Sights in Town
“Ithaca is Gorges” serves as the town’s unofficial slogan, and is famously printed on T-shirts and bumper stickers. Visitors won’t want to miss the waterfalls and gorges that inspire Ithaca’s tagline. At Buttermilk Falls State Park, swimmers paddle at the base of a set of tumbling waterfalls which pour into a natural pool. Cascadilla Gorge plunges from the Cornell campus down into the center of town. Hike the short, steep walking trail that runs adjacent to it for spectacular views.
The Ithaca Commons taps into a bit of Ithaca’s hippie mentality, featuring vintage clothing shops, the Ithaca Hemp Company and even a store dedicated entirely to items made by local Tibetan monks (there is a monastery located in town). Throughout summer, local theater groups perform in the Commons Pavilions.
Kids and adults alike enjoy the creative interactive exhibits at the Sciencenter, which also features Galaxy Golf. Each mini-golf hole demonstrates a different science or math concept, from friction to the double helix.
The Ithaca Farmers Market, held on the waterfront on weekends, reflects the town’s spirited personality, and serves as a gathering place for residents. More than 150 vendors, all of whom are required to live within 30 miles of Ithaca, sell produce, dairy products, farm-fresh eggs, baked goods and more. Local artists and craftspeople show their work, while musicians perform for the crowds.
From its varied, dramatic architecture to its I.M. Pei-designed art museum and sprawling Plantations, the Cornell University campus is often named as one of the most beautiful in the United States. Ascend to the top of McGraw Tower, located above Cornell’s undergraduate library, for soaring views across Cayuga Lake. The best time to climb the tower is just before a chimes concert, performed by student chimesmasters three times a day during the school year (and less frequently over summer or holiday periods). If you haven’t already gotten your fill of waterfalls around town, Cornell is dotted with several more, including the scenic Beebe Lake panorama on the main walking route to North Campus. Don’t forget to take a tour of the Cornell Plantations, which feature an arboretum and botanical gardens.
The Greater Ithaca Art Trail includes nearly 50 artists’ studios in the Ithaca area, from furniture craftspeople and jewelry makers to painters and photographers. The Art Trail occasionally holds Open Studio Weekends during which all studios welcome visitors throughout the weekend. Outside of these, most studios are open to the public by appointment. Browse ArtTrail.com before your visit and pick your favorites.
During the warmer months, Cayuga Lake is the perfect site for water recreation. Cayuga Lake Cruises hosts brunch, lunch and dinner cruises, while Puddledockers rents out canoes and kayaks. If you would rather experience the lake from dry land, the Cayuga Waterfront Trail hugs the shoreline for two miles, allowing easy access to walkers and bicyclists.
The Hangar Theatre, so named because of its location in a renovated airport hangar, stages performance throughout the summer. The nonprofit theater showcases young professional actors and directors in an array of performances each season.
Out of Town
The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is a must-do for any wine lovers during an Ithaca visit. The 16 wineries that comprise the trail are all located along the shores of Cayuga Lake and are among the best of the more than 100 wineries in the region. Local specialties include rieslings and iced wine. All of the wineries on the trail offer guided tastings.
The waterfalls in Taughannock Falls State Park, located in nearby Trumansburg, stand 215 feet tall, making them three stories higher than the more famous Niagara Falls. The falls are at their most dramatic in the spring, when the winter snows have melted, and in the autumn, when the surrounding forests blaze with color.
During the winter, Greek Peak Mountain Resort, located 18 miles from downtown Ithaca, offers 32 ski trails, snow tubing and a cross-country center. The mountain’s vertical drop is 952 feet, and trails range from beginner runs to steep slopes with moguls and trees.
The Finger Lakes Trail originates at the Pennsylvania/New York border and traverses New York 560 miles to the Catskill Forest Preserve. With over 50 miles of trail near the Ithaca area, options for hikers are myriad. The trail runs through the Danby State Forest, which is populated with black bears, wild turkeys, white-tail deer and red foxes. In winter, the trail can be used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Join the trail at South Danby Road in Danby, NY, where the trail intersects the road.
Watkins Glen State Park is home to some of the region’s most beautiful waterfalls — 19 of them in all. The 1.5-mile gorge trail meanders between high cliffs, under waterfalls and past serene plunge pools. You can return via the same path, take one of the rim trails overlooking the gorge or hop on a shuttle bus back to the parking lot.
The Corning Museum of Glass is a colorful, comprehensive tribute to the art of glassmaking. One large gallery displays some 3,500 years of glass artifacts from around the world, while another offers a selection of stunning contemporary art pieces. You can watch a glassblowing demonstration and even make your own glass creation, such as a mirror, vase or flower.
–written by Tracy Elsen