The Finger Lakes is one of our favorite places to spend our summer weekends. This beautiful region has wineries, breweries, and super cute towns, making itself one of the best summer vacation spots in the USA. But most notably? The several outdoor opportunities from kayaking and lake exploring to hiking and chasing waterfalls. If you’re headed here this summer, don’t miss the dozens of gorgeous waterfalls in the Finger Lakes. And best of all? Many of these Finger Lakes waterfalls also have swimming areas/holes! So make sure to bring a bathing suit for a refreshing swim in nature.
Table of Contents
Quick Tips for Visiting Waterfalls in the Finger Lakes
- Some of these waterfalls are tucked within our many New York State Parks and others are accessible just outside of roads or forested areas. If you have limited mobility, many of the trails of these waterfalls vary from rugged to flat short paths.
- Be mindful of ticks. They are a SERIOUS problem in New York State. Ticks can carry Lyme Disease which is a lifelong debilitating illness for many.
- Before visiting, check AllTrails or the NYFalls and read up on the waterfall you’re visiting to see if it might have stopped flowing. Especially if it’s been a dry summer, there’s a chance it will have stopped flowing by August or September.
- Check the local rules, to make sure you are allowed to swim. Otherwise, you could get hit with a fine!
OUR FINGER LAKES TRAVEL GUIDES
- The Best Towns & Places to Stay in the Finger Lakes
- 34 Incredible Things to Do in the Finger Lakes
- Guided Wine Tasting Tours in the Finger Lakes to Choose From
- Top-Rated Wineries in the Finger Lakes to Visit – A Bucketlist
Best Waterfalls in the Finger Lakes to Visit
1. Buttermilk Falls
If you know the Finger Lakes region, then you will not be surprised that Buttermilk Falls is on this list. It’s consistently one of the most recommended waterfalls to visit in the area for a reason. That means that it can be busy at the height of the summer because it’s on the southern edge of Ithaca. So unless you come during the weekday, don’t go to Buttermilk Falls in search of solitude and quiet. The good news is that Buttermilk Falls State Park is big so you will definitely find that the crowds dwindle the further from the base of the falls that you walk.
You can swim in the hole at the bottom of Buttermilk Falls. However, you can’t swim anywhere else in the park. You might notice other people swimming in other areas, but rumor has it, State Park Troopers give out tickets when they see people doing that. Around Buttermilk Falls are several great hikes, like the Gorge & Rim Trail so you can get sweaty before you take a dip in the water. It’s $9 per vehicle to visit Buttermilk Falls State Park.
2. Lucifer Falls + Lower Falls
Lucifer Falls in Robert H. Treman State Park is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Finger Lakes. Robert H. Treman State Park is just a little further afield than Buttermilk Falls State Park. Both are some of the prettiest New York State Parks in the region. You can’t swim in the swimming hole below Lucifer Falls. But you can swim in the Lower Falls pool (on the other side of the park), which is one of the most fun places to swim in the Finger Lakes. There is a man-made diving board that you can spring off and dive into a swimming hole surrounded by cliffs.
This is another Finger Lakes waterfall that can be a bit busy in summer because of its proximity to Ithaca. If you’re not visiting in the middle of summer, and are not planning to swim, then there are some great hikes in the park, including the Rim and Gorge Trails. It’s $9 per vehicle to visit Robert H. Treman State Park.
3. Letchworth State Park Waterfalls
I have never been to the Grand Canyon. Hopefully, I’ll go one day, but for now, I can soothe my Grand Canyon-yearning self with a visit to Letchworth State Park. It’s the “Grand Canyon of the East” with over 60 miles of hiking trails, massive gorges, three major waterfalls, and a dozen smaller falls. Letchworth State Park deserves its own visit and is decently far west in the Finger Lakes region. Depending on who you ask, some might even say it’s a part of Western New York. It costs $10 per vehicle to visit Letchworth State Park.
Take your time in Letchworth State Park and hike a few different trails. First, make sure to see the Upper, Middle, and Lower Genesee River Falls, which are the most well-known photographed falls at Letchworth. The steam that rises from these falls in the crisp fall air gives serious “Colors of the Wind” vibes (without the colonization and historical revision. The song still slaps.).
If you can, you should also visit Deh-ga-ya-soh Falls as there is a small bridge above its crest that really adds to your pictures. Inspiration Falls is tall at 350-feet but only flows after heavy rains or in the early spring. It flows over a cliff surrounded by beautiful trees and is gorgeous from a vantage point on one of your hikes in the park.
4. Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls is in Watkins Glen State Park on the southern shore of Seneca Lake. After you’ve visited Ithaca and all the State Parks around Cayuga Lake, go west to Seneca Lake. There are usually fewer tourists as you go further west away from Ithaca through the Finger Lakes region. Rainbow Falls is one of 19 waterfalls in Watkins Glen State Park. Watkins Glen State Park is one of our favorite New York State Parks to visit. There are tons of hiking trails, but be careful because you’re walking over slippery, rocky cliffs.
All the waterfalls, including Central Cascade, the tallest waterfall in this New York State Park, are enjoyable to see. Rainbow Falls is special because the Glen of Pools leads to it, you can walk under it, and in the late afternoon, you can see rainbows reflected thanks to the gorgeous light. It costs $9 per vehicle to visit Watkins Glen State Park.
*There is a Rainbow Falls in the Adirondacks that will pop up first if you look up Rainbow Falls in New York state online. It’s a different waterfall in New York!
5. Taughannock Falls
Taughannock Falls in Taughannock State Park is one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Rocky Mountains. At 215 feet, it’s one of the best waterfalls in the United States to visit. It’s on the western side of Cayuga Lake and is the perfect stop for an afternoon walk if you’re doing a winery tour in the Finger Lakes. It’s along the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. There is also a boat docking marina near the State Park so if you’re spending the weekend on a boat, this is the perfect land adventure you can do in an afternoon.
Taughannock Falls State Park also offers organized hikes and summer concerts along the waterfront so check out what’s on the calendar when you plan your visit. As Taughannock Falls is in a State Park, there is usually a parking fee of $9 per vehicle to visit.
6. Upper Falls in Taughannock State Park
Different than Taughannock Falls, Upper Falls is a bit shorter at 100 feet, but it’s very steep. One of the best ways to see these falls is from an abandoned, easily accessible railroad bridge about the Taughannock Falls. Taughannock Creek often runs dry by the middle of summer so it’s best to visit in the spring or pay close attention to the weather and visit after a heavy rainstorm.
There are several amazing hikes, like the Gorge Trail and the Rim Trail Loop where you can walk in Taughannock State Park to see Upper Falls or both Taughannock Falls and Upper Falls. They’re less than 3 miles and can involve a bit of rock scrambling depending on how close to the falls you want to get but are pretty easy.
7. Ithaca Falls
Ithaca Falls is in the middle of the town of Ithaca just minutes from Cornell University. While it’s not the most wow-beautiful-waterfall compared to the rest of the Finger Lakes waterfalls, it’s still impressive and very easy to get to which makes it perfect if you’re traveling with accessibility disabilities or elders, or if you’re just short on time.
Ithaca Falls is 150 feet tall and accessible via a very short walking trail. You can’t swim here, but you can fish. If you don’t fish, you can just watch the locals, usually older men, fish while you munch on your treats. People have died here swimming, so even if you see others in the water, it’s not legal.
Industrial History of Ithaca Falls: This used to be an industrial mill and factory! Around 1814, colonists built homes and mills using its cascading waters to harness power. The area rapidly transformed into a bustling hub with numerous factories producing everything from flour and plaster to agricultural tools, woolen fabric, whiskey, and pottery.
8. Aunt Sarah’s Falls
I’m not sure whose Aunt Sarah this waterfall is named after, but it is now my goal in life to have a waterfall named after me. Who cares about a star being named after you? Everybody can get one of those these days. Aunt Sarah’s Falls is a noisy, fan-shaped waterfall in the Finger Lakes. It’s south of Watkins Glen State Park and Seneca Lake and you can visit without taking a hike.
Aunt Sarah’s Falls are located just off Route 14. You must find the parking lot on the east side of the river. You can easily see the falls in full from the parking lot or you can cross the street and take some pictures near the base of the falls. Aunt Sarah’s Falls is a dynamic-looking waterfall. It’s thin at the top, then there are a bunch of short cascades, and then it fans out. Aunt Sarah’s Falls should definitely be on your Finger Lakes road trip.
9. Carpenter Falls
Everybody visits Seneca and Cayuga Lakes if they’re visiting the Finger Lakes. Don’t sleep on the other lakes in the area though. Visit Skaneateles Lake, Skaneateles the town, and stop in Bahar Nature Preserve on the western side of the lake to see Carpenter Falls. Carpenter Falls is a skinny, tall, powerful 90-foot waterfall in the Finger Lakes. It’s just off Route 41A. You can park at the junction of Appletree Point Rd and Carver Rd where there is a tiny parking lot or alongside Appletree Point Road where there is a decent-sized shoulder.
You can walk to the top of Carpenter Falls and get some really great views from the top. Technically, you’re not supposed to swim in the pool that Carpenter Falls flows into, but reportedly, people do it anyway so be cautious.
10. Eagle’s Cliffs Falls
Eagle’s Cliffs Falls is in Havana Glen Park. Eagle’s Cliffs Falls shoots out of a deep gouge in a gorge. It’s a powerful waterfall that typically flows year-round. Around the waterfall is an enclosed gorge of limestone and rock. It’s called Eagle’s Cliffs Falls because there is an eagle profile naturally carved into the rock. It’s not really a good place for a swim, but there are tons of flat rock surfaces to sit and sunbathe.
It costs $2 to park at Havana Glen Park, but then it’s only a short 5-minute walk to Eagle’s Cliffs Falls. It can get pretty busy in the summer so if you’re visiting when it’s warm, maybe go at the beginning or end of the day.
11. SheQuaGa Falls
SheQuaGa Falls is in the middle of the town of Montour Falls. It’s visible from most of the town and you can easily walk to the top of the falls. If you’re visiting Watkins Glen and Montour Falls and hanging around the southern Seneca Lake area, you should visit SheQuaGa Falls. Get a coffee at one of the small locally owned cafes like North New York, and walk to Montour Falls. The waterfall is massive and tall and is powerful enough to be flowing all year round. It looks pretty picturesque with a bridge at the top so is also perfect for some pictures.
12. Seneca Mills Falls
Situated between Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake, Seneca Mills Falls is a short, wide three-tiered waterfall. One of the best ways to enjoy the falls is to hike the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail and it’s halfway along the trail. If you’re not interested in doing a big hike, there are a couple of parking lots at the Seneca Mills Falls trailhead.
Like many of the waterfalls in the Finger Lakes, Seneca Mills Falls is in a limestone gorge. Uniquely, Seneca Mills Falls has several ruins from old mills and electrical plants that used to be located there so if you like to wander around old buildings, it’s a fun stop. Seneca Mills Falls is one of the wider waterfalls in the area and is a great reason to do a hike in the Finger Lakes.
13. Filmore Glen State Park Waterfalls
Filmore Glen State Park is one of the best places to visit in the Finger Lakes if you need to cool down. It’s a densely wooded park with a long, narrow gorge and five waterfalls. There are several places to swim. It’s south of Owasco Lake and is considered the most untouched and rustic of all the New York State Parks in the area. It also boasts a small cottage that you can stay in if you want to soak in as much nature as possible.
It’s one of the best waterfalls in the Finger Lakes to visit for some quiet. It has one of the most beautiful gorges in the area and the waterfall rivals Watkins Glen in its beauty and geological formations. As it’s a New York State Park, it costs $8 per vehicle to visit.
14. Hector Falls
Hector Falls flows directly into the east side of Seneca Lake. It’s not in a State Park. In fact, part of the falls is located on private property. Only part of the waterfall is visible from the road so if you want to take a closer look, pull over to the TINY parking lot on the side of the road. It can fit 5 cars at a time so you might have to keep driving if nothing is available. Hector Falls is broad, with gorgeous cascades flowing one after another, and the water comes from the Finger Lakes National Forest.
If you can safely park and want to get a closer look, take a left under the bridge, and walk closer to the falls. When you get that close, you can’t see the top portion of the Falls. You can only see those from the road.
15. Ludlowville Falls aka Salmon Creek Falls
Ludlowville Falls in Ludlowville Park is on the eastern side of Cayuga Lake. It’s easily accessible from the town of Ludlowville and is a big place for locals to go fishing. Ludlowville Falls is a really bouncy waterfall so the spray goes much farther out than you think it will. There is a massive cave under the caprock but it’s not accessible. The falls are strong though so it’s usually running all year and you can swim in the deep pool that the falls flow into.
Interestingly, up until very recently, Ludlowville Falls was private property but is now accessible to all. If you just want to see the falls and not go swimming, there are 2 viewing points. Visit Ludlowville and see Salmon Creek Falls while you’re on your Cayuga Lake Wine Trail tour.
16. Cascadilla Gorge Waterfall
You probably noticed all the “Ithaca is Gorges” paraphernalia on your trip to Ithaca. They really love their gorgeous pun, and for good reason. Ithaca is filled with them. And they’re all – dare I say it – gorgeous. The 8 waterfalls in Cascadilla Gorge waterfall are stunning. They’re easy to see on a walk along the Cascadilla Gorge Trail. They’re also pretty massive and local students at Cornell University often walk it the grueling uphill climb to go between campus and Collegetown.
The waterfalls in Cascadilla Gorge are loud and small stones are often falling as the rush of the water here constantly erodes and changes the landscape. There are often massive rockslides in the winter and parts of the trail can close down so check ahead of time. There are some wide cascades and big pools along the gorge but you can’t, and shouldn’t, swim here.
17. Waverly Glen Fall
Drive south in the Finger Lakes region until you’re practically in Pennsylvania and you’ll find Waverly Glen Park. It’s a small park just before the border with a beautiful rumbling waterfall that you should see. It leads to a very small creek so it’s not a place to swim. It’s the perfect place for a nice walk, especially in the Fall. If you’re heading back to New York City via I-86 then consider taking a pit stop here for one more waterfall in the Finger Lakes and to grab a coffee in Waverly. It’s the perfect way to end your trip in nature before you get back to that busy New Yorker life.