We will hike the Rim Trail to Gorge Trail Loop (1.72 miles). From the lower parking area, ascend steeply on the rim trail and gain over 400 feet in about 0.4 miles. At 0.5 miles veer left at the junction for the trail leading to a bridge over Buttermilk Creek. At 0.8 miles reach King Rd, cross over bridge and descend down the Gorge Trail. The Gorge Trail brings you back down to the swimming area and the lower parking area. Total elevation gain is 460 feet for this hike.
Rim Trail: 0.75mi Strenuous
Gorge Trail: 0.75mi. Strenuous
Overall this hike is moderately challenging and may take 2-3 hours.
What to Bring: Wear comfortable hiking shoes. Bring a picnic lunch, bug spray, a hat, a hiking stick and water.
State Park Admission Fee: Note: There is a vehicle entry fee of $7
Pets: Allowed on leash with proof of inoculation. Not allowed in the swimming area or on the gorge trail. For their safety and the safety of others, we recommend you do not take your pet on the gorge trail.
Directions will be sent when you RSVP.
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Buttermilk Falls State Park takes its name from its centerpiece, the classical 165 ft foaming cascade, enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year. The water mixes, twists and turns over the rock, looking indeed like creamy buttermilk as it reaches the bottom. Buttermilk Creek drops a total of over 650 feet through this valley toward Cayuga Lake, tumbling over ten distinct waterfalls along the way.
On this hike we will explore the lower portion of the gorge. It is reminiscent of intimate and saturated Finger Lakes gorges like Watkins Glen State Park. The waterfalls of Buttermilk Creek are typical of the area – multiple layers of loose shale and porous limestone, which has been cut by the erosive powers of the creek, sculpting a spectrum of cliffs and leaving numerous waterfalls of various shapes and sizes along the way. Here you will see pillars protruding from the glen, made of stone formed in the late Devonian age. Pulpit Rock, one of the more striking formations, oversees the roaring Pulpit Falls. Upstream Pinnacle Rock hogs all the attention. This 42 foot high spire, created by erosion and the expansion of a massive fault in the rock wall of the gorge, stands mysteriously alone in the creek bed.
Potholes, carved by sand and pebbles caught in circulating creek currents can be found throughout Buttermilk Creek, giving the glen more character and color, with their deep bluish tint. These deep impressions in the creek bed indicate locations of past waterfalls. This is where plunge pools used to be. Water from past waterfalls swirled rocks and sand in the creek bed and carved pits into the bedrock. Since then, the rock behind those waterfalls eroded, pushing the drops further upstream and leaving the potholes behind. Currents continue to mix trapped sand and rocks to continually deepen these holes.
The history of this area is quite interesting. During the early 1700s, Tutelo and Saponi Indians lived in the village of Coreorgonel near Ithaca. They were remnants of a large nation in the Virginia/North Carolina region. Driven from their homeland by colonists, they settled with the Cayugas as part of the Iroquois Confederacy and established a home near Buttermilk Falls. There were over twenty log cabins, with farm fields and orchards, which were abandoned and then burned to the ground by Continental soldiers during the Revolutionary War. The remaining tribe members fled towards Canada and have since been scattered.
Numerous mills existed along the creek during the 1850s. A dam was built above Buttermilk Falls and supplied water to the city of Ithaca until the early 1900s. A large grist mill operated in the upper section of the park. Like nearby Robert Treman State Park, the initial grant of land for the park came from Robert and Laura Treman. Since 1924, the original 154 acres have grown to the present size of 751 acres.