The Bad: Not much to do
The Basics: In a razor descision, I recommend the mediocre Chittenango Falls State Park because it is beautiful and there is plenty of room to hike without crowds.
Right before I began my annual trip westward, my wife and I went to Chittenango Falls State Park. This is probably the closest state park to our home, but we've been so happy with swimming at our regular state park (Green Lakes!) that we've just not managed to get to Chittenango Falls until now. My wife instantly fell in love with the park as it has a gorgeous waterfall that is quite wonderful to photograph.
However, as we set off on our trip to Las Vegas and I think about all of the places I've been and will go, Chittenango Falls State Park is objectively average. At best, Chittenango Falls State Park is a place one may go, enjoy being dazzled and then leave with a sense they have been somewhere beautiful. There is little to see or do that cannot be done within two hours, so it is hard to recommend as a destination.
On the plus side, access is inexpensive enough; cars are just $4.00 to get into the park and this is one of the many, many New York State parks which is accessible using the Park Pass program ($65.00/year for access to all state parks!).
Chittenango Falls State Park is, ironically enough, located closer to Cazenovia, NY than it is
Chittenango. However, Chittenango Falls State Park seems to be only accessible from a single road. In Chittenango, the road is called Falls Road and it is a winding road that ascends a hill over the course of several miles to lead the visitor to a curve where the state park sits. Before Falls Road hits Cazenovia, it becomes something else, though. However, MapQuest directions provide excellent directions to Chittenango Falls State Park.
The Park is a fairly secluded location with deciduous and coniferous trees and two open lawns, one with a playground, one with picnic tables. This is a great park to visit in the Spring, summer and Fall (though in autumn, if it is raining heavily and leaves have fallen, it can be treacherous). In winter, the roads like Falls Road are too risky to travel on and whatwith the park being closed, it is unwise to attempt to get to Chittenango Falls State Park.
Ease Of Local Transport/Parking
Chittenango Falls State Park is easy to get around inside the park, so long as one is up for hiking around. The paths tend to be steep, occasionally slippery and rocky. As a result, it is important to wear sensible shoes when visiting Chittenango Falls State Park. The park makes a few passing attempts to be wheelchair accessible, but only to the upper fall's view; there is no wheelchair access that allows disabled visitors to look at the Falls from more than one angle.
The reason getting around Chittenango Falls State Park is so easy is there is only a single access point and a single parking lot. There is only parking for about fifty vehicles, so this park has the potential to fill up ridiculously quickly (though it being out of the way usually prevents that).
Dirt. Chittenango Falls State Park is not one of the happy, coddling places to go to camp. Instead, one has a choice of dirt, dirt with trees, dirt near the playground. In truth, our last visit to Chittenango Falls State Park revealed that what campgrounds there once were at this park are currently closed, so we were unable to look in on them, but there are only campsites here, no cabins or tents provided.
Whenever one is thinking of traveling to a state park, there is usually a reason, something one hopes to see or do. Chittenango Falls State Park is built up around the Chittenango Falls. It is a waterfall built over several stages and there are markers informing visitors as to the geological eras associated with each level of the Falls and they are fascinating. But largely, the reason to come to Chittenango Falls is to see the waterfall, which is over one hundred feet tall and is quite photogenic. The stream which feeds the Falls is constant and Chittenango Falls quietly flows.
To capitalize on the Chittenango Falls, Chittenango Falls State Park has built up about five miles of winding trails through the woods surrounding the Falls for hiking. As a result, visitors can hike down into the gorge to the base of Chittenango Falls and see it from a bridge which crosses the creek below the Falls. Hikers are basically hiking down steps made of stone (very slippery when wet!) or cut into the hill. These latter steps are the most problematic as they are essentially dirt, held in place by giant wood posts and covered in gravel. Getting down the steep hill can be treacherous and it is very easy to twist one's ankle going down the hill.
There are also guideless trails through the nearby woods which allow visitors to experience nature unencumbered by materials that inform visitors what they are seeing. While the Falls is impressive, Upstate New York is filled with forests like the one near Chittenango Falls, so it is a tough sell, certainly for the locals.
At the peak of the Falls, there are two attractions for those who want something other than just nature. There is the option to fish above the Falls, but I've not seen anyone exercising that option on any visit to Chittenango Falls. There is also a playground and it is, frankly, quite lame. With only a slide, a pair of swings (child protecting ones with the footholes), and a jungle gym, there is not a lot more than four children can do at a time in this playground. This is not exactly a great community resource.
What it is, though, is affordable, scenic and fun in a quiet, nature-loving way. For those looking for a little escape, that's enough and enough to make it worth the visit.
A tough sell, save for those looking to visit a quiet natural wonder in the middle of nowhere, Chittenango Falls State Park is a majestic waterfalls with a minimal park surrounding it.
For other park reviews, please visit my takes on:
Green Lakes State Park
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© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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