Buttermilk Falls State Park
Ithaca, New York

Location: Central Tompkins County, Route 13, two miles south of Ithaca.

     Buttermilk Creek drops over 550 feet as it flows through the park. Along the creek's course there are numerous waterfalls and several sets of rapids. The exact number of waterfalls found on the creek depends on what the viewer defines as a waterfall. In my research, the number of waterfalls found on the creek ranged from “a bunch,” “around 9,” “at least 13,” to “about 20.” In the following description I chose to highlight 7 of the waterfalls found in the park. The description does not mention every feature of the creek that I considered to be a waterfall, and will therefore let you enjoy discovering “a bunch” of waterfalls for yourself.

     As you drive into the park entrance you will catch a glimpse of this park’s namesake, Buttermilk Falls. From the parking area, walk to the southwest, passing the small concession stand, to the downstream (northwest) end of the swimming area which is the starting point for the Gorge Trail. Stop in the middle of the bridge as you cross the creek for a grand view of Buttermilk Falls. This huge cascade faces to the north northwest, has a total natural drop of 90 feet (the drop is shortened by roughly 5 feet when the dam for the swimming area is in place), and a crest that is 45 feet wide. The waters of Buttermilk Creek pour over the crest and descend a series of small, evenly spaced steps. Tumbling over step after step causes them to churn and bubble, creating a dazzling white plume of foam all the way to the plunge pool. If the creek volume is low, the waters hiss and sizzle. If the volume is high, the waters rumble and roar.
     Look above the crest of Buttermilk Falls and you will see the lower half of Upper Buttermilk Falls, sometimes called the Second Falls. It is stepper than the falls below it, faces to the north, is 80 feet high, and has a crest that is 75 feet wide. Like Buttermilk Falls below it, the creek descends Upper Buttermilk Falls in a dazzling white plume of foam.
     Continue across the bridge and along the trail as it climbs beside Buttermilk Falls. The trail soon becomes quite steep, leveling off a short distance past the crest of Upper Buttermilk Falls. The gorge now becomes much narrower and potholes become quite abundant. Not to be confused with the kind found on roads, these potholes are smooth sided, circular holes worn into the creek bed. They begin to form when the currents of the creek swirl stones in a shallow depression in the creek bed. Over thousands of years the stones slowly grind the pothole into the creek bed. Almost every noteworthy waterfall in the remainder of the gorge has a pothole at its base. The potholes often become quite large and deep, as you will soon see.
     About 1,600 feet past Upper Buttermilk Falls you will come to a bridge that crosses the creek and connects with the Rim Trail. Do not turn, but continue along the Gorge Trail and in roughly 200 feet you will reach Lower Pinnacle Falls. It faces to the north northwest, is 9 feet high, and has a crest that is 33 feet wide.
     Middle Pinnacle Falls is just a short distance ahead. It faces to the west southwest, is 19 feet high, and has a crest that is 55 feet wide. A large pothole is found on the southern flank of the falls. Above the falls is Pinnacle Rock. It is a natural rock spire found on the right (southern) side of the creek. It is about 15 feet wide at the base and about 3 feet wide at the top. The height of the spire, when measured from the creek bed, is around 45 feet.

     Just after you pass the Pinnacle you will come to Upper Pinnacle Falls. It faces to the west, is 5 feet high, and has a crest that is 8 feet wide. A short distance past Upper Pinnacle Falls is a waterfall that historically has been known as Shower Bath Fall. It faces to the west northwest, is 18 feet high, and has a crest that is 20 feet wide. Here Buttermilk Creek first pours down a steep cascade and then shoots into a very large pothole, falling freely through the air.
     Continue along the trail, passing several small but interesting cascades, and in roughly 500 feet you will arrive at West King Road. Across the road is the trail head for the Bear Trail, which will lead you to Lake Treman Falls. Follow the Bear Trail southwards, for roughly 0.4 of a mile, and you will arrive at the Upper Park Road. Continue to the west along the park road for roughly 0.1 of a mile to a parking area. From the parking area follow the Lake Treman Trail to the south, and in a short distance you will be able to see Lake Treman Falls.
     Lake Treman Falls faces to the north, is 35 feet high, and has a crest that is 12 feet wide. This waterfall is actually a manmade spillway for Lake Treman, created when Buttermilk Creek was dammed in the 1930’s. A bridge located at the crest of the falls offers an interesting view of the falls and lake.

For a Map Quest map of the area click here.

For a ACME Mapper 2.0 map of the area click here

Web site: Buttermilk Falls State Park

For some geological information on the park check out the
Paleontological Research Institution's web site: Buttermilk Falls State Park

Copyright © 2007 by Scott A. Ensminger.
This information may not be reproduced without written permission.

    You can send me e-mail at:falzguy@verizon.net

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