Dan and Hannah Finally Hike the Buttermilk Gorge Trail in Ithaca, New York

Butter map of ithaca in ny

Last April, Hannah and I came to Ithaca, NY, the birthplace of our grandson Brooks and the site of his future presidential library, to hike the Buttermilk Gorge Trail.  The trail, not the future library, is conveniently located within three miles of our son Will and daughter-in-law Laurel’s home on the South Hill of this college town (i.e. Ithaca College and the Arizona State of the East – Cornell University).

For those of you who haven’t visited this area in the early spring, the trails can still be slippery due to ice.  And so it was five months ago, the Buttermilk Trail was barricaded due to icy conditions.  As you might imagine, we had hoped to see spring waterfalls that are real, and they are spectacular.  After the winter snows, the spring falls overflow with love and abundance such that would make Marianne Williamson proud.

Butter 1 H at danger sign

Butter 1C barricaded gate

Five months later, Hannah and I come to Ithaca on the last day of summer 2019 with unseasonably warm 80s for a redo of this gorge-ous trail.  Driving ten minutes to the upper parking entrance (see map below), Hannah and I take the Rim Trail down through the forest to the base of the falls in 20 minutes.  Our plan is to then climb back up the gorge on the majestic granite and slate stairs of the Gorge Trail to see the many waterfalls head on.

Butter 2A map of gorge trail

Butter 2 H at Rim Trail sign

How do you solve a problem like Maria, make that Hannah

On a day when the nationally ranked #11 Ithaca College Bombers tied traditional soccer power SUNY Cortland at two and battered Alfred University (27-9) in football to remain undefeated, Hannah and I have the time, not to tailgate with the undergrads, no, no, but to Fitbit step all morning long!  (By the way, our son Will works in the athletic department of IC, hence the homage to the IC sports teams.)

Butter Ithaca Bombers

Climbing 600’ of elevation gain over 1/2 of a mile, we have falls tumbling down the gorge to our left.  Enjoy the pictures and the Spielberg-quality videos.

Butter 3A falls use this one

Butter 3B stone steps

Butter 3C falls use

The following morning Will and Laurel have a breakfast date at the Main Street Diner in town while Hannah and I look after our fifteen month old grandson Brooks.  Later that morning, we all hike at the Taughannock Falls.

Butter 4 BLW

Butter 4A BLW B upside down

Butter 4C D and H use

Butter 4D we five close up

For Will and Laurel, Brooks, and Hannah and me, coming to Ithaca is win, win, win.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Buttermilk Falls Trail in Ithaca, New York

Our son Will with at Ithaca College overlooking Cayuga Lake

Our son Will with at Ithaca College overlooking Cayuga Lake


Ever been to the town of Ithaca in central New York?  Back in the early 80s, Hannah and I ventured there to visit her brother Doug and his new bride Becky.  At the time we were runners but hardly man and woman enough to handle the very hilly terrain of Ithaca.  Slogging along in slow motion up the local hills, we now learn that Ithaca College is on South Hill and Cornell University is on East Hill.  And there are a million hills in between.

Early morning on Will and Laurel's deck

Early morning on Will and Laurel’s deck

Our son Will and his wife Laurel Ann recently moved to Ithaca; she a nurse at the Cayuga Medical Center and he in the Athletic Department at Ithaca College, here on the easternmost of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake (pronounced Cue-ga).  Ithaca seems to be a smaller version of crunchy Burlington, Vermont.  We feel at home with the Bernie Sanders signs in front yards.

Will and Laurel in downtown Ithaca

Will and Laurel in downtown Ithaca

In mid-August we’ve come to Ithaca to chill, hike, and play board games (see the end of the blog).  After living in graduate housing on the Ithaca College campus, Will and Laurel bought a home on the outskirts of town.  With their noses to the grindstone and paint brushes at the ready, they have transformed their house into a soothing, peaceful, homey place.  On their recently repainted deck on a 62F Sunday morning, we talk over coffee and feast on Laurel’s yogurt and granola mix.  We are fortunate to have kids who are such good friends.

Owen at Ithaca Falls

Owen at Ithaca Falls

Known far and wide for its beautiful gorges and hiking trails, Ithaca has us water falling today within minutes of their home.  On a previous visit, our daughter Molly and her family  hiked Ithaca Falls right in town.

3 - D and H at Buttermilk Falls sign

Will and Laurel select Buttermilk Falls Trail just southwest of Ithaca for our hiking pleasure on this August Sunday morning on a day going to 90F.  Though they have an Empire Passport for free admission to all New York state parks, we arrive just before 10A so parking and admission are free for everyone.

Ithaca College selfie

Ithaca College selfie

Known for wearing my VCU gear from coast to coast, I have to say I am in transition.  Though I loved me some Virginia Commonwealth and Shaka Smart, my loyalty is switching to the Bombers of Ithaca College.  Shaka has gone to Texas and Will to Ithaca College.  Blood is thicker than tobacco.

IC bombers 2

Bombers hardly seems like a politically correct name for an open-minded, liberal bastion of sanity, does it?  It does not refer to college comedians who are not very good (i.e., bombers).  Nor does it refer to fighter pilots of World War II returning to college under the GI Bill.  It seems a sports reporter once referred to the basketball team’s long range shots (predating the three point shot) as bombs and coined the name Bombers.

With the falls to our left, we begin the Buttermilk Falls Trail

With the falls to our left, we begin the Buttermilk Falls Trail

At the base of the falls there is a natural pool with a diving board and lifeguard platform.  Still early on this summer day, no one is swimming, but we take to the Gorge Trail on our four mile loop trail made for families.  Beginning at an elevation of 400 feet we will climb over 650 feet along the series of ten falls as the Buttermilk Creek cascades towards Lake Cayuga.

Some of the many steps on the Gorge Trail

Some of the many steps on the Gorge Trail

Loose shale and porous limestone have been eroded by Buttermilk Creek making this a remarkably accessible hiking morning for one and all.  For much of the trail there are steps that appear something out of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) projects of the 1930s.  The craftsmanship of the stone steps and retaining stone walls are something Italian stonemasons would be proud of.

3C - BF more steps

The trail is a delightful never-ending climb on these stairways.  To our right is the forest of central New York and to our left the cascading Buttermilk Falls themselves. Hannah’s right leg (the non-surgically repaired one) is holding up to the climb.

5B - H at falls

On this warm, humid summer day, we see local teenagers jumping into pools along the narrow gorge that heads to Lake Cayuga.  As you would expect of those just turning 30, Will and Laurel are set a good pace and we seniors rock along with them.

7 - Bear Trail sign

Once at West King Road, we cross over for the Bear Trail.  Though an excellent walk in the woods, it has none of the breathtaking beauty of the Buttermilk Falls Trail.  We hike and talk without much elevation change through the forest with the river now placidly humming along.

7B - on road back

After two miles we cross over the Buttermilk Creek to return on the Rim Trail to the trailhead parking lot.  Unfortunately once we do cross West King Road we are so far from the Buttermilk Creek on this wide side that we see none of the majestic waterfalls.  My suggestion is go back down the Gorge Trail of stone steps and relive these magnificent falls.

8 Apples to Apples

It’s lunch of Paninis at the Ithaca Bakery, a nap, wine on the outside deck and one of our new favorite family games: Apples to Apples.  It’s just the game for the ADHD among us.  It’s a Classic Dan game with many of the joys of another Rothermel Family favorite: Mormon Bridge.

There’s some luck and some skill.  Lots of banter between participants – exalting and moaning.  The game itself does not go on forever and ever Amen.  There can be conversation throughout as it is not  a have-to-pay-so-close-attention-that-my-head-hurts kind of game.  We’ll play it the next we are together with you.