With 178 parks in twelve distinct regions, New York State offers some of the best destinations for outdoor enthusiasts in the country. Excellent scenery, natural landscapes and a variety of activities make this park system unique and fun.
If you’re interested in waterfalls, you don’t want to miss Buttermilk Falls State Park in Ithaca, located in the Finger Lakes region of New York. As its name suggests, this park’s main feature is Buttermilk Falls, which takes its name from the creamy froth generated by the water hitting the rocks at the bottom that resembles buttermilk in appearance. This is a 165-foot high falls that cascades in two roughly equal sections.
In addition to the main falls, there are nine other waterfalls located in this park. These falls vary in height from 5 to 35 feet. There are several different types of falls to view, including plunges, staircases, cascades, and segmented falls. One of the larger waterfalls, Pulpit Falls, features one of the most striking rock formations at the park – Pulpit Rock, a distinctive pillar that protrudes from a glen.
Buttermilk Falls State Park features many examples of breathtaking natural beauty. One such feature is the potholes. Now, potholes don’t sound like they’d be much fun to look at, but these aren’t crumbling holes in pavement. In nature terms, a pothole is a deep impression in the ground where waterfalls used to be. Over time, the rocks beneath falls erode and move the cascades upstream, leaving potholes to mark where the plunge pools had been. These natural formations are visible in many spots along Buttermilk Creek.
Another scenic and fascinating spot in this park is Larch Meadows. Accessible by a nature trail leading through the area, this wetlands and shady glen offers an excellent place for observing wildlife, especially the many colorful and varies species of birds that are native to the Finger Lakes region. You may even see a Grey Petaltail Dragonfly – a species of insect that has existed since the time of the dinosaurs.
Speaking of trails, the park offers several hiking trails in varying degrees of difficulty. For the beginner, there is the self-guided Larch Meadow Trail through the wetlands, and paved trails anyone can follow leading to the lower section of the biggest waterfall. The Buttermilk Gorge trail is rated moderate to difficult, with several stairs and a rapid rise in elevation. At the top of this trail, the hiker can choose to continue on Rim Trail, which circles the top of the gorge and descends back down; or Bear Trail, which goes along the creek and emerges at Lake Treman.
There are two gorges at Buttermilk Falls State Park. Guided tours of the main gorge, Buttermilk Gorge, are available during peak touring season, in addition to the self-guided hiking trail. The second one, Owl Creek Gorge, does not offer much accessibility, but it does represent a beautiful photographic opportunity. The water flow is variable, so the falls in this gorge can be sporadic. But the height of the walls is breathtaking, lowering nearly 500 feet down in less than a mile.
In addition to hiking and sightseeing, Buttermilk Falls State Park has several activities available for visitors to enjoy. The swimming pool is the main attraction at the park – it is a large natural plunge basin at the base of the main waterfall, which is deepened further by a downstream dam. This pool can get crowded, especially on hot days, so it’s always a good idea to arrive as early as possible for a day of swimming.
Camping is permitted at the park. The campgrounds include 60 campsites in the upper, wooded portion of the park, offering a quieter and more relaxing experience while still being close enough to the main activities available. There are also six cabins in the campground area.
Buttermilk Falls State Park is open year-round. To get the most out of your visit, the best times to go are spring, early summer and fall. Because rainfall varies in this region, the flow of the falls can vary, and can slow to a trickle at times, especially in mid-summer. Camping season lasts from May to October, and swimming in the unique natural pool is available from the end of June until Labor Day weekend. The hiking trails close on November 10, and open again in May.
You can find more information on the park by visiting the official Web site at http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/151/details.aspx, or calling (607) 273-3440.