Giant Staircase, Stewart Falls, Cascadilla Falls
Tell People About it
Location: - Cornell
County; New York
Bing Map (Bird's-eye view);
GPS: West Entrance: N 42.44302 / W 76.49411
East end at College Ave: N 42.44324 W 76.48519
Directions: Located just south of Cornell
University in the city of Ithaca, on the south end of
Cayuga Lake. Park alongside E. Court
Street, which is off of N Cayuga St. Then head east toward
Linn St. and start heading north (left). The entrance will
be on your right (look for a small community park).
Google Directions to the corner of E Court and Linn St.
Number of falls:
8 waterfalls (6 major falls).
Size/Types: Frothy cascades down shale and limestone.
From small drops to wide cascades, reaching 54 ft high, with
sizable plunge pools.
Best time to visit: Summer, spring, fall.
Flow: Moderate; though it does tend to dry in summer.
Waterway: Cascadilla Creek, a tributary to The Cayuga
Inlet, which empties into
Time: 30 minutes to an hour. More if you are
The trail is often
closed for repairs.
Please observe and respect the
"Posted Trail Closed" signage and do not proceed if closed.
Open daylight hours. April through November or first freeze.
The trail is highly dangerous when
There is no parking provided for this park. You can park
along some of the side streets. Linn and East Court St. are
Admission: Free. Parking may be metered.
Handicap accessibility: To the grassy park off of
Linn , but not into the
gorge. Signage, the creek and possibly one waterfall is
visible from there.
Pets: Not allowed. For their safety and the
safety of others, we recommend you do not take your pet on
the gorge trail.
Accommodations: Trail; informational signage.
Pets: Not allowed.
Swimming: Not allowed.
Swimming in the gorge is
prohibited and the area is often patrolled by campus police.
Cascadilla Gorge is a popular trial connecting the Cornell
University campus to Collegetown, a district of Ithaca south
of the campus. It is often used by students as a shortcut
between the two. So widely used, it is often referred
to as "the staircase,"
both for the tumbling step-like cascades and for the grueling climb as
you ascend the trail to campus.
Although packed with
development on both the north and south rims, you would
probably not realize this while walking the trail. The gorge
is deep and narrow, hiding you from the busy city above and
providing this glen a natural serenity. Just as they did
Fillmore Glen parks, the Civilian
Conservation Corps originally constructed the stone pathways and bridges
through the gorge, crossing the creek when necessary, and
ascending the towering waterfalls.
The gorge drops over 400 feet from Cornell
campus to downtown Ithaca, carving through layers of shale
and sandstone. There are multiple waterfalls here with six
sizable ones. As you make your way up the trail, each
cascade seems to roar louder than the next. The many
overhangs and soft shale cliffs pose a slight danger as
large stones fall often in spring, with small stones falling
every few minutes. The small crackles and pops you'll hear
when deep in the gorge is a constant reminder that it is
ever-changing. Often massive rock slides will destroy
portions of the trail, forcing closure for repairs. Usually
this happens in the winter as water seeps into the cracks in
the rocks, freezes and expands, prying apart the stone.
The trail begins in a small community
park, with plenty of visible sunlight in downtown Ithaca and
ends in a damp, botanically-rich narrow section of the gorge
below the Cornell Center for Theater Arts. Several small
pools and dry banks along the way give students and area
residents an opportunity to read a book in the shade or dip
in the refreshing water.
Due to the high frequency of recreational
use, as well as the near 100% development of the surrounding
area, the fragility of the Cascadilla Creek ecosystem is a
strong concern. The gorge has an array of unique
micro-ecosystems spread throughout the different elevations
and within different moisture and sun-exposed portions.
Constant disruption from visitors and polluted run-off from
the city above threaten their stability.
Cornell Plantations, which manages the gardens and
natural space around the University, cares for the gorge and
is committed to maintaining it for public enjoyment.
A stone pathway leads from the community park to a set of
stairs that ascends to the Cornell campus.
Difficulty: Gets progressively more difficult. There are a
lot of steps to climb.
Distance: 7,800 ft one way.
Markings: Just the stone walkway.
From the community park, follow the path upstream. You first
pass a 20 ft cascade on the right, then a gradual cascade that
curves around a bend. Note the island in the center of this
one. An 11 ft cascade is up ahead and then a narrow 22-footer
called Stewart Falls. A stone CCC bridge will take you
across the creek. Continue up the path past the next 20 ft
cascade, the wide 35 ft Lower Falls and finally you'll end up
at the 50 ft Upper Falls (also known as Cascadilla Falls or
Staircase) just below College Ave. Continue to the steps
that lead to Cornell campus. You can turn around to go back
or cut through the campus and streets to get back.
and trail extends beyond College Ave, but there's little in
the way of waterfalls. Climb the steps to Cornell Campus,
cross College Ave and head back down into the gorge to
Once used as a stone quarry, the gorge has changed drastically
from its natural state. Some of the surrounding buildings
rest upon foundations from Cascadilla-quarried rock.
In 1909, Cornell
alumnus and trustee Robert H. Treman gave Cascadilla
gorge to Cornell University to maintain for public
education and enjoyment.
Do not miss...
The rock that
comprises the gorge is a great source of brachiopod fossils.
trek you may notice artistic stacks of stones called
cairns. Although they look mysterious, they are built by
visitors. It's a form of public art. Feel free to make one
while you are there.
▪ The sheer number of waterfalls in
this gorge coupled with the millions of composition
possibilities means you could spend a full day
photographing. Plan on getting there early.
to know the park before shooting. You are going to want to spend
most your time at certain locations. You will find it very
easy to get distracted along the way.
▪ Get to the gorge early to avoid the crowds.
▪ Make sure you have a versatile tripod as you may have to
lean it up against rocks platforms and bend it in unusual
ways to get your shots.
▪ Some areas of the gorge are dark enough so you won't need
a neutral density filter to get the silk effect.
▪ Sunlight bursting through the canopy can ruin a pretty shot of the
shadowy falls below, so it's best to tackle this gorge on
▪ See the Articles section
for more waterfall photography tips.
1 Plantations Road
Ithaca, NY, 14850
Check here for
current happenings around Ithaca.
Buttermilk Falls - Ithaca, NY
Ithaca Falls - Ithaca, NY
Robert H. Treman State Park (Lucifer Falls) - Ithaca, NY
Taughannock Falls - Trumansburg, NY
Ludlowville Falls - Lansing, NY
Bed & Breakfast
Federal House B&B - Lansing, NY
Cayuga Lake Country Inn - Lansing, NY
Touch of Country B & B - Ithaca, NY
Amazing Grace B & B - Ithaca, NY
Besemer Station Inn - Ithaca, NY
Bountiful Blessings B & B - Freeville, NY
Brookton Hollow Farm B&B - Brooktondale, NY
Carriage House Bed & Breakfast - Newfield, NY
Coddington Guest House - Ithaca, NY
Edgewood Guest House - Ithaca, NY
& Hare - Ithaca, NY
Columbia - Ithaca, NY
William Henry Miller Inn - Ithaca, NY
Noble House Farm Bed & Breakfast - Newfield, NY
Rogue's Harbor B&B - Lansing, NY
Reunion House - Trumansburg, NY
Wisteria Way - Montour Falls, NY
Lodging / Hotels
Tourelle Resort & August Moon Spa - Ithaca, NY
Grayhaven Motel - Ithaca, NY
Book a Campsite at this Park
Robert H. Treman State Park - Ithaca, NY
Pine Creek Campground - Newfield, NY
Wineries / Breweries
Long Point Winery - Aurora, NY
King Ferry Winery - King Ferry, NY
Mile Creek Vineyard-Winery - Ithaca, NY
Hard Cider - Trumansburg, NY
Beer Company - Ithaca, NY
More wineries are listed on the
Cayuga Lake page.
Restaurants / Cafes
Mano's Diner - Ithaca, NY
Lucatelli's Ristorante - Ithaca, NY
Thai Cuisine Restaurant - Ithaca, NY
Rogan's Corner - Ithaca, NY
Over Ithaca - Ithaca, NY
Purity Ice Cream - Ithaca, NY
Ice Cream joints...
Sciencenter - Ithaca, NY
Museum of the Earth at PRI - Ithaca, NY
Tompkins County History Center - Ithaca, NY
Johnson Museum of Art - Ithaca, NY
Ithaca Clock Museum - Ithaca, NY
Center Ithaca - Ithaca, NY
Ithaca Mall - Ithaca, NY
Hangar Theatre - Ithaca, NY
Kitchen Theatre Company - Ithaca, NY
State Theater - Ithaca, NY
Cinemaopolis - Ithaca, NY
Friends of the Gorges
Cornell's Cascadilla Virtual Tour
1 Plantations Road
Ithaca, NY, 14850
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