The Cornell Plantations

Sometimes you need to find a place to get away from life. It’s too hectic, too hot, too busy, too expensive and a lot of other “too”s.

Peace and quiet can be the best tonic for what ails you now and then, and there IS a spot right in our area, the Cornell Plantations.

Up past the Vet school on Rt 366, turn left on Caldwell Rd and go to the bottom of the hill. Turn right into the Newman Arboretum. Drive past rows of nut trees, a stand of white birch and every species of tree, shrub and plant that can survive the Ithaca winters. If you go far enough, you will find yourself at “the ponds” which is a great place to begin your exploration.Plantations-8388

The first thing you notice is that there is nobody asking for money, a rarity in this region. It’s quiet, in the shade it’s cool no matter the weather. Walk the wooden bridge to the observation deck in the middle of the big pond to discover you’re being watched by the giant turtle. He flies effortlessly through the water with many of his younger cousins and happily dines on those bugs that make the mistake of landing on the water.

Bullfrogs hum, the birds talk in their usual sassy way and there are gentle sounds of children, joggers, birdwatchers, dog walkers that gently touch your ears. No anger here, no rush, no fuss. Up on the hill overlooking the ponds is a magnificent stone overlook where you can enjoy the sunset, but more about that later.

I got acquainted with the Plantations when one of my portrait clients suggested we use the locations for their family photograph. I grew up on Cornell, and was certain I knew every inch of the property.

Talk about being wrong…

It’s a little piece of heaven just East of the campus. In creating portraits, I’ve walked much of the Plantations, but there is far more to explore, and paths that lead – I don’t know where, but I know for sure it will be beautiful. You can count on it.


Continue across the bridge, well it’s more of a boardwalk than a bridge, but be careful, no railings on this side. Hold on to the little ones!

There are benches at frequent intervals, making the paved paths a treat for our elders as well, and a place for the kids who have run ahead to wait for their slower parental units. I resemble the slower parental unit – maybe grand-parental unit is the best term. In any case, the paved paths are a great place for the little ones to get their wiggles out, with interesting things to see at every turn.

Across the road is a path winding between flowering shrubs, leading to a stand of huge trees – perhaps the first ones here.

This is the place for walking hand in hand with your love, and maybe saying some of those life changing words. I’ll let you imagine.Plantations-2355

Follow the winding road to the top and you’ll see the sign for the Southeast overlook where you can get a panoramic view of the arboretum, with just a few of Cornell’s buildings poking their heads over the tree lined horizon. Sunsets here are truly spectacular.

Plantations-2699With all of the varied vegetation, the plantations are a surprise for everyone – but there is a whole lot more. The perfectly manicured Zucker Shrub Collection and the Treman Woodland Walk are a turn to the North from the main Arboretum road.

A wildflower garden as large as the ponds area (remember the ponds? Something about a turtle…) sits on the other side of Caldwell Rd, bordered by Fall Creek. The Mundy Wildflower Garden has a more primal feel to it, with gravel trails and the occasional root lifting through, so watch your step. It is as natural as the shrub garden is manicured.

Following the Arboretum Road back across Caldwell Rd, you’ll come to the place we maybe should have started – the Welcome Center which is open daily from 10AM to 5PM – where you can get maps, details of programs and a guide to all of the nooks and crannies of this fabulous, hidden treasure, which is easily, within reach.

More information can be found at where you can find maps, program information, hours and all sorts of nifty details.

Plan an hour or a day, and enjoy! Really, it’s within reach!


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