Fall Creek Gorge
Cayuga Lake is possibly the most dominant natural feature in Tompkins County, and Fall Creek is the largest stream draining into the lake. It has a drainage basin of about 130 square miles. Fall Creek originates in Cayuga County a little beyond Lake Como, in the towns of Sempronius and Summer Hill. In Tompkins County, the Fall Creek runs through the towns of Groton, Dryden and Ithaca, and the City of Ithaca to Cayuga Lake. Between Beebe Lake and Ithaca Falls, Fall Creek flows through a deep rocky gorge with several large, dramatic falls, most notably Ithaca Falls and Triphammer Falls (at Beebe Lake dam). Click here for a brief account of how the gorges were formed.
Fall Creek and its associated gorge are an integral part of the Cornell University Campus, and the surrounding communities. The gorge provides scenic views, recreation, trails, plant and wildlife habitat, hydroelectric power and a drinking water source for Cornell University and the hamlet of Forest Home. The creek and gorge also provide research and teaching opportunities, for Cornell University and other institutions.
Take a virtual tour of trails in Fall Creek Gorge using Google Street View:
Click here for a view of Fall Creek from the base of the Risley Trail.
Click here for a view of Horseshoe Falls from the overlook at the base of the Horseshoe Falls Trail.
To view a 1915 report on the development of Fall Creek and Cascadilla Gorges, click here. (3.5 M)
Recreational River Status
In 1990, the State of New York designated the 1.8-mile stretch of Fall Creek, from Cayuga Lake to the Triphammer Falls foot bridge, a Recreational River, at the request of the City of Ithaca. The designation of Fall Creek as a Recreational River mandates the preservation and restoration of its natural, scenic, and recreational qualities.
State-designated wild, scenic, and recreational rivers are preserved in a free flowing condition, protecting them from development, for the enjoyment and benefit of present and future generations. A designated river’s importance may be based on fish, wildlife and botanical resources, aesthetic quality, archaeological significance, and other cultural and historic features.
NYSDEC recommends that primary management emphasis be placed on the protection and enhancement of the natural, scenic, ecological, recreational, aesthetic, botanical, geological, hydrological, fish and wildlife, historical, cultural, archaeological and scientific features of the Fall Creek Recreational River. Learn more about the Recreational Rivers program here.
“…the gorges and creeks are unique landscapes requiring as much attention and care as any other part of campus.” Campus Master Plan, 2008
Please be safe while visiting this gorge.
People have been injured and killed through the misuse of this natural wonder, but most of these incidents could have been avoided. To encourage safe use of the gorges and emphasize the dangers of swimming in Fall Creek, a gorge safety video and brochure have been developed. To view, click the links below: