Lakes in the Middle – Opportunities abound for outdoor adventure

Wesley Hill Nature Preserve
All three lakes offer stunning views of the surrounding high hills and abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation. If there’s a downside, it may be that there are too many options.

Wesley Hill Nature Preserve

In the western Finger Lakes, bordering the northern rim of the immense Briggs Gully, the Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Wesley Hill Nature Preserve offers miles of hiking and solitude. The quiet of the preserve is interrupted only by the sounds of rushing water and songs of Black-throated Green Warblers, thrushes, chipmunks and other forest denizens. Be sure to take in the view from one of the rock outcroppings along the gully’s north rim. On the far side of Honeoye Valley, beyond the broad expanse of the gully, you’ll see Harriet Hollister State Recreation Area.

In addition to Briggs, several other gullies wind through the preserve. Diverse stands of mature forest, a wide array of wildflowers and sweeping views of the hills surrounding Honeoye Lake’s southern end make this site truly special.

Grimes Glen Park

Formed by gushing meltwaters at the end of the last ice age, Grimes Glen is typical of many Finger Lakes gorges that still carry runoff from uplands down into the ice-carved valleys below. Two stunning 60-foot falls are accessible by wandering upstream about half a mile from the parking area. Waterfall sightseers should expect to get their feet wet, as the gorge narrows upstream to a point where there is no bank to speak of, forcing hikers into the rocky streambed. For much of the summer and fall, except after torrential rains, the creek bed is easily navigable, but during spring runoff the flow comes on strong and turbulent. 

The Finger Lakes Land Trust holds an easement on the property and so has a responsibility to look out for the future of this remarkable gorge.

Canandaigua Vista Nature Preserve

Just a short drive from downtown Canandaigua, this new Finger Lakes Land Trust preserve offers visitors respite from the stresses of everyday life. Leave the world behind and follow the loop trail through fields and oak-hickory forests and past the head of Barnes Gully – a deep gorge that flows to nearby Onanda Park. After a quick climb to the crest of the hill on a clear day, visitors will be rewarded with epic views of Canandaigua Lake and the surrounding landscape.

High Tor Wildlife Management Area

Opportunities abound for all types of outdoor enthusiasts at the High Tor Wildlife Management Area (WMA): paddling the West River, cycling the Lehigh Valley Rail Trail and, of course, hiking and biking the expansive upland plateau. And you can’t leave out creek walking and gorge exploration in Conklin Gully-Parish Glen and Clark Gully. With ponds, waterfalls, rivers, gorges, forests and open fields, there’s an abundance of outdoor experiences waiting within the 6,800-acre wildlife management area.

There are more than a dozen miles of hiking trails as well as a network of access roads in the 3,400-acre upland portion of High Tor WMA. The climbing is steep, but once you reach the top, the hiking is fairly level. The mix of roads and footpaths wind their way through open fields and dense woodlands, with the occasional wooded glen and pond to spice up the experience. If you love the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT), then you’ll also love High Tor WMA, as it features a part of the Bristol Hills Trail, a branch of the FLT that connects to Gannett Hill Park.

Gannett Hill Park

There aren’t many trails with broad scenic views in the Finger Lakes region, but the ones that do exist are high on the must-visit list. Among those trails with a view, the “Jump Off” overlook at Gannett Hill is one of the best. But the lookout is just the beginning of the activities available in the 400-acre county park. A vast network of trails, over 10 miles in total, weaves through the woodland and over steepened hillsides of the Bristol Valley.

The trail network actually extends beyond the park boundaries along the Finger Lake Trail’s Bristol Hills Trail. This spur trail snakes its way through several parks, state forests and wildlife management areas. It totals roughly 55 miles from Gannett Hill in the north to the main Finger Lakes Trail in Mitchellsville to the south. The trails beyond the park boundary are for foot travel only.

Keuka Outlet Trail

Although the trail is wholly within the Seneca Lake watershed, you can’t mention recreation and Keuka Lake without pointing visitors to the Keuka Outlet Trail. Late in the 20th century, recreation advocates blazed the way in repurposing this former tow path and rail-bed into one of the best multiuse trails in the region. The trail follows a generally downhill course from the outlet of Keuka Lake in Penn Yan to the inlet along Seneca Lake in Dresden. A winding stream and two impressive waterfalls accompany hikers and bikers along the 6.8-mile route. The most notable waterfall is Seneca Mill Falls, located at about the midpoint of the trail near the pavilion at the Lion Bruce Hansen Memorial Park, where many people stop to picnic and view the falls.

Please be aware that equestrians frequent the Outlet Trail, so make sure your trail etiquette knowledge is up to speed! 

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