Located on a ridge between two of the largest Finger Lakes, Finger Lakes National Forest is the only National Forest in New York. Plus, this is the only public land dedicated to multi-use in the state. Accessible within two hours of several major cities, this small forest of just over 16,000 acres is a popular recreation spot.
Besides the scenic beauty of its location between two idyllic lakes, Finger Lakes National Forest offers hiking trails that traverse gorges, pastures, and hardwood forest. Glimpses of the lakes and woodland hills provide a wonderful reward for those willing to head into the forest on foot and away from your camper.
Before the arrival of European settlers, this area of the forest was historic foraging and hunting grounds for the Iriquois, whose tribal lands are still located nearby. After settlers arrived, over 90 percent of the woodlands were cut down. Stone walls and cellar holes still dot the forest, leaving a testament to this period of farming that led to soil erosion and eventually fallow fields. Since becoming a National Forest, the forest have regrown with oak, maple, and hickory, restoring the woods to the picturesque beauty it once held.
Managed jointly with the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont, Finger Lakes National Forest contains ten campgrounds. To help you pick where to park your rig, we’ll highlight three that will have you feeling like you’ve gotten away from it all despite the centralized location on the east coast.
At such a small size of only a bit over 16,000 acres, Finger Lakes National Forest is immensely accessible. There are no designated Wilderness Areas and major highways run from the nearby cities of Birmingham, Rochester, and Syracuse to the Finger Lake region. State roadways parallel the Finger Lakes, including Seneca and Cayuga.
Several secondary roads traverse the National Forest, offering access to individual pockets of the woodlands and wild blueberry fields. The location is on a ridge between the lakes, so expect some grades while driving into and out of the forest. However, there are few sharp curves and no drop offs to be wary of.
Gravel roads may contain potholes, rough sections, and mud, especially after wet conditions. Most of the roads are well traveled, so you shouldn’t encounter any low hanging branches if adventuring in a taller rig. Parking areas at campgrounds and trailheads are available, but may be tight, especially if crowded. In the winter, most roadways are plowed and the forest is easily accessed for snowy recreation.
Located on Chittenden Brook, the Chittenden Brook Campground is a quiet respite during the summer and a hub for cross-country skiing in the winter. From the day-use area, over seven miles of trails wanders the forested hillside and along gurgling streams. Designed for winter use, the trails are open in the summer for a pleasant stroll through the woodlands. Open Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day, the campground offers 17 sites, some of which are reservable online. All sites are naturally surfaced and back-in. Due to the short parking spurs, this campground is limited to 24-foot campers and RVs.
Access to the campground is from paved Route 73 down a winding, gravel forest access road. Expect some bumps and potholes on the journey to the campground where you’ll find widely spaced sites under tall trees. Each campsite comes with a picnic table and fire ring. There are latrine-style toilets but no trash service, so come prepared to pack out garbage. There is also no drinking water available and no electric, water, or sewer hookups. Stream water can be treated for drinking purposes if needed, but it is best to come with plenty of supplies including your water topped up and your holding tanks empty to enjoy this little refuge.
If sleeping under tall sugar maples and birch trees at night and hiking during the day is your idea of heaven, check out Moosalamoo Campground. Located ten miles on a gravel forest access road accessible, this little campground offers access to 70 miles of hiking trails. A mile down the road is Voter Brook Overlook, which contains a picnic area and a short walk to a scenic overlook.
Open Memorial to Columbus Day, this naturally surfaced campground contains 19 sites. All campsites come with a picnic table, grill and fire ring. They are back-in with wide enough parking spurs for two vehicles. However, many spurs are short, so a smaller rig of 24 feet is ideal for this campground. The sites are irregularly spaced on a single loop with trees screening each. In the center of the loop is an open grassy field for games and a children’s play area. The campground has water spigots, latrine-style toilets, and trash cans. However, there are no water, sewer, or electric hook-ups.
This small campground gets its name from the large blueberry field adjacent to its nine forested campsites. Highbush and lowbush wild blueberries ripen in the field every summer and are available for picking. The Interloken and Burnt Hill Hiking Trails are also accessible from this campground, making it a great place to park your camper before heading out to enjoy the woodland paths.
A registration kiosk and fee tube is located before you enter the campground. Pick up an envelope before checking out the naturally surfaced first-come, first-served sites. All sites have picnic tables and fire rings. Plus, they are back-in and have short parking spurs, so a smaller campervan under 24 feet is best for this one. There are two latrine-style toilets, but no showers or drinking water available.
At such a small acreage, a day hike is the perfect way to visit the forest for pleasant walks through meadows and into the cool of the towering forest. Some routes cross gorges or hug the precipitous tops. In the summer, pick wild blueberries on the Burnt Hill Trail which leaves from Blueberry Patch Campground. For a multi-day excursion, check out the Interloken Trail, which runs across the entire forest from north to south and is part of the much larger Finger Lakes Trail.
A fantastic way to explore this pleasant forest is on horseback. There are over 20 miles of trails open to riders in Finger Lakes National Forest, which makes the perfect weekend of riding and camping. Nearby Backbone Lake Horse Camp is the only campground with facilities for horses. Besides the trails, forest access roads are open to equestrian use but be aware that others may share the road with you such a mountain bikers and possible vehicles.
During any season, the Finger Lakes area offers amazing scenery. The chance to spot the wildlife that lives in the forest is part of the fun of an early morning walk. There are seven easy day hikes to take you on excursions through the forest and meadows where you can spot birds, deer, fox, and more. For some of the best vistas in the park, check out Caywood Point. Located on the shores of Seneca Lake, this peninsula offers sweeping views of the lake and forested shoreline from an easy walk accessible from the paved parking lot.
Several trails are open to mountain biking, but your best bet are the forest access roads. There are over 20 miles of multi-use trails and roads through the National Forest. The Forest Service asks that bikes not be ridden on wet or muddy trails as this causes cutting, leading to ruts and erosion. Electric bikes are only allowed on routes open to motor vehicles. For even more mountain biking opportunities, check out the nearby and jointly managed Green Mountain National Forest, which has over 100 miles of paths.
Enjoy the quiet of the snow-filled woods on cross-country skis. Most of the summer hiking trails are accessible via cross-country skis in winter, providing over 20 miles to get lost in nature. Routes may not be groomed, so come prepared to break trail and feel like you are alone in the beauty of the winter forest. The nearby and jointly managed Green Mountain National Forest offers a multitude of groomed and nordic cross-country trails and is worth the drive.
Splash through snowy drifts and weave through the winter forest on your snowmobile on a visit to the Finger Lakes National Forest. There are three major trail areas for sleds in the forest that provide some wintery thrill to get you out of doors. All snowmobiles must be registered and a New York trail pass may be required in some areas. New York has additional sled requirements for lights and maintenance. Make certain your sled fits all regulations before heading out.