Hike It Alone on the Chattanooga River & Bartram Trail

 

Sometimes you need to get some alone time, and there’s nowhere more alone than the lightly traveled section of Bartram Trail running along the Chattanooga from Russel Bridge to the Willis Knob Horse Camp. Unless maybe its the bottom of a well where even Lassie won’t find you.

Is it goat approved? Dunno. But it goes through the horse area…which is pretty hoofed critter friendly and nobody complained about the goat that I ran into.

How you get there: Google 34°55’12.3″N 83°10’09.5″W. That’s the general parking area. The trail head is just on the Georgia side of the bridge, marked with yellow blazes. Parking is available at the Russel home site and a gravel road pull off on the South Carolina side and at a main trail head parking area and a paved pull off on the Georgia side.

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Barn at the fascinating Russel home site a short 1/2 mile down the road from Russel Bridge. Lots of ruined outbuildings and a spring house to check out, plus some signage on the history.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 7 miles one way to the horse camp from Russel Bridge on Bartram Trail.

Best season to do this hike: Most times of the year this trail is good to go. It doesn’t get a lot of traffic except for right at Russel Bridge where the fly fishermen and tubers hang out. However, the horse camp DOES get a lot of traffic in the warmer months. If you want to camp there go in winter.


Trails to Take

Get on Bartram (yellow blazes) next to Russel Bridge on the Georgia side. You’ll be following the river, first past the ruins of an old bridge, then across a modern steel bridge over a Chattanooga tributary. The trail heads left after the bridge, paralleling the river, where abundant fly fisherman may be seen in season.

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Chattanooga tributary

The trail dips and dives over small streams and heavily overgrown understory, eventually flattening out and widening as it reaches the boat ramp on Hwy 28. From here the trail begins to leave the river, climbing along the flood plain. What looks like an old road comes up on your right, leading to what was once a productive hay field now planted over with pine. The remains of haying equipment are rusting to one side of the trail, and to the other the stacked stone chimney of the long decayed residence is visible through the brush. It can be reached by a side trail.

From here the trail continues at an easy pace, ever rising, till it intersects with a wide, flat trail that is the horse trail running down to Adline Ford. If you want, you can turn left here and go down to Adline Ford, then continue along the horse trail and the river till you reach the road to Willis Knob Horse Camp. However, this will make the trip 10 miles one way instead of 7.

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Bridge + goat on Bartram Trail

To continue on Bartram cross the horse trail and follow the yellow blazes. From here the trail climbs at an easy pace, dipping occasionally down to small streams crossed by foot bridges. However, while the river remains in ear shot, even in winter it is generally invisible from the Bartram Trail.

Bartram Trail will top a rise and intersect with an unnamed blue blazed trail that frankly, looks weird. This is actually an old vehicle path. The GPS coordinates are 34.890708, -83.216680. I know this because this is the only spot on the whole trail where you can get good cell service. Follow this clearly visible but poorly marked trail uphill and you’ll reach the Willis Knob Horse Trail area’s gravel road – Gold Mine Road.

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Hell trail to the horse camp
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But paradise when you get to Willis Knob Horse Camp

The camp is about 1.5 miles from where you come in on the gravel road. 1 mile of that will be on the gravel road after you turn left off the poorly marked blue trail. This is all down hill. Which will let you rest for when you reach the wooden sign pointing out a nasty, muddy horse trail that leads to the horse camp. The nasty muddy trail is about 0.5 miles long, but improves greatly after the initial mud slinging climb.

The final location is heaven. The horse camp has water and toilet facilities, but has some particular rules about beasts of burden – see below. There are only a few campsites and in warm weather these may be taken. The park service does not like people camping outside of the campsites…but it was pretty empty and low key during the winter when I went. And the next day…you can hike back out!

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A rough map of the trip – does not show all the horse trails at Willis Knob!

 

BE WARNED

  1. Note: Bartram spends very little of this 7 mile hike near the river. If that ain’t what you signed up for, get off Bartram at the first junction with a horse trail, go down to Adline Ford, then follow the horse trail along the river. It will eventually take you to the road and you can walk a short distance up the road to the trail that leads to the campground. However, from Russel Bridge to Willis Knob Horse Camp on this route is about 10 miles. You will have a longer walk.
  2. For those new to the Chattanooga, don’t be fooled by its placid appearance. This baby likes to get log jams during heavy rains…and then flood the hell out its banks. Don’t sleep on the river in a rain storm or you may be swimming.
  3.  Fly fishers LOVE the parking area at Russel’s bridge, especially in January and February. They also get there very early, so you won’t beat them, but there are several parking areas before Russel’s bridge and after it. You may have to hunt for a spot.
  4. There is a lot of coyote scat and signs in the old field over planted with pine. This may not be a great place to camp with goats!
  5. Forage and water are amply available for goats on the trail, but so is the goat nemesis mountain laurel and its relative rhododendron. Consider bringing chaffe hay or similar if you end up camping amid the poisonous shrubbery.
  6. If camping at Willis Knob Horse Camp the camp requires that livestock be tethered between the large posts and not in the campsites. If you have a really clinging goat you may have to sleep at the posts with the critter…amid the leftover horse manure.
  7. In warm weather the horse camp will be packed. Goats spook horses…so plan on camping elsewhere than the horse camp because it’ll be a headache. Plus you probably won’t be able to get a campsite anyway.
  8. There is an armadillo that lives at the horse camp. He freaked Bakri out all night long…I don’t think the goat slept once…
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The goat spooking armadillo at Willis Knob Horse Camp

In sum: 

I hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
I hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I hike alone
I prefer to be by myself
Now every morning just before breakfast
I don’t want no coffee or tea
Just me and good buddy Camelbak
That’s all I ever need
‘Cause I hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I hike alone
I prefer to be by myself
Yeah, the other night I laid sleeping
And I woke from a terrible dream
So I caught up my pal Bakri
And his partner Cherry
And we hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I hike alone
I prefer to be by myself
Yeah, the other day I got invited to a party
But I stayed on the trail instead
Just me and my pal Bakri
And his brother Fugly instead
And we hike alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah,
(The funny part is I did have a holiday party this weekend I totally flaked out on…to go hiking)
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Overnight and Over Bridge on the Benton Mackaye Trail at Blue Ridge WMA

If there is a graph somewhere made by a bored Forestry graduate student that graphs the worst roads in Georgia with the most popular outdoor tourist destinations, where those two lines cross on the graph is the point representing the Taccoa Swinging Bridge trail head. The road in is hell, but the destination is heaven.

The bridge is fabulous. It crosses the river at a slightly suspicious bounce, held in place by a steel web worthy of a nightmare spider. The crossing suspends you about fifteen feet off the flat rocky surface of the river, with spectacular views of the water.

There’s only one downside – the bridge is only 1 person wide. That means squeezing a fat, loaded pack goat on it is a bit like trying to get the toothpaste back into the tube while it nyaahs at you.

Is it goat approved? In the winter, you should be fine and this route has you camping at an excellent wildlife clearing with lots of goat forage for the night. Just cover the goat in orange and don’t bring the deer look alike  one since this is a major hunting area. In the summer, there’s so many people I wouldn’t even attempt a goat. I did have one thru hiker to the AT (Appalachian Trail) that was slightly envious of my weight hauling minion on this trip but no one else in the winter.

How you get there: Google it. Google has a marker for the swinging bridge. Navigate yourself to that marker and you are at your trailhead. If you have low ground clearance vehicles you WILL have to stop about 1.5 miles short of the marker and walk up the road. If it is raining and you don’t have four wheel drive you will also have to stop, park on the side of the road, and get to the trail head on foot. If it’s been the prelude to Noah’s flood the last few days, well, just add 3 miles to your trip, don’t even try the gravel forest road, and park on the paved road.

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Turn off the paved road at this sign to get on the right forestry road
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The Parking Area – make sure you back your truck or jeep in so you can get out!

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 11.4 miles round trip. I did it as 5.7 miles out to the campsite and 5.7 miles back in the morning.

Best season to do this hike: Winter. Under no circumstances attempt this trail with a goat in warm regular people hiking weather. The Ben Mackaye trail is VERY popular, and the swinging bridge is a people attractant in its own right. Combine that with the popularity of camping along the Taccoa River on either side of the swinging bridge and…well…just don’t bother with this one in nice weather.


 Trails to Take

Starting off at the parking lot at the trailhead after a fun filled 15 minutes of going oh shit oh shit oh shit was that my oil pan that just tore loose? on the road in, the trail descends down from the end of the road and is readily visible.

The Ben Mackaye Trail will come in on your left. The trail is marked with white diamonds. The trail descends steeply, and within a minute or two the swinging bridge will come into view. The bridge takes you over the Taccoa River. The trail continues on from here straight ahead for a hundred feet or so, then watch for it to veer up the hill and away.

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Taccoa River Swinging Bridge with a goat

Climb the hill, cross over the forestry road, and take a few steps to continue on the white blaze trail. The whole trail is basically a ridge run with lots of little ups and downs. The halfway point is around Bryson Gap, which is marked with a wooden sign, a clear campsite, and also a side trail to a spring. This spring is the ONLY water source on this hike besides the Taccoa River unless you decide to descend to the Appalachian Trail.

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Bryson Gap Sign

Continue onwards past Bryson Gap through a stand of mountain laurel, then more ridge running. Remnants of the original trail will be visible in places – but keep following the white diamonds of the newly revamped trail, not the old blue paint. When the trail suddenly descends steeply via several switch backs you are entering No Name Gap. This gap is also marked by a wooden sign.

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Goat Paradise – the unexpected wildlife opening right next to the campsite off Ben Mackaye

At No Name Gap you are about 1/2 a mile from the recommended campsite. Unfortunately, that 1/2 mile is all up hill. When you finally crest the hill you will be at a large, open field suitable for grazing goats with an adjacent campsite just off the trail.

Enjoy your overnight at this wonderful campsite, or continue on about 1 more mile to meet up with the Appalachian Trail near Long Creek Falls.

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Sunrise on Ben Mackaye

 

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Map of Benton MacKaye Trail

BE WARNED

  1. This trail goes through a WMA (Wildlife Management Area). WMA can also stand for Wildlife Murder Area. Don’t let the goat become a statistic!
  2. Blue Ridge WMA has major open hunt events. Check WMA regulations for dates so you don’t try this trail during one. There is one right around Thanksgiving apparently.
  3. The forest service road is very badly maintained. If you plan to drive all the way to the trail head instead of parking on the road and walking in some be prepared with a pickup truck with high ground clearance and really good insurance. Renew your AAA membership beforehand too. This road is bad enough to break an axle if you get in a hurry. Four wheel drive is required in wet weather.
  4. For those redoing this trail after several years of absence – the old Ben Mackaye route has been changed! The new blazes are white diamonds and the old blue paint is defunct. Further, I think the route is longer now than it used to be based on an old timer I met on the trail’s memory of it.
  5. The swinging bridge is one person wide. You will need to cross single file, and a heavily laden pack goat will have to have the panniers removed to fit on the tiny walk way.
  6. Train your goat to cross suspension bridges before tackling this one! This is probably one of the worst bridges to have a goat freeze or fall on because of the high traffic, the height, and how skinny it is. It also swings a lot, further increasing a newbie’s fear of suspension bridges.
  7. Don’t overload the goat or yourself – walking up and down over ridges is fun with a light pack, but demoralizing with a heavy pack because you never really finish the “climb” you just climb up and down again and again.
  8. The only water source on this hike besides the river you pass at the start is a small spring in Bryson Gap. In drought conditions this spring may not be active!
  9. In winter these ridges are very exposed to high winds. Bring a wind breaker or something.
  10. Back your truck in if you park at the trail head. Otherwise you may be blocked in.
  11. It is another mile from this campsite DOWNHILL to the Appalachian Trail. While there is a waterfall down there…you do have to climb all that again the next morning…
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Taccoa River

In sum: If the screaming, groaning agony of your vehicle being torqued two different directions at once is sufficiently loud and painful that bystanders are wincing, you  might be having too much fun.

Star Gazing at Sugar Hill State Forest

 

If part of the fun of getting lost in the middle of nowhere lies in using the stars to navigate yourself back to civilization, or just if you’re an amatuer star gazer who packs the telescope in on your four legged cud chewing assistant, star gazing is at its best in the woods. Sugar Hill State Forest boasts one of the highest spots on public land near Lake Seneca that is also a significant distance from town, ( thus low light pollution). On a good clear and very cold night the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy are clearly visible to the naked eye at the tent horse camping area at Sugar Hill State Forest. So enjoy a good hike and a late night watching stars to celebrate the beginning of the thaw!

(http://cnyhiking.com/NCT-SugarHillStateForest.htm has an excellent walk through of the section of the FLT described)

Location: Sugar Hill State Forest

Is it goat approved? Yep. This park is primarily devoted to horseback riders, (since New York State took the enlightened approach of giving the two trail users that hate each other most – bikers and horses – their own separate parks), so goats are totally cool. I have camped here twice, once in the winter and once in the summer, and had no real issues. I even had a park ranger come over and say she thought the goats were cool.

How you get there: You want to get on Tower Hill Road inside Sugar Hill State Forest. Near where Tower Hill Road intersects with Maple Lane there is a small gravel parking lot off to one side of the road. Next to the parking lot is a road going out through the woods perpendicular to Tower Road. If the gate is across the perpendicular road you can park at the small parking area. If the gate is not across the perpendicular road, you can drive up this road to the camping area and fire tower, (if you see the tower you are in the right spot).

Be careful using google maps for roads in the park as google has a distressing tendency to think power line cuts and other non-road artifacts are roads for some reason in Upstate New York. Sometimes it doesn’t show the full length of a road either, so to be safe use the official park maps from the department of natural resources.

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The Fire Tower. Yes, you can go up it!

Time for hike: The distance is approximately 4 miles one way, so 8 miles total.This is an out and back hike.

Best season to do this hike: If you really want to star gaze after you finish the hike, go in late winter when the snow has begun to melt. The skies are at their clearest, the park at its emptiest, and the snow is gone enough you can actually get to the camping area.

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Look for columbines and grouse (the bird)  in the park if you go in spring

Trails to Take

There are many roads in the forest which are worth walking, but I like the FLT because it lets you go through the woods rather than down roads. I have done the roads, visited the many primitive camping shelters in the park, and also done the FLT, but still the FLT remains one of my favorites.

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Dogo does some light lawn maintenance at the camping area

To start the hike, there is a trail running out of the campground area. It is a big cut through the woods down hill from the main camping field, almost directly east of the shed with all the tie stalls for horses. Follow this definitely a logging trail that someone just repurposed because it was convenient until you run into a graveled road.

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Ninja photography is possible along the many roads in the park
Signage for the FLT is a godsend

Now, I’m never quite sure how I do this, (because my navigation relies more on luck and prayer than I like to admit), but as the gravel road kind of comes around a corner it runs into the FLT. You want to go left on the FLT, which is initially headed south, but will eventually become east. Mostly this is going to be a walk through the woods. You’ll cross county road 21, then cross the abandoned section of Locust Lane.

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Man made watering hole (one of several along trail)

As you travel through this area you will run across lots of singing/croaking/getting their freak on frogs if you come at just the right time in the spring. These will be especially apparent around the old rock lined hollows that you will run across. Someone told me that those were originally water collecting pools to water cattle that were kept far from the few rivers/creeks in the area. Not sure if this is true or not… There were also some small trees that reminded me of balsams, which are not usual in the area.

Ruins as you approach Buck Settlement Lean-To

In any case, as you approach the Buck Settlement Lean-To you will be walking on what was a pre-1850s road, and there will be some stone ruins in the area, so keep an eye out. Once you pass the Buck Settlement Lean-To you’ll run into what looks like a road, (and is another historical road remnant), and you go left to go down the road, passing by a cemetery. Then, go on to cross a small creek next to a horse camping spot on Templar Road. The FLT crosses the road, but I like to turn around here and head back up hill.

Once you’re back at camp, gather some downed wood, start the fire for dinner, and make the goat haul the telescope up from the car. Get out the star charts, line ‘er up, and wait for the show to start.

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Dogo enjoying the moss

 

BE WARNED!

  1. The restrooms at the camping area, and the road up to the camping area off of Tower Hill Road, are closed during the winter season.
  2. I don’t recall ever paying to camp here, but make sure that’s still the case before you go.
  3. The roads into and around the park area are poorly maintained, (they even have signage telling you they don’t do a lot of road repair). I got a Ford Focus hatchback in, but I won’t say it was pretty.
  4. There are coyotes in the park that can be heard talking sometimes at night, but they do not seem to enter the camping area.
  5. There is a permanent wooden trail map at the camping area. Be careful of this map! One of the roads on the map actually runs exactly where two pieces of wood are joined to make the map. If you aren’t paying attention you can do what I did, which is not realize that it’s a road, not just a joint, and get really confused on where you are.
  6. The fire tower is a popular place for locals to visit, so expect to see some possible foot traffic to it even in winter.
  7. The camping is really only set up for tents and is basically camp where ever you want to in a big open field. Though I have seen people pull small trailers out there too.

In sum: Man has gazed at the stars for eons, but never before has one had to fight a goat that’s trying to eat the tripod for the opportunity.

Wake Up and Walk Into Watkins Glen with a Goat

If you know what Watkins Glen is, then you’ve already spotted the issue with this title. If you’ve not been there, Watkins Glen is probably the best and most gorgeous gorge within reasonable driving distance of Ithaca, NY, and is definitely worth a stop if you are in the area.

However, it is, without a doubt, the biggest of the many tourist magnets in the Finger Lakes Region. Fear the legions upon legions of visitors. The towering monstrosity of staircases loaded with camera toting kids and day tripping house wives. This is not a place where goats are particularly welcome, much less there actually being any space on the trails in the gorge for them.

The beauty of Watkins Glen, though, is that everyone goes to the front part of the park where the gorge is deep and has lots of waterfalls. They pretty much never make it to the back of the park, much less to the Finger Lakes Trail that comes into the back of the park. There’s some pretty nice stuff to see on the back side as well, and thanks to the FLT there’s even places to camp.

*It has been a while since I’ve done this hike, so be prepared for the unexpected! CNY Hiking is a great resource for this and other FLT hikes (http://cnyhiking.com)*

Location: Sugar Hill State Forest, then the Finger Lakes Trail, followed by Watkins Glen.

Directions to Trail Head: The “trail head” is actually a parking location to use a rustic trail shelter on the FLT within the Sugar Hill State Forest. On Templar Road where it runs into Van Zandt Hollow Road, (which runs along the southern edge of Sugar Hill State Forest), there is a spot where a rough two track road branches off going up hill. At this location there is a sizeable creek running right next to the road that the two track road coming off Templar Road crosses. This is the place to park! You’ll need to park along the road side. This trail head can drive you insane trying to find it, so leave extra time.

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Is it goat approved? Yes, there are no anti-goat rules and the trail itself is out in the country. However, a short section of the FLT does go through private property that is actively hunted for deer in season, and if you go much further into Watkins Glen you’ll probably want the goat on leash just to keep up appearances.

Time for hike: I don’t know the exact mileage, but it’s something like 4.5-5 miles one way down into Watkins Glen (the town) and of course, then it’s 5 miles back to the shelter.

Best time of the year to hike: Hike this one any season but summer. The insects can be very intense in the summer.

Trails to Take

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Cemetery renewal project

I usually start out by parking my car on Templar Road, crossing the creek, and going up the two track. This passes a neat little graveyard, and then the FLT heads off the roadway to your right, through the woods, and you’ll see the shelter come up off the trail on you right, just before the trail swings to the left to avoid plowing straight into the river/creek ahead. Leave something at the shelter to indicate that you will be there later should any through hikers arrive so they’ll save you a spot out of the rain, (I left my heavy pack with all my gear, but something less stupidly risky might be better). Most FLT guys are pretty chill, so if you don’t leave anything and show up at 6 pm at night they’ll probably still let you bunk somewhere. Though, this is a great opportunity to make the goat carry the gear in for a change.

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Primitive shelter to sleep in off FLT (its on the river actually)

Go back down to the car, cross Templar Road, and continue along the white blazed FLT trail, (the trail head should be almost directly across from the two track road you just came down). You’ll walk through a short section of Sugar Hill State Forest land, then cross Van Zandt Hollow Road. Continue up the trail on the other side of the road and you are now on private property (remember hunting season!). The trail meanders along a ridge line and the remains of deer may be present here. The trail is not as well marked and pretty easy to loose during this section. Continue to follow the river if in doubt.

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River crossing
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This is what the trail head looked like on the opposite side of the river in 2012

Eventually you will go down a steep hill to a river with obvious signs of past flooding and a potential maze of downed wood. This is Townsend Creek. You can look for white blazes, but given all the flooding the trees that were blazed may be gone! You are looking for a white blaze on the opposite side of the bank near some evergreen trees, (if those are still there!). Take your time finding this one!

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Unused stone pathways on the backside of  Watkins Glen

Once you cross Townsend Creek you are basically inside Watkins Glen State Park. Continue onward and the trail will start crossing sections of obviously dressed and human set stone, including occasional staircases. All show little signs of use. You will pass by Hidden Valley Camp which has bunk houses and other camp structures. It can be a nice place to stop and grab a bite to eat if not otherwise occupied by campers. Odd structures (like temporary fire rings, symbols, and other random artifacts) may be present in the vicinity of the camp.

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Hidden Valley Camp bunk house

The trail will cross Whites Hollow Road near where the road crosses a pretty stone bridge. There is a historical marker somewhere around this crossing that talks about the history of the Watkins Glen racecourse. Once you cross the road, continue down the edge of the paved access road, which will lead you to a dilapidated parking area. Past the parking area you will enter a picnic area, with the foundation ruins of a bathroom to your right against the hill. A huge picnic shelter will be sitting on the edge of pond.

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Picnic Shelter

The trail continues around the edge of the pond, goes up some short uphills, and then runs along the edge of the river. Eventually it crosses under a maintained rail line on a metal trestle bridge. Once you pass under the rail line you are in the busy part of Watkin’s Glen. Proceed at your own risk.

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One of the dams on the ponds in Watkins Glen
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Active rail trestle

The FLT runs all the way through Watkins Glen and down to the actual road that runs through downtown. If you have someone to hold goats you could run into downtown and get some take out, but otherwise I like to turn around at the rail road bridge, save myself 2 miles of travel time, and get back to the campsite early.

Usually I turn around, wander back, set up camp and eat dinner, then hike back out to the car in the morning.

 

 

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View of parking area for Watkin’s Glen State Park and part of Watkins Glen (the town).

BE WARNED!

  1. The rustic shelters available on the FLT must be shared. If the members of your party do not completely fill the shelter you will be asked to share space with complete strangers. Be prepared with a tent or tarp should you arrive at the rustic shelter and find it occupied or semi-occupied with those unwilling to share a campfire with a goat. There is a horse camping location right after you cross the creek at Van Zandt Hollow Road on your right if needed.
  2. The crossing of Townsend Creek on the FLT is not possible after heavy rain (and it rains ALL THE TIME in the Finger Lakes region).
  3. The FLT crosses through private property that is hunted for deer in season (during deer season the trail is closed).
  4. Goats (and dogs) are not allowed to sleep inside rustic trail shelters on the FLT. Probably because animal funk is even worse than sweaty-ain’t-seen-a-shower-in-3-days hiker funk.
  5. Is your goat a binge eater? In the winter there isn’t much to eat around the trail shelter…so I hate to say it but you might want hay.
  6. This camping area is out away from civilization. Great for solitude, but also great for coyotes and other critters. During my stay we had some really surprised deer that got close up into camp trying to figure out what the goat was. Oh, and a skunk.

 

In sum: If you ever run into a Boy Scout Troop leader camping out on the FLT, ask him about the time he spent a really long night teaching a weird chick with a goat how to start fires with flint and steel.

Snowmobiling on Hooves at Ridgeway Road Rail Trail

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.

Water point for goats
Water point for goats

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.

Wooden bridge
Wooden bridge

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.

Swamp and rail line ruins
Swamp and rail line ruins

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!

Last Call Bar. Because alcohol raises body temperature in the snow by 5 degrees.
Last Call Bar. Because alcohol raises body temperature in the snow by 5 degrees.

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.

THIS MAP IS NOT TO SCALE! But it does accurately represent the route more or less.
THIS MAP IS NOT TO SCALE! But it does accurately represent the route more or less.

BE WARNED!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

Urban Goat on the Go: Hiking Cornell and Cornell’s Plantations

Is your goat feeling like an outcast relegated to the rural lifestyle when all she really wants is to be a glamorous girl in the city? Well I wouldn’t recommend New York City as particularly goat friendly, (unless you plan to feed the homeless or something), but Cornell University is a pretty cosmopolitan place that can be visited on four hooves. So take a day to teach your goat how to navigate stop lights and sidewalks instead of creek crossings and switch backs!

Location: Cornell University & Cornell Plantations

Is it goat approved? If the goat is on leash and can handle large crowds of people then this walk works. If the goat cannot do leashes and prefers to keep humans at arm’s length stay clear!

How you get there: Park in the Cornell Plantations (google it!). See trail map for further indication of parking locations.

Time for hike: About 5 miles round trip, but you may want to take several side trips, especially in the plantations or if you have not visited Cornell’s awesome gorge infested campus. This is an out and back hike.

Best season to do this hike: Every season but you may like winter (during winter break) and summer (during summer break) the most as this dwindles the number of students on campus.

Trails to Take

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Dogo the art critic surveys the sculpture garden

Start off at the parking area indicated at the Cornell Plantations. If that little lot is full, there are other nearby parking locations within the plantations themselves. Walk from the parking area towards a group of buildings (Plant Production Facility) that sit on the Forest Home Road. There will be a group planting of ornamental plants between these buildings and the hillside. Walk into this group of ornamental plants (some of which are toxic to goats!). There is a set of stairs up the hillside. Take it. At the top of the stairs is a sculpture garden which is pretty cool and was originally created in the 1960’s when this area was a cow pasture.

From the sculpture garden walk down Arboretum Road (or on its edge), then climb up the trail on the hill that Arboretum Road runs along the edge of. At the top of this hill is a large metal bell that you, (or small child of your choice), can ring. Walk around on the trail at the top of the hill to view the rest of the garden from a safe, and relatively people free, distance.

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Herb Garden perimeter

Get back on Arboretum Road, walk up the hill, then at the top of the hill you will see a large field open to your left. This is the hay meadow, and is a great place for lunch and to let the goat graze a bit on your way back. At the bottom of this meadow, Arboretum Road intersects with Caldwell Drive. Cross Arboretum Road and walk through the plantings of small ornamental trees. You will reach the intersection of Forest Home (which enters after just crossing a metal bridge over the river) and Caldwell Dr. Cross over at this intersection and into the gravel parking lot across the road. Walk through the gravel parking lot and look for gravel paths headed into the woods.

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Cornell Plantations Visitor Center

You are now in the Mundy Wild Flower Garden area. You do not want to go inside the massive deer fence! Goats are not welcome. Instead, take the gravel path that keeps you closest to the wooden park service buildings adjacent to the parking lot. This will lead you around the fence and to a set of stairs that go up the hillside. Go up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, continue down hill, cross the road, and go down the next set of stairs. You are now in the New York State Herb Garden. If you goat is not prone to treating every hike as a walking buffet line, this is a cool garden to stop and check out. However, poisonous plants are often present and it’s a garden right next to the visitors center so browsing might get you banned.

Walk under the archway and behind the building that sits behind the urban garden. This will take you to a small back garden, then to a paved road running along the bottom of a hill. You want to go right on this road and away from the fancy wood and metal building on your left. The fancy building is the visitors center. Which, since you don’t want to meet a lot of visitors, you certainly don’t want to visit yourself. The paved walkway leads around the hill, (keeping the hill between you and the visitors center). Once you are around the hill look for a trail cutting through the woods to the road (Forest Home Drive again). Cross the road, then head right along the edge of a stone wall. When the wall ends, look for the trail/stairs that lead down to the edge of the pond on your left. You want to proceed along the edge of the pond that runs parallel to Forest Home Dr. Don’t cross the bridge and walk on the opposite side! There will be a lot more people.

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Architecture Building with Dragon Day decoration

You will come out on a sidewalk. Walk down the sidewalk for a short ways, then look for a paved walkway to go back down towards the pond. There will be a cement bridge over the river down hill from here. If it’s not too crowded, walk out on it, because this bridge actually crosses over a pretty spectacular gorge.

Once you are done ogling, continue in the same direction you were going back up an incline on a paved walkway. This will dump you out at an intersection. The architecture building is across the road, and to your right the road crosses another ornate bridge. Continue in the direction you were heading, and cross this intersection to continue on the sidewalk. Keep walking on the sidewalk until you see a trail head off to your right. Go down this trail.

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View of the bottom of the gorge at the end of the hike

Following the trail will cause you to eventually pass a really cool suspension bridge. This one is also worth walking out on and admiring the view. If you continue down the trail you will reach a turn off that goes down a long set of stairs into the gorge. At the bottom of this set of stairs is another cool view of the gorge, but if you walk past the barricades and the signage telling you how people die in the gorges all the time there is a cliff face with a lot of sloughed off scree at the base. This is a great location to locate fossils. Check through the scree and look for pieces of slate with imprints of shells, barnacles, and occasionally more exotic critters in them if you have time.

Then turn around and walk back!

Cornell Gardens 1

Cornell Gardens 2

Cornell Gardens 3

Cornell University Hike

BE WARNED!

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One of the many entertaining gorge safety signs! The fossil area is just past this sign.
  1. People will want to pet the goat. People will want to take pictures of the goat. Most of these people will not understand anything about goat behavior or biology. You know, the same old mantra.
  2. You will need to pick up after the goat, so remember a plastic bag or two.
  3. There are few good places to give the goat a drink, (despite the number of water sources on the route), so bring a water bottle.
  4. I once got trapped in the herb garden, (which is surrounded by a fence), by a large group of people who did not understand the need for personal space for goats. It got very troublesome. Always remember that on one wall of the garden is a set of stairs set in the wall that you and the goat can use to escape if you get trapped by camera toting tourists.

In sum: Goats can be really freaked out by their own reflections. In this urban environment, take the time to find a reflective building and enjoy the antics as the goat tries to figure out how the “other goat” got inside the glass.

Just Say Yes to the American Tobacco Trail

The American Tobacco Trail is a one of those fascinating examples of the love/hate relationship North Carolina has with the tobacco industry. Okay, yes, everyone knows smoking gives you cancer, emphysema, and like a thousand other gory ways to die. However, as a major tobacco producing state, (with probably some of the best soil for growing tobacco available in the US), North Carolina has an entertaining tendency to overlook the aforementioned facts because many people here do or historically did make a living producing a commodity that helps keep Social Security afloat by killing lots of people off at a younger age.

Though there’s really only one question in regards to tobacco I often ponder: Can goats eat tobacco plants, and if so, do they ever dream of being the Marlboro Man?

Location: The end, (or in this case the beginning), of the American Tobacco Trail in New Hill, North Carolina.

Is it goat approved? Yep. They let horses and dogs on the trail, so you are good to go, (if you really think the goat will make it), for all 22+ miles of this trail. The whole trail is not open to horses, so while you can be lazy about picking up after the goat on horse allowed sections, once you’re out of horse country you might want a plastic bag!

How you get there: I recommend starting from the southern terminus of the trail in New Hill due to lower volume of people and a nice large parking lot. To get to this trail head, get on Hwy. 1. You want to get off on Exit 89 and head northwest on New Hill Holleman Road. Cross over Old Highway 1 and the road will be renamed New Hill Olive Chapel Road, (random name changes like this are a North Carolina thing). Go down this road several miles and you will see a blue sign on the right hand side that says “American Tobacco Trail”. This is the parking lot. It usually opens at 8 a.m., but you can park outside the gate. Has some very nicely designed and maintained pit toliets on site.

Time for hike: Somewhere out there is a person who owns a goat who can do 44+ miles in a day. I am not that person, (but would love to breed my stock to said goat!). Otherwise, I like to do at least 4.4 miles round trip, but have done up to 15 mile round trips. This is definitely an out and back hike unless you have a partner to do a shuttle hike with. 

Best season to do this hike: All seasons but summer due to heat.

Trails to Take

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Mileage counter for the American Tobacco Trail.

Start off in the parking lot and the trail goes down hill off in a corner of the lot. The trail is all gravel, and runs almost entirely on an old rail bed. It is therefore what they call a “rail trail” and what I call “a flat boring hike whose only real challenge is how stinking long it is”.

The trail makes 2 sharp turns,goes up a hill, then continues along a never ending flat straightaway.  In the first part of the trail there are walk throughs in the fence to access the game lands. When not in hunting season, (duck and deer are the big ones), this can be an easy way to get a troublesome goat off the trail and let it go off leash for a bit.

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Wildlife Management Area swamp

Continuing down the trail takes you across a pretty sweet bridge with nice views of the surrounding swamp land, which during certain times of the year has some picturesque waterfowl hanging out on it. The trail then crosses a road, crosses another bridge, and goes into an area prone to flying golf balls for a few hundred feet, (this is near a golfing range). The most fun obstacle on the trail though is the tunnel under the highway.

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Typical trail surface is a smooth gravel most of the way

The tunnel under the highway is great. When it’s raining, its the only dry place to hang out on the southern end of the trail. When it’s not raining its still fun to watch the goats get worried every time a car passes loudly overhead. The only real trick is to make sure you don’t enter the tunnel with horse(s) as the slick cement surface, combined with the nervous nature of a horse in a tunnel, can be traumatic.

The trail goes on past the tunnel for a long, long way. If you enjoy pine plantations, it is best to visit in the morning when the sunlight streams through the trees. If you don’t like walking with lots of people go in a downpour. In general, this is the trail to enjoy when you don’t want to drive a long way to somewhere more rugged, or if you are still in traction from your last insane trek this place is great because it has benches every once and a while where you can surreptitiously take a breather.

Be Warned!

  1. The Durham end of the trail is in, duh, Durham. For those unfamiliar with Durham, it is not a nice place to visit in certain areas, some of which this trail runs through. I’m not saying you’re going to get mugged, but I am suggesting that a goat is not much protection against those sorts of things.
  2. The whole trail is not open to horses, so if you walk northern sections of the trail you will be required to pick up goat waste most likely.
  3. The trail enters into Wake County, which can charge you with a misdemeanor if your goat is off leash and someone feels like writing you a citation. The southern terminus is not in Wake County.
  4. As you go north on the trail you will encounter more and more people.
  5. Watch out for seasonal signage indicating race dates along the edge of the trail. The trail is home to a couple of marathon-esque competitions, and those are not days to visit.
  6. Hunting occurs for ducks, deer, and other game on game lands adjoining the trail.
  7. Small trails leading off the rail trail go onto private property, (as does the section of the rail line that isn’t a rail trail). This is gun country and bullet holes are not in  fashion so it may be best to avoid these.
  8. There are not many convenient water points for goats on this hike.

In Sum: Say no to cigarettes, but absolutely yes to this trail!

 

Explore Upstate New York’s Industrial Heritage By Goat on The Keuka Outlet Trail

Do you like ruins? Even if you don’t, it’s a pretty good bet that your goat(s) would. Keuka Outlet Trail is a little bit of everything in that department. It runs along a 1800’s canal atop the old canal road. Hiking it you’ll pass factory ruins and dilapidated river locks. All of which are, joy of joys, explorable! Forget tour guides, protective fencing, and no trespassing signs, this place is a gold mine for urban explorers who happen to live in a very non-urban place. So bring your flashlight and your rope because until they get enough money to build those protective fences and no trespassing signs this place is going to be great!

Location: Keuka Outlet Trail running from Penn Yan to Dresden

Is it goat approved? Yes, it is a goat approved. The trail is horse/hiking/biking rated but fairly quiet till you are in Penn Yan proper, so you can generally go off leash most of the way.

How you get there: Google currently has the trail registered, but in terms of the hike you want to start at the Dresden end, at the parking lot off Seneca Street just off Hwy 14. This is the least crowded and easiest unloading spot.

Time for hike: This hike is a beast at 13.2 miles round trip. Get there early and plan to get back to the car at sun down. Make sure you bring a goat who is in good enough shape to do it. This is an out and back hike.

Best season to do this hike: Every season but winter. The trail is not plowed, (and the parking lot may not be either) so you can’t actually do this trail in the snow unless you have a snowmobile or you teach your caprine companion to ski.

Trails to Take

This trail has a lot of cool stuff to see on it, so content has been edited to fit in the allotted time.

Start off at the parking lot in Dresden, which is right before you cross over the railroad tracks on Seneca Street. On your way in on Seneca Street you may notice a seasonal ice cream parlor. The best part of this trail is that when you are done hiking you can buy really good ice cream at that road side stand on your way home. They do a dependable waffle cone for goat consumption as well.

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The trail is a true “green way” at this point!

Anyway, once you’ve parked and unloaded, the trail head is right there. The first section of trail runs along the river on the old canal road and tends to be grassy. You will pass under Hwy 14. The river edge along here contains old pieces of glass and ceramic that make it fun to beach comb, but anything of obvious historic value is considered property of the Keuka Trail organization.

You will continue along the trail until you reach your first big area of ruins. This place is great! There’s several old warehouses to explore, the first of two major canal locks, and this area also has toilet facilities that are unlocked sometimes. It does, however, also act as a group camping area for various organizations, so watch out for tents or boy scouts who might be too interested in your goats.

Exploring the ruins
Exploring the ruins

Once you’re done exploring, continue on the trail, which will become more gravel and less grass as you proceed. Other ruins and pieces of machinery are littered along the trail as you go along. Keep an eye out for ruins on the other side of the river as well, especially in early winter. Small side trails will also take you out into the woods to further walls, foundations, and other evidence of historical activity. Take a few of these, especially if you aren’t planning to do the whole trail in a single day.

Ridge Road bridge
Ridge Road bridge

You are a third of the way to the end when you cross over Ridge Road, which runs across a bridge over the river. If you continue on you’ll see more and more gravel in the trail, and shortly beyond this bridge is a dog that warrants some caution (see the “Be Warned!” section below). This area can be popular with trout fisherman during the season, who can be excellent sources of information about the trail and weather if your smart phone isn’t getting a signal.

There is a parking area (just a pull off on the side of the road) and a white sign with the trail’s name and rules posted. This is pretty close to the halfway point between Dresden and Penn Yan. You can also look for the old concrete railroad signs which list mileage in miles between the towns as numbers counting up or down depending on the direction you are coming from. Just past the parking area is a large section of old locks and waterfalls along with a nice picnic shelter. This is a good spot for lunch and a definite camera magnet.

The locks are goat toys more or less
The locks are goat toys more or less

Walk some more and you’ll get to the old mill site, which is best marked by the large brick ventilation chimney still standing at the site. See the “Be Warned!” section for more about this site. There is also some buildings across the river that are well worth your time here, and some old machinery and pulleys laying in the brush for those students of archaic factory design. Walk along the river some more and you’ll eventually reach a clearing with some brick buildings off to the left. Immediately after that you will cross Cherry Street and reach the small parking lot through which the trail continues. Once you’re over Cherry Street put the goats on leash because you are now in Penn Yan, and the number of trail users is going to skyrocket.

The mill's brick chimney
The mill’s brick chimney

You’ll cross under a train trestle, then pass a still functioning old mill and walk under a beautiful stone bridge. The trail becomes paved somewhere in here. The trail passes under another road, then crosses on a bridge over the river. You are almost at the end now! Watch for the sign after you cross the river commemorating (for some reason) a boat construction company site. If you want, you can walk all the way to the end of the trail, which continues at the other side of the park and boat ramp and goes through the trees to the baseball diamond on the other side. The baseball diamond is the “official” end of the trail. However, the last little bit through the park isn’t really worth it, though there are restrooms at the park.

Now, turn around and head back!

Boat factory sign
Boat factory sign
Water point markers as well as mileage markers for the no longer extant rail line are common
Water point markers as well as mileage markers for the no longer extant rail line are common
The trail becomes more gravel over time
The trail becomes more gravel over time
Ruins on opposite side of the river
Ruins on opposite side of the river
Clearing before Cherry Road
Clearing before Cherry Road
Functioning mill in Penn Yan
Functioning mill in Penn Yan
Old lock machinery
Old lock machinery

BE WARNED!

  1. There is (or perhaps now was) a dog about half way between Dresden and Penn Yan that runs loose during part of the day. It will attack goats, (and it has attacked mine). So bring a goat that stands up to dogs and don’t bring the dehorned timid hamburger on legs. Do not expect the owner to come to your rescue, (he’s well meaning but slow moving compared to the dog).
  2. The mill site with the large brick ventilation chimney is littered with broken glass that may damage goat hooves.
  3. The mill site has a section of concrete slabs sitting atop support beams. This means that the concrete ground you are walking on that looks solid can give way underneath you if the support beams have eroded. You could like die and stuff. So be careful.
  4. The rules of urban exploration apply: think conservatively, don’t assume any structure or surface is stable, and you are responsible for your own safety.
  5. Be prepared to pick up after your goat and leash it when the trail becomes paved in Penn Yan.
  6. Leave plenty of time in your trail plans for taking pictures. It’s a long trail with so many awesome things to photograph that time can get away from you.

In sum: Time flies when you and the goats are having fun.

Freezing to Death at Sampson State Park

This is both a trail guide and a rather embarrassing story of how I almost killed myself through stupidity. Again.

Location: Sampson State Park, located between Lake Seneca and Seneca Army Depot.

Is it goat approved? Well, it probably would have been had I not chosen to go in the dead of winter. The area is basically one giant sustained slope down to the lake, and as Sampson State Park was once a military base the “trails” are actually the old base roads. So in terms of geography and structure it is very goat friendly and would make a nice relaxing walk most of the time.

How you get there: Getting here is easy. Google the park name for directions. Remember that it’s on the lake side of Seneca Army Depot (which all the locals know), so when you see the big perimeter fence for the Army Depot or spot one of the Depot’s famous white or piebald deer on the road side you are getting close. You want to go in the main gate across the road from Smith Vineyard Road because that’s were the cool stuff is and all the parking.

Seneca Army Depot has a population of white deer. The old wives tale is that it's from all the radioactive material they used to store there, but the truth is just mundane population genetic drift that can occur behind a fence that stops predators.
Seneca Army Depot has a population of white deer. The old wives tale is that it’s from all the radioactive material they used to store there, but the truth is just mundane population genetic shift that can occur behind a fence that stops predators from culling the easily spotted white ones out.

Time for hike: Due to the size of this place, the hike is just a tour of the interesting bits, probably no more than a mile in total. You can extend it by walking down any of the dozens of roads in the area.

Best season to do this hike: Don’t go in the prime tourist season during the summer because the park is a popular boating and camping spot. Also, don’t be an idiot – don’t attempt this place in deep snow! This area is open, always windy, and no roads into or out of the park are plowed. There are few people living in the area surrounding the park and no one appears to visit once the snow sets in.

Trails to Take

There were fewer ruins than I expected for an ex-military base, and almost all reminders of that part of the area’s history have been bulldozed at this point. However, for those who have lived or worked on military bases the layout of the roads will be enough to set the atmosphere and hearken back to the base’s heyday in the 1940s and 1950s.

Base signage
Base signage

To start with, enter the base at the main entrance across from Smith Vineyard Road. You’ll know its the main entrance because it will be a double road way with a median in between. This goes down to a traffic circle, and you want to go around the traffic circle and continue straight ahead in the direction that you were traveling when you approached the circle. You’ll pass parking areas, and then arrive at the museum, (a short square building with a fighter plane mounted outside). You want to park near the museum because it is easiest landmark to find again, as well as being the only windbreak you can park behind.

One of the fighter planes
One of the fighter planes

Spend some time checking out the planes and memorials around the museum. The museum is sometimes open during warmer months, necessitating parking farther away from it to unload goats in peace.

The next thing worth seeing at the park is the boating facility which dates from when the base was in active service. Getting there is simple – walk down towards the lake from the museum and you will literally walk onto it. At this point if the weather is cold the wind is going to hit you and start freezing your face even through a ski mask. If you brought a human companion finish your conversation at the museum because your face will be frozen to the point you cannot speak by the time you reach the docks. The docks are worth spending some time to explore. From there, if you are facing the lake, walk to your right along the shore until you pass through some trees and enter the campground. Do not be fooled – walking into the woods will in no way actually dent the wind that is hitting you. The campground makes a nice loop in less chilly weather, (though of course when the campground is closed only), but in the freezing cold by the time I had reached East Lake Road at the other end of the campground I had lost the use of my hands entirely and the goat had turned into a giant puff ball of fur, blanket, and pack. At which point, of course, there are no more pictures at all from this trip!

Walk to your right down East Lake Road and you’ll be headed back to the area of the museum. Once you reach the museum you can choose to go down any of the other roads or explore the old parking areas between the museum and the entrance, but there really isn’t much worth seeing at this point. If you want a long trek there is a pioneer cemetery in the south of the park, but I have not personally found it.

During my visit, by the time I had returned to the museum not only could I not speak or use my hands, but I was starting to get cold and beginning to have trouble thinking straight. I had on full New York winter gear, (ski mask, snow gloves, glove liners, pack boots, snow pants, regular quick dry pants, winter socks, a serious winter hat, scarf, three shirts, and an ice fishing coat on top). Had Dogo not been leading the way in a thoroughly pissed manner back to the car and had the museum not been a large obvious landmark between the snow covered ground and the white cloud covered sky I might have kind of ended up dead. As it was, I learned the hard way how to use my teeth to hold my keys, (foolishly I had locked the car in this essentially abandoned snowed in park), to unlock the car. I also developed a special bad Chinese martial arts movie stance where in I used one leg to assist my useless hands to open the car door. Figuring this bit out took 15 agonizing minutes were I kept mentally repeating “I refuse to die out here of my own stupidity” to keep myself warm. Oh, and again used my teeth to actually turn the key in the ignition to turn the car on. Luckily the hatch wasn’t too difficult to get open and Dogo helped herself to the back seat, so after we sat in the car and heated up for a bit where I kept letting how stupid I had been sink in, we left and I decided not to tell any of my coworkers what I had decided to do for the weekend. Ever.

Moral of the story: Preparedness is not just about having the right gear for the weather. It also means not knowingly taking a stupid risk. You can dress for any occasion, even your own funeral.

Be Warned!

  1. Again, no roads are plowed in the winter, all facilities are shut down, and no one visits this park during the snow season. Plan better than I did for this.
  2. It is always windy here. Did you look up the wind chill effect before you left? Lower that wind chill effect another 5 degrees and that’s what it will be like when you get to the park.
  3. This park is much bigger than the map makes it appear. Those harmless looking roads in the park? They run for a really really long ways. Check mileage when you plan your route.
  4. Avoid the summer. This is a popular tourist destination.

Toughing It Out With Tourism at Taughannock Falls State Park

Ever wanted to visit the Grand Canyon with your goats but you live in New York on a shoe string budget so that ain’t gonna happen? Visit Taughannock Falls State Park (pronounced “tog” as in Toggenburg, “ha” as in “haha”, and ending with “knock”) to experience a more temperate miniature version of what hiking the bottom of the Grand Canyon is like. However, while the bottom of the real Grand Canyon dissuades the casual tourist because it’s extremely hot, dry, and difficult to reach, Taughannock is an easy walk to a gorgeous waterfall.

So be prepared to meet the many exotic types of tourist you can find in New York state, (who will in turn unfortunately find your goat just as novel). Look out for the day tripping Amish, the tour bus riding orthodox Jews with the braids, massive family gatherings of Mennonites, and expensive camera toting Chinese that will force you to take a picture with them for the folks back home. In fact, if you see any Chinese at all, just run. I am serious about the picture thing.

Location: Taughannock State Park, starting at the end of the park on the edge of Cayuga Lake.

Is it goat approved? This is a great deep snow winter hike because its flat and the road to it plus the trail itself get plowed.  However, this park is second only to Watkins Glen in popularity in the region so it is very busy, very touristy, and it will test your goat’s temperament when it comes to people and dogs to the breaking point. Take no more than 1 goat on this trip. Goats are tolerated at the park, so long as they are on leash and you pick up after them.

How you get there: Getting here is easy. Google the park name for directions, and then take Hwy 89 (which runs along Lake Cayuga and is very scenic) to the down river end of the park that sits on Lake Cayuga’s coast. You want the  small parking lot next to the bridge that 89 crosses over the river on. This parking lot is on the side of 89 away from Cayuga Lake. Go early as this parking lot gets full.

Time for hike: The hike is about 2 miles round trip. This is an out and back hike.

Best season to do this hike: Winter or early spring. Not fall because the leaves attract too many people. Summer is again, way too many tourists. 

Trails to Take
The waterfall in spring
The waterfall in spring

There are several trails in the park, but since you want to get there early in the day then get out before the tourists reach critical mass and the park becomes a black hole of no escape, take the best trail only. The “best” in my opinion is the Gorge Trail. This is a 2 mile round trip hike, but it has its perks despite the short distance.

Start at the trail head at the parking lot and start walking down the big, flat gravel trail that winds into the gorge. This trail will run along the river and is very scenic. Check out the signs on the side of the trail too that talk about the area geography. Once you get down the trail a short ways start looking for steps or cut offs that let you go down to the river. When the water is low you can walk almost the whole way to the falls on the sheet rock the river runs across. Do this. It’s more fun and challenging and the number of tourists is much lower walking down the river bed.

Continue as far as you can, then get back up on the trail when you reach another set of stairs.

The gorge is pretty spectacular for not being the Grand Canyon and all.
The gorge is pretty spectacular for not being the Grand Canyon and all.

The trail dead ends at the waterfall at the end of the gorge. You’ll need to cross a bridge to get to the very end, but be patient and wait till the bridge is clear because people have a terrible habit of trying to cross with 3 uncontrolled dogs on leashes and a passel of kids just as you and your unassuming goat are half way across. In fact, just save up all your patience stores all week for this hike. The waterfall is beautiful, so plan on wasting some time snapping photos and selfies in front of it, then walk back.

BE WARNED!

  1. This is a major tourist destination. Enter at your own risk!
  2. You may have to pay for parking if you come at certain times of the year. Check the park’s website for more information.
Watch out for snakes in the river. Including the two pictured here.
Watch out for snakes in the river. Including the two pictured here.

In sum: Beauty is worth a little pain isn’t it? Thus a cool gorge and spectacular waterfall should be worth crawling through a few thousand tourists to see.