A City Girl’s Guide to Hiking in CNY
I’m from a beach city in China. It’s small by China’s standards, only 5 million people. So when my husband brought me to Ithaca—small town America—I wanted to have a typical Ithaca experience. That’s when someone first told me that “Ithaca is Gorges.” I’m not what you call an athlete, but absolutely think of myself as an “outdoorsy person.” To prove it, I decided to take up hiking in those famous gorges. This is my beginner’s guide for city girls who want to hike.
The Hiking Rules for City Girls
- No Heels.
- Comfortable but sexy sportswear. Yes, you CAN have it all.
- Makeup is optional.
- Camera phone (hello, #hikingselfie).
As my first summer faded into the chilly mornings of fall, I suddenly felt the urge to escape school work and enjoy the early autumn sunshine with Mother Nature. Buttermilk State Park was where I met her.
Located southwest of Ithaca, Buttermilk State Park is a 10 minute drive from Cornell University. After pulling my car into the entrance and shutting off my engine, the world seemed to shut off as well. Walking out of the car, I could almost smell the lushness of the trees. The color of the forest is not washed off as it was under the harsh summer sun but rather appears more vivid and saturated.
The park offers a “beach,” cabins, fishing, hiking, hunting (bow-hunting deer), nature trails, pavilions, a playground, playing fields, recreation programs, and a campground with tents and trailer sites. While the park contains ten waterfalls, Buttermilk Falls, which I encountered soon upon entry,is the main attraction. Its name came from the foaming cascade formed by Buttermilk Creek as it flows down the steep valley side toward Cayuga Lake.
The beach and pool area are closed in early September, but the picnic area and playground are still very popular. I came alone so I bypassed the crowds and quickly chose a trail from the three options:
1. Rim Trail to Gorge Trail Loop (1.72 miles). From the lower parking area, ascend steeply (over 400 feet in about 0.4 miles) on the Rim Trail. After about half a mile, veer left at the junction for the trail leading to a bridge over Buttermilk Creek. At about a mile, you reach King Rd. Cross the bridge and descend down the Gorge Trail which brings you back down to the swimming area and the lower parking area. Total elevation gain is 460 feet for this hike.
2. Lake Treman Trail Loop (1.33 miles). From the upper parking lot, aclimb the paved trail to Lake Treman. At the Loop junction, turn right. Soon after the Stone Arch Bridge (nice place for a break), you reach a junction of an old woods road; turn left. There are no trail markings so be careful to stay on the main trail. When you reach the dam, you are nearly done. At the Loop junction, turn right and return to the parking area. Total elevation gain is 159 feet for this hike.
3. Park Loop utilizing the Rim Trail, Bear Trail, Upper Park Road, Lake Treman Trail and Gorge Trail (4.77 miles) with an elevation gain/loss of over 600 feet, this is the steepest climb. From the lower parking lot ascend up Rim Trail up to King Road. Then cross bridge and turn left on Bear Trail. At the end of Bear Trail, turn right on Upper Park Road and follow 0.2 miles to the start of Lake Treman Trail (near restrooms). Do a loop around lake (as explained in Option 2 above), return to Upper Park Road. Back down Bear Trail to King Road and cross King Road and descend down Gorge Trail.
Parked at the lower entrance, I looked at the steep steps leading to Rim Trail and quickly decided to take the easier Gorge trail on the other side. This trail allowed me to hike along Buttermilk Creek and look over The Buttermilk Falls. The ground was mostly flat, ascending very slowly, with some rocky and slick parts but very easy for a beginner hiker wearing lightweight comfortable shoes.
As I finished Gorge Trail, I noticed a tall rock tower among dense trees. Despite not being a famous site or important landmark, this structure, known as Pinnacle Rock, is a reminder of the sculpting power of nature.
Bear Trail starts after another play area. If you come in from the Upper Park Entrance you’ll cross a bridge to reach the trail. Although it’s called Bear Trail, bear sitings are rare in the area. I reached Lake Treman pretty quickly.
The fresh breeze from the lake definitely cooled me down. Little known fact: This lake is home to the Grey Petaltail Dragonfly, a species that flew with the dinosaurs! There is also another trail around the lake but I was ready to go back.
On the way home, I could not stop thinking about the beauty and peacefulness I just experienced and the incredible power of nature. For a city girl who is used to walking in high heels and stepping in and out elevators, the hike was not dreadful at all. In fact, the natural beauty of the surroundings put me at ease for the duration of the hike. In my opinion, Buttermilk Falls is a quick and easy way to gain access to the natural beauty and many outdoor adventures that Central New York has to offer. I can’t wait to visit again and experience other trails.
For more about Buttermilk Falls State Park, click here: http://nysparks.com/parks/151/details.aspx