There is a back way into every state park and you can find them one of two ways:
1. by meeting a nice experienced person who sees you trying to wedge your bright yellow Ford Focus hatchback into a main parking lot full of screaming kids, barking dogs, and people in sweat pants
2. By screwing up the directions to the main parking lot so badly that you end up giving up, going to another trail outside the park, and then realizing that there’s actually a connector trail between the rail trail and where you meant to go in the first place.
Location: Shindagin State Forest the back way by way of the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) and a short section of rail trail
Is it goat approved? Shindagin State Forest is the mountain bike mecca of the area. That means more or less, you give way to the bikes on all trails, unless you are on the FLT, which is hiking only. So if you aren’t okay with late twenties boys with bikes screaming defiance as they maneuver their way over countless man made obstacles at speeds approaching that of half the speed you typically hike at, this may not be for you. If your goat(s) are not okay with close approaches by bikes, or if you want to hike more than 2 goats, probably also not for you. However, the obstacles are cool, the bikers relatively patient, and there are several nice graveyards.
How to get there: There are several places to park within the forest. New York’s state forests often have gravel roads running through them in the lower part of the state so you can park off the side of these roads. But the fun way is to come in the back way!
Time for hike: Just plan to be there most of the day to get a good look at everything and get back. This hike is an “out and back”.
Directions to Trail Head: Start at Ridgeway Road in Brooktondale, NY 14817. You’ll get onto this road by turning right off Coddington Road. Just after you turn onto Ridgeway Road, there will be a small drive to your right leading to a clearing, which sometimes has a picnic table. This is a parking area for the Finger Lakes Trail head (FLT). You will be parking on grass.
Trails to Take
Go along the left hand wood edge until you see a trail marked with a white blaze. This is the FLT! You want to head away from the road, and you’ll see the trail disappear into some woods. Follow it.
Now comes the fun part. You have, unbeknownstly, stepped into the MAZE OF DOOM, or at least, a maze of snowmobile trails. Keep sticking with any trail that keeps you near Ridgeway Road and you should eventually detangle yourself from this mess. On the way back, if your goat(s) have a good sense of direction just follow them because this place is seriously ridiculous. If you are going the right way you will continue to see white blazes, go down hill through a small field, and cross a small bridge at some point. When crossing the bridge, make sure to stay on the wooden planks. The muck on either side can get pretty deep. Eventually, once you have conquered the Maze of Doom, the Field of Endless Blackberries, and the Bridge of Bottomless Muck, you will reach the Rail Trail to Infinity. The FLT will come up alongside an obvious old rail bed between bushes that usually sport red and yellow berries on them most of the year. Go to the right when the FLT intersects with the rail trail. The rail trail will continue on a raised bed dead straight through an area of swampy ground, with nice views of wildlife (and up close and personal views of the biting insect-ish version of wildlife) for a bit. Eventually, you will see the FLT cut off to the right, (follow those white blazes!), and the rail trail will enter an area with woods on the left hand side. When the FLT leaves, follow it!
The FLT will go up a big, annoying hill along the edge of a large field, then across the road and along the edge of ANOTHER field. Pro Tip: New York has a lot of very similar fields. Make sure you remember these are the ones you passed!. Keep following. The white blazes will lead you into a more wooded section, across a creek, then up the hillside on what rapidly begins to look like an old logging road. Expect to do your biggest and baddest climb of the hike right here. Think “yes, this is 15 minutes of sheer agony and loathsome switch backs, but at least the goat is getting exercise!”. Once you crest the hill you are in Shindagin and may proceed at your leisure.
My personal favorite is to continue on the FLT. You’ll cross a well maintained gravel road, which you can walk up and down if you like old house foundations or graveyards. Look for the ivy and that’s where you’ll find ruins most often. If you think ruins are for archaeologists and old men with metal detectors I recommend continuing on the FLT till you intersect with Creek Trail (labeled as B6 on some maps) and going down this trail, circling back on Imba Trail (B4 & B5) and getting back on the FLT to head back out the way you came. Creek Trail has some impressive bike obstacles that will leave you wondering if mountain bikers are not some type of human/goat hybrid. If you have lots of time, check out the other side trails like Chair Trail (R1) which generally also have interesting obstacles of a less terrifying nature than Creek Trail. As a human, be careful climbing on any of these obstacles when wet. Or you will face plant right in front of your goat who will be embarrassed for you.
- Shindagin Hollow is a forest for mountain bikers. Like most small children, if they catch you playing with/on their toys they can be quite cross. Quite cross indeed. So you know, wait till their out of sight, then let the goats have their fun.
- The FLT section in Shindagin is popular with dog walkers who walk their dogs sans leash. For that really determined canine idiot, consider bringing your biggest baddest horned minion that will stand its ground if you are also wanting to hike a timid or dehorned goat. Oh, and don’t bring the attack goat that eats chihuahuas for breakfast. We want to be friends (sort of) with the dog folks!
- Don’t forget hunting season! Sections of the FLT are closed during hunting season (check online) and always slather your goats not just with orange on their body, but also on their horns. Go all out. Safety day glow orange is totally in this year.
- The best time to hike this trail is when it’s cool. The rail trail section can be quite impressively buggy during the summer months. Besides, you need some time to go to the beach and remind your family you are still alive, so take the summer months and go do that!
In sum: Sensei says “To understand a mountain biker you must bike a thousand miles on his trails. To understand a goat packer you must walk a thousand miles on the same trails while dragging a recalcitrant 150lb beast behind you the whole way.”