Discover the Beauty of Buttermilk Falls State Park

Buttermilk Falls -- a waterfalls cascades down 165 feet over multiple ledges into a greenish pool at the bottom. Trees line the edges of the waterfalls, starting to turn yellow and orange, but many are still green. A walkway lines the bottom side of the waterfalls, heading into the woods.

Buttermilk Falls is the name of several waterfalls located in different parts of the United States. However, the most renowned and often referred to when speaking of Buttermilk Falls is the one located in Buttermilk Falls State Park near Ithaca NY.

The beauty and accessibility of Buttermilk Falls make it one of the most popular natural attractions in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Its cascading waters over multi-layered rocks offer a serene and captivating sight, particularly after heavy rains when the flow is at its fullest. We visited in the fall, however, after a fairly dry summer. It was still very beautiful.

Buttermilk Falls State Park is a short distance from Ithaca, and its proximity to other natural attractions, like Robert H. Treman State Park and Watkins Glen State Park, makes it a popular destination for those touring the Finger Lakes region.

What to Expect

The falls is characterized by its cascading appearance, which resembles flowing buttermilk, hence the name. Dropping 165 feet in a series of cascades and rapids, the most significant drop reaches 10-15 feet. Over thousands of years, flowing water has carved its path through layers of limestone and shale, creating the waterfall’s unique stepped appearance. The force of the water and the erosive properties of the shale have shaped both the falls and the surrounding gorge.

The Gorge Trail is about 0.75 miles and follows Buttermilk Creek as it cascades down the valley. This trail offers some of the best views of the waterfalls. The Rim Trail, on the other hand, follows the upper edge of the gorge and is about 0.65 miles. Together, they form a loop of roughly 1.5 miles, allowing hikers to experience the beauty of the gorge from both above and below.

I wish I could confidently recommend going up one trail versus the other. We went up the Gorge Trail, ascending almost 450 feet and 300 stairs pretty quickly. Along the way there were a few overlooks that allowed us to regain our breath while looking down at Buttermilk Creek tumbling over smaller cascades below. We then hiked back on the Rim Trail, which offered far fewer views and almost no steps — but was exceptionally steep in several portions. There’s no gradual incline on either trail.

Those looking for a relaxed visit can easily spot the falls from the park’s entrance and enjoy views from dedicated viewing areas. During summer, the natural pool at the waterfall’s base welcomes swimmers.

History of Buttermilk Falls

This state park became a part of the New York State Park system in 1924. Buttermilk Falls State Park features 10 waterfalls in total, with Buttermilk Falls being the main attraction.

Robert Henry Treman (1858–1937) was a significant figure in the history of the New York State Park system, particularly in the Ithaca region. Born into a prominent Ithaca family, Treman played various roles as a businessman, banker and philanthropist. During his lifetime, he and his wife, Laura, purchased thousands of acres, which they donated to state and local entities to be preserved in perpetuity. Most of these acres are now New York State parks.

His contributions to the New York State parks are still appreciated today. In fact, as you enjoy Buttermilk Falls State Park, you have Treman to thank.

Know Before You Go

Aside from the falls, the park offers other attractions. Lake Treman invites hikers to explore its perimeter, while camping facilities accommodate those wanting an extended stay. There’s a natural pool at the base of Buttermilk Falls where visitors can swim during the summer months.

Getting there: 106 E Buttermilk Falls Rd, Ithaca, NY 
Hours: daylight
Website: Buttermilk Falls State Park

There’s so much to see and do in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York! For more great daytrip destinations, check out the articles below: