Finger Lakes Trail offers hikes throughout New York state

Chris Potter

HORNELL | Wood spent the summer of 1961 hiking the vast vistas of the Appalachian Trail in Vermont. The Rochester, N.Y. resident returned home and surveyed a landscape equal to the natural beauty of the mountains to the east.

Wood resolved to unite the trails scattered across the state into one continuous footpath, providing countless future generations the opportunity to share in his passion.

Flash forward a half-century, and Wood’s dream has become a reality.

The organization he founded in 1962, the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC), now offers 958 miles of hiking.

The main Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) begins along the Pennsylvania-New York border in Allegany State Park, tracing across both public and private lands on its way to the Catskill Forest Preserve some 558 miles distant. A host of branch, loop and spur trails connect to the main FLT?like tributaries to a mighty river, adding another 400 miles to the tally.

The FLTC is giving citizens the chance to explore the leagues of wilderness once again this summer. A Hiking 101/201 program is aimed at novices and advanced beginners, while the FLT?Passport Program offers rewards to enthusiasts who complete a series of self-guided hikes.

The Hiking 101/201 program is a series of four hikes on the last Sunday in June, July, August and September. Each hike is led by a trail guide, with groups determined by the preferred speed of the participants.

“Some people like to hike rather quickly. Other people like to go very slowly, look at every flower and really take in the views,” pointed out Gene Bavis, the FLTC’s Executive Director. “Some people just have a moderate speed. We try to match people up with similar hiking speeds and interests. That usually works out the best.”

The first two hikes begin near the Prattsburgh and Bradford areas in Steuben County. The third kicks off in the Sugar Hill State Forest section of the main FLT in Schuyler County, with the series concluding in September with a hike through the less-visited eastern portion of Letchworth State Park.

Each hike is scheduled to cover between 4.7 and 6.2 miles. The 201 group will hike a slightly longer distance than the 101 group. Transportation from the ending point to the trailhead will be provided. The 101/201 series makes for a good outing for experienced hikers and newcomers alike.

“It makes for a great family outing,” Bavis said. “We offer a discount for children escorted by their parents to make it easier on families.”

The FLT?Passport Program represents a partnership between the FLTC?and a quartet of businesses ? Wegman’s, Eastern Mountain Sports, Monro Muffler Brake and Hickory Hill Family Camping Resort. Participants pick up a “Passport Booklet” which details how to take part in 12 self-guided hikes on the FLT.

Mailboxes are set up at checkpoints along the trail. On top of the mailboxes is a marker that allows hikers to take a rubbing in the Passport Booklet to document their accomplishment. Hikers who complete at least four of the trails are eligible for discounts and rewards from the sponsors.

“It’s a pretty nice incentive,” Bavis said. “Most of the hikes are between a mile and five miles in length, so they’re relatively short. Everybody who has started it has said it’s pretty cool.”

Such programs help keep the FLTC going. The organization boasts over 1,400 members, many of whom volunteer their time to help keep the trails in pristine condition.

“We had just shy of 25,000 hours of volunteer time spent on trail maintenance last year,” Bavis said. “It’s probably actually more than that because some people don’t keep track of their time and report it. It’s a huge volunteer effort.”?

As big as it already is, the FLT’s reach is about to get a whole lot longer. Work on the Crystal Hills Trail is under way in Steuben County. The FLT’s newest branch trail, it will eventually carry the Great Eastern Trail (GET) from the Pennsylvania border to its northern terminus at the main FLT near the Moss Hill Lean-to northeast of Bath.

When completed, the GET?will span 1,800 miles, crossing nine states before ending in Alabama.

“The Great Eastern Trail is just being developed now. There were trails in several states that were west of the Appalachian Trail,” Bavis explained. “So they approached some of these organizations and said we’d like to create a new trail that’s sort of parallel to the Appalachian Trail to the left of it. We’d like to link your section of trail with another section of trails to create this new Great Eastern Trail.

“They approached us because our trail runs east and west in the southern part of New York. South of us there was a trail that was running north and south through Pennsylvania called the Mid State Trail. Someone said, ‘Well it’s only about 40 miles from our trail up to your trail, why don’t we connect?’ This new Crystal Hills branch is that connecting link between Pennsylvania and the Finger Lakes Trail.”

In addition to its new southern arm, a journey on the FLT?could take a traveller as far away as North Dakota. In New York state, the FLT is the official route of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which stretches 4,600 miles across seven states. An extension will eventually take the North Country trail to its conclusion at Lake Champlain in northeastern New York state.

“We’re part of a large network of trails. It’s pretty incredible,”?Bavis said. “(Wood) kind of had that vision of let’s tie (the smaller trails) all together, and that’s how the Finger Lakes Trail was born. Now it’s part of a much larger network of trails. That’s pretty cool.”?

For more information or to register for a hiking program, visit