When Europeans arrived in North America during the late 15th century, what is now known as New York State was home to many distinct groups of indigenous peoples. Occupying portions of the Finger Lakes region and Western New York were the Seneca—Onöndowa’ga:’ in their own language, which means “Great Hill People.” The site of a former village at the south end of Canandaigua Lake called Nundawao, or Great Hill in English, is revered by the Seneca as the birthplace of their people.
Spanning 569 acres, Ganondagan State Historic Site, a National Historic Landmark, is the original site of a 17th century Seneca town and home to the 17,300-square-foot Seneca Art & Culture Center, a Seneca Bark Longhouse, and a series of interpretive trails. Ganondagan is a rare gem in the Finger Lakes, designed to immerse visitors in the rich culture, history, and living traditions of the Haudenosaunee, a confederacy of nations including the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora.
Experience firsthand the customs and beliefs of the Seneca on three main trails with interpretive signage, open year-round: the Earth is Our Mother Trail, the Trail of Peace, and the Granary Trail. Visitors are encouraged to take self-guided themed walks using GPS on these trails including the Tree Tour and Medicine Walk. In all, the 7.6-mile trail system at Ganondagan features a series of interconnected paths that can be adjusted for longer or shorter hikes.
The ethnobotanical Earth is Our Mother Trail highlights the close relationship between the Seneca people and the plant world. Plant collecting is prohibited but visitors are welcome to observe the many species used for food, medicine, ceremonial objects, art, clothing, and more. Interpretive signs guide visitors along this out-and-back trail that features hills, twists, and turns, so be sure to wear proper footwear. A round trip is 1.7 miles but mileage can be added by connecting to the Grasslands Trail, White Brook Trail, and other blazed paths. From here, hikers can also connect to the Seneca Trail, a 14-mile moderate point-to-point trail that runs from Boughton Park in Bloomsfield to the town of Victor, and is maintained by Victor Hiking Trails, Inc.
The Trail of Peace is a 0.8-mile mowed loop trail that passes the Bark Longhouse and details Seneca oral tradition, how the Haudenosaunee became a confederacy, and the story of the original town of Ganondagan. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of birds that inhabit the meadows here along this mostly level path.
The trailhead and parking lot for the 0.6-mile Granary Trail at Fort Hill is located one mile to the west along Boughton Hill Road. The Seneca call this location Gahayanduk, meaning “a fort was there,” and indeed, this was the site of a refuge and fortified granary used to store vast amounts of corn. Interpretive signs detail the Denonville campaign, when a large French army led by the governor of Canada tragically attacked and destroyed Ganondagan in 1687. Those looking for a longer hike can connect to the Granary Trail from the main site by taking the blazed Great Oak Hill Trail to the Eagle Trail for a 3.1-mile round-trip. Hikers can also connect to Dryer Road Town Park from the Eagle Trail.
Visitors to Ganondagan should be sure to visit the Seneca Art & Culture Center which serves as a year-round interpretive facility featuring a theatre, gift shop, and multimedia exhibits that tell the story of Seneca and Haudenosaunee art and culture. The Bark Longhouse, a traditional multi-family Seneca dwelling, is located just outside the center and replicates an original 1670 longhouse with crops, herbs, medicinal plants, items crafted by the Seneca, and colonial trade goods. Many public events are held throughout the year, organized by the Friends of Ganondagan, a non-profit organization formed to support Ganondagan State Historic Site.
Trails are free and open to the public, although there are seasonal admission fees to visit the longhouse and Art & Culture Center. Note the longhouse is closed in winter and the main facility closes for a month in January.