When most people think of waterfalls in New York, their thoughts immediately go to Niagara Falls. And while Niagara definitely wins in overall size, the Finger Lakes region in Central New York wins in sheer quantity! The region is home to over 1,000 waterfalls and gorges. We had a chance to visit quite a few of these stunning falls during our September visit. So, we wanted to share with you what we consider to be the best waterfalls in the Finger Lakes.
Watkins Glen State Park
To access the most waterfalls in the Finger Lakes at once, head to Watkins Glen State Park near Seneca Lake. A stroll along the Gorge Trail features 19 waterfalls in just under 2 miles. We cover this top New York state attraction in greater detail in our post about Things to Do in Watkins Glen NY.
WATCH NOW: Watkins Glen State Park
More Seneca Lake Waterfalls
Following a visit to Watkins Glen State Park, a <10-minute drive along the east side of Seneca Lake (on Route 414) will take you right to Hector Falls. It’s easily one of the most accessible waterfalls in the Finger Lakes, as you can see these falls from the road. Carefully pull off to the side of the road and walk across the bridge to see the falls up close. Please use extreme caution as you are walking alongside a busy road. Here you will see the upper portion of Hector Falls.
You can see the entire falls (165 ft) in all of its glory from Seneca Lake. This is all the more reason you should take a sail on the True Love Schooner boat (one of the top things to do in Watkins Glen NY). We first visited Hector Falls on our son’s 1st Birthday, so it will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Just over 5 minutes in the other direction (south of Watkins Glen) is the 156-foot tall Chequaga “Shequaga” Falls. It is also located just off the roadside (at the head of Main Street in the village of Montour Falls). It requires about a 1-minute walk to reach the base of the falls. The water cascades under the Mill Street Bridge. Shequaga Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in the Finger Lakes, in our opinion, because of its location.
We just found it so fascinating to come across such a sight when driving through a quaint residential neighborhood. The town of Montour Falls was added to the National Historic Register in 1978 for its beautiful and historical architecture, quaint shops and restaurants. As such, it’s a lovely village to simply go for a stroll. We also were really charmed by the rustic old Chevy truck located at the house across the street from the falls. Hopefully it’s still there when you visit!
Cayuga Lake Waterfalls
Besides our luxurious stay at the waterfront Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen, we also stayed in a comfortable and cozy cabin at Buttonwood Grove Winery. Our time at Buttonwood gave us easy access to many of the nice Finger Lakes waterfalls near Cayuga Lake, including the falls at Taughannock Falls State Park, Robert H Treman State Park, and Buttermilk Falls State Park. Unlike the falls near Seneca Lake, most of these picturesque waterfalls required a little bit of a hike to get to.
Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls State Park, located near the shores of Cayuga Lake, is home to the namesake waterfall Taughannock Falls. At 215-feet, it is the highest single-drop waterfall east of the Rockies and actually measures 33 feet taller than Niagara Falls! You can see the falls from a few different observation points.
Taughannock Falls Overlook
The easiest way to see Taughannock Falls is to drive to the overlook at the Taughannock Visitor Center. Here you can access free one-hour parking and stop by the center for local maps and park information. The center is typically open 10-6 May-November; it closes in the winter months. A very short walk from the visitor center will bring you to an overlook that provides a stunning view of the falls below.
Want to get up close and personal with Taughannock Falls? Take a stroll on the 3/4-mile Gorge Trail. This trail is stroller and wheelchair accessible. At less than a mile, it’s an easy way to see the falls close up! Enjoy the leisurely walk along Taughannock Creek and feel the mist from the falls on your face as you approach the end of the trail. Also along this walk, mere steps from the parking area, is the 20-foot Lower Falls, also known as Little Falls (top middle image below).
For yet another view of the falls, head out on the 1.5-mile North Rim Trail, which can be accessed near the visitor center. This trail can be combined with the 1.2-mile South Rim Trail to form a loop hike offering views of the 100-foot Upper Falls, located upstream from Taughannock Falls.
Robert H Treman State Park
Robert H Treman State Park, located in Ithaca NY, offers 9 miles of hiking trails and plenty of Finger Lakes waterfalls! Park highlights include a swimming area at the base of a waterfall and a wooded gorge trail taking hikers past 12 waterfalls alone.
An easy walk from the lower parking area in Treman State Park brings you past a peaceful stream and to the base of the 30-foot Lower Falls. This waterfall is also known as Enfield Falls, because of its location at the foot of the Enfield Glen. A designated swimming area, complete with a diving board and lifeguard, seems like it would be rather inviting on a warm summer day. Since it was a bit cooler during our September visit, there were only a few brave souls in the water. Whether or not you plan to swim in the waters beneath the falls, it’s a beautiful area to explore.
The hike to Lucifer Falls was the most challenging of all the hikes we did in the Finger Lakes. It was only made challenging by the fact that we had 30+ pound toddler strapped to our back. The trail(s) to the falls are ranked as moderate due to their elevation gain and many stairs. You can see Lucifer Falls from two different trails – Gorge Trail and Rim Trail.
From the upper parking lot area, we walked a little ways on the Gorge Trail until it crossed over Enfield Creek and intersected with the Rim Trail, which we took to get back to the parking area. It was the perfect combination of trails to see Enfield Gorge and various waterfalls, including the 115-feet Lucifer Falls (middle image below). There are many combinations of hikes within the park. Access the Robert H Treman State Park hiking map HERE.
Buttermilk State Park
Buttermilk State Park is just a 2.5-mile journey from Robert H Treman State Park. You can easily do both parks in one day and in fact, we encourage it. Each park requires a day use fee, though once you pay, your pass is good all day at any New York State Parks. So, double up and get your money’s worth!
TIP: If you’re planning to visit multiple state parks during your trip to New York, you may want to consider the annual Empire Pass. This pass provides unlimited day-use access to most facilities operated by New York State Parks and the State Dept. of Environmental Conservation.
See the park’s namesake waterfall (Buttermilk Falls) before you even get to the (lower park) entrance booth! Once inside the park, 6 trails lead to varying beautiful landscapes. The popular .75-mile Gorge Trail is moderately strenuous and takes you into the heart of the gorge. For a more leisurely stroll, enter at the upper park entrance to access the 1.5-mile relatively flat Lake Treman Trail. We packed a picnic and enjoyed our lunch with front row views of Buttermilk Falls.
Letchworth State Park
Located about an hour from village of Hammondsport on Keuka Lake is one of the top state parks in the country! Letchworth State Park was voted the #1 State Park in the US by USA Today in 2015 and the Best NY State Attraction in 2017. Letchworth has been appropriately named the Grand Canyon of the East. Its deep gorge runs approximately 17 miles alongside the Genesee River, with cliffs in the park reaching up to 600 feet high!
Letchworth State Park’s main attractions are its 3 stunning waterfalls along the Genesee River – Upper Falls (70-feet), Middle Falls (107-feet), and Lower Falls (70 feet). Overlooks to all 3 falls can be accessed via short walks from parking areas off the main road running through the park. Refer to the South Section park map for details on where to park in order to access the falls. If you’d rather explore the falls on foot, take a journey on the 7-mile Gorge Trail. Or for a truly unique experience, take a ride over the falls in a hot air balloon ride with Balloons Over Letchworth.
So as you can see, Niagara isn’t the only impressive waterfall in New York. The Finger Lakes region has plenty of gorge-ous gorges and extraordinary waterfalls for you to discover!