Best Locations for Solitude on the Trail

Photo: Rick Lightbody

Best Locations for Solitude on the Trail in the Finger Lakes

Fall is a season of change, heralded by the arrival of colder nights, shorter days, and changing leaves. The transition from long summer days to hectic school and work schedules can be stressful, especially during the pandemic. Many studies have shown that immersion in nature contributes positively to mental and physical wellbeing. If you are seeking a bit of solitude on the trail, consider a long hike at one of these locations.

An aerial view of Bear Swamp Creek
Photo: Bill Hecht

Bear Swamp State Forest

Southwest of Skaneateles Lake, this sprawling 3,316-acre forest features over 15 miles of multiuse trails and miles of quiet, unpaved roads. 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.

A lean-to
Photo: Tom Reimers

Danby State Forest

Hikers looking for a quiet and secluded setting need look no further than the roughly 8-mile Abbott Loop in the Danby State Forest. Though the forest is relatively close to Ithaca—less than 10 miles—its 7,337 acres feel perfectly isolated and tranquil. It is a favorite spot for Ithaca hikers, but the lengthy trail proves the old maxim that a little distance will ensure solitude along the trail.

A wetland area
Photo: Sarah Schutt

Erwin Wildlife Management Area

Five miles west of Corning, the Erwin Wildlife Management Area (WMA) features over 2,490 acres of prime wildlife habitat and more than ten miles of trails. Deep gullies with hemlock-shaded streams add a primeval feel in sections, while deciduous forests in various states of succession make up the majority of the woodland.

A trail sign
Photo: FLLT

Finger Lakes National Forest

The national 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. 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.

A blue lake with green hills in the background
Photo: Nigel Kent

Hemlock-Canadice State Forest

There are many beautiful places to get outdoors in the Finger Lakes, but few allow you to explore the shores of an actual Finger Lake. Not so for the trails in Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. Lacking the typical houses and cottages as well as large noisy boats, exploring Hemlock-Canadice State Forest is like stepping back in time to behold the Finger Lakes in their natural state. With over 20 miles of multiuse trails there is a lot to do and see.

An aerial view of the south end of Canandaigua Lake
Photo: Bill Hecht

High Tor Wildlife Management Area

There are over a dozen miles of hiking trails as well as a network of access roads in the 3,400-acre upland portion of High Tor WMA. The climbing is steep but once you reach the top, the hiking is fairly level. The mix of roads and footpaths wind their way through open fields and dense woodlands with the occasional wooded glen and pond to spice up the experience.

A trail through the woods
Photo: Chris Ray

James Kennedy State Forest

For hikers who hate to retrace their steps, you can’t go wrong in choosing from the many loop hikes at James Kennedy State Forest. The 4,422-acre forest is a packed collection of named trails, including short, one-mile family-friendly loops; short half-day loops; and, figure-eights or more convoluted patterns to hike all day or overnight.

A wooded path with a trail sign
Photo: Tim Starmer

Sugar Hill State Forest

Trails here are part of the Six Nations Trail System, a network of roughly forty miles of trails that covers this and ten other nearby state forests.  The vast majority of these trails reside within Sugar Hill State Forest. Also of note, because of the structure of the trail network, 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.

Other places to explore…

Birdseye Hollow State Forest

Harriet Hollister Spencer Recreation Area

Highland Forest

Oakley Corners State Forest

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