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. 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 a spur 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 overlook presents a rare opportunity to look down on a U-shaped valley, typical of the Finger Lakes, but not often observable from above where visitors can see the unique topography. The shape is the result of the glaciers’ relentless bulldozing as they expanded southward more than ten thousand years ago. As the massive sheets of ice intersected the typical V-shaped valleys, they scoured them into broad troughs with overly steepened hillsides. The flat and broad valley floors are incongruous with the present-day water features. (Note: a similar and equally impressive vista showing the same evidence is available at Jones Hill at the Labrador Hollow Unique Area.)
Also seen within the Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve are examples of kettle ponds, another glacial aftereffect. When the glaciers retreated, massive chunks of ice were often calved off and surrounded by glacial till. When the ice melted a depression would remain and form small lakes and ponds. Several of these kettles can be seen looking down on the preserve.
With varied terrain and over 8 miles of trails, the Abbott Loop makes a perfect all-day hike for those wishing for a bit of a challenge. The trail also accommodates overnight trips by either following the DEC’s backcountry camping guidelines or by claiming one of the forest’s two lean-tos which are located along sections that overlap with the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT). The FLT extends across the southern axis of New York State. Much of the FLT is contiguous with the North Country Trail which follows an east-west route from North Dakota to the Adirondacks.
There are other trails and quiet, unpaved roads to explore in the Danby State Forest in addition to the Abbott Loop.