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Plan an Outdoor Weekend in Ithaca NY

In Ithaca, every woodland trail leads to a gorgeous *gorges* waterfall, there are more coffee shops and wineries than you will ever be able to visit, and hip locals love nothing more than to tell you how to spend a perfect day (or weekend, in my case).

A collage of photos featuring the perfect weekend in Ithaca NY.
How to spend a perfect weekend in Ithaca NY

Located in the Finger Lakes of New York State, Ithaca is a dream destination for outdoor lovers, but it’s also got excellent museums, cool shops, amazing food, and Cornell University.

Ithaca welcomes visitors with a colorful (and very walkable) downtown and more than 150 waterfalls surrounding the city. As if that weren’t reason enough to visit, the Finger Lakes region is one of the East Coast’s premier wine destinations, with more than 130 wineries set against the backdrop of the 11 Finger Lakes.

The wine and the waterfalls compelled us to visit the Finger Lakes for the first time in 2016. The wine (semi-dry Rieslings, to be precise) enchanted us, and we have been going out of our way to visit as often as possible ever since.

I recently spent a long weekend in Ithaca, NY with a few goals in mind: taste that semi-dry Reisling I’ve come to love, swim under a waterfall, and hike as many beautiful trails as possible. I checked all those things off my list, and I also got to eat at the iconic Moosewood Restaurant and explore the massive Cornell Botanic Gardens.

I now love Ithaca more than ever, and I’m here to convince to to drop everything and plan a weekend getaway to this gorgeous city. Are you in?

Here’s a perfect weekend itinerary for outdoor lovers that includes all the best things to do in Ithaca, NY.

At-A-Glance Trip Planner: Ithaca, New York

Planning a trip to Upstate New York? Be sure to check out these posts for nearby destinations!

Cabin Camping in Ithaca: Buttermilk Falls State Park

A key in front of a small camping cabin in Buttermilk Falls State Park in Ithaca.
My tiny camping cabin in Buttermilk Falls State Park

While I was very excited to explore downtown Ithaca on this trip, I also wanted to escape the city in the evenings, cook over a fire, and wake up to the sound of birdsong. The tiny camping cabins at Buttermilk Falls State Park, just three miles from downtown Ithaca, checked all the boxes. And at just $65.75 per night, these are great for budget travelers, provided you don’t mind roughing it a bit.

The new cabins include a full-size bed and a triple bunk bed with thick mattresses (bring your own bedding). There are hooks on the wall, a set of shelves for your gear, two stools, and a counter. No water or electricity, but the bathhouse is a short walk from the cabins.

The Gorge Trail in Buttermilk Falls State Park.
The Gorge Trail in Buttermilk Falls State Park

Outside, there is a small covered porch with a bench, a picnic table, and a fire pit. The cabins are within walking distance of the Buttermilk Falls Gorge trail, which I tackled every morning during my weekend stay.

Pros and Cons of Cabin Camping at Buttermilk Falls State Park

Overall, these affordable cabins were exactly what I was looking for — rustic, quiet, and affordable, but they’re not for everyone. Here’s an overview of what I loved and didn’t love about cabin camping at Buttermilk Falls.


  • Very convenient to downtown Ithaca
  • Clean and comfy with a door that locks for extra peace of mind
  • Hiking from the campground
  • The campground was quiet (late May before Memorial Day)


  • Some traffic noise due to its close proximity to Ithaca
  • Cabins are very close together — I was the only cabin camper during my stay, but on a busy summer weekend, you may not have much privacy
  • Tight squeeze for families — There are beds for 5 people, but I think that would be extremely tight. 2-3 people would be okay.
  • There is no swimming near the falls. Swimming was permitted on my last visit, but they have discontinued it.
buttermilk falls cabins
The tiny camping cabins are very close together.

Nearby Robert Treman State Park has 14 camping cabins available, and swimming is permitted under the falls. I also much prefer the gorge trail and waterfalls at Treman, so next time, I’m booking a cabin there so I can compare.

The Perfect Outdoor Weekend in Ithaca NY

Ready to explore all the coolest things to do in Ithaca, NY? While there are many cool museums and shops in Ithaca, we’re spending this weekend outside! There are waterfalls and gardens to explore, outdoor patios to sip wine on, and marshmallows to roast. Let’s do this!

Day One: Settle in and Explore Buttermilk Falls

buttermilk falls gorge trail

How you spend your first day in Ithaca will depend on where you’ve traveled from and what time you roll into town. My drive over from Vermont takes about four hours, so I spent the first afternoon setting up camp, hiking through the gorge, and sipping Finger Lakes Riesling.

Stop at Six Mile Creek Vineyard & Distillery in Ithaca for a wine or spirit tasting, relax on the outdoor patio, and grab a bottle or two to bring back to camp. The Riesling here is a crowd-pleaser with fruity-floral flavors that go well with all kinds of campfire meals.

Live music on the deck at Six Mile Creek Vineyard & Distillery in Ithaca NY.
Live music on the deck at Six Mile Creek

Six Mile Creek is open every day from 10 am – 6 pm between May 1 and October 1, with live music on Thursday evenings.

The Gorge Trail in Buttermilk Falls State Park

tara buttermilk falls scaled
One of the many waterfalls along the Gorge Trail in Buttermilk Falls State Park.

The Gorge Trail and Rim Trail loop is a 1.6-mile trail that begins at the day-use area and travels along the river, past several gorgeous waterfalls, and up more steps than I’d care to count. If you start your hike in the campground, the total is 2.3 miles, with 848 feet of elevation gain.

As with many of the state parks in the Finger Lakes, bridges, steps, and walls here were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. This makes for an enchanting backdrop that showcases the gorge in ways that are surprising and delightful.

AllTrails Map and Elevation Profile for Buttermilk Falls Gorge Trail

Below is the loop from the campground through the gorge and back to the campground on the Rim Trail. Cell service was spotty, so I made sure to download the map for this trail ahead of time using AllTrails+ ($35.99 for a year). The free version is awesome, too, but you can’t download maps for offline use, which is important when you’re hiking in areas without good cell service.

Day Two: Cornell Botanic Gardens and Downtown Ithaca

Let’s start the day right — with a fancy coffee drink from Botanist Coffehouse to put you in vacation mode. My maple latte was on point, and if I weren’t traveling, I would have been richer in gorgeous house plants with a much leaner wallet.

In addition to the stellar coffee drinks at Botanist, there’s a rotating cast of baked goods to choose from. Grab your goodies to go or relax in the beautiful space surrounded by greenery. Botanist is open Monday – Saturday from 7 am-2 pm.

Cornell Botanic Gardens

cornell botanic garden

Next stop is the stately Ivy League university on the hill with its beautiful views of Cayuga Lake and Ithaca, National Historic Landmarks, and the 2,800-acre Cornell Botanic Gardens. These sprawling gardens have been around since the beginning of Cornel in the mid-19th century, and they’ve expanded considerably over the years.

Since it would be impossible to see everything in one day, here are a few highlights that you shouldn’t miss.

  • Nevin Welcome Center: Before wandering around the gardens, check out the exhibits and interactive displays at Nevin Welcome Center. This is also the spot to use the restroom, pick up a garden map, or ask questions about the plants.
  • Comstock Knoll and Rhododendron Collection: If you visit the gardens in May, you won’t want to miss the 100+ rhododendron species in full bloom. These are right behind the Welcome Center — one of my favorite spots.
  • Robison Herb Garden: More than 500 herbs are displayed in a formal garden near the Welcome Center.
  • Bebe Lake Walk: The trail around Bebe Lake is a short walk from Nevin Welcome Center. It’s about a mile in length and features beautiful lake views, a historic footbridge, and Triphammer Falls.
  • Cornell Dairy Bar: Just a 7-minute walk from Nevin Welcome Center, get your ice cream fix with dairy delicacies made onsite. The Bavarian Raspberry Fudge is out of this world!

Ithaca Commons and Luna Inspired Street Food

Ithaca Commons on a summer day.
Ithaca Commons on a summer day.

After exploring Cornell Botanic Gardens, head downtown to explore Ithaca Commons and grab some lunch. Metered street parking is easy to find if you don’t mind walking a block or two.

The Commons is a four-block pedestrian shopping mall featuring more than 100 independent shops, galleries, restaurants, and service providers. In addition to the opportunities for shopping and eating, you’ll find art installations and murals, play areas for kids, and lots of seating so you can relax and watch the world go by.

There are a lot of dining options for lunch, but if you need a recommendation, I loved everything I ordered at Luna Inspired Street Food. The menu features an eclectic combination of different foods, from pizza and tacos to mac & cheese. I couldn’t resist the fried green tomatoes during my visit — a southern classic!

Cascadilla Gorge

One of the many waterfalls on the Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Ithaca.
One of the many waterfalls on the Cascadilla Gorge Trail in Ithaca.

One of the coolest things about Ithaca is how accessible the outdoors is. You can walk to so many gorgeous spots from downtown, but my favorite spot is Cascadilla Gorge, located just a few minutes from the downtown area.

There are six beautiful waterfalls on the Cascadilla Gorge Trail, which is maintained by Cornell Botanic Gardens. The trail connects downtown Ithaca with the college campus and is 1.1 miles round trip. There’s no parking at the trailhead, so leave your car in town and walk over.

Dinner at Moosewood

Soup and salad at the famous Moosewood Restaurant.
Soup and salad at the famous Moosewood Restaurant.

As someone who has been cooking with Moosewood cookbooks for the past 20 years, I was so excited to finally eat at Moosewood in Ithaca. For the uninitiated, Moosewood cookbooks have been introducing the world at large to vegetarian cooking for more than 50 years.

Moosewood Restaurant started as a worker collective in 1973, offering vegetarian and natural foods to the local community. In 2000, the now iconic restaurant won the America’s Classics award from the James Beard Foundation. The awards are bestowed on restaurants “with timeless appeal, each beloved in its region for quality food that reflects the character of its community.”

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to love Moosewood! Make a reservation, relax on the outdoor patio, order a mocktail, and enjoy an iconic restaurant that has been impressing patrons for more than 50 years!

Day 3: Robert H. Treman State Park

robert treman state park swimmng
Enfield Falls at Robert H. Treman State Park.

Enjoy a leisurely morning at camp and then drive just over a mile to Robert H. Treman State Park. In my humble opinion, this is the most underappreciated park in the region.

The swimming area is ituated at the base of Enfield Falls, a picturesque 50-foot cascade that falls gracefully into a beautiful swimming hole. Most visitors we encountered were lugging their picnics and beach bags to these lower falls. This is waterfall swimming at its very best!

Swimming is only permitted when there is a lifeguard on duty — from 11 am to 7 pm in the summer. The swimming hole is set up like a traditional pool, with ropes designating the deep and shallow areas, plus a diving board for those brave enough to plunge into the 20-foot deep end.

Like the other Finger Lakes State Parks that feature amazing waterfalls, this one allows you to head straight into the gorge on the gorge trail (2.05 miles) or combine it with the rim trail for a loop (total of 4.5 miles).

Either way, be prepared to climb up (or down) hundreds of stone steps as you make your way in and out of the gorge. There are 12 waterfalls to discover along the trail, including the 115-foot-tall Lucifer Falls, one of the prettiest in all of Ithaca.

We recommend starting in the lower parking area, hiking the rim trail to the upper lot, and then descending through the gorge trail back to your car. On a hot day, it’s very important to cool off below the falls before and after your hike!

This wraps up another fantastic weekend exploring small towns across America. Who knows where we’ll end up next?

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Images from a recent trip to the Finger Lakes. Text overlay: The Perfect Weekend in Ithaca New York, Outdoor Edition.
Tara Schatz sits with her two dogs, Gatsby and Flynn.

Tara is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She is the co-author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont and currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers and Vermont Explored, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone.