A trip around the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway offers plenty of places of beauty and natural wonder. The lake itself, the rolling farmlands, the striking waterfalls and gorges all contribute to a sense of bounty and connection to nature. Here are just a few of the places you may want to visit.
At 215 feet, Taughannock Falls, on the west side of the lake, can claim the highest vertical drop of any falls in the Eastern United States. Dropping into a remarkable natural amphitheater, these spectacular falls also reveal much of the geology of the area. There are two ways to view the falls, either from above at a lookout a short distance from Rte 89 up Taughannock Park Road or from below by walking along a ¾ mile trail. The trail begins at the west side of Route 89, and is quite flat and easy to walk. A number of interpretive signs along the way tell the story of the natural surroundings. There is a parking area immediately in front of the lookout and also one where the trail begins.
As the longest, widest and second deepest of the glacier carved Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake itself is a natural wonder (see A History of Cayuga Lake). It is over 38 miles long with a deepest point of 435 feet. Its widest point is almost 3.5 miles (near Aurora), but with an average width of 1 miles, one can almost always see the far shore. Much of the southern end of Cayuga Lake is framed by steep dramatic walls while the shores of the northern end roll more gently toward the lake. View its gorgeous waters while driving or stop at one of the many parks along the way for a moment of reflection. Parks to stop at include local parks Harris Park in Cayuga, Frontenac Park in Union Springs, Stewart and Cass parks in Ithaca, and Myers Point Park in Lansing, and Taughannock Falls, Cayuga Lake and Long Point state parks.
Taking a cruise is another wonderful way to get close to the lake. Sail the MV Manhattan out of Ithaca by contacting Cayuga Lake Cruises 607-256-0898 708 West Buffalo St. Or try the MV Haendal with Tiohero Tours 607-697-0166, 435 Old Taughannock Blvd.
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge
At the north end of Cayuga Lake is a 10,000 acre expanse of grasslands and wetlands providing essential habitat for thousands of migratory birds and wildlife. The diversity is striking; come see the bald eagles, the snow geese, the many shorebirds and waterfowl. The wildlife drive, trails, towers and blinds provide remarkable views. Montezuma is open to visitors daily and year-round, and has a visitor center open April through November. Visit www.fws.gov/r5mnwr for more information.
Gorges and Falls
Taughannock Falls is only one of many gorges and waterfalls dropping into Cayuga Lake. A keen observer can detect many as you drive around the lake. For a closer look, stop at the following sites. Just north of Lansing on the east side of the lake, Ludlowville is a small village with the pretty Ludlowville Falls by a small park. Turn east on Ludlowville Road and park on the left hand side near the park. You must walk to the fence to see the falls. Right in the City of Ithaca, on the south end of the lake, Ithaca Falls is a short drive south along Lake Street (a continuation of 34B) and is visible from the road. Cascadilla Falls, at the junction of Court and Linn Street in Ithaca, is another wonderful falls. You can take the pleasant but steep hike there which connects to Collegetown and Cornell University.
Museum of the Earth
The impressive Museum of the Earth is a natural history museum exploring the history of the Earth and its life, while concentrating on the geology and paleontology of the Northeastern United States. The museum exhibits over 650 specimens from one of the nation’s largest and finest fossil collections, including the skeletons of the Hyde Park Mastodon and Right Whale #2030. Stop here for information about Cayuga Lake and its environment and much more. The museum is located on Route 96, just north of Ithaca, on the west side of the lake. 273-6623, 1259 Trumansburg Road (Rte. 96). www.museumoftheearth.org
Under Cayuga Lake: Salt
One of the natural wonders of Cayuga Lake is invisible to the eye. Deep under the lake is a 18,000 acres salt mine with a main horizontal corridor that stretches five miles from Portland Point on the east side of the lake to Taughannock Park on the west. It is the deepest salt mine in North America, 2,300 feet below the surface. The thick salt layers under Cayuga Lake remain from over 350 million years ago, when this area was covered by a shallow sea. Cargill Salt Company in Lansing does not offer tours of the salt mines, but it is fascinating to know it is there.« Back to Along the Byway