While you’ll probably never feel like you’re on an island at Howland Island, this large land area is bound by the Erie Canal on one side and the Seneca River on the other. What it will feel like is that you are visiting the most well maintained swamp in the western hemisphere.
A hideout for horse thieves, a farming community, and even a Civilian Conservation Corps camp that ended up hosting German prisoners of war have all existed at one time or another on the island. Once the land became devoted to wildlife, a pheasant farm was built to raise and release pheasants for hunting. However, this mostly resulted in feeding the local wildlife rather than satisfying hunters, so that was eventually discontinued as well.
These days nothing much remains of this extensive history, and Howland Island is just a nice place for an easy relaxing day wandering around and watching for beavers, ducks, and frogs on the many well maintained roads.
Location: Howland Island Wildlife Management Area, a wildlife management area in Upstate New York.
Is it goat approved? Yes, they allow horses here and the trails are basically road ways.
How you get there: To get to the parking location you want to come in on Carncross Road, which becomes Hunters Home Road when it enters the wildlife management area. There is a pull off area just before the bridge that you can park at.
Time for hike: 8.3 miles round trip. This is a loop hike.
Best season to do this hike: Year around, except summer when the insects are bad.
Trails to Take
I enjoy the route that runs as much as possible along Erie Canal, but it’s really what scenery you like best. The ponds are good if you’re after beaver or waterfowl, (or just into impoundments, flood control, and wildlife traps). Most of the manmade ponds have signs on them that make navigating easy, though when the crop rotation on the island includes corn it can begin to feel like you’re lost on the set of “Children of the Corn” very quickly.
To start off with, go down the Hunter’s Home Road you are entering on. Just before the big building on your left is Eagle Hill Road. Take that, going through an area usually planted with corn. Then when a smaller road goes off to the left, take that. It will wind out through the country past a marker for the CCC camp that used to be in the area.
When this road dead ends into another road, take the new road to the right, and all the way down to where the road dead ends into an old iron bridge that crosses over the Erie Canal. This bridge is not crossable by goats because it’s the grating style that allows snow, (and goat hooves!) to fall through.
To continue, go back the way you came, turn right at the crossroads and walk along the edge of the Erie Canal. After several miles a road will come in on your left. You want to take that road, then turn left again at the next opportunity. Stay on this road all the way back until it dead ends onto Hunter’s Home Road (slight right to go onto Hunter’s Home Road). This will take you back to the parking area.
- Technically grazing is not allowed in the wildlife management area. Technically. However, the grass police tend to be spread thin, what with all the golf courses and psycho turf managers they have to cover too, so a nibble or so won’t get you into trouble.
- The steel bridge has a grating floor, which is great for letting snow drop through, and coincidentally makes it impossible for a goat to cross.
- It is very possible to become mindbogglingly bored at this walking area. If you feel that your attention span is no match for 8 miles of flat roadway you may want to bring an audiobook or similar.
In Sum: Good choices for that audiobook to accompany your walk at Howland Island are Gone with the Wind, War and Peace, and Anna Karenina.