About the Trail:
The Finger Lakes Trail system totals over 950 miles. The main portion of the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) is 585 miles in length and follows a path from the Pennsylvania-New York border in Allegany State Park to the Long Path in the Catskill Forest Preserve. There are approximately 465 miles of trails that branch off of the main trail and lead north to Niagara Falls, the Genesee River valley, the Great Eastern Trail, the Central Finger Lakes, and the Syracuse region. The FLT is also part of the North Country Trail starting in Allegany State park and ending at the northeast terminus of the Onondaga Branch of the trail. Maintenance of the trail system is done mostly by volunteers and they have done a pretty good job considering the length and logistics involved in its maintenance.
The trail offers hikers a great deal of solitude. Unlike many of the long trails, one cannot expect to find themselves in the company of many hikers. During my month long hike of the FLT I only encountered 13 other hikers. On only one occasion did I share a shelter with another hiker and that was only at the end of my end-to-end hike.
I can’t stress enough that you should buy the guide and maps published by the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC). Having the guide book and maps were both valuable assets on my end-to-end hike because of trail reroutes. The main trail is broken into 33 individual maps. One side has a color map with pertinent information for water and shelters/camping and the other side has a mileage breakdown with descriptions. There are three ways that you can get the maps through their site. You can purchase an entire set of paper maps, select individual paper maps or choose a downloadable map with GPS coordinates. Additionally, you can use their Interactive Map to help you plan your trip. Members of the FLTC are eligible for a 20% discount on many of their products! As a member you also get some pretty good benefits in addition to the 20% discount. Check out the benefits!
I found that resupplying on the trail was very easy. There are many towns and convenience stores that make it easy to resupply. I don’t really like going into town unless necessary and I chose to use drop boxes at post offices that were close to the trail. You travel through and near several towns that have cheap motels, grocery stores and restaurants. I highly recommend taking some time to explore and enjoy Ithaca, Watkins Glen, Bath and Ellicottville. All three are hiker friendly and have great amenities to choose from.
There are numerous shelters along the trail and their spacing is erratic. I found many of the shelters were near roads and heavily used and some very abused. Ironically, I only shared a shelter with a single hiker the entire time. I did have a group of high school partiers drive up to a shelter near SUNY Cortland in the middle of the night. Yes, I said they drove up! For some reason they chose to move on to party elsewhere. Bummer, I could have used a beer.
Be cautious about where you are camping on this trail, since a large portion of the trail is located on private property and camping may not be allowed. Here is a link to Lean-tos and camping choices on the Finger Lakes Trail. There are plenty of places on state land to camp, you just need to plan accordingly. I do not recommend stealth camping when camping is not allowed on private property. These folks have been kind enough to allow the trail to pass through their land and breaking their request to not camp could lead to the FLT losing landowner permission for the trail to pass through their land.
When to go
Summer is the ideal time for your trip. I would love to hike the whole trail in the fall, but there is a major issue with this. HUNTING SEASON!!! October through December are the worst times to be prancing down this trail. Many property owners do not allow trail use during these months. Again, failing to comply could result in loss of landowner permission for the FLT. Being shot would also be a bit of a bummer! You can walk the state lands where the trail goes through, but be cautious and aware of your surroundings. Wear Blaze Orange as a precaution. If you were to choose to do an extended section, understand that you may need to walk a road route around the section that is closed. Check the FLT site for updates on closures.
The Finger Lakes Trail can provide solitude and tranquility that you may not encounter on other long distance trails in the country. You shouldn’t expect your hike to be a social experience like the Appalachian Trail. This means that you need to be able to depend on your skills, knowledge and preparedness. You need to know your limits and how to deal with adversity.
Hiking this trail in July during a summer that has little rain may have you begging to find water sources. This was the case for me in 2012. I found myself digging in stream beds to get down to the water. This reality made me be sure that I always had what I call my, “Oh S#*! ” reserve of water in my pack.
What do you know about the weather? Are you able to know when its time to hunker down rather than walk up to the top of the ridge as a thunderstorm approaches? Is your rain gear easily accessible?
Insects and critters are out there! Be concerned with ticks as they are out there and can be an issue.
Bears – never saw one. This doesn’t mean that you should leave a jar of peanut butter open all night. Be smart and secure your food so that the critters out there can’t get to it in the middle of the night.
As a means of being prepared, I always develop a spreadsheet of my anticipated mileage and where I may be camping each evening. I may not stick to the mileage, but it will give others an idea of an approximate location if something were to happen. I am not big on using technology on my hikes, but I am sure to have my phone charged and ready to go in the event of an emergency.
I hiked the trail starting in the Catskills and ending in Allegany State Park. I was able to hike the trail in 31 days and took 3 days to rest. I did not find the terrain to be all that challenging, but that may not be the case for you. For me, the road walks were the toughest part of the trail since the conditions were extremely hot and dry in July 2012. Water was always tough to find on my trip, especially on the western section. There were also several occasions that I had to stop and consult the maps or look around for the next blaze. The FLTC has done a good job of marking and maintaining the trail. But, there are sections that you may encounter that are overgrown or not marked as well as others. Keep in mind that this footpath does get its fair share of use, but some sections were not as heavily used as others. Despite the small challenges encountered on the trail, I would encourage you to explore a section or all of this trail!
Feel free to send me an email if you want more information about End-to-End hiking the Finger Lakes Trail. Here is the link my pictures from my End-to-End hike: Finger Lakes Trail 2012