Sims-Jennings Preserve at Cayuga Cliffs Has Photographic Possibilities

On one of my recent drives to Ithaca, New York, I stopped by a recently opened nature preserve called the Sims-Jennings Preserve at Cayuga Cliffs.

The preserve is run by the Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLLT).

Before I get into my take on the preserve and what it might offer to photographers the key information and interests documented by the FLLT are listed below.

  • The preserve acreage is 223 square acres.
  • There are 1.8 miles of trails.
  • The wooded bluffs overlooking Cayuga Lake have a lakefrontage of 4,000 feet!
  • It is a diverse conservation area with mowed meadows, woodlands, gorges, waterfalls, and of course lake views.
  • The National Audubon Society designates the shoreline as an important bird area (I could not confirm this statement).

My Thoughts of the Sims-Jennings Preserve

The photos below were taken on my first trip here on a very bright and sunny afternoon in June. Although the sun was very harsh I was able to take some decent photos and I will add more when I return to the Preserve.


The Trail System at Sims-Jennings

I found the trails to be in great shape. The workers were still adding steps to some of the steeper areas.

The beginning of the trail starts from the parking lot located on Route 348 north of Cayuga Heights and Ashbury, which are located on the south end of Cayuga Lake. Route 348 runs north into the town of Kings Ferry.

You can not see Cayuga Lake from the parking lot or the beginning of the trail. This area contains a mowed meadow that have a lot of bird activity as it skirts toward a hedge row and shallow ravine.


The storm cloud to the south here passed by quickly. As you can see the trail is not steep in the meadow area. The trail is to the left in the image and heads toward the first hedge row straight down the meadow. There the trail becomes steeper and changes to a young woodland.

This portion of the trail goes for about 1/2 mile to the intersection of two other trails and the cliff viewing area. The trail to the viewing area isn’t very steep and is quite smooth.

In the woodland, the trail becomes steeper and the workers have done a good job diverting runoff for those rainy days. However, the trail, at least right now consists of clay and I expect it could be slippery when wet. Hopefully, they use a mulch cover soon.

Before the overlook area, you converge on two other trails. The Danny’s Trail takes you to a gorge and waterfall that continues down toward Cayuga Lake.

The other unnamed trail (at least for now), goes for another 1/2-mile to Fiddler’s Ridge Road (no parking) and a short uphill trail to a viewing area. I did not go very far on this trail, only to the gorge that you follow down in the meadow area. As there was no water in the streams I left this for another day.

The Viewing Area at the Cliffs.

Most people will want to go to the viewing area. It is ok, there are quite a few trees in the way for a great view and there is debris along the cliff face making few spots for a clear photo with a good foreground.

Here are the photos I took from the viewing area. Be warned there are no rails and you can’t tell how firm the ground is at the cliffs. Because I had Caden with me I decided not to push my luck and get too close.


Standing photo at the overlook at Sims-Jennings Cliffside Overlook. In the next photo, I used the only thing that I could for some foreground, a beat-up White Cedar tree


The photo below is a closeup of the cliffs. These Devonian-aged rocks are either (or both) the Geneseo or Sherburne Formations.

cliffs at sims-jennings-nature-preserve

I will be able to get better photos in the fall and once I at least tie the dog to a bench so he doesn’t get to close as he loves to look over drop-offs.

Waterfalls at Sims-Jennings Nature Preserve

The Denny’s Trail heads down a couple of switchbacks to the base of a small waterfall. No water was flowing when I was there, but I would say you could get some good photos in the spring, fall, or even winter. The drop-off is probably 15 to 20 feet.

waterfall at sims-jennings-preserve

The trail continues down toward Cayuga Lake. There is another location where you can look down over a second waterfall but the trail doesn’t go to the base of it. More on this later.

Off Trail Venture

I rarely stay on trails if there isn’t anyone around, and today was no exception. At the upper waterfall, I crossed the stream and headed to the west down near the lake.

The woods are very open with no undergrowth. The trees are much larger, yet there are still remnants of stone walls, so the land was worked at one time. The trees are mostly sugar maples and red oaks.

sun hitting maples at sims-jennings preserve

I was looking for a way to get down to the lakeshore but the whole 4,000 feet of the lake frontage is a cliff formed by the Tully Limestone. The only way down to the lakeshore would be to climb down a rope, at least here.

Eventually, I had to cut back to the stream with the waterfall. The plan was to climb up the ravine back to the trail.

However, the second waterfall or middle waterfall (this upper is where the trail leads, the second is the one you can view from the top along the trail, and the lower is the one that drops over the Tully Formation to the lake) cliffed me and I couldn’t climb up or out at this location.

I had to head back toward the bottom where the sides were less steep.

My Reasons For Going Off Trail

I’m sure many of the readers are do-gooders and don’t agree with me about going off-trail or even trespassing. But I’ve done it all my life and I still will.

You only see what people want you to see on trail systems. I want more.

Plus, there are always better encounters off-trail. Case in point, this fawn Caden and I came across in the ravine.

fawn at sims-jennings-preserve

Don’t worry, the fawn wasn’t hurt and we passed it just fine. Caden gruffed at it and hid behind me. The only thing he chases are squirrels and chipmunks and he never comes close to getting them.

But you rarely see things like this on trails where people are talking more loudly than necessary.

Back to the Denny’s Trail

I found the Denny’s Trail at the bottom of the hillside and followed it back up to the top. At the bottom, there aren’t great views of Cayuga Lake.

The tree branches are quite low and dense so you get only small holes to take photos through. Even sitting on the ground it is hard to get a good photo of the lake and opposite shoreline.

cayuga lake at sims-jennings-preserve

My Thoughts & Plans for Sims-Jennings Preserve at Cayuga Bluffs

I will for sure come back to Sims-Jennings.

I need to explore the trail to the east, plus the viewing area they have marked on the map.

However, I won’t return until fall for fall foliage and when the streams have more water flowing to get some shots of the waterfalls.

Also, in Photopills I place a pin at the bluff overlook and the sun will set across the lake from the opening in November to January. It might make for a great sunset shot. Right now the sunset is too far to the west behind and up the lake to get a good sunset photo.

Sims-Jennings might also be a good place for spring flowers, however, the woods were quite barren in June.

A local told me that I needed to get on the lakeshore to get a better view of the ravines. There is a railroad track on the lake shore that is used to haul coal to the power plant further north and also salt from the Cargill salt mines under the lake. I’m not sure if the track is still active, but that won’t bother me much.

So I’ll be looking for a place to park and access the tracks, again, when more water is flowing.

I think the Sims-Jennings Preserve is worth visiting if you are in the area or want to take some photos of the cliff faces. I’m not sure I’d come back to it from Syracuse only to visit the Preserve. But because I go to Ithaca often it isn’t that far off the path.

More photos will be added to the post when I take them later this year.

If you want more information on the Sims-Jennings Preserve at Cayuga Bluffs you can use the links below.

Information on Sims-Jennings Preserve at Cayuga Bluffs from FLLT

Flyer on Sims-Jennings with Trail Map

Close Menu