Accessible Outdoor Experiences in the Finger Lakes
The things that many people love about getting outdoors in the Finger Lakes region—deep gorges, majestic waterfalls, lake views, and rolling forests—are often inaccessible to people with physical or cognitive challenges. Nonetheless, there are opportunities to experience nature for people of all abilities. See what our region has to offer with this list of inclusive outdoor spaces. For more locations, check out the map with the “accessible” filter selected.
Used by people of all abilities, the paved Cayuga Waterfront Trail (CWT) is a safe and accessible eight-mile, multi-use trail connecting Stewart Park to the Allan H. Treman State Marine Park, linking many popular waterfront destinations along the way. The CWT can be accessed at a variety of locations by car including Cass Park, Ithaca Farmer’s Market, and Stewart Park which is home to an accessible playground. Nearly all of the CWT is 10-12 feet wide with few exceptions, and electric-assist wheelchairs are allowed on the trail at a speed below 10 MPH.
The most popular destination in Labrador Hollow is the universally accessible, quarter-mile path to Tinker Falls. Tinker Falls is a stunning example of a “hanging” falls, its origin dating back to when New York was part of a vast inland sea. Also popular is a 2,000-foot boardwalk that traverses a diverse wetland complex and is accessible to those with mobility impairments. Labrador Pond also features an accessible fishing pier located off Markham Hollow Road, on the west side of the pond.
Letchworth State Park opened the country’s first nature trail specifically designed to address the sensory needs of people on the autism spectrum in 2021. The Autism Nature Trail is a one-mile hiking loop that includes eight sensory stations, each designed to address a different sensory experience in a safe and supportive environment. Activities along the Autism Nature Trail support and encourage sensory perception and integration, while also providing enjoyable activities for visitors of all abilities and ages. Located near the park’s Humphrey Nature Center with parking and restrooms, the ADA-compliant trail was designed with input from Dr. Temple Grandin, one of the world’s most well-known advocates for the autistic community.
Lime Hollow Nature Center offers a plethora of community programs and events on its 430-acre property in Cortland. A quarter-mile trail—the Trail for All—is wheelchair accessible and continues to various scenic overlooks on nearby Gracie Pond. A trail-ready wheelchair is available at the visitor center along McClean Road, if needed, for venturing further into Lime Hollow.
Wildlife viewing opportunities abound at the Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Lindsay-Parsons Preserve wetland overlook. The wetlands are home to Great Blue Herons, Kingfishers, and the occasional river otter. While there are no accessible trails on the preserve, the overlook has a bench and nearby parking and can be found on Sylvan Lane, opposite the main preserve entrance.
From an elevated platform or within a stone-wall encircled viewing area at Gannett Hill, the Bristol Valley sprawls across the western horizon in a stunning panoramic vista. The view is illustrative of the major influence that glaciers had in sculpting the U-shaped valleys and overly steepened hillsides of the Finger Lakes region. What is even better is that this overlook can also be accessed via a short ADA-accessible path so every member of the family can enjoy the view.
Due to the structure of the trail network, the 9,085-acre Sugar Hill State Forest has one of the more extensive Motorized Access Programs for People with Disabilities. Unlike some accessible systems that tend to remain close to civilization’s edge, the accessible sections here allow for very far-removed and wild experiences. Individuals with qualifying disabilities may apply for a permit to operate a motor vehicle on trails designated by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.