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. See our top ski spots on this page, and also see the main map with the ski filter selected.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Be Safe, Be Seen” on Your Outdoor Adventures During Fall and Winter Hunting Seasons
A reminder to recreation enthusiasts that many parks, forests, and nature preserves allow hunting and trapping in designated periods
Go Finger Lakes would like to encourage all outdoor lovers to be especially mindful of safety during the fall and winter hunting seasons. Each location profile on Go Finger Lakes includes a link to the managing organization – whether it be the Finger Lakes Land Trust, a New York State agency, or a nature center – and visitors should consult that agency for hunting information BEFORE EACH OUTING.
DEC encourages every outdoor enthusiast to wear blaze orange, pink, or another bright color, especially during fall and winter. Doing so will allow these individuals to be seen more easily and from greater distances.
‘Data from hunting-related shooting incidents show us that hunters that wear hunter orange are seven times safer,’ Commissioner Seggos said. ‘If it makes sense for hunters, it makes sense for other outdoor enthusiasts as well.’
In addition, wearing blaze orange or pink or another bright color also makes it easier to be found by a Forest Ranger, Environmental Conservation Police Officer, or other rescue personnel if visitors become lost, sick, or injured while afield. Pet owners are encouraged to dress dogs, as well.
Dogs should wear blaze orange or pink or another bright color too, and stay leashed at all times.
Trapping seasons for many species including fox and coyote are open throughout the fall and early winter; traps set for these species can also capture dogs that are not under control. Keeping dogs on a leash is safer for the dog, for other people, and gives pet owners peace of mind.
Hikers should be aware that they may meet hunters bearing firearms or archery equipment while hiking on trails. Hikers are encouraged to recognize that these are fellow outdoor recreationists with the legal right to participate in these activities on Forest Preserve and Conservation Easement lands. Hunting accidents involving non-hunters are extremely rare.
Our Favorite Hikes on the Finger Lakes Trail (in the FLX Region)
Over 950 miles long and covering some of the most scenic land in New York, the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) system runs from Allegheny State Park on the Pennsylvania border to the Catskill Forest Preserve, with branch trails to Niagara Falls, the Genesee River valley, the Great Eastern Trail, the central Finger Lakes, and the Syracuse region. This system is built and maintained almost entirely by volunteers.
Here in the Finger Lakes region, there are a few hikes along the FLT that really stand out, including hikes that pass through Finger Lakes Land Trust nature preserves, NY State Forests, and county parks. We invite you to explore some of the best.
Spanning more than 3,000 acres, Birdseye Hollow State Forest has seven designated primitive lakeside campsites and nearly 11 miles along the Finger Lakes Trail. The white-blazed FLT winds its way mostly north to south through predominately deciduous forest, though several conifer plantations dot the landscape as well. Deep woodlands and babbling brooks occupy the majority of the trail experience here, but there is also the short blue-blazed lakeside trail that traverses the transitional space between forest and wetland and offers ample wildlife viewing along the way.
A highlight of the Finger Lakes Trail, this wooded 48-acre preserve offers ideal options for an easy walk or connection to a much longer, more challenging hike. Owned by the Finger Lakes Trail Conference subject to a conservation easement held by the Finger Lakes Land Trust, the Bock-Harvey Forest Preserve features some of our region’s oldest, most majestic trees.
Starting from the parking area on Rockwell Road, the FLT passes through a grove into a large meadow. At a fork in the trail, a yellow-blazed path leads to the “old-growth loop,” which passes by the preserve’s tallest maples, thought to be 300 years old. In the other direction, the trail leads to an overlook with views across Enfield Creek valley and then passes by a lean-to, fire pit, and picnic table perfect for camping.
Hikers looking for a quiet and secluded setting need look no further than the roughly 8-mile Abbott Loop in Danby State Forest. Though the forest is relatively close to Ithaca — less than 10 miles — its 7,337 acres feel perfectly tranquil and the lengthy trail proves the old maxim that a little distance will ensure solitude along the trail. Additionally, in a region with so many out-and-back hikes, the loop configuration is greatly appreciated by those who dislike retracing their steps.
The trail weaves primarily through wooded glens with slow creeks and hilltop oak-hickory forests. Of particular interest along the loop is the trail leading hikers to a stunning lookout at Thatcher’s Pinnacles, found along the steep western edge of the forest. The forest is thinned here, and from the pinnacle you’ll find sweeping views of the Cayuga Inlet Valley and the Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve of the Finger Lakes Land Trust.
The forest is home to over thirty miles of trails which have a mixture of uses ranging from hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, and horseback riding. The trails vary from roads and worn footpaths in the forest to sunken ruts or merely painted stones in the fields. Though a short portion of the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) crosses the southern boundary of the forest, much of the trail system is closely tied to the twelve mile north-south oriented Interloken Trail — a branch trail along the FLT. The Interloken Trail forms the central axis through the forest while the other trails are either side loops or form parallel north-south oriented trails.
Wooded glens and open pastures comprise the majority of the landscape in the Finger Lakes National Forest. However, the pastures are what make these trails distinct from those in other forests. As is the case on many federally-owned lands, grazing is permitted. Hikers will find that they share the pastures with cattle during the months of May to October, and must use a series of locking cattle gates when venturing in and out of the fields. Aside from the oddity of bovine accompaniment, the pastures provide excellent vistas and habitat for a variety of grassland birds.
There are not many trails with broad scenic views in the Finger Lakes region, but the ones that do exist are high on the must-visit list. Among those trails with a view, the “Jump Off” overlook at Gannett Hill is one of the best. But the lookout is just the beginning of the activities available in the 400-acre county park. A vast network of trails, over 10 miles in total, weaves through the woodland and over steepened hillsides of the Bristol Valley.
Trails are laid out in different loops that occasionally connect. Each trail is well marked, has its own color, and also provides an indication of trail difficulty—difficulty being a measure of ruggedness and elevation change rather than distance. The trail network actually extends beyond the park boundaries along the Bristol Hills Trail, a spur of the Finger Lakes Trail. This branch trail snakes its way through several parks, state forests, and wildlife management areas. It totals roughly 55 miles from Gannett Hill in the north to the main Finger Lakes Trail in Mitchellsville to the south. The trails beyond the park boundary are for foot travel only, and you will certainly notice the change as access is through tight V-shaped structures that preclude anything but hikers from passing further.
Opportunities abound for all types of outdoor enthusiasts at the High Tor Wildlife Management Area (WMA). With ponds, waterfalls, rivers, gorges, forests, and open fields, there is an abundance of outdoor experiences waiting within the 6,315-acre wildlife management area.
There are over a dozen miles of hiking trails in the 3,400-acre upland portion of High Tor WMA, including the 4.8 mile High Tor Loop of the FLT. No matter which approach you choose to reach the upland site, the climbing is steep. But, once you reach the top, the hiking is fairly level. The trail network is a mixture of access roads and rugged worn footpaths that wind their way through open fields and dense woodlands with the occasional wooded glen and pond to spice up the experience. The trail system is also a part, albeit only a short section, of the more extensive Bristol Hill Trail, a branch trail of the FLT.
During the last ice age, glaciers thousands of feet thick blanketed much of northern North America, sculpting the beautiful topography of the Finger Lakes region. The effects of these glaciers can be seen in the multiple waterfalls that splash down along Lick Brook on its journey to Cayuga Lake, including one that is nearly 140 feet tall. The Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Lick Brook Gorge preserve hosts a popular stretch of the Finger Lakes Trail that runs along the gorge. Ambitious hikers can continue along the trail to Buttermilk Falls State Park to the east and Robert H. Treman State Park to the west.
Morgan Hill State Forest and Labrador Hollow Unique Area are often referred to as one and the same, and to a certain extent it is true. They are, for the most part, contiguous parcels and are connected by the North Country Trail.
The best trips to the area include both locations and combine the striking scenery from Labrador Hollow (including a 100-acre glacial lake) with the rugged wildness of Morgan Hill. However, Morgan Hill remains the destination of choice for more serious hikers, backpackers, and those who want an extra challenge. The rugged trails feature some higher levels of difficulty along lengthy rising and falling treks which experienced hikers will cherish. Since the trails to Tinker Falls and the Jones Hill hang glider launch at Labrador Hollow are the most popular and farthest many visitors travel, hikers that delve into Morgan Hill will be rewarded not only with a deep forest setting, but solitude as well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Other excellent Finger Lakes paddling opportunities highlighted on gofingerlakes.org include:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
See our COVID-19 Updates page about trail safety and park closings in response to the coronavirus crisis.
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.
Do you see info on Gofingerlakes.org that could be updated? Please contact us.