Winding Its Way Through The Heart of New York
You wouldn’t think something nearly 1,000 miles long would be so undetected, yet many people are only just now discovering the wilderness footpaths that make up the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT). You might say it’s one of the region’s best kept secrets.
Open year-round and maintained by an extensive core of volunteers, the trail offers hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, trail running, nature appreciation, birding, geocaching, primitive camping where permitted, as well as waterfalls, ravines, canyons, rivers, streams, cliffs, forests, wildlife, and more.
Some adventurers opt to through-hike the entire trail end-to-end including all the branch and loop trails (which can take weeks) while others do so over time stringing together a number of separate hikes. However, most folks prefer shorter treks. According to the FLT Executive Director, the trail was built “for the day-hiker to enjoy short hikes of a few miles to long hikes of perhaps twenty miles.”
To make things easier for hikers traveling away from home, the FLT has a group of “Trail Angels:” people who spot hikers for a day hike, sometimes house them overnight, or take them to hotels, post offices, stores, restaurants.
Primarily used for hiking, as well as snowshoeing and cross country skiing in wintertime, the FLT is intended for foot travel. Meaning motorized vehicles, mountain bikes, horses, and snowmobiles are not permitted unless specifically approved by the landowner or public authority having jurisdiction.
“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” - Robert Louis Stevenson
Did you know studies show spending short amounts of time in forests can reduce stress and anxiety and even benefit your immune system? That’s right.
Though often scenic (if not outright beautiful), there’s nothing quite like a walk through the woods to help you reconnect with nature and, often, with yourself. In addition to being a healthy activity for you physically it can also impact your mental and emotional wellbeing changing your outlook, your disposition, your overall frame of mind.
A relatively inexpensive undertaking (you will want good hiking shoes, as well as a backpack and water bottle at the very least), hiking can be a form of walking meditation and, as a result, can be quite restorative. It can also be invigorating and a great workout depending on the level of difficulty of the trail and the pace you take.
Fortunately, the Finger Lakes Trail has various sections offering an assortment of difficulty levels.
During the summer of 1961, a hike on the Appalachian Trail inspired the idea for a long-distance trail stretching through New York State. First envisioned by Wallace “Wally” Woods, the main Finger Lakes Trail spans 560 miles. With six branch trails and over two-dozen loop and spur trails included, the FLT is nearly 1,000 miles long.
The Finger Lakes Trail was built and is maintained by volunteers. Each year, volunteers log in approximately 20,000 hours of trail work. But trail work alone does not keep the organization going.
Some parts of the trail pass through iconic state parks like Watkins Glen and even into New York State’s only National Forest, while other branch trails navigate the forests between small towns with trail heads located just a short ways from craft breweries, museums, restaurants and shops becoming the ultimate adventure pairing for several purveyors of liquid delight along the Craft Your Adventure Trail [hyperlink].
While the origins of two major branch trails go back to the 1950’s, “the third branch trail—the Bristol Hills Branch—was officially accepted into the FLT System on June 9, 1962.”
The Bristol Hills branch is a 55-mile trail that winds its way south from Naples to the Mitchellsville area where you can pick up the Mitchellsville Gorge Trail, a 2.5 mile scenic hike that ends in Hammondsport, not far from craft breweries, excellent restaurants, shops, and breathtaking Keuka Lake.
South of Corning, part of the Finger Lakes Trail overlaps with the Great Eastern Trail which stretches all the way to the Alabama-Florida border, while the Mitchelleville Gorge Trail near Hammondsport is also part of the North Country Trail which extends all the way from Vermont to North Dakota.
Not Ready to Go It Alone, Use a Local Guide
There’s something revitalizing about getting back to nature and breathing in the fresh air. Whether you've set out on your own, or you've entrusted your journey to a local hiking guide (like Chris Merola of Ranger Outfitters or Russ Diederich of Finger Lakes Adventure Center), you'll feel recharged after spending a day on the trail.
Let the guides know what sort of experience you’re interested in and they will customize your hike, either for the afternoon, a full day, or even a three-day adventure!
“Although you aren't aware of it, you stockpile these experiences. . . . they fill you with a quiet contentment and deep down happy that although it may not always be at your surface, you may always draw upon it.” - Heather Houskeeper, The Botanical Hiker