Far above Cayuga’s waters…actually, all around Cayuga’s waters – lies some of the finest fall foliage in not just the upstate region, or even the Northeast, but the entire country. Once you pair all the trails that wend and weave their ways through Ithaca with the gorgeous autumn leaves, you have the makings of some incredible fall hikes! Living in Ithaca means having premium access to the finest trails in Central NY, whether you’re a nature lover or just looking to get more Fitbit steps. As a longtime community member, CSP wants to steer you on the right path for your next hometown nature adventure, so tie up your boot laces and pack some trail mix – we’re taking you through the best fall hikes in the Ithaca area!
Monkey Run Natural Area
The 500-acre Monkey Run Natural Area in Cornell’s Botanical Gardens is one of the most popular local hiking trails. This natural corridor from Fall Creek to Cayuga Lake offers some of the most breathtaking views around. You can view the vast expanses of vibrant autumn colors across the hills surrounding the Finger Lakes from the 100-foot bluffs that border the trail.
The Monkey Run Natural Area is managed by the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Fun Fact: Monkey Run used to be home to orchards, and you can still find some of the apple trees on the grounds!
South Hill Recreation Way
The South Hill Recreation Way is located close to the back entrance of Ithaca College, parallel to Coddington Road. If you really want to experience fall at its finest, the tall trees that surround both sides of the South Hill trails make you feel like you are encased in a golden cocoon of autumn leaves. There are several benches and picnic tables located on nearby off-trail sites where you can relax and enjoy the views outlined by the beautiful foliage. One family-friendly feature of the South Hill Recreation Area is the Vincenzo Iacovelli Park which includes a playground and gazebo. The paved and asphalt trails are also perfect for runners!
Fun Fact: The South Hill Recreation Way trails are located mostly on the abandoned Cayuga and Susquehanna Railroad, which was used to bring coal from Pennsylvania to Ithaca back in the late 1800s.
Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls State Park is a750-acre expanse of four interconnected trails that features one of the most breathtaking natural attractions in the Northeast – the thundering Taughannock Falls. Located in the town of Ulysses, your hiking options at Taughannock include the multi-use trail, the North Rim Trail and the South Rim Trail. For the closest views of the falls, take the Gorge Trail through neighboring gorge which, with a plummet of 215 feet, is the most impressive gorge in Tompkins County! In the fall, the burnt orange, warm auburn, and golden yellow foliage that frame the bluffs around the waterfall create the perfect, real-time upstate postcard photo.
Fun Fact: Taughannock Falls is the tallest single drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains!
Robert H. Treman State Park
At a whopping 1,100 acres, Treman State Park expands through Ithaca, Enfield and Newfield and is home to cascading waterfalls and seven different trails that you can use to loop around sections of the park. Make a day of your trip to Treman and hike to the 115ft Lucifer Falls, accessible through spectacular stone staircases that snake up the walls of the gorge. What makes the views truly spectacular in the fall is the sunlight that peeks through the changing leaves and projects stunning colors onto the rocky ridges, creating a riotous kaleidoscope of colors.
Fun Fact: In the summer, Robert H. Treman State Park has a public swimming hole at the base of the waterfall that comes equipped with a lifeguard and a diving board!
Cascadilla Gorge Natural Area
The Cascadilla Gorge Natural Area lies at the bottom of Ithaca’s East Hill and spills over into the Fall Creek neighborhood. The trail connects the Cornell campus with Downtown Ithaca via a picturesque Cascadilla gorge. If you prefer your hikes on the short and sweet side, this is the ideal trail for you. Cascadilla Falls takes between 30 – 60 minutes to explore from end-to-end, with historic stone staircases from the 1920s to guide the way. In the fall, the waters of Cascadilla’s six waterfalls are brimming with bright leaves as the foliage immerses itself into the gorge.
Fun Fact: The Cascadilla Gorge Trail is part of the Cornell Botanical Paths.
Are we missing one of your favorite hikes? Visit our Facebook page and share a picture of some of your fall hikes in the comments!