One of the great unsung wonders of upstate New York are its network of maintained snowmobile trails that traverse long distance over public and private lands. Some trails are tens of miles in length, rivaling the best national park hiking trails in the region. During white powder season of course they are the exclusive haunt of those people who bought a snowmobile for the season they couldn’t ride their motorcycle in. But after the snow melts and the weather warms, or even in winters where snow fall is low, these trails are great long distance hikes for the rest of us, (or at least, the “rest of us” that keeps cloven hooved minions about the place).
Location: Section of old rail bed that runs south from Ridgeway Road, crosses White Church Road, and ends at Hands Hill Road. The rail bed has been maintained as a snowmobile trail by local snowmobiling clubs, thus making the total distance much longer than that visible on google maps. Trail runs through swamp land, but essentially follows Willseyville Creek.
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) that a nice guy who lives on the road maintains. You will be parking on grass. The fastest and least confusing way to reach the trail is to walk downhill on Ridgeway Road away from the intersection with Coddington for a short distance, and look to your right. You’ll see the ruins of the rail line on your left, and if you look right, you’ll see a gravel rail bed leading off between bushes. That’s the trail head.
Is it goat approved? Yes, there are no anti-goat rules and the trail itself is out in the country. As the traffic on the trail is minimal this is a great place to hike off leash. Most trail users stay on the north end of the trail, which is gravel and incredibly straight. You may meet a bike or two in this section, but after you cross White Church Road there is usually no one about.
Time for hike: This is 4 miles one way, so 8 miles approximately round trip. This hike is an “out and back”.
Trails to Take
See map at the bottom of this section for the basic set up of the trail. This map is not to scale. “P” marks the parking location, and you can see where Ridgeway Road intersects with the trail. Once you are at this intersection, you can proceed down the trail, which is an old gravel rail bed surrounded by red and orange berry bushes at this point. You’ll see the FLT (white blazes) intersect with the rail bed on your right, and then about 1/4 mile onward it will leave the trail on your left and head off towards Shindagin Hollow State Forest. Continue on the rail bed, which will travel alternating through swamp land and forest. Eventually you’ll reach White Church Road, and see stop signs there warning the snowmobilers to look both ways before they plow across the road and get nailed.
Cross White Church Road and continue on the rail bed. This area is usually pretty good for wild flowers. You will see a trail go off to your left. This is a good water point for goats as it leads down to the actual creek that winds through the swamp. If you aren’t going to rehydrate your self propelling suitcase on hooves, continue down the rail bed. Another trail will come off to your right, but that is a horse trail that just goes up the hillside to the backside of some farm fields and isn’t really that interesting plus it dumps you out on private property.
You will eventually reach a well maintained wooden bridge that is a replacement for the original railway bridge over a deep channel in the swamp. This is a good location if you like waterfowl to get out the binoculars and look for ducks and sometimes large turtles. Just beyond this bridge the trail turns left and abandons the rail bed, (which is good, because let me tell you, the rail bed disintegrates after that and the swamp gets scary in a hurry). To continue you must cross through a shallow section of swamp.
Usually someone has put some stones or pieces of wood for you to cross on if you are foot traffic, but this is a location to be careful, especially if you aren’t a New York native or accustomed to swamp land. Take your hiking pole, or a stick, and walk out carefully, pushing the stick into the ground in front of you, and with your goats if they are not experienced, behind you. If the stick starts getting sucked in or the depth of the mud becomes obviously deep, you won’t be doing this crossing today. If you continue with deep mud you or the goat(s) are going to get sucked into the mud, and at this location if you are sucked in you won’t be able to get yourself out. Obviously this is essentially a game over because you’ll be stuck potentially up to your waist or more in cold water in the middle of nowhere on a trail that is rarely used in New York. Have your life insurance policy paid up if you plan to try something so stupid.
Most of the time this crossing does not have very deep mud and is fairly easy to cross on foot in warm weather, or you can cross on the ice in winter so long as it is thick enough. Once you’ve crossed the snowmobile trail is still very visible and goes up into the woods. You will pass through a gate which is sometimes closed, and now you are truly on private land. You’ll walk through the woods for a while, pass some deer stands, and eventually walk along the edge of some farm fields till you reach Hand’s Hill Road. This is the turn around point, so do an about face and return the way you came!
You may see snowmobile signs listing the mileage along the trail to “Last Call”. After several years of wondering I finally discovered that “Last Call” is a bar about a 1/2 mile beyond the end of this trail. So if you want to take a stroll down to Ithaca Road and celebrate your feat with a beer before you head back that’s an additional perk of this route.
- The end of this trail runs through private farm property, and through areas that are actively hunted. Blaze orange is more fashionable than a bullet hole in your forehead.
- If the gate in the woods is closed it’s not usually a good idea to walk around it and go on. Rednecks are not just in the South.
- Seriously the water crossing is at your own discretion. For thousands of years man has evolved by having members of the species who had poor discretion die, often in amusing, silly, and painful ways.
- This is a not trail to do in the summer! Intrepid explorers who have attempted to traverse the trail during the warmer months have been found dead a short distance down the trail drained of blood and covered in black flies.
In sum: We the few and unwilling, have done so much with so little in the way of trails that we can practically hike anything, even if it’s a snowmobile route!