Finger Lakes Trail: 900 miles of lonely hiking

The Finger Lakes Trail is deceptively simple. Looking at the map above, you might think, “What’s there to see?” It doesn’t trace a rugged coast, doesn’t piggyback on the spine of a mountain range, and barely even interlaces with the Finger Lakes. Neither elevation nor landscape varies much — it’s mostly rolling hills. Consequently, the southern half of upstate New York isn’t thought of as a major outdoor destination. And that’s exactly the point — the FLT offers wilderness and solitude in a time when both are getting trickier to find.

The FLT spans 561 miles from Allegheny State Park to the Catskills, connecting the North Country Trail to the Long Path. Side routes add another 351 miles, bringing the FLT system to over 900 miles of trail. The 4,600-mile North Country Trail actually co-opts 420 miles of the FLT (en route to the Adirondacks). The FLT also connects to Canada’s 500-mile Bruce Trail, and provides the northern terminus of the Great Eastern Trail (not shown on map).

According to the FLT Conference, only about 20 people thru-hike the trail each year. The total number of thru-hikers in the trail’s 48 year history is a mere 289. The trail takes about six to seven weeks to complete, and it’s easy to go an entire week without seeing another hiker.

Despite the light traffic, the FLTC maintains a family of maps and keeps them constantly updated. As seen here, there are plenty of updates due to the patchwork nature of the route. The trail hops back and forth between state land, state parks, and private land (often farms) . [UPDATE: According to nogods in the comments below, this back and forth leads to significant road walking.]

The trail’s diverse ownership, light traffic, and equally light political sway make it vulnerable to competing land-use priorities. Sections are closed for weeks at a time during hunting season, state lands are subject to clear-cuts, and private landowners can revoke their agreements with the FLT at any time.

The trail’s greatest threat is gas drilling development in the Marcellus Shale formation (see map on page two of this PDF). The FLTC is currently fighting for special protection, similar to that granted by New York State to the Catskills and the NYC watershed.

If you really want to get away — while helping the FLTC have a stronger argument for protection — how about spending a couple nights or weeks on the trail?

Image provided by Cayuga Trails Club.

Posted by | Comments (5)  | May 26, 2010
Category: Backpacking, North America, Simplicity

5 Responses to “Finger Lakes Trail: 900 miles of lonely hiking”

  1. Finger Lakes Trail: 900 miles of lonely hiking « New York Outdoors Blog Says:

    […] May 29, 2010 by newyorkoutdoors Finger Lakes Trail: 900 miles of lonely hiking […]

  2. sage Says:

    years ago, I lived in Ellicottville and hiked most of the southern part of the trail, from the PA border up north of Eville–good memories, but all my hikes on this trail were day trips

  3. Garth Fisher Says:

    I did an end-t0-end this summer. It took me 52 days counting my town time. It was a solitary journey. I met no other long distant hikers. Met a dozen day hikers. Camped along at all Bivouacs. Had some one else at two shelters. It is about 35% road walk. The maintenance varied from none at all to well groomed. Water was often a problem. There were numerous cell phone dead zones. Two motels would not take a credit card. I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2000 where the shelters were spaced for long distance hikers. The FLT is spaced for day or several day hikers. At back pack tent is essential for this trail. It was however, the hike I needed for my 70th birthday and the hip replacement I had in 2008.

  4. Garth Fisher Says:

    To read a detailed account of my hike go to my blog.

  5. WavesandBeaches Says:

    Well, I thru hiked the FLT……but it was a lot shorter when I did it. I enjoyed the quiet mornings in old dales and glens. Though, my desperation for surely potable water led me to brief interchanges with different folks upon occasion, I spent most of my time strolling down paths alongside cricks and up cuts in to the conifers of old NYS reforestation projects, real alone and quiet. Every now and then views of our fair state would open up, or of a field of boney cows. I would study my topos and pick a place to sleep (far off the trail) that looked like it would be near a spring. I would generally find a spring where it looked like there should be one, and though it was a muddy enterprise, good clear water resulted (I knew a day or two later, for sure, that the water was good). Intersections with roads were sometimes quite unwelcome, as it could mean some kids and a parked car. For some reason walking 20 feet down the FLT meant to them they were now officially unseeable and unhearable and able to do anything… But that was okay, I would circle around them and keep going along through our forest.