Top FLX Paddles

Photo: Darrin Harrison

Top Six Paddling Locations in the Finger Lakes Region

On a warm spring afternoon, there is no better way to enjoy the beauty of the Finger Lakes than by boat. While many people are familiar with boating on the open waters of the lakes themselves, exploring the region in a kayak, paddleboard or canoe can be incredibly rewarding.

From two wild lakes to bayou-like swamps to a mighty river, the region boasts a diversity of opportunities for quiet water paddling. Recent interest has brought new outfitters to the region, adding ease to coordinating a spontaneous outing. Make planning even easier by visiting gofingerlakes.org – a new web site created by the non-profit Finger Lakes Land Trust to help connect people to the region’s best outdoor adventures.

Here are six of our favorite spots to enjoy by boat.

Chemung River

Wild rivers in New York are typically thought to be found only in the Adirondack Park, but the Chemung River is a great alternative for paddlers looking for a scenic trip local to the Finger Lakes region. The river is over 45 miles long, but many first-time visitors will prefer the six mile stretch between Bottcher’s Landing in Big Flats and the Fitch’s Bridge pullout just west of Elmira. This stretch of the river is particularly picturesque and passes under the steep Palisades, a long sinuous cliff hundreds of feet high that looms over the river along its southern shore.

Paddling the six mile stretch should take a couple hours but trips of a few days are also possible. It is even possible to continue along the Chemung to the Susquehanna and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay on a river adventure of epic proportions. Connect with one of many outfitters in the area to make your river trip easy.

Paddling the Chemung River. Photo: Jim Pfiffer

Hemlock-Canadice State Forest

Paddlers are welcome to enjoy over 2,000 acres of tranquil water, free of the common boat traffic found on all of the other Finger Lakes. The shores of these gems are free of development and utterly wild, so exploring Hemlock-Canadice State Forest is like stepping back in time to behold the Finger Lakes in their natural state.

Please note: there is no swimming here. Otherwise, these preserved lands offer an abundance of recreational activities. With placid water to paddle and over 20 miles of multiuse trails surrounding the lakes, there is a lot to do and see and the opportunities are expanding.

West River

Over four miles long, the meandering West River, as well as trips along tributaries, provides ample paddling in an almost idyllic landscape. Tall cattails and thick lily pads carpet the banks throughout the 1,700-acre marshland. Surrounded by forested hillsides, the river and vast wetlands are truly peaceful and a world unto itself. In fact, paddling up the West River to the developed shores and loud motors on Canandaigua Lake feels a bit like stepping forward in time as the wilderness cedes to civilization. It is akin to Adirondack paddling trips and a true testament to how removed the river and wetlands actually feel.

Ambitious paddlers can explore the lake itself, but be advised strong north-south winds sometimes fill the center of the lake with tall waves. Various car top launch points are available along the river as well as on the southwest corner of Canandaigua Lake.

West River and Hi Tor Wildlife Management Area. Photo: Chuck Feil

Howland Island

Paddlers will enjoy both the river and canal surrounding Howland Island with the added benefit that this is a “round” river trip. This type of configuration means you can paddle the river and canal and end up right where you started without retracing your course. As expected, these experiences are very rare and make planning a trip easy. The entire circuit would be about 10 miles and this includes the Seneca River, the Swift Water Channel, and the Erie Canal.

Longer trips can be created by navigating further along the Seneca River and looping back along the Erie Canal further to the southwest. While larger powered boats will be encountered along the canal these large boats tend to avoid the river due to thick weeds and other obstructions. The Montezuma Audubon Center, the informational hub for the Wetland Complex, offers regular, naturalist-guided, paddling trips to further enhance the experience.

Owasco Flats

At the southern end of Owasco Lake is an inlet and diverse floodplain that provide excellent birding, paddling, and a couple of short nature trails. Commonly known as Owasco Flats, the inlet serves as an important habitat for fish spawning within its emergent marshes, which also does double duty as a natural water quality buffer for Owasco Lake.

During the spring, runs of rainbow trout will find fisherman nearly shoulder to shoulder along the inlet trail. But paddling along the inlet is the activity that really shines here. The slow and quiet paddler will be rewarded with ample bird spotting and rare photo opportunities. When conditions permit, paddlers can explore the inlet all the way to Rt. 38 in Moravia.

Staghorn Cliffs

A paddle along Skaneateles Lake’s eastern shore will wow paddlers young and old. Leave from the boat launch at the Town of Scott Family Park, located just off of Glen Haven Road. From there, a two-mile paddle along the lake’s edge will bring you to the Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Cora Kampfe Dickinson Conservation Area which protects 1,300 feet along the bluffs known locally as the “Staghorn Cliffs.”

Here, the lakeshore bedrock contains staghorn coral fossils. Peer into the water or step out of your boat to see an ancient coral reef from the Devonian Period, ca. 400-350 million years ago.

Staghorn Cliffs on Skaneateles Lake. Photo: John Sutton

Other excellent Finger Lakes paddling opportunities highlighted on gofingerlakes.org include:

Taughannock Falls State Park

In the summer, rent stand-up paddle boards and kayaks for a Cayuga Lake adventure.

Conesus Inlet Wildlife Management Area

A 300-yard portage is all that separates paddlers from the placid and tranquil inlet and wetland open waters.

Texas Hollow State Forest

A man-made pond is a short distance from the parking area along Texas Hollow Road, so boaters can easily portage in for some tranquil paddling and excellent fishing.

Green Lakes State Park

With two pristine lakes, boat rentals, and a sandy swimming beach there are numerous ways to enjoy Green Lakes State Park from the water.

See the map!

Show the blue filter bar and set the filters for “paddling” and any other factors you’re looking for!

Portions of this article also appeared in Life in the Finger Lakes magazine.

Best Birding Spots!

Photo: Tom Reimers

Best Birding Spots in the Finger Lakes Region

Over 300 species of birds have been recorded in the Finger Lakes region. If you are a beginning birder, it’s a great place to get started. If you are already a diehard, you can devote hours and hours, week after week, to birding here and never run out of rewarding discoveries. And whether you live in our region or are here just for a short visit, you have endless options about where to find the birds, all year round.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Montezuma is the crown jewel of the area’s birding sites, almost literally at the top center on the map of the region at the north end of Cayuga Lake, within an hour’s drive of Syracuse, Rochester, and Ithaca. The refuge itself encompasses almost 10,000 acres, but is only one part of the Montezuma Wetlands Complex, a vast patchwork of almost 50,000 protected acres, or about 78 square miles. Most people begin their visit at the refuge’s visitor center, and then proceed slowly on the Wildlife Drive around the Main Pool. During spring and fall migration, these open waters host hundreds of thousands of migrating ducks, geese, swans, grebes, coots, cormorants, and every now and then, even local rarities such as American White Pelicans. Montezuma also hosts a dazzling array of charismatic breeding birds throughout the summer, and in winter, the area is still excellent for roadside birding, perhaps most notably for wintering Snowy Owls and Northern Shrikes.

Heron at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge
Heron feeding at Montezuma NWR. Photo: Chris Ray

Sapsucker Woods

Located in Ithaca, this 220-acre sanctuary is the home of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one of the world’s leading institutions dedicated to the study and conservation of birds. Sapsucker Woods is a particularly good place to start if you are new to birds and birding. The sanctuary itself has more than four miles of trails, which are all wide and flat, making for easy walking even for young children. Comprising beech-oak forest, swampland, brushy edges, and ponds, Sapsucker Woods typically hosts more than 150 bird species per year. During peak migration in May and September, birders collectively find 20+ species of warblers, plus vireos, thrushes, and much more. Summer is less of a riot of diversity, but still, with a well-trained ear, one can find 50 or more breeding bird species in Sapsucker Woods, including Barred Owls, Northern Waterthrushes, Scarlet Tanagers, and of course eponymous Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.

Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager. Photo: Lang Elliott

High Tor Wildlife Management Area

With ponds, waterfalls, rivers, gorges, forests, and open fields, there is an abundance of wildlife habitats within the 6,315-acre wildlife management area in Yates County. Numerous songbirds and marshland birds may be viewed here.  No doubt the rich habitat and all the wildlife it supports is why the Audubon Society has recognized High Tor as an Important Bird Area.

Conesus Inlet Wildlife Management Area

The Conesus Inlet Wildlife Management Area is 1,120 acres of broad, flat floodplain nestled between two glacially steepened hillsides at the foot of Conesus Lake. Its marshland habitat is a favorite stopover for numerous species of migratory birds, and Bald Eagles have been nesting within the area and can be seen fishing the lagoon.

Conesus Inlet Wildlife Management Area
Conesus Inlet. Photo: Nigel Kent

The Finger Lakes Land Trust owns many lesser-known nature preserves, open to the public and much beloved by locals but often overlooked by visitors. Here you can really discover the variety in our regional landscapes, and accordingly, the diversity of our breeding birds.

Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve

Located in West Danby, Tompkins County, this preserve covers more than 500 acres of meadows, hedgerows, hardwood forest, hemlock woods, and streams and ponds. Over 70 species of birds nest here in a typical year, including both Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, plus Prairie Warblers among 17+ breeding warbler species.

Hinchcliff Family Preserve

The Hinchcliff Preserve in Spafford, Onondaga County, has a similarly impressive mix of habitats and bird species across its 206 acres, plus a sweeping view of Skaneateles Lake.

Birding at Hinchcliff Family Preserve on Skaneateles Lake
Photo: Bill Hecht

Wesley Hill Nature Preserve

And in the 390-acre Wesley Hill Preserve between Canandaigua and Honeoye Lakes, you can expect to find Hermit Thrushes, Eastern Bluebirds, and up to three dozen other species on a slow morning walk through the mature hardwoods and conifers in spring and summer.

See the map!

Show the blue filter bar and set the filters for “bird watching” and any other factors you’re looking for!

Portions of this article also appeared in Life in the Finger Lakes magazine.

Save wild places in the Finger Lakes for everyone to enjoy!

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Top XC Ski Spots!

Photo: Ben Roosa

Top 8 Cross Country Ski Spots in the Finger Lakes Region

On a crisp winter’s day, there is nothing quite like the feeling of strapping on your skis and gliding through silent forests of towering oaks, maples, spruce, and pine.  Cross country skiing is a great way to experience nature while getting a terrific workout, and our Finger Lakes region offers plenty of places to get out on the trails.

Harriet Hollister Spencer Recreation Area

Located on the high wooded ridge just west of Honeoye Lake, this state recreation area is one of the go-to places for Rochester-area skiers. Harriet Hollister features a 20-mile network of trails through mature forest with several trails groomed by the Rochester Cross Country Ski Foundation. Trails are marked with the cross country skier in mind including grade and difficulty levels. Elevations are above 2,000 feet, which makes it a better bet for snow cover than many other locations. Be sure to check out the Overlook Trail for a panoramic view of Honeoye Lake while you are there.

Highland Forest

This Onondaga County park spans 2,700 acres of hill country south of Syracuse. There is an extensive trail system of interconnected loops to accommodate long and short trips with the added benefit that the skiing and snowshoeing trails are separate. Along the loops are numerous lean-tos with orientation maps providing great places to stop and gauge your progress. Skis may be rented at the park’s lodge. If a few hours of skiing in this winter wonderland is not enough; visitors can also enjoy a horse drawn sleigh ride, for which the park is well known.

Bear Swamp State Forest

Known for its “Adirondack-like” character, Bear Swamp features extensive wetlands along with 15 miles of multiuse trails that provide lots of options for skiing. The forest overlooks the southwestern shore of Skaneateles Lake and is located in an area that typically receives ample “lake effect” snow. For the most part, the trails weave around and up-and-over two ridges that flank Bear Swamp Creek. 

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Photo: Ben Roosa

Hammond Hill State Forest

This forest’s 20 miles of trails include easy trails for beginners as well as challenging downhill runs for the most expert skiers. The best maps of the trail system are available online from gofingerlakes.org and the Cayuga Nordic Ski Club, one of several organizations that collaborate with the DEC to maintain the trails in the forest. The trails are broad and provide ample line of sight making downhill runs exhilarating and less worrisome than narrow hiking trails found in other forests.

Oakley Corners State Forest

Located in the Southern Tier just north of Owego, Oakley Corners features a network of 13 miles of trails that were built by the Triple Cities Ski Club. This 1,000-acre forest is located about a half-hour drive from both Ithaca and Binghamton. In addition to passing through typical stands of hardwoods and conifers, the trails also provide access to a marshy lake. The state forest is divided into northern and southern sections by Dutchtown Road and though the forest remains mostly the same, skiers will find flatter terrain in the southern section and slightly more rugged difficult trails in the northern section.

falls
Photo: Hannah George

Gentler rides on rail-trails…

Jim Schug Trail

Black Diamond Trail

When there’s lots of snow…

Finger Lakes National Forest

Other places to explore…

See the map!

Show the blue filter bar and set the filters for “XC skiing” and any other factors you’re looking for!

Portions of this article also appeared in Life in the Finger Lakes magazine.

Do you love blazing trails?

Volunteer with FLLT Sign Up

Trailblazers!

Photo: FLLT

You’re Invited to Get Outdoors with Our Land Trust Volunteers

How does the Finger Lakes Land Trust maintain thousands of acres of nature preserves across a 12-county region with a small staff of only a few people?  Volunteers!  Sign up here!

The Land Trust operates over 30 nature preserves that are free and open to the public for quiet recreation.  You can see a few of them on the Go Finger Lakes map (find the tree icons) and you can see them all on our web site at fllt.org/map.  We care for them with our volunteer corps!

Here are a few photos of volunteers including our “Trailblazers,” who build trails, clear brush, construct signs, and generally care for the nature preserves, and others who help us host educational and recreational events that are open to the public.

fllt.org/volunteer

You can sign up to volunteer.

fllt.org/events

See our schedule of events.

Get your friends to sign up, too!

Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, do good work, and get outdoors in the beautiful Finger Lakes.

Want to get dirty? Help the Finger Lakes Land Trust blaze miles of trails!

Volunteer! Sign Up

Outdoor Events

Photo: Nigel Kent

Get Outdoors at Public Events Hosted by the Land Trust and Fellow Organizations

You can participate in hikes, bikes, paddles, and outdoor events of all kinds across the Finger Lakes region.  Almost every event hosted by the Finger Lakes Land Trust is free and open to all.

Go to the Land Trust events calendar

Photo: Rick Lightbody
Photo: Rick Lightbody

On our events calendar, you will find outings for all ages.  We often list events co-hosted with partner organizations.  Don’t miss great events in your area – sign up for the Living Land, the monthly email newsletter of the Finger Lakes Land Trust.

Do good work in the great outdoors… Join the Trailblazers at the Land Trust!

Volunteer! Sign Up

Trail Safety

Photo: Brian Maley

How to Be Safe When Exploring These Great Places

Consult each location manager for definitive maps, rules, risks, and advisories.

The locations featured on Gofingerlakes.org present a variety of terrains and conditions.  Each location comes with its own risks and regulations.  Trail details, hours of operation, seasonal updates, and other “facts on the ground” are subject to change without being reflected on this web site.

The maps and data on Gofingerlakes.org are intended to help you discover great opportunities for outdoor recreation — not to serve as authoritative navigational aids or definitive assessments of difficulty and risk.  Thus, users should consult the agency that maintains each location.  Information is provided on each location page.  For example:

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Best practices for staying safe include following the official maps and regulations for each location, staying within your experience level, traveling with companions, telling someone where you are going, and watching the weather.  Finger Lakes trails present a variety of terrains with slopes, rocks, uneven ground, hanging limbs, variable weather patterns, and other hazards.  Be smart.  Happy exploring!

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Locations managed by the Finger Lakes Land Trust are identified as shown above.  For those locations, please see Public Use Policies on our web site and contact us with any questions or concerns.

Disclaimers

You are responsible for your own safety.  Trail conditions change with weather and other factors.  The Finger Lakes Land Trust does not assume responsibility for the condition of trails or any difficulties or hazards that you may encounter in the outdoors. 

Please stay on marked trails, where they exist, to minimize disturbance of native plants and wildlife, and to avoid hazards.  Always be aware of potential hazards such as: dead trees, hanging trees or branches, cliffs, steep slopes, loose or slippery shale, rocks or other unstable footing, thin ice, old wire or building remains, plants with thorns or toxins (such as poison ivy), ticks, and stinging insects.  Trail conditions change daily.

Suggestions

Do you see info on Gofingerlakes.org that could be updated?  Please contact us.

Etiquette

In addition to being safe, you want to be a good “citizen” and steward of these trails — showing respect for other hikers, animals, and plants!  See some of our ideas about trail etiquette.  Please share that page with fellow outdoor enthusiasts and contact us to suggest ideas to add.

 

Let’s care for our trails and open new nature preserves!

Join the Land Trust Sign Up

FLX Animals

Photo: Tanglewood Nature Center

Favorite Animal Photos from the Finger Lakes

Here are some of our favorite animal photos, shot in the Finger Lakes region by volunteers of the Finger Lakes Land Trust and other folks on nature preserves across the region.

Thanks to our volunteers and partners for sharing!

Do you have great photos and videos of wildlife in our region?

Want to share with the Finger Lakes Land Trust?

Please contact us at gofingerlakes@fllt.org.

Your imagery can help advance conservation through our communications and outreach on the web, social media, print and more!

Save wild places in the Finger Lakes for everyone to enjoy!

Join the Land Trust Sign Up

Top 10 Strategies

Photo: Bill Hecht

A Conservation Agenda for the Finger Lakes Region

Bold new report highlights 10 strategies for permanently protecting the priceless lands and waters of our region

The Finger Lakes Land Trust, in consultation with over 40 organizations, has identified 10 strategies for seizing timely opportunities, countering active threats, and securing the lands and waters that sustain agriculture, tourism, and quality of life.  The illustrated report, Lakes, Farms, and Forests Forever, is available free online so you can download digital copies, request free print copies, and see success stories.  Please visit fllt.org/top10 and share with friends who love the Finger Lakes.

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The strategies were developed through a review of natural resource inventories and conservation plans, coupled with outreach to public conservation agencies, planning departments, watershed groups, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, and other stakeholders.

The 10 strategies are grouped into 3 themes:

Protect Our Lakes, Streams, and Drinking Water

  • Buffer Our Streams & Create New Wetlands
  • Save Our Last Undeveloped Shoreline Now
  • Protect the City of Syracuse Drinking Water Supply
  • more about this theme

Save Farms, Wineries, and Rural Character

  • Save Threatened Farms & Wineries
  • Protect Scenic Vistas & Designated Byways on Cayuga and Seneca Lakes
  • Maintain Rural Character Through Stronger Land Use Planning
  • more about this theme

Keep Nature Wild and Enhance Public Access

  • Create the Canandaigua Skyline Trail
  • Complete Cayuga Lake’s Emerald Necklace
  • Create the Chemung River Greenbelt
  • Save the South End of Skaneateles Lake
  • more about this theme

What can you do?

If you love the Finger Lakes region, please take a moment to read Lakes, Farms, and Forests Forever.  You can download a digital copy at fllt.org/top10 and request free print copies.  Please share with friends who love our lands and waters, and consider supporting the Finger Lakes Land Trust by becoming a member and getting involved at our events and volunteer opportunities.

 

Get your copy of our top 10 conservation strategies for the Finger Lakes!

fllt.org/top10 Sign Up

Hanging Falls!

A Birdseye View of Carpenter Falls Unique Area

In your travels around the Finger Lakes, be sure to visit the western shores of Skaneateles Lake, where you will find Bahar Preserve and Carpenter Falls.  The Finger Lakes Land Trust conveyed 36 acres of these lands to New York State, creating the Carpenter Falls Unique Area, while the remaining 51 acres of land downstream toward the lake continue to be owned and managed as the Land Trust’s Bahar Nature Preserve.  The Land Trust has entered into a cooperative management agreement with the state, engaging volunteers to help take care of this special place.

To find other outdoor adventures near Carpenter Falls, see the interactive map.

See what people are saying about this video on Facebook.

Do you have great videos or photos of nature in the Finger Lakes?

Want to share with the Land Trust?

If so, please email us at gofingerlakes@fllt.org.

Watch more nature videos on the Land Trust web site!

Go to fllt.org/video Sign Up

Chemung Fog & Sun

Photo: Bill Hecht

A Brilliant Autumn Day on the Chemung River

See this beautiful stretch of Chemung River between Bottcher’s Landing and Fitches Bridge as the classic morning fog burns off to reveal a stunning landscape of hillsides, farms, and forests, including conservation lands protected by the Finger Lakes Land Trust and other organizations.

To find other outdoor adventures near the Chemung River, such as the Steege Hill Nature Preserve, see the interactive map.

Please join the conversation about this video on Facebook.

Do you have great videos or photos of nature in the Finger Lakes?

Want to share with the Land Trust?

Please email us at gofingerlakes@fllt.org.

Watch more nature videos on the Land Trust web site!

Go to fllt.org/video Sign Up