The Tallest Single-Drop Waterfall East of the Rockies

Measuring the height of a waterfall turns out to be a trickier thing than I imagined, largely because it can be hard to tell where one waterfall ends and another begins when water cascades down over multiple ledges and rocks. But measuring Taughannock Falls of Ithaca, New York, is easy:

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At 215 feet, this spectacular “plunge waterfall” is the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. As names go, it’s an unwieldy claim to fame, but it’s still pretty cool. That height makes it a surprising three stories higher than Niagara Falls. The Taughannock Falls State Park website calls it the “one of the outstanding natural attractions of the Northeast.” And my mom and I loved our visit there!

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Getting to the falls is almost as exciting as the falls themselves. You start out at this small but lovely waterfall:

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The hike from here is largely flat and runs through a gorge of towering 400-foot walls. The wide, canyon-like riverbed makes this trail feel much different from the narrower gorges in this area like Enfield Glen. The fairly level, easy trail at Taughannock runs through the trees …

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… right along the water of Taughannock Creek.

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If the water isn’t raging, you can walk right in the riverbed …

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… and even in the river itself.

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The gorge floor is made of limestone, which was once lime mud (the product largely of the detritus of dead marine organisms) left behind after the seas receded from this area 380 million years ago. You can still hunt for fossils here.

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You’re not supposed to swim in the river, but the signs don’t say anything about sitting down …

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That said, the risk of falling rocks (and park rangers) makes going into the water at the falls themselves seriously inadvisable.

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But even if you can’t swim here, the falls are incredible to see. And so are the gorge walls, with crumbly rock at the bottom made of shale and layers of sandstone and siltstone at the top.

 

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This is an amazing place to visit — even the tiniest waterfalls are lovely!

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When you’re done exploring the gorge, you can go for a swim on the banks of Lake Cayuga — this is also part of the park! I loved the diving platform.

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If you’re lucky enough to be at this park in the summer on weekend (or some Thursday evenings in the summer), you can start or end your hiking and swimming adventure with a trip to the Ithaca Farmers Market. This market takes place in a covered pavilion …

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… and it’s a wonderful place to buy everything from maple syrup to handmade pottery to organic veggies …

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… to plants …

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… to beautiful bouquets of locally-grown flowers:

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