With stunning gorges, gushing waterfalls, vast expanses of dense forest, and, of course, the iconic, glacier-carved lakes—the Southern Finger Lakes region in New York has plenty to entice visiting hikers. Even better, the area is also teeming with panoramic footpaths, from leisurely, lakeside loops to historical rail-trails to tree-covered pathways ideal for birders and wildlife enthusiasts.
With so many options in the Southern Finger Lakes region, it’s tough to pick just one local trek. These nine hikes offer something for outdoor lovers of all stripes and give you a taste of what to expect in this scenic part of New York.
1. Birdseye Hollow State Forest
Located just east of Hammondsport, the Birdseye Hollow State Forest is laced with smooth trails suitable for hikers of any ilk. Stroll the short-but-sweet 1.6-mile loop ringing Birdseye Hollow Pond in Birdseye Hollow Park, or plan a more extended excursion on the 580-mile Finger Lakes Trail, which meanders across west-central New York, from the Pennsylvania border to the Catskill Forest Preserve.
Post-hike, head to the southern half of the state forest and spend the afternoon paddling Sanford Lake, where you can cast for largemouth bass. Or enjoy relaxing beside the water with a picnic lunch in the shade of the towering pine trees edging the lake.
2. McCarthy Hill State Forest
Keep an eye out for white-tailed deer darting through the trees while hiking the seven miles of trails stashed away in the McCarthy Hill State Forest. The Beaver Pond Trail takes you on a beautiful 2-mile circuit and provides access to multiple options on the forest’s interconnected trail network. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at Levi Pond, while resident bullfrogs give a background chorus.
For a full day outing, combine a tour of McCarthy Hill State Forest with a visit to adjacent Pinnacle State Park, offering panoramic picnic spots and access to the Crystal Hills Branch of the Finger Lakes Trail.
3. Spencer Crest Nature Center
Located just minutes from downtown Corning, the Spencer Crest Nature Center is the perfect addition to a visit to the visually-stunning Corning Museum of Glass or the iconic Rockwell Museum. Families with young hikers love the easy-to-navigate, kid-friendly trails—like the 0.5-mile Dike Way Trail to Amelia Pond—winding through secluded woodlands and isolated wetlands teeming with chipmunks, songbirds, and turtles.
For enthusiastic young naturalists, the nature center is also open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. whenever Corning Community College is in session.
4. Keuka Outlet Trail
Running from Penn Yan eastward to the town of Dresden, the nearly 7-mile Keuka Outlet Trail is steeped in local history. The footpath was first the towpath for the Crooked Lake Canal, which operated between 1833 and 1877, running between Keuka Lake and Seneca Lake. Less than a decade later, the thoroughfare became the route used by the Fall Brook Railroad, which ran for nearly a century, from 1884 until 1974.
Plan a day to walk the entire rail-trail or get a taste of the historic pathway with a hike to Seneca Mills Falls. The tiered, 40-foot waterfall is located approximately halfway between Penn Yan and Dresden, and it is easily accessible courtesy of a brief, 0.3-mile trek from the parking area on Outlet Road, just east of Penn Yan.
5. Urbana State Forest
Wildlife enthusiasts love exploring Urbana State Forest, west of Keuka Lake. The 2,690-acre forest melds into the adjacent Pigtail Hollow State Forest, providing hikers a sizeable swath of wilderness to explore. For a longer haul, a segment of the Bristol Hills Trail—a 50-mile offshoot of the Finger Lakes Trail—also rambles through the state forest.
For the chance to spy lumbering black bears, beavers, and wild turkeys, take the 5.4-mile loop around Huckleberry Bog.
6. Mitchellsville Gorge Branch Trail
This section of the Finger Lakes Trail stretches 2.2 miles from Mitchellsville to Pleasant Valley, mostly following the Mitchellsville Gorge. The entire length of the trail runs through private property, so stay on the path. Starting in Mitchellsville, the trail runs almost entirely downhill as you drop about 600 feet in elevation. If you’re looking for an easier hike. Take two cars and make it a one-way trip. Otherwise you can decide if you want the climbing to come on the first or second half of your 4.4-mile, out-and-back trip. Either way, you’ll enjoy some very picturesque scenery from the rim of the gorge, with the sounds of the Mitchellsville Creek coming from below.
7. Stony Brook State Park
Aside from the eponymous lakes adorning the region, the Finger Lakes area is also known for breathtaking gorges, etched into the landscape by ancient glaciation. Get a taste of one of the region’s trademark gorges at Stony Brook State Park, combining the East Rim and Gorge trails to create a 2.25-mile circuit showcasing the park’s tumbling waterfalls and captivating rock formations. After a hiking tour of the park’s natural wonders, stop for a refreshing swim in the stream-fed, natural pool.
8. Kanakadea Park
For youngsters still easing into the art of hiking, family-friendly Kanakadea Park in Hornell is perfect. Young trekkers can tackle the 1.7-mile tree-covered loop in this recreation area, and for anyone craving more miles, the park also provides access to the Finger Lakes Trail. When you finish hiking, stick around for a picnic in the grass beside Almond Lake. Plan a lazy, afternoon barbecue or rent one of the park’s cabins or campsites for an entire weekend of family-friendly adventures.
9. Erwin Wildlife Management Area
Birders will love exploring the 10 miles of trails meandering through the Erwin Wildlife Management Area, just west of Corning. A hotspot for songbirds, the wildlife management area is suffused with oak-dominated woodlands, glassy ponds, and secluded gullies. Keep an eye out for hunting harrier hawks, ruffed grouse, and black-throated blue warblers while roaming the natural area. From the Erwin Wildlife Management Area, you can also jump on a portion of the Crystal Hills Trail—the youngest branch of the epic Finger Lakes Trail—which forms part of the Great Eastern Trail, a regional footpath running all the way from New York to Alabama.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated Media in partnership with Steuben County.