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Sights in Town
"Ithaca is Gorges" serves as the town's unofficial slogan, and is famously printed on T-shirts and bumper stickers. Visitors won't want to miss the waterfalls and gorges that inspire Ithaca's tagline. At Buttermilk Falls State Park, swimmers paddle at the base of a set of tumbling waterfalls which pour into a natural pool. Cascadilla Gorge plunges from the Cornell campus down into the center of town. Hike the short, steep walking trail that runs adjacent to it for spectacular views.
The Ithaca Commons taps into a bit of Ithaca's hippie mentality, featuring vintage clothing shops, the Ithaca Hemp Company and even a store dedicated entirely to items made by local Tibetan monks (there is a monastery located in town). Throughout summer, local theatre groups perform in the Commons Pavilions.
The Carl Sagan Planet Walk, a scale model of the solar system, also begins in the Commons with the Sun. Follow the walk the whole way out to Pluto, located about three quarters of a mile away at the local Sciencenter, which also features Galaxy Mini Golf. Each Galaxy Golf hole demonstrates a different science concept, from friction to the double helix.
The Ithaca Farmers Market, held on the waterfront on weekends between April and December, reflects the town's spirited personality, and serves as a weekend gathering place for residents. More than 150 vendors, all of whom are required to live within 30 miles of Ithaca, sell produce, dairy products, farm-fresh eggs, baked goods and more. Local artists and craftspeople show their work, while musicians perform for the crowds.
From its varied, dramatic architecture to its I.M. Pei-designed art museum and sprawling Plantations, the Cornell University campus is often named as one of the most beautiful in the United States. Ascend to the top of McGraw tower, located above Cornell's undergraduate library, for soaring views across Cayuga Lake. The best time to climb the tower is just before a chimes concert, performed by student chimesmasters three times a day. If you haven't already gotten your fill of waterfalls around town, Cornell is dotted with several more, including the scenic Beebe Lake panorama on the main walking route to North Campus. Take a tour of the Cornell Plantations, which feature an arboretum and botanical gardens, then finish off your day with a scoop of delectable ice cream from the Cornell Dairy Bar.
The Greater Ithaca Art Trail recommends more than 50 artists' studios in the Ithaca area, from furniture craftspeople and jewelry makers to painters and photographers. The Art Trail occasionally holds Open Weekends during which all studios welcome visitors throughout the weekend. Outside of these weekends, most studios are open to the public by appointment. Browse the Web site before your visit and pick your favorites.
During the warmer months, Cayuga Lake is the perfect site for water recreation. Cayuga Lake Cruises hosts brunch and dinner cruises, while Puddledockers rents out canoes and kayaks. If you would rather experience the lake from dry land, the Cayuga Waterfront Trail hugs the shoreline for two miles, allowing easy access to walkers and bicyclists.
The Hangar Theatre, so named because of its location in a renovated airport hangar, stages performance throughout the summer. The nonprofit theater showcases young professional actors and directors in an array of performances each season.
Out of Town
The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is a must-do for any wine lovers during an Ithaca visit. The 16 wineries that comprise the trail are all located along the shores of Cayuga Lake and are among the best of the more than 100 wineries in the region. Local specialties include rieslings and iced wine. All of the wineries on the trail offer guided tastings.
The waterfalls in Taughannock Falls State Park, located in nearby Trumansburg, stand 215 feet tall, making them three stories higher than the more famous Niagara Falls. The falls are at their most dramatic in the spring, when the winter snows have melted, and in the autumn, when the surrounding forests blaze with color.
During the winter, Greek Peak Mountain Resort, located 18 miles from downtown Ithaca, offers 32 ski trails, snow tubing and a cross-country center. The mountain's vertical drop is 952 feet, and trails range from beginner's runs to steep slopes with moguls and trees.
The Finger Lakes Trail originates at the Pennsylvania/New York border and traverses New York 560 miles to the Catskill Forest Preserve. With over 50 miles of trail near the Ithaca area, options for hikers are myriad. The trail runs through the Danby State Forest, which is populated with black bears, wild turkeys, white-tail deer and red foxes. In winter, the trail can be used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Join the trail at South Danby Road in Danby, NY, where the trail intersects the road.
Adventurous souls can choose to see the Finger Lakes region from the air. Sunset Adventures in Auburn (about an hour outside of Ithaca) takes thrill-seekers on hot-air balloon rides, and soaring, or engineless flying, can be tried at the Harris Hill Soaring Corporation. The truly daring can try skydiving at Finger Lakes Skydivers.
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