Ruminate on the Meaning of Life at Finger Lakes National Forest

What is the fate of the caprine species? Will they forever remain the prank pulling, truck climbing, grain thieving trouble makers that have made their image synonymous with mischievousness and evil? Or is it possible that some day, a peaceful society of goat kind may emerge, where social questions are not answered through violent clashes of horns and aggressive posturing, but rather through diplomacy around the round bale?

Take a nice day out on Finger Lakes National Forest’s trails to let your goats contemplate a new raison d’etre for their species that’s a little less about making trouble!

 Is it goat approved? Yes, though off leash dogs can be abundant on the hiking only trails and may come in packs on rare occasions. Stick to the horse trails as much as possible.

How you get there:  Start out on Picnic Area Road inside the forest. There is a pull off to park at next to a large fenced in pasture (adjacent to a camping spot used by FLT thru hikers). From this pull off you can see the bottom of the pasture and Potomac Road. This is where you want to park, though if you are arriving late you can also park at Blueberry Patch Campground.

Time for hike:  Approximately 6.3 miles. This is a loop hike. 

Best season to do this hike: Any time of the year, though it may be buggy in places during the summer. During the early fall expect to meet a lot of mushroom hunters on the trail, and a sea of orange covered hunters in the winter, but for the most part this park is big enough to spread everyone out.

The diversity of fungi in the park is amazing

Trails to Take

Start off by crossing the road from the parking area and going north on Interloken Trail. This is the main trail that many people take through the forest. Interloken will go along for a ways, pass a small pond on your right, and have you walking on boardwalks occasionally.

Small Pond

Eventually you’ll reach Foster Pond. During the winter there is a high concentration of hunters targeting the brush behind the dam, so be careful. The pond itself has a camping area on the far side, and is stocked with hatchery raised trout. During very hot weather trout dying from heat stroke may be seen swimming aimlessly at the surface of the pond, (note: these do not taste very good if you try to eat them!).

Where Interloken Trail meets Foster Pond
One of the trout

Cross the pond dam, and the small creek. The trail will then split left and right. Go left, and you’ll be headed down a horse trail with blackberries and other briers on either side. This area is good goat browse without cows!

This trail dead ends into Backbone Trail. Go right, and continue down a wider trail that runs between pastures. This is another area where hunters are common, but also has a number of semi-wild apple trees, (the remnants of prior domestic orchards, back when apples were a major cash crop in the region). These apples are edible when in season!

When you reach the road, look for the gate to the right. Go through the gate, (and shut it behind you!), and quickly cross the pasture without letting the goats graze since this is a cow pasture. Crossing quickly is also advisable because random groups sometimes show up in this area. I ran into a Bible study group one afternoon that wouldn’t shut up about my goats, (they were reading a Bible passage that mentioned goats or something).

Shut the gates!

Anyway, once you’re through the gate on the opposite side of the pasture, continue down the horse trail. Wall ruins are present in this area, as well as at least one geocache. You will reach a pine plantation on your right and Interloken Trail will come in on your right. Go right onto Interloken Trail.

This stretch of woods is great if you want to trail run, with a nice twisty trail, a bridge or two, and soft ground. Eventually the trail will drop you back at Foster’s Pond, and you can take Interloken back out to the car.

There are many great hikes at this park. If you are looking for a longer hike, I highly recommend Ravine Trail for the mushrooms, elevation change, and water as well as Burnt Hill Trail for cow watching and if there’s a cool storm blowing in you want to check out.

Backbone Horse Camp, off Backbone Trail, has restrooms and tie ups intended for horses but also useful for goats

Fingerlakes National Forest map


  1. Adult dairy cows and beef cows are often present in the many fenced in pastures throughout the forest. If you want to avoid them take the horse and hiking trails in the south of the park, though the cows generally don’t approach the goats. However,  cows can have Johnes. I am not saying these cows do, (and it is likely they only allow Johnes negative herds onto the forest), but that is a possibility. Therefore, it’s not really advisable to allow young goats less than a year of age to go in the cow pastures, as this age group is susceptible to getting Johnes, (older goats to my understanding are not). Johnes can survive up to a year in the soil, so even if cows are not currently present, treat the pastures with caution. On the flip side, the cows managed on these pastures are older, and thus while my herd is and always has been Johnes negative, goats passing through the pastures should not be a threat to the cows (to my understanding).
  2. The ice on the ponds in this area rarely achieves the necessary thickness to avoid a deadly plunge. If your goats, (or your kids, your hiking buddies, etc.), are not clear on ice safety, take precautions.
  3. Hunting is extremely popular at this forest. Delay hiking until noon during the most intensive parts of the hunting season, wear orange, and always stay on trail. Hunters are not supposed to shoot across trails, but reality is not generally the same as the rules.
  4. Occasionally you will run into really strange large camp outs of people in the middle of the woods. These are best avoided since I’m not really sure what they are doing, (when they aren’t FLT thru hikers), but it’s probably something New Age and terrifying. If you don’t want the goat sacrificed, take another trail.
  5. In the winter you may meet cross country skiers. For those new to this sport, cross country skiers like to ski down the tracks laid out by prior skiers, (this is less effort). So if you have a goat, which is a naturally “lets go the easy way” kind of critter, where do you think they are going to walk? Right down the ski marks, ruining them all the way. Is there a rule saying you can’t let the goat do this? No. Is there kind of like common courtesy moral imperative? Maybe, but like most morals, its really up to you to decide what you’re okay with.
  6. The Potomac Trails are really confusing. Expect to get lost.
  7. Always close the gates behind you to keep the cows in.


In sum: It is likely that mankind will achieve universal peace before goats even learn to share the feed trough with one another.

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