Trekking New York's Finger Lakes

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of August 22-28, 1996
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Trekking New York's Finger Lakes
Question: We're heading to the Finger Lakes Region of New York, renowned for its wine as well as its tourist crowds. Any advice on camping options for those who enjoy out-of-the-way places and would prefer peaks over people?

Chris Burky
White River Junction, Vermont
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser:You bet it's renowned for its tourist crowds. This is the eastern seaboard after all, where most of the open spaces are privately owned tracts of land, or else overrun parks. Still, if you're realistic about your expectations--and willing to rub elbows for a night with other marshmallow-roasting, wilderness seekers at a state park campground before heading into the backcountry--you may be pleasantly surprised. I'd recommend exploring a section of the 650-plus-mile Finger Lakes Trail, an east-west footpath that runs west from the Catskills, through public and private land, and into the Allegheny Mountains. If peaks, not people, is what you're after, you're more likely to find some along this trail than in any other part of the Finger Lakes region. Keep in mind, though, that elevations in this area generally top out at a whopping (!) 800-or-so-feet.

The most accessible places to pick up the through-trail are either Watkins Glen State Park, just south of the southern tip of Seneca Lake in the village of Watkins Glen, or Robert H. Treman State Park, off New York 13 about two miles south of Ithaca. Both parks have drive-in campgrounds that get pretty crowded on summer weekends, but if you can tolerate the RV-driving, kid-toting masses, they make good jumping-off points for a multiday hike--especially if you arrive in the late afternoon or evening.

Once on the crowd-free (relatively!) trail, pitch your tent at designated camp sites (at least 150 from the water sources and the trail, please) and backcountry shelters. Remember that much of this trail passes through private land, so adhering to these rules will help keep the through-hike open to others like you. If you can't muster the energy for an overnight trip, there's still plenty to do--both parks have short nature trails past towering cliffs, waterfalls, and stream-fed swimming holes (pack your bathing suit). For more details, call the Finger Lakes Trail Conference at 716-288-7191, Watkins Glen (607-535-4511), or Robert Treman (607-273-3440).

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