Top XC Ski Spots!

Photo: Ben Roosa
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Top 8 Cross Country Ski Spots in the Finger Lakes Region

On a crisp winter’s day, there is nothing quite like the feeling of strapping on your skis and gliding through silent forests of towering oaks, maples, spruce, and pine.  Cross country skiing is a great way to experience nature while getting a terrific workout, and our Finger Lakes region offers plenty of places to get out on the trails.

Harriet Hollister Spencer Recreation Area

Located on the high wooded ridge just west of Honeoye Lake, this state recreation area is one of the go-to places for Rochester-area skiers. Harriet Hollister features a 20-mile network of trails through mature forest with several trails groomed by the Rochester Cross Country Ski Foundation. Trails are marked with the cross country skier in mind including grade and difficulty levels. Elevations are above 2,000 feet, which makes it a better bet for snow cover than many other locations. Be sure to check out the Overlook Trail for a panoramic view of Honeoye Lake while you are there.

Highland Forest

This Onondaga County park spans 2,700 acres of hill country south of Syracuse. There is an extensive trail system of interconnected loops to accommodate long and short trips with the added benefit that the skiing and snowshoeing trails are separate. Along the loops are numerous lean-tos with orientation maps providing great places to stop and gauge your progress. Skis may be rented at the park’s lodge. If a few hours of skiing in this winter wonderland is not enough; visitors can also enjoy a horse drawn sleigh ride, for which the park is well known.

Bear Swamp State Forest

Known for its “Adirondack-like” character, Bear Swamp features extensive wetlands along with 15 miles of multiuse trails that provide lots of options for skiing. The forest overlooks the southwestern shore of Skaneateles Lake and is located in an area that typically receives ample “lake effect” snow. For the most part, the trails weave around and up-and-over two ridges that flank Bear Swamp Creek. 

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Photo: Ben Roosa

Hammond Hill State Forest

This forest’s 20 miles of trails include easy trails for beginners as well as challenging downhill runs for the most expert skiers. The best maps of the trail system are available online from gofingerlakes.org and the Cayuga Nordic Ski Club, one of several organizations that collaborate with the DEC to maintain the trails in the forest. The trails are broad and provide ample line of sight making downhill runs exhilarating and less worrisome than narrow hiking trails found in other forests.

Oakley Corners State Forest

Located in the Southern Tier just north of Owego, Oakley Corners features a network of 13 miles of trails that were built by the Triple Cities Ski Club. This 1,000-acre forest is located about a half-hour drive from both Ithaca and Binghamton. In addition to passing through typical stands of hardwoods and conifers, the trails also provide access to a marshy lake. The state forest is divided into northern and southern sections by Dutchtown Road and though the forest remains mostly the same, skiers will find flatter terrain in the southern section and slightly more rugged difficult trails in the northern section.

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Photo: Hannah George

Gentler rides on rail-trails…

Jim Schug Trail

Black Diamond Trail

When there’s lots of snow…

Finger Lakes National Forest

Other places to explore…

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Portions of this article also appeared in Life in the Finger Lakes magazine.

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