Finger Lakes National Forest Activity Guides:
Finger Lakes National Forest Trails:
Finger Lakes National Forest
Finger Lakes National Forest Overview
According to Iroquois legend, the Finger Lakes of central New York were made by the impression of the hand of the Great Spirit Manitou. Geologists insist that receding glaciers cut the lakes from calcium-rich seabeds. Either way, the forest preserves a unique shrubland ecosystem that nearly vanished because settlers farmed the land until the soil was depleted. As the only national forest in the state of New York and the smallest in the country, the protected habitat is all the more precious. Nestled on a ridge between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, the 16,032-acre forest is easy to explore thanks to a web of interconnected trails that traverse gorges, ravines, woodlands, and pastures.
Hike the Ravine Trail
The one-mile Ravine Trail descends through a stand of red pine before it bottoms out at a whispering creek. Crystal-clear waters cascade down a limestone staircase as tall cedars cling to the banks around a pool that resembles a Japanese rock garden composed of slate-gray stones and emerald-green moss. Chances are, you'll see lots of orange salamanders along the way. A half-hour should get you down the trail and back up, but you may want to linger and listen to the silence. There are 28 miles of easy hiking trails that weave their way through the forest.
See the Rapture of Raptors in Flight
The three most visible raptors in the forest include the northern harrier (aka the marsh hawk), the red-tailed hawk, and the American kestrel. Harriers are often seen flying very low over pastures and hayfields in search of prey. The red-tailed hawk prefers to soar up to a high elevation where it patiently hovers until it spots movement down below. The American kestrel likes to perch itself on wires, fence wires, and fenceposts in an open field. Other raptors that frequent the forest include the eastern screech-owl, northern goshawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and the great horned owl.
Horse Camp at Backbone
The Backbone Campground is designed for campers with horses. A corral sits adjacent to seven main sites equipped for horse trailers. Horseback riding is permitted on the southern part of the 12-mile Interloken Trail, as well as on the Burnt Hill Trail, No-Tan-Takto Trail, and Backbone Trail. Old homestead sites can be seen along the Backbone Trail. Other archaeological sites, mostly post-Revolution, can be seen throughout the forest. Prior to the arrival of European settlers, two of the six Iroquois Nations hunted in the forest—the Seneca and the Cayuga. The Iroquois believed that the hunting grounds around the Finger Lakes were a gift from the Great Spirit who wished to reward them for their loyalty and courage in battle.
Take the Kids Blueberry Picking
Bushels of low-bush and high-bush blueberries are yours for the picking on a five-acre blueberry patch managed by the forest. The blueberry patch is located adjacent to the Blueberry Patch Campground. You can also pick raspberries, apples, and other abundant fruits located in the forest.
The forest is teeming with wildflowers including pink lady slippers, iris, false Solomon's seal, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, azalea, and poison ivy.
Ski along the Interloken Trail
Nordic skiers can slide along the 12-mile Interloken Trail. The southern portion of the trail offers challenging terrain characterized by steep inclines and declines. All the trails in the forest are open to cross-country skiers except for the Gorge Trail and the Ravine Trail.
Mountain Bike the Interloken Trail
Although most of the trails are off-limits to mountain bikes for conservation purposes, they are permitted on the northern two miles of the Interloken Trail. The trail is flanked by conifers and winds its way through open pastures and alongside numerous swamps. Mountain bikers can extend their ride along scenic town and county roads in the area.
Drop a Hook into Seneca Lake
Seneca and Cayuga Lakes offer awesome off-shore spin casting and deep trolling for rainbow, brook, and brown trout, northern pike, smallmouth and largemouth bass, landlock salmon, pickerel, smelt, and panfish. And when we say deep trolling, we mean deep—Seneca Lake reaches a depth of 630 feet, which makes it one of the deepest freshwater lakes in the world.