Headbutting at Buttermilk Falls

If you’ve been watching too much Lord of the Rings or any of its similar fantasy ilk, you may be wondering if fantastic waterfall filled grottoes and timeless winding trails past plunge pools with no discernible bottom actually exist in the real world. If you happen to be in New York (or in fairness, Rivendell) there is a wonderland suitable for elves, pixies, and various other faire folk just down the road. Bring the goat (and the camera) for a fun half day out at one of New York’s less well known gorges.

Location: Edge of Ithaca, NY

Is it goat approved? Sort of, so long as the goat is on leash. Being on the edge of Ithaca weird spectacles (like leashed goats) are not totally outside the realm of the Park Service’s tolerance. But choose a day that is low on people if you are going to try the main gorge – technically the main trail is not a great choice for goats, but I’ve done it twice.

How you get there: Google it! Then, you want to go to the BACK SIDE of the park. Don’t park out front! It’s really hard to deal with all the people. There is a pull off of Comfort Road, just before Yaple Road where you can park. This is also where the Fingerlakes Trail comes into the park.

Car ford typical of roads in Upstate NY state parks

Time for hike:  Something like 4.8 miles round trip. This is an out and back hike.

Best season to do this hike: Fall, after the majority of the leaves have fallen, preferably on a rainy day. Avoid doing this hike in the dead of winter because they close the coolest gorge trail due to ice during the season. For the prettiest scenery, go on a very cold Fall day before the leaves have fallen (but with sufficiently wintry weather to keep the other trail users to a minimum).

Trails to Take

You want to come down from the pull off and get on Lake Treman Trail, going on the side of the lake/river as the pull off you parked on. This will take you around the lake, and up to the dam that forms the lake. Cross over the dam, and then go down the hill to the small parking lot. Cross the parking lot, go down the road a little ways and get on Bear trail, which goes out into the woods on your left. This section of trail is my favorite because it is one of the least travelled sections and still pretty fun because it goes along the river.

Lake Dam

Cross West King Road. If there aren’t many people around and the gate is open, go straight across the road towards the house on the opposite side and get on the Gorge Trail. If there are tons of people, cross the stone bridge and get on the Rim Trail, which is much less popular. If you get on the Rim Trail, turn around before the trail starts a steep dive down hill because this trail dumps you out in a  highly used parking lot near the ranger station. Tourist city! If you are on the Gorge Trail (and thus there are few people) you can go all the way down to the bottom of Buttermilk Falls, and enjoy the full scenic beauty of the park.

Once you’re done oggling, it’s time to turn around and head back!

Buttermilk Falls State Park Map

Be Warned!

  1. The gorge trail closes during the winter because the ice and stuff make it too dangerous for the students who moved to Ithaca from warm climates and urban centers.
  2. The closer you get to the bottom of the park (that is, to NYS Route 13) the more people you will encounter. Go early in the morning on a gloomy day that is cold to limit traffic.
  3. If you really want to do the gorge trail no if/ands/buts park at the athletic fields near the Buttermilk Falls entrance, walk over to the park, and take the gorge trail first, then take Rim Trail back. This allows you to do the gorge trail with the lowest early morning traffic and avoids the risk that you’ll get down to the gorge trail later and it will be packed with people.

In Sum: 

One bucket to rule them all, one bucket to find them. One bucket to bring them all, and in the darkness, bind them.

Poem found inscribed on a much abused goat grain bucket


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