Monday, August 12, 2013

Finger Lakes National Forest: Gorge Trail (Blog Hike #433)

Trail: Gorge Trail
Hike Location: Finger Lakes National Forest
Geographic Location: northeast of Watkins Glen, NY
Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2013
Overview: A remote out-and-back hike featuring a small glacier-sculpted gorge.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Watkins Glen, drive east on SR 414.  Where SR 414 and SR 79 split on the east side of Seneca Lake, angle right on SR 79.  Take SR 79 2.7 miles to CR 4 and turn left on CR 4.  Drive CR 4 1.2 miles to Wyckoff Road and turn right on Wyckoff Road.  Take Wyckoff Road 0.5 miles to gravel Burnt Hill Road and turn left on Burnt Hill Road.  Note that Burnt Hill Road is only maintained during the summer.  The trailhead for the Gorge Trail is 1.5 miles ahead on Burnt Hill Road at a small gravel parking area on the right.

The hike: The land comprising today’s 16,212 acre Finger Lakes National Forest, New York’s only national forest, has a long agricultural history.  Much of this land was given to Revolutionary War veterans as payment for their service, and most of it quickly became productive farmland for subsistence farmers.  Over 100 years later, the depleted soil on what was marginal farmland from the start became uncompetitive compared to the more fertile soil in the Midwest.
            During the Great Depression, the federal government purchased over 100 farms in the area through the Soil Conservation Service.  Early efforts involved soil stabilization and the conversion of this land to grazing land.  By the 1950’s, multiple-use land management was coming into vogue, and the land was transferred to the US Forest Service.  The national forest was formally established in 1983.
            The forest today features several good hiking trails, but almost none of them form loops.   Such is the case with the 1.25 mile end-to-end Gorge Trail described here.  As you would expect from its name, the Gorge Trail explores one of the region’s many east-west gorges. This gorge is not as steep or scenic as those in the region’s state parks, but it also doesn’t draw the massive crowds.  I came here on a summer Saturday afternoon when the parking lot at nearby Watkins Glen State Park was overflowing, and I had this trail entirely to myself.
Trailhead: Gorge Trail
            The single-track Gorge Trail heads east from the rear of the parking lot at a brown carsonite post.  Quickly the forest opens up into a grassy area beside a small pond.  The shallow pond was a tranquil area on my visit, but this area would give good wildlife viewing in the early morning and late evening.
Hiking beside the pond
            Past the pond, the trail descends slightly and crosses a short 4-plank boardwalk over a wet area.  The boardwalk gets you over the wettest area, but a few smaller wet areas will need to be negotiated without aid.  At 0.2 miles, the long-distance Interloken Trail enters from the right.  For the next 0.2 miles the combined Gorge and Interloken Trails head gradually downhill over a slightly rocky and eroded course.
Boardwalk on Gorge Trail
            Just shy of 0.4 miles, the orange-blazed Interloken Trail exits left to continue its northbound course.  This route stays with the blue-blazed Gorge Trail as it angles right to continue east.  After a slight ascent to top a ridge, the gorge for which this trail is named comes into view through the trees to the right.
Entering the gorge
            The rest of the Gorge Trail is a descent, usually gradual but occasionally steep, as the trail parallels the gorge on the right.  At only one point does the trail ever reach the bottom of the gorge, and then it only stays there for less than 100 feet.  Maple and beech trees dominate the deciduous forests while hemlocks comprise the majority of the pinelands.  The understory is rather sparse.
Hiking in the gorge
            At 1.1 miles, the trail curves left as it bids a final farewell to the gorge area.  After crossing the national forest boundary, which is marked by red rings painted around trees, a final steep descent brings you to the Mark Smith Road trailhead and the eastern end of the Gorge Trail.  As I mentioned in the introduction, this trail does not form a loop, so the only option is to turn around and retrace your steps 1.25 miles to the Burnt Hill Road trailhead to complete the hike.

No comments:

Post a Comment