So first off, this is a cross country skiing, horseback riding, bike commuter, and hiking trail. What? You didn’t think I actually snuck onto a ski resort did you? Wait. You did?
Oh well, anyway, for those of us in the know there is a great little flat trail right in Ithaca proper that is perfect for goats! We used to call it Black Diamond, but the park service took it over so it’s a lot busier, but much better maintained and probably has a new, less ominous name at this point. Cause lets face it, telling your coworkers you’re taking your kids skiing on the Black Diamond is probably not a good idea.
The trail will eventually be 8.3 miles long, but is currently still under construction, with some areas being fancy graveled road, others being foot paths, and the last 4 miles is basically an overgrown rail bed that you can enjoy bushwhacking yours and the goats’ way through. Don’t forget your machete!
The trail runs from downtown Ithaca, (the Ithaca Children’s Garden) all the way out to Taughannock Falls State Park.
Location: Black Diamond Rail Trail in downtown Ithaca, NY. Trail head is directly behind the Ithaca Children’s Garden. Look for the power lines and the trail runs right under them!
Is it goat approved? YES. There are currently no anti-goat rules about usage on this trail, though if you are walking at a busy time you may find it easier to navigate with the goats on leash than off. Most dog walkers have their dogs off leash and most trail users seem to accommodate that. Interestingly, this is one of the few true rail trails were you will meet people commuting into Ithaca for work on bike, so it does have a bit of a “rush hour” bike traffic issue.
How to get there: This trail is located in Ithaca, NY, behind the Ithaca Children’s Garden. This is very straight forward, so get Google to help you on this one!
Time for hike: If you want to cover the whole thing, you will be gone all day. This is a 8.3 mile trek ONE DIRECTION. This means it is 16.6 MILES for the whole out and back experience. This hike is an “out and back”. Make sure you are bringing goats that can go the distance. The trail itself is flat, with a nice easy incline as you head out from Ithaca towards Taughannock State Park.
Directions to Trail Head: Parking is easiest at the large parking areas adjoining the Ithaca Children’s Garden or Cass Park. Park here, then walk towards the power lines that run at the bottom of the hill. The trail runs under these power lines for the first 1/2 mile or so.
Trails to Take
Black Diamond is the only trail you will ever need. Just get on and go. The first 1/2 mile or so is just walking under the powerlines. Watch out for little side trails at this time to your left – one of these actually goes down a very steep hill to a small pool of water and little waterfall that’s actually kind of neat. However – this spot is semi-booby trapped as right at the bottom of the foot trail is a big water control concrete structure. With a big hole. Just the right size, in fact, for a human or goat to fall into in a painful and possibly bone breaking manner.
And you thought this flat rail trail was going to be boring!
Anyway, eventually you’ll go into the woods. Keep an eye out as you walk through the woods for more nice creeks coming in on your left, and eventually, a gravel road going up the hill to your left off the trail. This leads up to a little factory, and can be a nice side quest on a day when you aren’t trying to hike the whole 16 mile stretch in one go.
Keep going and you’ll pass the buffalo farm, (more on this particular obstacle at the “BE WARNED” section below). Just before the buffalo farm may be a massive ditch in the trail. This is a wash out caused by the buffalo farmer failing to clean the drainage pipes running from his pasture to the other side of the trail during the spring thaw. Hopefully that has been repaired by now! If not…just go around it.
Cross the road and you’ll be on another nice section of trail, with a beautiful park service bridge crossing over the creek. There used to be a dilapidated train trestle here, and you had to climb down, cross the creek, and climb back up. But they replaced it with something prettier but less fun.
Cross another road and the trail becomes more of a foot trail. You’ll find more creeks to cross. At various points it will turn into someone’s driveway (keep walking, that is still the trail!); cuts sharply into a stand of brush and angles along another person’s property line; and eventually runs across the back of Cayuga Nature Center’s property. At Cayuga Nature Center you will have to start bushwhacking to get through, (usually), but efforts have been made here recently to improve the trail so it may be easy going now at this point.
Continue walking, though the tedium of the flat rail trail may now be causing you to go slightly insane. Cross more roads. Eventually you’ll reach another creek with the remains of a train trestle laying around it. Cross that creek. Keep going.
At some point you will begin to question not only your sanity, but also if this trail actually does end. Ever. Just keep walking. Think of it as helping your goats on the pathway to enlightenment through walking meditation and personally inflicted suffering. Enlightenment might make them understand the amount of bad karma they are accumulating every time they climb out of the fence. Eventually, (or more accurately, at 8.3 miles), you’ll cross your last road and enter Taughannock. You know you are at the end when you reach a trail intersection, or when by passing through the trail intersection and continuing on a little ways you walk onto a bridge that crosses an extremely deep canyon with a river at the bottom (this is the river that feeds Taughannock Falls – more on this in another post!).
While you will at this point not want to do this at all, it is now time to turn around and head back!
1. This is a very long trail. Take that into consideration. Duh.
2. There is a buffalo farm several miles up the trail from Ithaca. The animals are beautiful, but the owner has a pathological fear of goats. While it is true that running domesticated animals (such as goats) with recently domesticated or wild animals (like buffalo) is a problem because domesticated animals carry internal parasites to which wild animals have less immunity, this requires that the goats be in the fence with the buffalo. Not on the rail trail which runs by the fence. You are legally entitled to be on the trail, and point out to him, should you meet him, that your goats are not approaching his animals. Oh, and that because he can’t maintain his pasture drainage properly that’s why there is (or perhaps now was) a giant gash cut through the trail that is going to be very expensive to fix.
3.Watch out for large washouts in the trail, especially in the spring during or after the thaw. These can be unstable! So let your goats test it before you, in your human stupidity, do it first. You can dig your goat out if it gets buried. The goat cannot dig you out. Safety first!
4. If you are bushwacking be mindful of other people’s property lines, (especially the Cayuga Nature Center), and expect to have to cross ditches, creeks, and other dilapidated railway structures. Your goats will love it, but the question is – will you?
In sum: Life is like a box of chocolates. The ones left at the bottom of the box are usually the most boring. But when all you really need is a chocolate, even those are good enough.