If you’ve ever visited one of the Finger Lakes region’s iconic state parks in the summer, you’ve surely witnessed their mass appeal. Where waterfalls, lake views, and plenty of amenities abound, so do the crowds! State forests, on the other hand, offer thousands of acres of undeveloped public land for outdoor activities such as hiking, paddling, mountain biking, camping, wildlife observation, and much more. Minus modern conveniences, state forest lands often feature established trail systems, popular among organized recreation groups. If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure with plenty of open space, check out one of these Finger Lakes state forests, chosen by the staff at the Finger Lakes Land Trust.
Shindagin Hollow State Forest is over 5,266 acres and features more than 20 miles of trails — roughly fifteen miles of mountain biking trails and just under six miles of hiking trails. The mountain bike trail system is located almost entirely in the section of the forest to the west of Shindagin Hollow Road. The hiking trail traverses laterally across the forest and is almost exclusively along a 5.7-mile-long section of the Finger Lakes Trail.
In some ways, a trip to Sugar Hill State Forest is a bit like a trip to the Old West. No, there are no deserts or arid plains or shootouts, but there are horses and horse camps and horse stables and horse hitching posts and horse… well, you get the point. Much of the infrastructure throughout the vast 9,085-acre state forest focuses around making equestrians’ lives easier, but also note that the multiuse trails are usable by all.
The network of trails here was built by the Triple Cities Ski Club through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Adopt-A-Natural Resource program, and is another great example of how public and private partnerships can make natural resources accessible. The sixteen miles of deep, woodland trails follow many interconnected loops that allow for longer or shorter treks. Despite the lack of signage, the actual trails themselves are in great shape and offer a good deal of solitude.
This 4,422-acre forest is a packed collection of named trails, including short, one-mile family-friendly loops; short half-day loops; and, figure-eights or more convoluted patterns to hike all day or overnight. But hiking is not the only activity here. There are also three annual competitive running events, and designated camping areas along the Finger Lakes Trail for extended camping stays.
There are many beautiful places to get outdoors in the Finger Lakes, but few allow you to explore the shores of an actual Finger Lake. Not so for the trails in Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. Paddlers are also welcome and can enjoy these tranquil waters, free of the common boat traffic found on all of the other Finger Lakes. Lacking the typical houses and cottages as well as large noisy boats, exploring Hemlock-Canadice State Forest is like stepping back in time to behold the Finger Lakes in their natural state. The unique situation is thanks to the fact that Hemlock and Canadice lakes are the source of Rochester’s drinking water supply.
*Note – camping is not allowed at Hemlock-Canadice State Forest
The sprawling 3,316-acre forest features over 15 miles of multiuse trails and miles of quiet, unpaved roads. For the most part, the trails weave around and up-and-over two ridges that flank Bear Swamp Creek. As such there are some climbs and descents when moving east-to-west, but the terrain is mostly flat while moving north-south. This habitat is vital for at-risk species, such as the Cerulean Warbler, a rare deep forest songbird.
The 3,446-acre Birdseye Hollow State Forest has two day-use areas, two quiet water paddling opportunities (Sanford Lake and Birdseye Hollow Pond), seven designated primitive lakeside campsites, and nearly 11 miles along the Finger Lakes Trail. Deep woodlands and babbling brooks occupy the majority of the trail experience here, but there is also the short blue-blazed lakeside trail. The blue trail traverses the transitional space between forest and wetland and offers ample wildlife viewing along the way.