Cross Country Skiing in the Finger Lakes

Photo by Nigel P. Kent

Go Finger Lakes!

New website “” is a free guide to the best hikes, bikes, paddles and outdoor adventures in the region


By Tim Starmer and Andy Zepp


On a crisp winter’s day, there is nothing quite like the feeling of strapping on your skis and gliding through silent forests of towering oaks, maples, spruce, and pine. Cross country skiing is a great way to experience nature while getting a terrific workout, and our Finger Lakes region offers plenty of places to get out on the trails.

Harriet Hollister Spencer Recreation Area

Located on the high wooded ridge just west of Honeoye Lake, this state recreation area is one of the go-to places for Rochester-area skiers. Harriet Hollister features a 20-mile network of trails through mature forest with several trails groomed by the Rochester Cross Country Ski Foundation. Trails are marked with the cross country skier in mind including grade and difficulty levels. Elevations are above 2,000 feet, which makes it a better bet for snow cover than many other locations. Be sure to check out the Overlook Trail for a panoramic view of Honeoye Lake while you are there. 

Highland Forest

This Onondaga County park spans 2,700 acres of hill country south of Syracuse. There is an extensive trail system of interconnected loops to accommodate long and short trips with the added benefit that the skiing and snowshoeing trails are separate. Along the loops are numerous lean-tos with orientation maps providing great places to stop and gauge your progress. Skis may be rented at the park’s lodge. If a few hours of skiing in this winter wonderland is not enough; visitors can also enjoy a horse drawn sleigh ride, for which the park is well known.

Bear Swamp State Forest

Known for its “Adirondack-like” character, Bear Swamp features extensive wetlands along with 15 miles of multiuse trails that provide lots of options for skiing. The forest overlooks the southwestern shore of Skaneateles Lake and is located in an area that typically receives ample “lake effect” snow. For the most part, the trails weave around and up-and-over two ridges that flank Bear Swamp Creek. 

Hammond Hill State Forest

This forest’s 20 miles of trails include easy trails for beginners as well as challenging downhill runs for the most expert skiers. The best maps of the trail system are available online from and the Cayuga Nordic Ski Club, one of several organizations that collaborate with the DEC to maintain the trails in the forest. The trails are broad and provide ample line of sight making downhill runs exhilarating and less worrisome than narrow hiking trails found in other forests.

Oakley Corners State Forest

Located in the Southern Tier just north of Owego, Oakley Corners features a network of 13 miles of trails that were built by the Triple Cities Ski Club. This 1,000-acre forest is located about a half-hour drive from both Ithaca and Binghamton. In addition to passing through typical stands of hardwoods and conifers, the trails also provide access to a marshy lake. The state forest is divided into northern and southern sections by Dutchtown Road and though the forest remains mostly the same, skiers will find flatter terrain in the southern section and slightly more rugged difficult trails in the northern section.

Other places to explore

These are just a few of the fantastic cross country skiing options that the Finger Lakes Region has to offer. To discover new places to explore, visit and use the map filters to find your next adventure. If you already know you want to try a gentler rail-trail option, check out the Jim Schug and Black Diamond trails, also profiled on During winters with great snow conditions, the Finger Lakes National Forest is another great place to ski or snowshoe.

Learn More is a project of the nonprofit, member-supported Finger Lakes Land Trust. The land trust’s mission is to conserve forever the lands and waters of the Finger Lakes region, ensuring scenic vistas, local foods, clean waters, and wild places for everyone. To date, the organization has protected over 20,000 acres across the region, including more than 35 nature preserves open to the public. Learn more at

The Land Trust hopes the Go Finger Lakes website will inspire people to explore the beauty of the region in all seasons and then help us save more land and water.

Nigel P. Kent is an English photographer who has lived in Rochester for 47 years. He has developed a passion for photographing the Finger Lakes Region, and is involved in conservation photography for the Finger Lakes Land Trust and the Genesee Land Trust. More of his work can be seen at and on Facebook as Nigel Peter Benson Kent. Hard copies can be viewed at Artizanns in Naples.

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