When autumn arrives, what comes to your mind first? Many say the changing foliage or enjoying a hike along a trail, savoring those crisp days given to us during this time of year.
However, here in the Niagara Region of New York, autumn holds an annual event that is well-worth a journey down into the Niagara Gorge! It is the time of year when in addition to viewing the raging rapids, you can also see the river at low water. This is all made possible because of additional water being diverted for the New York Power Authority and the Ontario Power Company to produce hydroelectricity.
Regulated under The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 (revised in 1950), the US and Canada are allowed to divert water for the purpose of power generation as long as they agree to preserve the scenic beauty of the Falls and the Niagara River. Thus, the erosion rate of the falls is reduced significantly. The cliff face is more stable and it makes it easier to maintain the viewing areas at Niagara Falls State Park.
Summer Flow occurs from April 1 until October 31, with 50% of the river water diverted above the Falls during the day and 75% diverted during evening hours to produce electricity.
Winter Flow occurs from November 1-March 31, when 75% of the water above the Falls is diverted, thus we get to see only a quarter of the water flow over the falls.
This offers opportunities to explore part of the exposed Whirlpool Sandstone rock layer in the Niagara Gorge during the winter flow. The Whirlpool Sandstone layer is underwater during the summer flow.
There are guided hikes available with the Niagara Region Park Programs Office in November; in 2017 they are Saturday, November 11 & Saturday, November 18. The hike will take you beyond the Whirlpool to the site of the rapids viewing area. At one time, the exposed rocks were a scenic stop for the Great Gorge Route, an electric trolley line that ran from 1895-1935, running from Niagara Falls to Lewiston, NY. The route also journeyed over to Canada (1899-1932) on what was known as the Niagara Belt Line.
At this trolley stop, passengers were able to walk down the stairs to better view the incredible “giant wave” as seen in the historic postcard below.
Post by Carol Rogers, State Parks.
Featured image: Niagara River Backdrift, accessed from Wikicommons
Planning a hike this fall? State Parks staff recommend you try one of these hidden gems:
At Golden Hill State Park in Niagara County, Renee recommends the Interpretive RED Trail. The 1.7-mile-long trail provides a magnificent view of the 30 Mile Point Lighthouse as you hike along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. The lakeshore habitat is very important for migrating birds. They use this area to rest and refuel before making their way across Lake Ontario. The hike will take you through diverse habitats including shrublands, grasslands, deciduous woodlands, a variety of evergreen forests, and an oak grove with 300-year-old trees. The trail follows Golden Hill Creek where an abundance of wildlife can be seen. Watch for herons, kingfishers, warblers, great horned owls, white tailed deer, red fox, chipmunks, and woodchucks. This hike is rated easy to moderate.
If you are looking for a moderate four-mile hike, Mike suggests the Fire Tower Ramble which features scenic views in Sterling Forest State Park in Orange County. Climbing the fire tower, you can see Sterling Lake, Cedar Pond, Greenwood Lake, Schunnemunk Mountain, and the surrounding Hudson Highlands. On a clear day, New York City is visible in the distance. This 60-foot fire tower was built in 1922 by the Department of Conservation. It was one of the first all-steel fire towers built outside of the Adirondack and Catskill Preserves.
Mark notes that the trail system at Robert V. Riddell State Park in Delaware County provides a diversity of experiences and opportunities. Once a dairy farm, Riddell has many trails which traverse both fields and forest and has access to Schenevus Creek, a tributary of the nearby Susquehanna River. Nature enthusiasts regularly enjoy the trails on the north side of I-88 not only for the scenic views but also for the diverse wildlife along the creek. History lovers can also see the remnants of the former dairy along the trail, including the slate-roofed dairy barn built in the 1830s. The southern part of the park (south of I-88) has a different trail experience with longer, more rugged trails, access to a waterfall, and the spring-fed Mud Lake. Mud Lake is a bog surrounded by spruce and tamarack (larch) trees, low shrubs and a floating mat of peat moss along the edge of the open water. This fascinating habitat makes Mud Lake a destination for local nature enthusiasts. Plans are in the works to expand the trail system in the southern side of the park to enhance hiking opportunities in the area.
One of the most popular attractions at Long Point State Park in Chautauqua County is the Point Trail, according to Tom. Approximately 1/2-mile-long, the trail loops through a forest of maple and oak trees and rewards hikers with fantastic panoramic views of Chautauqua Lake once they arrive at the “point.” There are a few benches and interpretive signs along the way to sit on and learn about the park and history of the lake. This level trail is accessible to everyone and state park staff recently put down a new layer of crushed stone to make the walk a bit nicer on rainy days.
Don’t let the snow deter you from exploring State Parks – just grab or borrow a pair of snowshoes and head out to the trail. Go snowshoeing on a trail in a nearby park or try one of State Park staff’s favorite snowshoeing spots.
In western New York, Tina’s favorite snowshoeing spot is at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park located on Lake Ontario in northern Niagara County in Wilson. This is where you will find the Red interpretive trail nestled along the east branch of Twelve Mile Creek. As you snowshoe through the changing landscapes, you’ll pass through successional fields, marshland, and finally through a mature forest of old growth beech and hemlock trees. Keep your ears open for calls of the pileated woodpecker.
At Allegany State Park in Salamanca, Adele recommends the Bear Paw Trail located across the road from the Art Roscoe cross-country ski area on the Red House side of the Park. Bear Paw Trail is the newest trail built for the snowshoeing enthusiast. The 2.4-mile long, easy to moderate trail has 15 interpretative sights and runs along the ridge above Salamanca to historic Stone Tower. The trail loops through large stands of Black cherry and White ash trees. Look for small secret plants such as wintergreen and princess pines along the trail. Each Monday evening in January and February, the park offers sunset snowshoe hikes. The Environmental Education Department has a few pairs of snowshoes to borrow during programs.
In central New York, Katie’s favorite part about snowshoeing is how the landscape constantly changes during the winter. Even if you snowshoe at your favorite local park, in her case Clark Reservation State Park in Jamesville, everything looks different in the winter.
After the leaves fall off the trees, you can see so much farther into the woods. You will be snowshoeing along at Clark Reservation, and suddenly notice that the ground drops away not far from the edge of the trail into a steep ravine. You might never notice the ravine in the summer because rich greenery hides it from view. Winter’s arrival reveals forests secrets. Soon though, they are covered up again, this time with ever changing blankets of snow. Nature’s snow sculptures change daily, so you really need to hit the trails often so you don’t miss out!
About once a year, the park gets special permission to host a moonlit snowshoe hike it’s amazing how bright the forest is with the light from a full moon reflecting off the snow. You can even see your shadow! Keep your eyes on the calendar to find out when this year’s Moonlight Snowshoe Hike will be, or come out on your own any day to check out this special place.
At the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center at Wellesley Island State Park, Thousand Islands, Molly notes that there are four trails open to snowshoeing. Probably the most heavily snowshoed trail is North Field Loop. Only a half mile long, it meanders through a forest full of white pine trees, passes through a seasonal wetland, and into a forest of towering red oak trees. School groups explore this trail on snowshoes and the nature center staff lead moonlight snowshoe hikes on the trail throughout the winter months. There is nothing prettier than snow covered woods on a moonlit night. The park has both children and adult snowshoes available for rent for $3 a pair.
In the Capital Region, Liz at Grafton Lakes State Park suggests the Shaver Pond trail loop. Just under two miles, it offers picturesque views of Shaver Pond, with a trail winding through forest of hemlock and maple trees over easy terrain. Inquisitive visitors may see mink or fox tracks along the way. Trail maps are for sale & snowshoe rentals are available at park office on a first-come, first served basis for $5 for four hours.
At Moreau Lake State Park, Rebecca mentions that the park has 30 miles of trails and there are new places to explore as the seasons change. The parks offers snowshoe hikes and classes for all ability levels, including first timers. The park also has snowshoes available for rent to hikers or people who want to go out and try it on their own for $5 for a half day and $10 for a full day rental.
At Thacher State Park, the Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail is one of Nancy’s favorite snowshoe walks. This three mile loop in the wilder northern part of the park takes you through beautiful woodlands of mixed hardwoods with stands of spruce and hemlock trees and across a couple of open fields, without much elevation change. Midway on the loop, you can take in the scenic snow-covered views from the cliff edge at High Point. Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center rents snowshoes to the public.
In the Hudson Valley, Kris at Fahnestock Winter Park mentions two unique snowshoeing trails. If you’re looking for more rugged terrain, and challenging descents, “Appalachian Way” treks along a ridge line to a stunning overlook of Canopus Lake. The trail “Ojigwan Path” offers the beginner and intermediate snowshoer a snaking walk through hemlock groves and strands of mountain laurel. Both routes take around 2.5 hours to complete. Snowshoe rentals are located in the newly renovated winter park lodge, where you can also warm up with a cup of delicious chili!
Laura D. recommends a snowshoeing trail that will lead you to expansive cliff top vistas, through the globally rare dwarf pitch pine barrens, and around the glacially carved Lake Maratanza. The Loop Road at the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve is the perfect trail for viewing these breathtaking vistas. While on the three-mile Loop Road, stop at the Sam’s Point Overlook, where on a clear day, you can see four states! Snowshoe rentals are available at the Sam’s Point Visitor Center for $15 per adult and $14 per junior (17 years and under) for the day or $5 to join a public program.
A novice snowshoer will find the modest Mossy Glen Footpath loop just right for a snowshoe trip.at Minnewaska State Park Preserve notes Laura C. This approximately four-mile route follows the Mossy Glen Footpath as it hugs the edge of the scenic Peter’s Kill stream, winding through quiet forests. At the end of this Footpath, take the Blueberry Run Footpath to the Lower Awosting Carriage Road back to your starting point. This loop begins at the Awosting Parking Lot.
These are just a sampling of the many trails you can explore on snowshoes . We hope to see you out on the snowshoe trail this winter.
Welcome to the Hudson Highlands, New York City’s backyard! Just a short train ride or a car ride from NYC, people can regain their sense of summer freedom in the network of trails throughout the Eastern Hudson Highlands. Patrons come from all over – day-trippers from neighboring states, as well as international hikers staying in NYC – to enjoy a pleasant hike. The trails are as diverse as the people who visit, and there is a trail for every type of hiking goal.
Breakneck Ridge and the Washburn/Cornish Trailhead are two of the most popular trailheads, which are places where trails begin. These trailheads are where you are likely to bump into a summer trail steward. New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC) staff is stationed at Breakneck while State Parks stewards are posted at Washburn on weekends and either location during the weekdays. Say hello to the trail stewards at either spot; they can help suggest the best route options and point out unique features that can be found along your desired hike. Trail stewards from State Parks are based out of the Taconic Outdoor Education Center (TOEC): Outdoor Educators, Student Conservation Association (SCA) members, and seasonal staff who all teach about the natural world. Stewards are happy to answer questions about any animals you have seen or plants you have discovered. You can even chat to get some information about local history and places to go post-hike.
Mike Orellana playing guitar on a slow day, photo by Katie Tarsiewicz
Information Board, photo by Katie Tarsiewicz
Trail stewards are here to empower people with information about safety and about protecting the fragile natural area of the state park. Working as a part if visitor services, trail stewards help hikers make more informed, positive decisions. Did you know that trail blazes or trail markers indicate which way the trail winds through the forest? Trail stewards are there to help brief people on how to read the blazes so that hikers stay on the trail. Wandering off trail has a devastating impact on the mountains’ natural resources, which supports rare species and sensitive natural communities. Some hikers purposefully stray from the path, thereby creating false or social trails that can easily mislead novice hikers and escalate erosion, a major issue in the state park. The rocky summit communities along the ridgeline can be destroyed by visitors trampling the low lying vegetation. So tread lightly and stick to the designated trails and viewpoints marked on the trail maps. The goal is to allow people to utilize the mountains as a recreational resource without harming or putting too much stress on the ecosystem. When hikers make informed decisions, the state park stays in better condition for current and future generations.
Breakneck and Washburn trailheads are the last outposts before you begin your journey to the ridgetops and woods, so make sure to prepare ahead of time. There are many trails that intersect and overlap. Grab a free detailed, colored map of the Eastern Hudson Highlands as well as valuable advice from the stewards. Make sure to bring plenty of water: at least one to two liters during the hot, humid summer months. Water needs vary based on climate, exertion, and individual needs. Just remember that there are no water fountains or pumps along the trails. Washburn has complimentary water most weekends in the summer to help unprepared hikers avoid dehydration. Snacks may also be useful, providing fuel for long and strenuous hikes. Other helpful items may include sunscreen, sturdy hiking shoes, and bug spray. Trail stewards will remind you to “Leave No Trace” (LNT). LNT is a set of seven principles that provide an outline for outdoor ethics, such as, “Plan and Prepare,” “Carry Out Items that you Carry In,” “Leave what you Find,” “Respect Wildlife,” and “Be Considerate of Other Visitors.” Essentially, you want to leave no trace of your visit so that the mountains look the same as before entering the state park. The LNT outdoor ethics are critical for patrons to observe in order to preserve the natural splendor of the Hudson Highlands.
State Parks is also planning for improved management of the park by collecting and analyzing data. Trail stewards keep track of the number of hikers who start their hikes from these trailheads and conduct surveys to get vital feedback from patrons. Hikers can help influence future planning in the region by taking a moment to complete a brief survey. You can take the survey by speaking with a summer trail steward or answering the questions online. You can help by taking surveys for other trails by clicking on “Survey” under “Quick Links” at the bottom of the State Parks’ website.
As the summertime comes to a close, the trail stewards move from their summer post to other duties until the next summer season. While the trail stewards may be gone, the trails are still eager to be traveled. Soon there will be a crisp nip in the air signaling the beginning of autumn. Will you be there when the forest erupts in a sea of rich, fall colors? Will you help uphold the outdoor ethics to safeguard the natural resources of the Hudson Highlands?
Learn more about the forest and summits on these trails:
When quizzed about some of their best loved hikes in State Parks, our staff had to choose from amongst the hundreds of miles of hiking trails along shorelines, through mountains and open fields, overlooking lakes, rivers and gorges, and meandering through old growth forests.
Here are some of their favorites. (Note: trail maps can be found at each park’s website)
Mike’s favorite: Mine Kill State Park, located in the scenic and historic Schoharie Valley, is about an hour southwest of Albany. The park boasts almost 10 miles of trails, the most well-known being definitely the five-mile section of the Long Path. The Long Path (LP) is a 358 mile-long hiking trail running from New York City to John Boyd Thacher State Park just south of Albany. This particular section of the LP was designated as a National Recreation Trail by the Department of the Interior (National Park Service) in 2014 due to its unique flora and fauna, diverse history and incredible scenery. Along this stretch of trail, a hiker may wander past active bald eagle nests, the picturesque Mine Kill and Schoharie Creek, the historic Lansing Manor and its namesake, the 80-foot high Mine Kill Falls.
Nancy’s favorite: The Indian Ladder Trail (0.40 miles long) in Thacher State Park near Albany is like a hike through geological history. You get an up close look at the 1,200 foot high limestone escarpment as you climb metal staircases to start (and end) your hike along the bottom of the escarpment. Layers of limestone, sandstone, and shale, lifted and eroded by wind, water, and other elements, formed the escarpment over 100 million years ago. Prehistoric people used nearby areas as hunting camps, possibly as early as 6,000 B.C. Native Americans traversed the escarpment via footpaths and logs (acting as ladders) between the Mohawk/Hudson and Schoharie Valleys, hence the name ‘Indian Ladder’ Trail. Along the hike, you can see waterfalls (if it’s not too dry a season), marine fossils, small caves, and stand near the crowns of mature trees growing below the escarpment. Best of all are the views from the Indian Ladder Trail, and the Escarpment Trail above, of surrounding valleys, the urban landscape, and further in the distance, the Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Nick’s favorite hikes at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley include the Lake Minnewaska Carriage Road, a two-mile gentle loop trail around the glacially formed Lake Minnewaska. It’s an historic carriage road left over from a Victorian Era mountain resort. This hike features many views of Lake Minnewaska, a peak at the Catskill Mountains from several spots, and views of the greater Hudson Valley. This hike is popular due to the lake (people love water!), the ease of access, and the rock perches and cliffs that overlook the lake and Hudson Valley.
Nick’s other favorite hike is Gertrude’s Nose Trail, an approximately seven mile hike on a mixture of historic carriage roads and footpaths traversing some of the most rugged terrain in Minnewaska State Park Preserve. These footpaths are loaded with evidence (signs) of the last glacial event, featuring glacial polish, glacial erratics (large rocks deposited by glaciers), chatter marks (any of a series of grooves, pits, and scratches on the surface of a rock, usually made by the movement of a glacier(from Dictionary.com)), sharp cliffs and massive talus blocks (rock debris below a cliff face). This hike is very popular mainly because this cliff edge trail gives panoramic views of the Shawangunk Mountains along the way.
Tom’s favorites: Green Lake and Round Lake Trails, located in Green Lakes State Park, are favorite hikes near Syracuse. They follow around the shores of these two glacial meromictic lakes. Meromictic lakes are lakes where there is no mixing of surface and bottom waters and they remain thermally (temperature) and chemically stratified (in layers) throughout the year. Other unique features of the lakes include their brilliant blue green appearance and the presence of “thrombolitic microbiolite marl reefs.” This basically means that a living organism is creating a rock out of material in the water. More specifically a cyanobacteria or algae is taking calcium compounds that entered the lake with groundwater seeping through the surrounding limestone bedrock and making it into a solid as part of cellular respiration. The United States Department of Interior designated Round Lake as a National Natural Landmark in 1975.
Green and Round Lake Trails are generally flat, 8-10 feet wide, and easy hiking trails. The full loop, including both trails, is approximately three miles long with benches located periodically for resting and enjoying the scenery. A swimming beach, playground and boat rentals are located at the north end of Green Lake. These trails are part of a 17-mile trail system in the park that also takes you through or to old growth forest, wetlands, grassland bird habitat, cliff edge overlooks, camping areas, a golf course, and connects to the 36-mile Old Erie Canal State Historic Park.
Nicole’s favorite: As the largest State Park in the Long Island region, hiking at Connetquot River State Park Preserve can feel secluded even in the middle of densely populated Long Island. The beautiful scenery and diversity of life within the park make it her favorite hiking spot. Starting from the parking lot, the Greenbelt Trail (indicated by the white and yellow blazes) takes you directly to the fish hatchery, where you can get up close and personal with trout being raised. From there, the Red Trail can take you back along the Connetquot River to Main Pond. The Red Trail merges with the Blue Trail at the pond and the hike ends at the historic Grist Mill and Main House. Then it’s a short distance down the road back to the parking lot. This loop is a little over two miles but flat and even throughout, making it perfect for all age groups. Don’t forget to check in with the Nature Center at the Main House on the way out to find out about all of the amazing programs they have there.
Molly recommends hiking at Wellesley Island State Park in the Thousand Islands Region. A favorite is to start at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center and hike along the Eel Bay Trail (1.1 miles) to the Narrows Trail (0.45 miles). From there you can head back the same way or follow along another trail to loop back to the Nature Center. Sitting on the exposed granite outcroppings and watching the St. Lawrence River Eel Bay and passing glacial potholes are highlights of this hike. The Narrows is a narrow water passageway located between Wellesley Island and Murray Isle connecting South and Eel Bays. Along the Narrows Trail you can watch boats pass through the channel and see a variety of birds while picnicking on an open rock area. These trails are generally easy hiking but have some steeper rock climbing areas. Don’t forget to check out the Nature Center!
FORCES stewards Nick and Adriana recommend two hikes in the Finger Lakes Region.
Buttermilk Falls State Park is a located in the heart of the Finger Lakes to the south of Cayuga Lake and has much to offer avid hikers, families, and visitors to the area. Hike the Rim and Gorge Trails together for a 1.5-mile loop, or hike each separately. Starting either trail from the lower parking lot will require a strenuous uphill walk (Rim Trail) or climbing of a long staircase (Gorge Trail). The Gorge Trail has much to offer and you will encounter many waterfalls, and beautiful rock formations along the 0.65 mile trek up the gorge. Mosses, liverworts, and ferns coat entirety of the gorge, providing a vivid green walk that is topped by a hemlock hardwood forest along the ridge. As you come out of the gorge, you will cross a bridge to take the 0.82-mile Rim Trail back to the parking area. This walk takes you through a beautiful hemlock hardwood forest filled with eastern hemlock, chestnut oak, and witch hazel, along with many other species. This loop can be done in about an hour, but more time may be needed for taking in all the sights along the way. Hiking these two trails as a loop is a relatively easy hike after you complete the initial stairs, or uphill climb.
The Upper Loop in Robert H. Treman State Park is a one mile round trip on sections of the Gorge and Rim Trails. The trail is situated above Treman Gorge and offers spectacular views of the many waterfalls including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls. The trail begins at the upper section of the park (the Old Mill Parking area) at the entrance to the Gorge Trail and takes visitors through the upper gorge. The trail highlights the scenic beauty of the gorge, amazing rock formations, stone bridges, and the many water features along Enfield Creek through the ravine. The trail takes you to the top of Lucifer Falls and then down the side. At the bottom is a wooden bridge over the stream that will take you to the Rim Trail and the second portion of the hike. This begins with a climb up the “Cliff Staircase” – it is the most difficult section of the loop but it also offers some of the best views in the park. At the top is an overlook of Lucifer Falls and then a moderate downhill slope back to the upper parking lot. Multiple overlooks from high vantage points make the trail perfect for photo ops and for viewing the gorge below. Although the hike is short, some visitors may find to be strenuous due to the elevation change and the many staircases.
This weekend, try one of these hikes or find your own ‘best-loved hike’ in a park near you.