Southwest of Skaneateles Lake, high along its upland slopes, is the little frequented Bear Swamp State Forest. The sprawling 3,316-acre forest features over 15 miles of multiuse trails and miles of quiet, unpaved roads. Some claim it to be one of the best kept secrets in the Finger Lakes, so let’s just keep it between us and the rest of the internet.
For the most part, the trails weave around and up-and-over two ridges that flank Bear Swamp Creek. As such there are some climbs and descents when moving east-to-west, but the terrain is mostly flat while moving north-south. And that is why many find biking or skiing the trail system so much fun.
There are three separate trail loops identified simply as the red, yellow, and blue trails. Unfortunately, DEC maps don’t show which trails are which, but the breakdown is essentially this: the red trails are on the western edge, the blue trails are in the northern section, and the yellow trails are along the southern and eastern edges of the forest. On the other hand, the DEC does describe the length and character of these trails fairly well in their Bear Swamp narrative.
At the heart of the state forest, literally and figuratively, is Bear Swamp and its creek. While recreationists will appreciate the interesting character and diversity that the swamp and creek add to the experience, their importance to the community as whole is understated. Bear Swamp Creek is the largest tributary of Skaneateles Lake, which in turn supplies unfiltered drinking water to Syracuse-area residents. The swamp and riparian woodlands buffer and help purify the water as it wends its way northward to its dramatic, stunning conclusion at Carpenter Falls and Bahar Nature Preserve. These conserved woodlands are therefore not only a great asset for outdoor adventurers, but the community at large.
This habitat provides recreation opportunities, vast community and public health benefits, and is also considered vital for at-risk species, such as the Cerulean Warbler, a rare deep forest song bird. Despite having a brilliant blue appearance and distinctive birdsong, this subtropical migratory bird is hard to spot. The species requires large woodland tracts with a high canopy and clear understory along riparian corridors — which Bear Swamp State Forest has indeed. The National Audubon Society has recognized Bear Swamp as an essential component of the Southern Skaneateles Lake Forest Important Bird Area. Other conserved lands along Skaneateles Lake, such as the High Vista Preserve of the Finger Lakes Land Trust, are also part of this important habitat conservation.