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Scenic Beauty in Ithaca

prestigious Cornell University, multiple museums and a lively downtown. It features an eclectic array of shops, restaurants and entertainment for any traveler. However, it’s best known for its picturesque landscapes, which were shaped over millennia by glaciers.

“What sets us apart from the rest of the destinations in the Finger Lakes is our natural beauty,” said Sarah Imes, tour and travel manager at the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Ithaca area has over 150 waterfalls and plenty of gorges, making it an excellent choice for nature lovers and outdoor recreationalists. But even city slickers are sure to be in awe of the stunning terrain. Here are some popular attractions that allow groups to appreciate the gorgeous Ithaca scenery.

Taughannock Falls

Ithaca’s tallest and arguably most famous waterfall, Taughannock Falls, is a must-see for groups passing through the area. Its name stems from the language of the Indigenous tribes who once populated the region. At 215 feet, this plunge waterfall is over 30 feet taller than Niagara Falls. It’s located in the Taughannock Falls State Park, a 750-acre park featuring several miles of hiking trails, a marina on Cayuga Lake and campgrounds. While the lake side of the park offers plenty of amenities such as fishing, boating and other water sports, most groups come for the views of the iconic falls.

There are several ways for groups to enjoy these views. The easiest and most accessible is the free overlook, which includes bus parking and has a visitors center where they can purchase Ithaca souvenirs.

“There, they can view the waterfall from across the gorge,” said Imes.

Groups also have the option of hiking to the falls. The park offers several trails of varying difficulties, but the quickest way to the falls is the gorge trail. This trail provides groups an easy, 1.5-mile round trip hike, which leads them from the park’s entrance to the base of the waterfall on a relatively flat, well-maintained trail.

Cornell Botanic Gardens

Nestled in the heart of Cornell University’s campus and the city of Ithaca is the Cornell Botanic Gardens, an expansive haven for nature lovers. Imes said the gardens “have been a huge draw for groups.” It’s easy to see why, as the property is home to 25 acres of gardens featuring a diverse collection of plants, from exotic Central American flowers to herbs to groundcover plants. There are gardens cultivated for every season, ensuring that no matter what time of the year groups visit, they’ll be able to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the gardens.

Groups can kick off self-guided tours with a stop at the Nevin Welcome Center, then discover the gardens at their own pace. Or, an expert guide can be provided to take them through the property and educate them about the array of plants and the environments from which they originate. The property also features a 150-acre arboretum, which groups can walk or drive through. Imes recommends a step-on guide for motorcoach tours driving through the arboretum so groups can appreciate its variety of flora and fauna. Like the rest of Ithaca, the Cornell Botanic Gardens is also home to several waterfalls and gorges that provide even more scenic beauty for groups to enjoy.

 Buttermilk Falls

While there may be hundreds more waterfalls for groups to choose from, another standout is Buttermilk Falls, one of Ithaca’s most iconic waterfalls. This cascading waterfall measures 165 feet high, but unlike Taughannock Falls, the drop isn’t straight down; instead, the foaming water that earned the falls its name spills over naturally carved stone steps and into a basin, which eventually trickles down toward Cayuga Lake. Groups can get up-close, breathtaking views of the falls from their base year-round with virtually no hiking required.

“Buttermilk Falls is probably one of the easiest waterfalls to view,” said Imes, who added this is what makes it an ideal stop for any group.

The falls are part of the larger Buttermilk Falls State Park, which has a small lake, hiking trails, natural pools, and wetlands for groups to explore. While the falls are accessible without much hiking, groups can opt to take a guided walk on some of the easier hiking paths during the year’s warmer months. Park admission fees may be required depending on when groups visit, but fortunately, admission into one Ithaca-area park gives them a pass to all other nearby Ithaca parks for 24 hours, which provides plenty of incentive to check out some of Ithaca’s other nearby natural wonders.

Discover Cayuga Lake Boat Tour

Ithaca sits just south of the Cayuga Lake, which is the longest of the 11 Finger Lakes. It measures nearly 40 miles long and contains over 90 species of fish. The surrounding area is home to wildlife such as deer, bald eagles, beavers, heron and many other species.

To get out on the water and learn more about the area’s flora and fauna, groups can take a boat tour with Discover Cayuga Lake. They can board the MV Teal, a vessel seating up to 70 passengers, and cruise around the lake on either a public tour or private charter. Groups can opt for a daytime or sunset cruise to enjoy the gorgeous water views. They are welcome to bring their own snacks for the trip, but groups looking to upgrade their experience can also arrange an on-board wine tasting through Visit Ithaca. This experience is an offering specifically designed for groups and is hosted by a local sommelier, who offers visitors samples of some of the vintages from wineries in the Cayuga Lake area.

“It’s a sightseeing and educational cruise, so the guides will talk about Cayuga Lake and the ecosystems on the lake, as well as the history of what the lake was used for,” said Imes.