WINTER WATERFALLS OF THE FINGER LAKES

A short weekend exploring the northern part of NY state, along the Finger Lakes. Hiking through quiet, frozen gorges and iced-over lakes.

I planned this trip almost half a year ago in the middle of the summer. My biggest concern wasn't whether it would be difficult going alone, or whether it would be too cold for hiking. I was actually worried about whether it would be cold enough to see the area freeze over. I knew what the state parks around the Finger Lakes region of NY could look like in the winter, and I wanted to see that in person.

WATKINS GLEN STATE PARK

After settling in for the night in Ithaca, I woke up early to make it over to my first stop, Watkins Glen State Park. The park is known for the narrow, 400ft gorge carved by glaciers and a stream running through the center, creating several waterfalls.

As I parked my car, I noticed the main trail was closed for the winter. I figured the other three open trails would be decent. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to enjoy there. I asked myself whether I wanted to risk the consequences of jumping over the small gate blocking off access to the Gorge Trail.

Curiosity and the realization that I didn't come this far to turn back now led me to the other side. I could easily see why the trail would be closed. The entire pathway was covered in inches of ice. Some parts of the trail had massive boulders stacked up to my waist blocking the entire pathway. These were blocks of ice that rolled down the edges of the gorge and I now needed to climb over. If not for the crampons underneath my boots, I wouldn't have made it more than a few feet on the ice.

There were parts of the path that were covered in thin ice, and my weight would break through and plunge my feet into cold water. I was thankful for having properly waterproofed boots, so I didn't have to worry too much. It was kind of fun smashing through the ice, making fresh footprints where no one else had been through for a while.

After a short trek, I made it to the highlight of the park: Rainbow Falls. The path led me through a short cave, which was halfway encased in a wall of ice. I needed to squirm my way through the small opening without slipping down the iced-over stairs. After taking a few photographs, I rushed back to the main trail, keeping an eye out for park rangers. I may have been going a bit too fast because I rolled my ankle climbing over a set of icy boulders. I was relieved my boots were tall enough to protect me from something worse.

TAUGHANNOCK FALLS STATE PARK

There were a few hours of daylight left, so I headed towards Taughannock Falls. There were more people on the trail here. The main trail leading to the waterfall was open to visitors, so I wouldn't need to break any rules here.

The path leading up to the waterfall was also iced over, and I seemed to be the only person who had the foresight to bring crampons. While everyone else was sliding and taking careful steps over the ice, I could run at full speed if I wanted to without a worry.

When I got to the base of the waterfall, there was a thick fog of freezing cold mist. I layered up a bit more. My camera was not only wet, it was also freezing over on all sides. While most people spent only a few minutes at the base, I ended up being there for over an hour. My raincoat eventually was covered in a sheath of thin ice that cracked whenever I moved. 

I sat by the waterfall on a boulder that was encased in inches of ice until sunset, and finally acknowledged that I may finally be getting a bit cold.

ITHACA FALLS

I woke up early on my last day to see Ithaca Falls, which happened to be only two blocks away from my Airbnb. 

Just like at Taughannock, I could get close enough to feel the frozen mist and was mildly concerned about keeping my camera out for too long. My tripod had a solid layer of ice one every surface, and it got stuck several times when I tried to adjust the height.

ONTEORA LAKE

On the drive back to the city, I took a longer route through the Catskills and stopped by Onteora Lake. It had been on my to-do to visit during the winter to experience what it would be like to walk on a frozen lake. 

Most of the people on the lake were teenagers on dates, shuffling around and falling down on the ice. I played with a dog that was having a blast sliding around while its owner ice skated. There were definitely some concerning cracks on the surface, especially toward the center of the lake and near the holes where people had been ice fishing. It started to get dark, and I made my way back to the car, and eventually back home. 


I'm glad I got to see some beautiful places that exist in my home state. You don't have to go very far or take days off work to see something amazing.

If you want to know more about my trip, just send me a message. Thanks for reading!


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