GOOD SPOTS: Cayuga Nature Center offers fun, outdoor educational opportunities

Cayuga Nature Center located just outside of Ithaca offers various exhibits and programs to help visitors better understand nature.

Animal lovers can stop by the outdoor animal exhibits and nature lovers can venture off through the wooded trails or check out the many gardens on the grounds.

The center was originally created in 1981 and has worked closely with summer  camps and other youth programs, then in 2013 it merged with the Paleontological Research Institution to further expand educational outreach programs and exhibits.




The center is made up of 100 acres of woodlands and a field that oversees Cayuga Lake, has a six-story treehouse, live animals, a gorge and waterfall, and over 5 miles of trails for walking.

The lodge was built in 1939 and holds the largest aquarium in the Finger Lakes Region with fish and wildlife native to Cayuga Lake. It also offers exhibits on climate and forestry education.

The history behind the nature center is interesting. It started as a summer camp for youth, but not for recreational purposes. The property is formerly known as the Cayuga Preventorium and housed kids in the summer months to help combat Tuberculosis. It was believed that children exposed to the disease could beat contracting it with exposure to fresh air.

In the 1930s after TB had subsided, it was used for cardiac clinics. One section of land was devoted to children recovering from cardiac diseases.

With World War II starting, the clinics were forced to close and in the 1950s Cornell purchased the land to use for student housing.

After being used intermittently as summer camps, day camps, and a conference center, BOCES began using the center as a space for outdoor and environmental education in the 60s.

Following the success of the programs offered, BOCES in partnership with Ithaca Schools and Onondaga Nature Centers, Inc. opened a nature center in 1975, which became the Cayuga Nature Center in the 80s.

Cayuga Nature Center today, main lodge. Credit: Samantha Goodman, FL1 News.
Cayuga Nature Center in the 1980s, courtesy of Cayuga Nature Center.

Right now due to Covid-19 the main lodge is currently closed, but the trails and outdoor animal exhibits are open and free of charge for the public everyday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Treetops Treehouse is also open Saturday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday through Friday 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The nature center asks that all visitors have a mask while on the property and maintain social distancing whenever possible. They ask that when it is not possible that people wear masks, and ask that masks be worn at all times inside the treehouse. Only 2 parties at a time are permitted go inside the treehouse and when inside there can be no more than 10 people.

The Pollinator Garden is available for viewing in the summer along with the trails in Smith Woods.

More information can be found on the Cayuga Nature Center’s website.

Turkey Vulture in the live animal exhibit. Credit: Samantha Goodman, FL1 News.
Information on the Turkey Vulture. Credit: Samantha Goodman, FL1 News.

Smith Woods, Cayuga Nature Center. Credit: Samantha Goodman, FL1 News.
Smith Woods, Cayuga Nature Center. Credit: Samantha Goodman, FL1 News.
Smith Woods, Cayuga Nature Center. Credit: Samantha Goodman, FL1 News.
Smith Woods, Cayuga Nature Center. Credit: Samantha Goodman, FL1 News.
Treetop Treehouse. Credit: Samantha Goodman, FL1 News.
Treetop Treehouse. Credit: Samantha Goodman, FL1 News.
Treetop Treehouse overlooking a waterfall below. Credit: Samantha Goodman, FL1 News.