The Best Hiking in the Finger Lakes of New York

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The Finger Lakes region of New York is a beautiful and diverse area with countless opportunities for outdoor recreation. From the waterfalls and gorges of the Finger Lakes themselves to the rolling hills and forests of the surrounding countryside, there is no shortage of stunning landscapes to explore. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just looking for a scenic walk, the hiking opportunities within the Finger Lakes region will have what you’re looking for. In this article, we’ll be sharing some of the best hiking near the Finger Lakes, from easy nature walks to challenging backcountry routes.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Pond located along the Esker Brook Trail in Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is a 10,004-acre wildlife preserve operated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, encompassing a portion of the Montezuma Swamp, located towards the north end of Cayuga Lake. The refuge is centrally located between the cities of Rochester and Syracuse, and the I-90 interstate highway runs through this refuge offering travelers passing through the area easy access. This protected area is home to a variety of species of birds, fish, and more, and it is important for visitors to remain attentive to stay on the trails and away from any protected areas within the refuge. This area provides visitors with the opportunity to see a variety of migratory birds depending on the time of year that you decide to visit. The species known to be found in this area include Great Blue Heron, Geese, Ducks, and even Bald Eagles have been known to nest here in recent years.

For hiking trails at Montezuma Wildlife Refuge we would recommend checking out the Esker Brook Nature Trail and adjoined South Spring Pool Trail which are located on the Western edge of the preserve. These trails are definitely not too challenging and should be comfortable for most skill levels, however the number of bugs that can be found on these trails in the Spring and Summer can be a bit overwhelming, so we would definitely recommend packing extra bug spray or avoiding it during the buggier seasons if that is something that bothers you. 

Montezuma Wildlife Refuge also features a 3.5 mile wildlife drive for motorists that provides excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography as you cruise along past the expansive marshes. This drive can be closed in the winter time if the conditions are icy and warrant it, so it is best to check with the park beforehand if you were planning on visiting during this time of the year. For more information on Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge we’d recommend checking out the park’s website.

Hemlock-Canadice State Forest (Rob’s Trail)

Shoreline of Canadice Lake

Rob’s Trail is a unique trail that scales Bald Hill, spanning between Hemlock and Canadice Lakes and connecting the two, which happen to be the only two undeveloped lakes throughout this region, offering a truly unique feel and experience at their shorelines and throughout the surrounding landscape. This area is divided into 3 trails: Canadice Trail, the Loop Trail and Hemlock Trail. Hemlock Trail and Canadice Trail can both be considered to be steep and moderately challenging, as they bring you down the sides of Bald Hill and to the shoreline of each respective lake. The Loop Trail is an easier 1.75 mile trail at the top of Bald Hill which passes through overgrown meadows and connects into the Canadice Lake Trail.

These trails are divided by State route 15a, with Hemlock Trail and it’s parking area found on the western side of the road and Canadice/Loop Trail on the eastern side of the road with its own parking area. For more information on Rob’s Trail, we’d recommend checking out the Nature Conservancy’s website.

Finger Lakes National Forest

The Finger Lakes National Forest is a 16,259 acre area located in between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. This forest offers over 30 miles of interconnected trail that allows visitors the opportunity to experience gorges, ravines, woodlands, and pastures. Visitors have the opportunity to view an abundance of wildlife including Beavers, Bobcats, Red Foxes, White-Tailed Deer, and a variety of birds. 

Most notable of the trails in this area is the Interloken Trail, which is 11.3 miles end-to-end. This trail travels from the northern portion of the forest due south to the southern portion through the heart of the forest. There are a number of branches and loops spurring off of the main trail along the way. The Interloken Trail is a branch trail connecting to the Finger Lakes Trail system. You can find more information on hiking within the Finger Lakes National Forest here.

The Finger Lakes region of New York is a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a range of hiking trails for all skill levels. Some of the best hiking options in the area include the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to a variety of wildlife and features an easy nature trail and a 3.5 mile wildlife drive; Rob’s Trail in the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest, which consists of three trails ranging from moderate to challenging and offers stunning views of Hemlock and Canadice Lakes; and the Finger Lakes National Forest, which has over 30 miles of interconnected trails and is great for exploring the forest and experiencing the diverse ecosystem. Overall, the Finger Lakes region offers a variety of hiking options for all skill levels and interests, making it a great destination for those looking to experience the beauty of the outdoors.