If someone tells you to “take a hike” you’re in luck if you live in western New York, because there are numerous hiking trails to choose from. Some are what’s referred to as “Rails to Trails,” old rail beds or other transportation corridors that have been preserved as greenspace to be used by hikers and bicyclists.
Some area trails are located on state owned lands, while others pass through private property. Some trails are urban, while others are quite remote, literally off the beaten path. There are trails located in all regions of western New York, so no matter where you live, you’re not far from a place where you can hit the trail. Now that the weather is starting to warm up a bit, it’s time to lace up those hiking boots and take a hike. This article highlights some of what the area has to offer.
The Genesee Valley Greenway is a multi-use trail in the Genesee Valley that will eventually extend 90 miles from Rochester to Olean. This trail was created along the former rail bed of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the canal towpath left from the Genesee Valley Canal of 1840-78. This level trail is popular for hiking and biking and in some sections even horseback riding and snowmobiling. A good access point for this trail is near Letchworth State Park in Mount Morris, just off NY 36.
A portion of the Finger Lakes Trail also travels through our region. The Finger Lakes Trail is an 800-mile trail system that runs from Albany west into the Finger Lakes Region and the southern tier of western New York. It is a rather hilly trail, more suitable for hiking than biking. Trail heads are marked with a one foot square yellow sign with a green FLT logo. One of the branches of this trail is the Bristol Trail, running from Bristol to Hammondsport.
In the Rochester area, hikers may want to check out Mendon Ponds Park in Honeoye Falls. At 2,500 acres, it is the largest park in the Monroe County Park system featuring over 20 miles of multi-use trails.
There are also hiking trail systems in northern Ontario County, including the Ontario Pathways Rail Trail, a 23 mile multipurpose trail, running between Canandaigua and Seneca Lakes that follows an abandoned rail bed. Nearby, the Victor Hiking Trails System , has 18 miles of trails throughout the town of Victor, using former rail beds and connecting parks.
Also in the Finger Lakes Region is the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail, a 7.5 mile mostly flat trail that runs from Dresden to Penn Yan in Yates County. This trail, considered one of the top 25 hiking trails in the Northeast, follows a former canal towpath; the “Crooked Lake Canal” which ran between Keuka and Seneca Lakes in the mid 1800’s. The towpath was later used by a railroad until the early 1970’s. As you hike this trail you’ll see the foundations of sawmills and other industries located here in the late 1800’s.
Head down to Chautauqua County where you’ll have several trails to choose from. The Chautauqua Rails to Trails consists of 30 miles of former railway corridors which have been converted to multi-use trails. The trails run between Sherman and Brocton, with many access points along the way.
The Earl Cardot Eastside Overland Trail is an 18 mile trail that travels through New York State Reforestation areas and the Canadaway Creek Wildlife Management area. The trail runs from the Cassadaga area to Gerry. The Fred J. Cusimano Westside Overland Trail is a 25 mile trail that goes from Mayville to the Pennsylvania State Line. Its namesake is considered the “Father of the Chautauqua County Parks System.” Detailed maps to the above trails can be obtained from Chautauqua County Tourism.
The 2,927 acre Zoar Valley State Multiple Use Area in Cattaraugus County, a wilderness area near Gowanda, has numerous hiking trails which are very rugged and should only be hiked by the most experienced hikers. One remote section, known as the “Valley of the Giants,” has some of the largest old growth forest trees in the eastern United States, including the world’s tallest basswood (128.2 feet).
Of course, you’ll find plenty of hiking trails in some of the areas state parks, including 65,000 acre Allegany State Park in Salamanca, the largest park in the New York State Park System. There are 18 hiking and nature trails throughout the park. Letchworth State Park has over 66 miles of hiking trails throughout the 14,350 acre, 17-mile park.
The North Country Scenic Trail, which will be the longest scenic trail in the country at over 4,600 miles long, will span between North Dakota and New York when complete It is currently being developed through a partnership between government agencies and volunteer organizations. Part of this trail picks up the Finger Lakes Trail System and passes through Allegany State Park, Ellicottville and Letchworth State Park.
A little closer to home, check out the Erie Canal Heritage Trail, a very scenic paved path that follows the old towpath of the Erie Canal. This 70 mile long trail travels from Lockport to Palmyra, along the Erie Canal and eventually will travel all the way to Albany. We also have many trails right in our own backyard, including the Akron Rail Trail, several trails along the Niagara Gorge, Riverwalk Bike Path, and the Ellicott Creek Bike Path, just to name a few.
Many of the trails, both nationwide and here in western New York, would not exist without the efforts of non-for profit and volunteer groups like the Rails to Trails Conservancy , which dedicate themselves to preserving former railroad corridors and recycling them into public trails. There are about 11,500 rail-trails in the U.S. today.
Contact the following for maps and more information:
Genesee Valley Greenway (585-658-2569) PO Box 42, Mount Morris, NY 14510
Finger Lakes Trail (585-658-9320) 6111 Visitors Center Rd., Mount Morris, NY 14510
Mendon Ponds Park (585-256-4950) 3914 Clover St., Honeoye Falls
Ontario Pathways Rail Trail (585-234-7722)
Victor Hiking Trails System (585-234-8226) 85 East Main St., Victor
Keuka Lake Outlet Trail, Friends of the Finger Lake Outlet, PO Box 231, Penn Yan, NY 14527
Chautauqua County Tourism (716-357-4569) Chautauqua Institution Main Gate, NY 394, Chautauqua.
Chautauqua Rails to Trails (716-269-3666) Mayville Train Depot, Mayville.
Zoar Valley State Multiple Use Area This website has lots of information and pictures of the Zoar Valley. Maps can be obtained from the Gowanda Chamber of Commerce (716-532-2834) 28 Jamestown St., Gowanda
Rails to Trails Conservancy (866-202-9788, ) 1100 17th St., NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC 20036.
North Country Trail (866-HikeNCT ) 229 E. Main St., Lowell, MI 49331
Here are some other sites pertaining to local hiking trails
www.wnyhikes.com/hiking-trails.htm A good site with lots of local hiking resources and information on trails not mentioned in this article.
Footprint Press This publisher features several books on hiking and biking in western New York.