Finger Lakes Trail Links Miles of Forests, Parks

By Colleen Mahoney

Hiking is a terrific way to keep active and explore your surroundings without spending a lot of money. And starting from Ellicottville, you don’t need to work very hard to find the perfect place to go. From leisurely hikes through Nannen Arboretum to more strenuous hikes ascending mountain sides, there is something for all level of hikers on the miles and miles of trails nearby, many of which are linked by the Finger Lakes Trail system.

The Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) is bookended by Allegany State Park and the Catskill Forest Preserve. Between the Pennsylvania border and the northeast end of the Onondaga Branch, the FLT is also part of the official route of the North Country Scenic Trail, the longest scenic trail in the United States. The North Country Trail was created in 1980 and passes through seven states and 12 National Forests, from New York to North Dakota. It covers roughly 4,600 miles.

In Cattaraugus County, the FLT begins in Allegany State Park, on ASP 2 near the interchange with Interstate-86. It continues through the Seneca Indian Nation and into Salamanca where it enters Bucktooth State Forest.

Bucktooth State Forest, located in the Towns of Napoli, Little Valley and Salamanca, is one of the first properties obtained by New York State in Cattaraugus County. In was also the site of a work project established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to keep men working during the depression. The forest is commonly used for hunting, though hiking is also a popular activity there.

In Bucktooth State Forest, the NCT/FLT passes across the top of a conglomerate rock, known as “Catt” Rock, across West Branch Bucktooth Run Road. Following a foot bridge and climbing a hill, the trail passes through “The Avenue of the Maples” and down to East Branch Bucktooth Run Road.

From there, the trail merges with the Pat McGee Trail. This 12.1 mile trail crosses the Continental Divide and plays host to more than 40 mammal species and 150 bird species. A part of the Cattaraugus County Rails to Trails, the Pat McGee Trail connects the City of Salamanca to the Village of Cattaraugus. It was named for the late state senator Patricia McGee from Franklinville.

From the Pat McGee Trail, the NCT/FLT enters Rock City State Forest, a 2,905 acre section boasting a picnic area and 4.35 miles of trails. Rock City was named for its unique “city” formed from conglomerate rocks, which are naturally arranged to resemble city streets and alleys. Due to a variety of geologic factors, Rock City State Forest offers caves, tunnels and passageways for explorers and hikers alike.

In Rock City State Forest, the .7 mile Little Rock City Nature Trail is 0.7 winds through the rock beds and hanging fern gardens. Because of the passages and tunnels, walking through the forest can feel cooler and less humid than on top of the rocks, and it’s not uncommon to find snow in between the rocks into mid May. Due to these environmental conditions, several plant species found in Rock City are not often found elsewhere in Western New York. Clintonia, painted trillium, polypody fern and rock tripe can be found in Rock City State Forest.

Little Rock City is located at the end of Little Rock City Forest Road. This is one of three “rock cities” in Cattaraugus County. The others are Rock City Park, south of Olean, and Thunder Rocks in Allegany State Park.

The Camp Seneca Loop Trail is also part of Rock City State Forest, which starts near the pond at Camp Seneca and runs adjacent to Holiday Valley property. It is also known to mountain bikers as the Billy Goat Trail. From the Camp Seneca Loop Trail, hikers can enter McCarty Hill State Forest, a 3,110 acres state forest just south of Ellicottville. A portion of the NCT/FLT runs through this state forest, which opens to views of the Holimont Ski Area. McCarty Hill State Forest is also home to intersecting mountain biking trails that can be used for hiking.

Another six miles of the NCT/FLT runs through private property on Poverty Hill, stretching from New York 242 to US 219. Poverty Hill has an elevation of 2,321 feet. During the hike, expect an elevation gain of 1,600. Because it’s on private property, hikers are asked to remain on the trail and respect adjacent landowners.

Of course, if you’re a beginner or interested in more moderate hikes, Nannen Arboretum in Ellicottville might be the perfect option. This unique 8-acre gem offers paths through a Ryoanji Temple Stone Garden, the Al Cox Memorial Garden and the Lowe Herb Garden. Open from dawn to dusk daily, the Nannen Arboretum brings visitors through gardens, over bridges and past and provides a lovely view of Ellicottville.

Please note: during hunting season, some sections of some of the trails noted above are closed; call your local DEC office for more information.

For more information on area state forests, visit www.Dec.NY.gov, or call the Allegany DEC Forestry Office at 716-372-0645.  To learn more about the Finger Lakes Trail System, visit www.FLTconference.org and for information on the North Country Trail, visit www.NorthCountryTrail.org.