Taking the FLT Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry at Robert H. Treman State Park

Deep in the psyche of all goats there lies a proto-goat, the very essence of all that is goatness. The proto-goat remembers when it stalked the vertical cliff side of prehistoric canyons and cliffs, laughing in vile mirth as its less agile pursuers, (including early man), plummeted to their deaths, while it bounded gleefully away up the scree. The proto-goat inside your domesticated barn potato will love Robert H. Treman State Park’s gorgeous gorges. You may, in fact, have trouble getting your goat out  of the gorge. So make sure you go in early spring or late fall and go very early in the morning so that your goat can spend plenty of time ogling the cliff sides listening to their instincts scream that they were meant to be elegant rock climbers and not just play king of the mountain on top of the hay bales you are trying to stack.

Location: The FLT trail head off Thomas Road, and then in a big loop around Robert H. Treman.

Is it goat approved? Frankly, the goats will love it so I’m including it, but if you get caught by the park service you will be asked to leave. Why? Because its a goat! Even if its on a leash, it’s a goat. This park is within spitting distance of Ithaca, NY, the center of craziness in the Finger Lakes Region. I mean, come on, Ithaca’s motto is “10 square miles surrounded by reality”. The park service has to deal with this insanity every weekend during open season. They have no compassion left.

HOWEVER – there is a magic phrase that you can use on these occasions. Because the FLT (Finger Lakes Trail) does not have a specific anti-goat rule the magic phrase is “I am through hiking on the FLT”. Repeat it at every park service person and troublesome visitor you meet. Continually and without ceasing. You are entitled to hike the FLT…and if you happen to take another trail off the FLT…well, you are so very lost and could this compassionate person you have just been yelled at by please let you know how to get back on the trail? That usually solves the problem.

How you get there: If you are coming from Ithaca, head out on highway 13. Just past the crazy junction with Hwys 13/34/96, look for a road on your right called Millard Hill Rd. You do not want this road! But you do want to turn onto it for about 15 feet, then immediately take the gravel road going straight up hill to your right. This is Van Ostrand Road. If you don’t have a 4 wheel drive vehicle and there is any snow on this road, you won’t make it very far. However, should you manage to continue, after driving for a short stretch you will see Thomas Road (another gravel road) go off to your right. Take it. Thomas Road will go along, take a sharp bend, and then have a single, unmarked gravel road intersecting with it on the right, just before Thomas Road enters a stretch of woodland. This is your intersection to pull off and park. If you are not driving a 4 wheel drive vehicle and you miss this intersection, turn around immediately. The roadway within the woods is typically very poorly maintained.

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Get out of your car and go up the unmarked gravel road. This will end at an occupied house, and a park service gate. Walk around the gate and you are now in Robert H. Treman Park on the FLT.

Time for hike: The hike is about 6.5 miles long. This is a loop hike. 

Trails to Take

Starting out just beyond the gate mentioned above, go down the trail a short distance and look for a short connector trail headed down hill. Take this connector, and it will drop you off on the top of the Rim Trail. But, if it is very early morning, save that for later. Instead, head up river to the main parking area and the old mill. Cross the river on a stone bridge, then head back down river again on Upper Gorge Trail. This trail takes all the nifty staircases and bridges in the park that let you experience the waterfalls and cliffs up close. However, it is tight, and gets very crowded, so it is only passable by goat extremely early in the morning. Upper Gorge becomes Gorge Trail, (just keep choosing whatever trail keeps you next to the river without crossing over it). Hike along the convoluted staircases and picturesque waterfalls for 2.25 miles. The trail will dump you out in the lower parking lot, near the ranger station. This is a seriously bad location to hang about, so have in mind what you are going to do before you reach here.

If it is still very early and no one seems to be about, you can take the Rim Trail back up the river, and this has great high elevation views of the waterfalls. To get to the trail head, cross the river on the foot bridge next to the car ford, and then look for the trail head in the cabin area along the edge of the river. This is a nice little hike, but has a staircase on it that is tight, long, and extremely steep. If the weather is rainy or snowy, (as it often is in this region), don’t take this trail as the staircase can become impassable. If it is impassable, the park service will shut the gates at either end, and since by the time you reach the staircase the immensely popular Gorge Trail will be crowded with people and unpassable by goat, you will be forced to turn around and hike nearly a mile and a half back to the parking area and the undoubtedly by this late time fully staffed ranger station of DOOM.

To save yourself from an imminent tongue lashing, instead of doing the Rim Trail, cross the river, but continue along the paved road through the camping area. At the end of this road, just before you reach the gate at the end, a trail with white blazes will go off into the woods on your right. Yes, that is the glorious, beautiful FLT coming to your rescue! Take her wonderful dirt track of happiness into the woods. You will follow her for the next 3 miles, climbing up out of the valley and onto the ridge line. Watch out for such useful trail markers as an unused stone shelter as you make your ascent out of the valley. There is a  section where the trail runs along the gravel service road, past a picnic shelter and a FLT style wooden shelter. In this area there is a pit toilet, should it be needed, and the service road is fairly quiet, so tying up your goat while using the facilities is moderately safe.

Continue on the FLT as it winds through some quiet woods and crosses a few small streams. If you enjoy trail running, this is a great place to make a goat, (which is naturally a short distance sprinter to the nearest crag), work on its endurance by keeping up with you off leash.

Eventually you’ll get back to the connector trail you used in the morning. If the park still seems pretty sedate, take it back down to the edge of the river, then go left upstream to the old wooden mill. Behind the old wooden mill is a set of stairs, around which the CCC Memorial Trail starts off. The CCC Memorial Trail is a great place for history and ruins buffs, and also a convenient connector to the FLT, making it a great get away trail if you have issues navigating the park. The trail will take you up towards the river and along a meadow. This meadow is the remains of the mill’s pond. You may see portions of the old dam system in and around the river at this point. Climb a steep hill and continue along the river to see the remains of the old CCC barracks, (mostly stone steps and remnants). Eventually the CCC Memorial Trail dead ends into the FLT around a commemorative stone marker. Turn left to go back towards the river. You can cross the river on an old bridge, and this dumps you out onto Thomas Road, (though there are other small unmarked trails in this area that may be worth your exploration). Go left again on Thomas Road, and follow the FLT white markers when they enter the woods again on your left. This gives you a nice jaunt through the woods, which ends again at the park gate you started at this morning. From here, proceed to your car, (or vehicle of your choice).

BE WARNED!

1. Sections of the trails, especially those through the gorge, will be closed during the winter and during extremely wet periods. The trail closers are worth respecting as people do actually die even in this really developed park every few years. Also, if you get caught, in New York State you can be charged with breaking the law because it’s really expensive to fish dead bodies out of the river.

2. Most trail users are from Ithaca and surrounding urbanized areas. As I learned the hard way, this means they know zero about livestock and some even have trouble navigating the every day dog. Expect to have your patience stores depleted to critical if you end up visiting during a popular time.

3. An important note for people like me who are not native to the Finger Lakes Region: the cliff edges of gorges in this area are made from extremely fragile shale. This means that if you are standing on the edge of a cliff there is a very really possibility that it will give way under you. It also means that despite all the cliffs rock climbing is a nonexistent sport in the area because the cliff faces themselves are not stable. Your goat does not know any of the above information and enjoys hanging out on cliff edges. Plan accordingly. 

4. If you cannot cross the foot bridge at the lower end of the park due to ice, the river is crossable, even in winter. However, a hiking pole is recommended for 2 legged hikers as the current is significant and the rocks somewhat slippery.

5. Try to figure out whether the staircase is open on the Rim Trail before you go. This is a crucial issue for navigating the park quickly before it gets crowded.

In sum: There will be nay-sayers in every great venture. If you can’t convince, cajole, or generate camaraderie with them, then you can, of course, just produce a convincing white lie.

Note staircase typical of the Gorge Trail in the background of this waterfall
Note staircase typical of the Gorge Trail in the background of this waterfall
This is what the Gorge Trail looks like if you don't get there early!
This is what the Gorge Trail looks like if you don’t get there early!
One of the waterfalls in the park
One of the waterfalls in the park
This signage can be found on gates, that when shut, indicate the trail is closed.
This signage can be found on gates, that when shut, indicate the trail is closed.
Good ole' Finger Lakes Trail
Good ole’ Finger Lakes Trail
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