by Kelly Makosch, Gofingerlakes.org
Whether you’re a seasoned mountain biker or tackling the trails on two wheels for the first time, there is a spot in the Finger Lakes for you. Area parks offer everything from technical, single-track to wide, stone-dust rail trails if you know where to look. For more information, be sure to reach out to local mountain bike groups like Cycle-CNY, CNY Dirt, and the Finger Lakes Cycling Club, that volunteers to maintain area trails and host events.
Harriet Hollister Spencer Recreation Area
Bikers here will find that the majority of trails follow old forest roads, but single-track paths also round-out the network of interconnected and parallel loops. Trips of varying length and difficulty can be easily accomplished after a quick study of the trail map before heading out. What makes it enjoyable for bike a ride — a deep woodland feel with broad, stable trails that include lots of lengthy lines-of-sight — also makes for an ideal cross-country skiing destination in the winter.
Ontario County Park at Gannett Hill
For a great ride with or without your kids, try the multiuse trail system at Gannett Hill. Trails are laid out in different loops that occasionally connect. Each trail is well marked, has its own color, and provides an indication of trail difficulty, so you can put together a route that suites both your skill and energy level. When you’re done with your ride, head to the overlook for an amazing view of Bristol Valley sprawling across the western horizon.
Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail
If rail trails are more your style, look no further than the Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail, which follows an old railroad bed alongside the canal. The western end can be accessed by parking at Seneca Lake State Park or at the Bishop Nature Preserve, owned by the Finger Lakes Land Trust. The preserve has a large gravel parking area off West River Road and a newly constructed path that connects directly to the trail. Once on the canal trail, bikers can enjoy an out-and-back style ride along a broad, level, stone-dust trail. Free of obstructions, the path allows you to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the pastoral landscape.
Shindagin Hollow State Forest
This state forest is a Finger Lakes favorite for mountain bikers, with over 5,266 acres and roughly 15 miles of trails geared specifically for cyclists. The miles of dedicated mountain bike trails are classified as technical single-track, vary in difficulty, and can be combined to make extensive trips. Generally speaking, the blue trails are considered more difficult than the red and yellow trails, but their proximity means it’s easy to mix and match. Note that the red and yellow trails dry out faster than the blue trails, and riding wet trails only degrades the system and all the hard work that has gone into creating the trails.
Oakley Corners State Forest
Oakley Corners State Forest is literally divided in half by Dutchtown Road, and though much of the forest is the same to the north and south of the road, there are a few differences. Notably, all of the ponds are within the southern portion of the property, and the trails around them, marked in yellow, are more level and easier. The northern section features uneven terrain and more challenging trails. Pop on your bike and expect a challenging ride on classic, single-track trails that stretch for over 15 miles.
Chenango Valley State Park
This Southern Tier park is a huge destination for Finger Lakes mountain bikers in the spring because its sandy terrain along the Chenango River drains and dries early. The park offers abnormally dry conditions even when Shindagin Hollow and Hammond Hill are still muddy. And, because this is one of the few New York State Parks in the area that allows mountain biking, it also attracts a fall riding crowd when the state forests are filled with hunters.
The extensive network of well-marked trails — over 20 miles of hiking trails and many additional miles of mountain biking trails — intersect numerous wooded streams and rolling terrain through a variety of deciduous and coniferous forests. The two types of trails are separate but crisscross each other frequently, making trail intersections more a common occurrence than a landmark. There are so many route options within the two interwoven networks that long, difficult treks as well as short interludes can be enjoyed by all levels of cyclists. Cycling surfaces vary from country roads to forest riding trails, and include three levels of difficulty, providing a variety of options and experiences.
Morgan Hill State Forest
The trails here have been gaining popularity with the Shindagin and Hammond Hill mountain biking crowd due to its proximity to Ithaca and Syracuse. To help improve the experience, volunteers have been working hard to add miles of trails in recent years. Riders find this state forest is in a prime location and offers fun and scenic riding with good camping spots to boot!