Sweedler and Thayer Nature Preserves

Lick Brook Falls

Three majestic waterfalls line Lick Brook at the Sweedler and Thayer Nature Preserves in Ithaca, New York.

Sweedler and Thayer Nature Preserves

Lick Brook provides an excellent example of the area’s geologic history. During an interglacial period, a small stream began to cut through the shale rock, carving out a streambed that over thousands of years became a gorge.

During the last ice age, glaciers scoured the land, sculpting the topography over the region. This resulted in linear valleys, rounded hilltops and deep lakes. As the ice retreated, it filled the gorge with glacial debris. A new stream, thawed by the rise in temperature, began to carve a new path through the shale rock.

Eventually, the new stream met the older gorge and eroded the loose dirt and rock. As a result, the lower gorge, containing the preserve’s three major waterfalls, and the upper gorge, featuring smaller cascades, are the result of these different geologic periods. Upper Lick Brook Falls is the divider between the two time periods.

The first waterfall along Lick Brook is Lower Lick Brook Falls, a 47-foot horsetail waterfall. It is accessible from the White Trail and is crowded during the summer months. Further along the Blue Trail, straddling Lick Brook, is an overlook of the 25-foot-high Middle Lick Brook Falls. Accessing its base is impossible due to its location within a recessed box canyon.

Upper Lick Brook Falls, a 93-foot horsetail waterfall, is best viewed from a rough overlook along the Blue Trail. An unofficial trail, between the Middle and Upper Lick Brook Falls, leads to Lick Brook. Stream hiking along some very slippery rocks leads to the base of Upper Lick Brook Falls.

Both Middle Lick Brook and Upper Lick Brook Falls, lined with towering eastern hemlock and white pine trees, make for an ideal composition for any photographer.

Like many waterfalls in the region not fed by a major tributary, Lick Brook can become near dry in the heat of the summer. It is best viewed in the spring after a heavy rain or in the fall when the gorge speckles among splendid color.