by Edie Jodz, gofingerlakes.org
Dogs make great hiking companions and can bring tremendous joy to your outdoor adventures, but not all trails are dog-friendly.
Fortunately, the Finger Lakes Region offers plenty of places to get outside with your canine friends. Here are a few of our favorites, from locations with firm leash policies to places where your furry friends have a bit more freedom. Whether on or off leash, please be sure your dog is under your control at all times.
1. Wesley Hill Nature Preserve
The Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Wesley Hill Preserve has a 5.6-mile trail system which winds past several gullies, diverse stands of mature forest, and a pond. Perfect for exploring, the preserve is home to the immense Briggs Gully and features sweeping views of the hills surrounding Honeoye Lake’s southern end. Dogs must be under their owner’s control at all times.
2. Morgan Hill State Forest
Morgan Hill is a popular spot for Syracuse and Cortland-area hikers looking for some solitude. Dogs are welcome off-leash to explore over 22 miles of marked foot trails and public forest access roads. The trails at Morgan Hill cross seasonal streams, pass through a mixture of deciduous and conifer forests, and extend to the North Country Trail—a 4,600-mile trail that traverses seven states and connects North Dakota to New York.
3. Erwin Wildlife Management Area
Five miles west of Corning, the Erwin Wildlife Management Area features over 2,490 acres and more than ten miles of trails. Dogs are free to roam deep gullies with hemlock-shaded streams, deciduous forests, and several small ponds. Similar to state forests, wildlife management areas do not require dogs to be on a leash as long as they are under their owner’s control.
4. Sampson State Park
Full of military history from World War II and the Korean War, what really shines at Sampson State Park for outdoor enthusiasts is the three and half mile long Lake Trail, much of which follows the shore of Seneca Lake. Here, the access road between the village of Willard and the state park has been designated as a trail and follows within feet of the extraordinarily deep lake. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.
5. Keuka Outlet Trail
The Keuka Lake Outlet Trail follows a generally downhill course from the outlet of Keuka Lake in Penn Yan to the inlet along Seneca Lake in Dresden. Along sections of the trail are the remains of old mill buildings and locks, lush woodlands, and two impressive waterfalls. A winding stream accompanies hikers, runners, bikers and even equestrians along the 6.8-mile route. Dogs should be kept on a leash and under their owner’s control at all times.
6. Danby State Forest
A favorite spot for Ithaca-area hikers, Danby State Forest has 7,337 acres and over 19 miles of trails including two lean-tos and a section of the Finger Lakes Trail. The forest’s popular 8-mile Abbott Loop features a stunning lookout at Thatcher’s Pinnacles, where you’ll find sweeping views of the Cayuga Inlet Valley and the Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve. Dogs are free to explore this state forest off-leash.
To view a helpful map, see the printed version of this issue.
Call 800-344-0559 to get your copy.
A reminder to recreation enthusiasts that many parks, forests, and nature preserves allow hunting and trapping in designated periods. Each location profile on Go Finger Lakes includes a link to the managing organization – whether it be the Finger Lakes Land Trust, a New York State agency, or a nature center – and visitors should consult that agency for hunting information before each outing.
See our hunting safety guidelines.
How to Be a Good Traveler on Your Nature Outings
by Edie Jodz, Jeff Katris and Kelly Makosch – Gofingerlakes.org
Land trails and waterways are shared by people, animals, and plants – and human visitors should observe a few best practices.
The locations featured on gofingerlakes.org are owned and managed by various organizations; please follow the regulations at each location. Also see their page about safety and disclaimers. Generally, at all locations, a good maxim for visiting protected natural areas is found on Finger Lakes Land Trust signs – “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”
Here are other best practices for your outdoor adventures.
Hikers and bikers
As a general rule, bikers should yield to hikers, and both must yield to equestrians (see below). On trails where mountain biking and hiking are permitted, it is important for bikers and hikers to be aware of their surroundings. This is especially true for bikers racing down steep descents and around sharp turns. Here, the hiker has the right of way, and bikers must pay close attention to the trail ahead.
However, as with all rules, there are some grey areas. If a biker is riding up a steep hill and a hiker is walking down, the friendly thing for the hiker
to do is step off the trail and let the biker pass.
Equestrians always get the right-of-way. If you are on the trail and see a horse approaching, whether you are on foot or bike, stop moving and step aside to give the horse and rider a chance to pass. Make sure you step fully off the path, on the downhill side if possible, giving the horse plenty of space. Speak softly to the horse and rider as they approach and do not make any sudden movements when the horse passes.
When approaching a horse and rider from behind, announce your presence from as far away as possible so you don’t startle the horse.
Only pass when the rider says that it is safe. Dogs should always be leashed and kept as far away from the horse
Uphill vs. downhill
Generally, downhill traffic yields to uphill traffic. If you are hiking uphill, you get the right-of-way. Similarly, bikers climbing up the trails get the right-of-way over bikers on their
If you bring along your four-legged friends, keeping them leashed and under control is essential for the safety and enjoyment of all. In many locations it is the official rule, but in all locations it is a best practice.
Pack in, pack out
This one is so obvious that it need not be mentioned. Except that it needs to be mentioned — because once in a while you still see human garbage laying around a natural area. Of course, people sometimes leave items by accident, such as water bottles, so do a mental inventory of your belongings and leave the place as clean as you found it — or better!
In some locations, collecting fossils and other treasures is expressly forbidden. But even where there is no posted rule, it’s a great idea to leave nature alone for the enjoyment of those who will come after you. Even future generations!
Stay on the marked trails and designated areas. That’s the best way to stay safe AND avoid trampling delicate plant life and fragile insect homes. It only takes a few people to casually start a new trail by bushwacking off the main trail, and before you know it a new part of the forest or wetland is getting heavily traveled. Please let the official land stewards determine where trails should be.
Many landowners are serious about their private property. Take a moment to read the local trail signs and get familiar with the lay of the land. Sometimes, even if you feel like you are on a designated trail, you can wander onto private lands. Be smart and respect property rights, not least because many private property owners are the key to conservation in the Finger Lakes region — by donating easements and otherwise being good stewards of their own land.