you go over the bridge, it’s your first left. Ask to sit outside next to the water and order the Buffalo Chicken Eggrolls appetizer! I really like this place-my husband and I have enjoyed just about everything we’ve tried on this menu, but I’ll warn that the crab cakes are kind of weak. Don’t bother.
Our next stop when we’re taking people is usually the Robert Treman State Park. Specifically: Lucifer Falls (i.e. Middle Earth). When you leave Boatyard, make a left onto 89, make your next right, then another next right then a left onto Rt 13A. You’ll see the river outlet flowing to your left while you travel on this road. Follow 13A to the end and make a right onto Rts 13/34/96. Just before you get to the end of 13A, you’ll see the Ithaca Beer Company on your right. If you like Flower Power, this is where it’s made. They have some darker beers, too and a pretty good burger menu in addition to taproom/brewery tours and tastings if you’re interested.
If you don’t want to make that stop, simply proceed to the traffic light and make that right. GPS: Robert Treman State Park.
Watch for signs to the state park, make the right then bypass the park entrance and follow the signs for Lucifer Falls. The signs are a bit nebulous on this winding, long, uphill road (you *are* traveling to middle earth, you know) but eventually, you’ll see a sign that reads “to park” and it will direct you to make a left. Parking your vehicle costs $8, but that ticket is good for all parks for 24 hours so you only pay it once per day. There are seasonal public restrooms here. Follow signs past the parking lot to the lower rim/falls trails and you’ll begin your journey into middle earth. Wear good shoes. Lots of steps down while walking in, and you have to climb them all to get back out. It is often wet/misty and slippery. Take your time and enjoy this amazing place. This particular view upon turning the corner to enter the gorge made my daughter cry the first time we visited because “it’s so beautiful!” The second photo below is the first sight you see as you enter the gorge…
There isn’t much more beyond the point at which you’re looking at the still water straight down 150 feet under Lucifer Falls, so you can start heading back up. Slowly, carefully! Once back on your car, drive back to Rts 13/34/96 and make a left. In about 3-5 mins, you’ll see a walkover bridge in front of you. The next right after that bridge is Buttermilk Falls. There are seasonal public restrooms here. And you’ve already paid to park, so show the attendant your receipt and find a spot. There is no hiking necessary here-the Falls are visible from the driveway into the park. GPS: Buttermilk Falls.
Now is usually when we decide if we want to go home or go grab something to eat/shop on the commons. GPS: Ithaca Commons. Once you get to the commons, you can jump back on 79 and head home, or park and stay. There are lots of things to do I haven’t mentioned : a science center, great colleges to tour, lots of community events, etc. Plan a day and do it exactly the way you want to do it, but get to Ithaca before the winter. It’s amazing. Have fun!!