Giant's Staircase Waterfall Wednesday blog cover
Adventures,  Painting Series,  Waterfall Wednesday

Waterfall Wednesday: Giant’s Staircase

Giant’s Staircase is this week’s featured waterfall adventure and painting!  This beautiful waterfall is located in Cascadilla Gorge tucked into the Cornell University Campus in Ithaca, New York.  

Photo of Cascadilla Gorge Trail by Laura Jaen Smith
Cascadilla Gorge, photograph, 2018

Cascadilla Gorge has a .6 mile trail (one way) from Linn Street at University Avenue and Court Street up to College Avenue that drops 400 feet in elevation.  There are stairs that connect the upper end of the gorge up to the Cornell Campus near the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.  I should probably mention there’s also a lot of stairs throughout the whole gorge trail.

From what I can find, (as of today 10/24/18) the upper portion of the trail above Stewart Avenue is currently closed for repairs. 

Photo of waterfall Cascadilla Gorge Trail Ithaca NY by Laura Jaen Smith
Unnamed Falls in Cascadilla Gorge, photograph, 2018

I had forgotten how beautiful Cascadilla Gorge was until I started picking out photos for the blog post this week.  It has several gorgeous waterfalls within it ranging from 8 to 80 feet tall.  Only the two main waterfalls are named as far as I could find – Stewart’s Falls and Giant’s Staircase.  I found instances where both were referred to as Cascadilla Falls, so for clarity sake I’ll mention them using their unique names instead.  (The post about Stewart’s Falls will be coming at a later point, as well as a little history about this gorge.)  

These are some pictures of a few of the beautiful unnamed waterfalls along the trail.  Maybe one day I’ll paint them all as a collection (happy to take any commissions to do this if you’re interested!). 

Photo of waterfall Cascadilla Gorge Trail by Laura Jaen Smith
Unnamed Falls in Cascadilla Gorge, photograph, 2018
Photo of Cascadilla Gorge Trail by Laura Jaen Smith
Unnamed Falls in Cascadilla Gorge, photograph, 2018
Photo of Giant's Staircase waterfall Cascadilla Gorge Trail Ithaca NY by Laura Jaen Smith
Giant's Staircase in Cascadilla Gorge, photograph, 2018

Giant’s Staircase is a 50 foot cascade at the upper end of the trail.  From a distance it looks small, but as you get closer it is quite impressive in person.  You can see in the picture there is a fully grown human (taller than me) on the steps to the right and he looks quite small compared to the falls. 

This trail is definitely one that you would want to see in person once the trail is back open.  I find it so interesting that something so beautiful can be hidden right below an urban area.  The gorge walls are tall enough that you don’t even realize that there’s a busy college campus bustling right nearby on both sides.  


Giant's Staircase as an Art Subject

Giant's Staircase by Laura Jaen Smith. Acrylic landscape painting of Cascadilla Gorge Ithaca from 50 NY Waterfalls Project.
Giant's Staircase, 6x6 acrylic on wood panel, 2018

One of my favorite parts about this waterfall is the bridge right above it.  I really like the mixture of urban architecture against the beauty of nature.  When painting this waterfall for my recent project of 50 New York Waterfalls, this contrast was the main aspect that I wanted to portray from this particular waterfall to set it apart from the other pieces in the collection.  

The painting of Giant’s Staircase is currently on display and sale at First Heritage Federal Credit Union on Market Street in Corning, New York as part of the Waterfalls of the Finger Lakes exhibit.  This solo exhibition features nine of my recent waterfall painting and is available to view during regular business hours (Mon-Fri 8:30am-4:30pm) until December 14th.  Let me know if you get a chance to stop by!  You can send me a note or tag me on Instagram or Facebook.

Sketchbook view of Giant's Staircase by Laura Jaen Smith. Black and white ink drawing of waterfall of Cascadilla Gorge Ithaca.
Giant's Staircase, 5.5x8.5 ink on drawing paper, 2018

As part of Inktober 2018, I did a quick ink sketch of Giant’s Staircase for Day 10 which had the prompt of “Flowing” (recap of week 2 that includes this drawing here).  It was really neat to approach the same subject with a different medium.  Maybe there will be an opportunity later in the challenge to draw a different waterfall.  

Have you visited Cascadilla Gorge before?  I’d love to hear about it!

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