By Sue Freeman
Are you familiar with the Finger Lakes Trail? Are you sure? It continues to grow. There are now more than 950 miles of trail, including many side trails and loops. If you haven’t explored the Finger Lakes Trail for either a day hike or a backpacking trip, then you’re missing out on the best hiking that our region has to offer.
The main Finger Lakes Trail reaches from Allegany State Park to the Catskill Mountains, passing south of the major Finger Lakes. It continues west to North Dakota as the North Country Trail. In the east it meets the Long Path which connects to the Appalachian Trail. Closer to home, branch trails head north and south off the main trail. The Conservation Trail heads north to Canada. The Letchworth Trail heads east of Letchworth gorge providing a glimpse of some waterfalls. The Bristol Hills Trail (the one closest to Rochester) heads north to Ontario County Park north of Naples. The Crystal Hills Trail is being built to head south from Bath, connecting to the Great Eastern Trail. The Interloken Trail heads north into the Finger Lakes National Forest. The Onondaga Trail and Link Trail form a loop south of Syracuse. Each of these has smaller loop and spur trails attached.
The whole system amounts to an awful lot of trail mileage. How do you know where to go, where to park, what terrain you’ll encounter, when is a good time to go? The answer to these questions just got easier. The Finger Lakes Trail Conference recently unveiled their on-line, interactive trail map at www.fingerlakestrail.org.
You can zoom in and pan around on the map to focus on any specific trail area. Zooming in twice shows waypoints for trailhead parking, shelters, campsites (including primitive campsites), and hunting closures (red flag waypoints). Clicking on a waypoint brings up more information about it such as dates for hunting closures, notices, and important infrastructure such as lean-tos are also shown. Clicking on the track of a trail, whether the main trail or any side trails, brings up an elevation profile for that area that can be enlarged.
The track colors represent the blaze colors for that segment of trail. The main trail is depicted in black for better visibility on various map backgrounds, but it is white blazed. (A blaze is a rectangle of paint on trees and structures used to denote the route of a trail.)
This interactive map can be very useful in quickly finding relevant information about a specific segment of trail. For instance, if I’m thinking of taking a hike from Ontario County Park into Naples on the Bristol Hills Trail, I can quickly see that I better go now or postpone my trip because a segment of the trail is closed for hunting from November 15 through December 22. Maybe I’ll plan a Christmas Day hike. I see my hiking partner can leave a car at the DEC lot on Route 245 and shuttle us to the start at Ontario County Park and we can hike the distance one way. And, I can see from the topo and terrain versions of the map that we’ll be in for some rugged terrain. Maybe we’ll need snowshoes if the snow is deep.
Once you decide on where to hike using the interactive map, it’s best to buy a Finger Lakes Trail Conference map for that area to use on your hike because of the detailed mile-by-mile information on the back of each map and so that you’ll have a quality printed map with you on the hike. Having a good map with you is one of the most important safety precautions you can take while hiking. Happy Trails.