story and photos by Libby Cook
The fast-approaching end of my senior year at Ithaca College has become a prominent source of stress, but quick trips to some of the best spots to destress around the region have become an excellent cure. Over the weekend, I took some time to find solitude and relaxation at one of my favorite nearby getaways: Taughannock Falls State Park.
The 750-acre, Trumansburg-based park features a spacious beachfront area on the shore of Cayuga Lake and short hiking trails that lead to the base of the iconic falls.
The usual gurgle of Taughannock Creek’s slow summer current is a much more active, fuller springtime rapid as I approach the park entrance. The shallow water flows quickly over a combination of short cascading falls to an inlet that pushes waves out to Cayuga Lake. The trails leading to the falls are somewhat busy today, but this crowd is microscopic compared to the number of summer visitors I’ve encountered before.
A few ducks float lazily near the creek bank as I decide which trail to take today. The north and south rim trails have terrific views along the top of the 400-foot-tall gorge walls, but I decide on the 0.75-mile gorge trail that leads to the best view in the park at the base of the falls.
The greenery of the area is returning slowly this spring. The forest of bare trees that line the trail, the chilly April air and today’s gray, clouded skies give the park an eerie feel. Vibrant patches of moss, shrubby new plants, pastel patches of blossoming wildflowers and the pleasant morning chirps of the birds are the only signs of spring to offset the park’s current autumnal appearance.
I follow the trail into the heart of the park and pass a few visitors who’ve waded out onto the muddy flats of the creek bed, not yet taken over by rapids. As I approach the “big bend” and the widest point in the gorge, there is a fantastic view of the layered rock making up the gorge walls.
The current picks up as I round another bend in the trail, then Taughannock Falls emerges in its grand fashion. The 215-foot plunge is the highest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains and is over 33 feet taller than Niagara Falls. I cross the short bridge over the creek and follow the path to its end, a few hundred feet from the falls landing. A refreshing mist clings to the air and gives off the scents of cool water and pine trees as I feel the week’s stresses melt away. I can’t stay long, as the demands of school never completely disappear from my conscience, so I follow the trail back to the park entrance.
With a few minutes to spare, I also check out the falls overlook on the park road, where there are postcard-worthy views overlooking the main waterfall and creek rapids.