Buttermilk Falls from on High


Buttermilk Falls State Park from air, Ithaca, NY, Tompkins County, Finger Lakes

A Google Earth image of Buttermilk Falls State Park. The long cascade of the falls is is in the lower middle portion of the picture.

The long cascade of Buttermilk Falls in Ithaca, NY is fun to look at from a number of angles. For more than ten thousand years, Buttermilk Creek has been splashing down the steep east slope of Inlet Valley, just a few miles from the south end of Cayuga Lake, the longest of the eleven Finger Lakes. Over the millennia, the creek has polished out a charming gorge that ends in the long, frothing falls.

Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, NY, Tompkins County, Finger Lakes, gorge, waterfall, aerial

Buttermilk Falls from the air. Photo by Bill Hecht.

Ithacans and visitors have enjoyed the unique, soothing beauty of Buttermilk Falls since the early 1800s. Local businessman and philanthropist Robert H. Treman and his wife Laura Treman donated the falls to the people of the State of New York to become Buttermilk Falls State Park in 1924.

Buttermilk Falls State Park. Ithaca, NY, Tompkins County, Finger Lakes, upstate, gorge, waterfalls

Buttermilk Glen as seen from West Hill in Ithaca

The deep crease in the side of Inlet Valley that is Buttermilk Glen can be seen for miles around.

Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, NY, Tompkins County, Finger Lakes, gorge, waterfall, hiking, trail

The upper portion of Buttermilk Falls as seen from the Rim Trail

Buttermilk Falls State Park, Gorge Trail, waterfall, Ithaca, NY, Finger Lakes, hiking

The main falls as seen from the Gorge Trail

As it is still early spring, the Gorge Trail has not yet been opened by the state park. Though the huge ice formations that block the gorge in winter are mostly gone (freezing weather could make the trail treacherous again), there are other hazards that must be minimized before it is deemed safe to open the trail. Each winter, water that has penetrated the surface of the shale cliffs freezes and splits the rock, which can crash down onto the trail without warning. A team of “scalers” must systematically rappel down these cliffs and remove loose rock before the trail will be opened, which typically occurs in April.

Scaling loose rock, Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, NY, Finger Lakes, hiking, safety, rock climbing, rappelling

A member of the "scaling team" removes winter-loosened stone from the face of a cliff over the Gorge Trail.

Buttermilk Falls is said to have gotten its name from the milky appearance of the water as it splashes down hundreds of short ledges.

Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, NY, waterfall, gorge, Finger Lakes, Tompkins County

Buttermilk Falls swashes down from its gorge in early March.

Buttermilk Falls is one of the grand natural wonders of the Finger Lakes region and New York State.