Hiking the Onondaga Trail Through the Labrador Hollow Unique Area

Continuing my saga of end-to-end hiking the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT), this article encompasses hiking in two state forests (Labrador Hollow Unique Area & Morgan Hill State Forest), two incredible views (Hang Glider Jump from Jones Hill and Tinker Falls), and two counties (Onondaga & Cortland), all in a 7.7-mile loop.

Labrador Hollow Unique area is mainly known for the spectacular waterfall named Tinker Falls. I will visit this 50-foot waterfall over a ledge in a separate article. But Labrador Hollow also has a remarkable view area from Jones Hill (1962 feet) that is or was (not sure if people still jump here) a hand glider launch cliff.

Caden and I hiked this loop on a beautiful September day. We started on the northernmost point of the loop at Spruce Pond in Morgan Hill State Forest via Herlihy Road. Herlithy Road is a dirt or gravel road, but my car had no problem reaching the parking area adjacent to Spruce Pond.

The gallery at the end of the article shows a beautiful photo of the trees reflecting on the pond.

spruce pond parking on onodaga trail

We hiked the loop in a counterclockwise direction through the western portion of Morgan Hill State Forest and onto the easement across private land (please respect the landowner’s property) toward Labrador Hollow Unique Area and Jones Hill.

northern half of my labrador hollow hike

The image above shows the northern half of the loop. The red line is the GPS path we hiked on this day. The Spruce Pond parking area is the pond in the top middle of the image. It is a short walk across the pond dike to the Finger Lakes Trail.

This is the Onondaga Trail, a branch of the Finger Lakes Trail, and not the FLT proper. Nevertheless, I often call the whole system the FLT.

hiking onondaga trail morgan hill state forest

The gentle uphill walk goes through some beautiful woodlands to the southwestern shoulder of Jones Hill and the almost cliff-like exposure and amazing views down to the valley floor and Labrador Pond in the Labrador Hollow Unique Area.

What is a Unique Area?

According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, a unique area is “land owned by the state that was acquired due to its special natural beauty, wilderness character, or for its geological, ecological or historical significance.”
You can learn more by clicking the link to the NYSDEC website focused on the Labrador Hollow Unique Area. New York State has designed many areas as unique.

Labrador Hollow Trail Map

You can click the button to have a trail map of Labrador Hollow sent to you.

You will notice on the trail map that my route is labeled the North Country National Scenic Trail, often referred to as the NCT in western and central New York. The NCT follows the FLT and the Onondaga Trail branch.
In a future article, we will explore more of the trails in Labrador Hollow, hopefully with more water flowing over Tinker Falls.

Labrador Hollow Hang Gliding Launch Area

The photos don’t do justice to the height of this hill. I can’t imagine running with some sail attached to my back and hope to catch an updraft instead of crashing into the brush below.

hang gliding area in Labrador Hollow.

I want to zoom in on the field shown in the mid-right side of the photo, and you can see some of the geological features of the Labrador Hollow valley floor.

glacial hummocks
Glacial Hummocks

The little hills you can see in the field are called glacial hummocks. They’re formed when sediment in the glacier is dropped and reworked by the glacier repeatedly surging and retreating, rounding the mounds of sediment into small hills and knolls.

Hike Toward Tinkers Falls

After leaving the hang gliding area, the Onondaga Trail wanders down the nose of Jones Hill toward Tinker Falls. The hill is gradual, at least compared to the western side of Jones Hill, and is nicely forested.

Onondaga trail down southern nose of Jones Hill in Labrador Hollow Unique Area

Southern Half of the Morgan Hill – Labrador Hollow Hike

We are one-quarter done with the hike, and here is the southern half of the loop. Again, the red line is from my GPS.

Southern Half of the Labrador Hollow and Morgan Hill hike.

Tinker Falls in Labrador Hollow

Tinker Falls is a 50-foot straight drop waterfall capped by the Tully LImestone and undercut Genesse Shale. The Onondaga Trail does not travel to the bottom of the falls. But instead, crosses the stream near the top of the falls.
Trails from the Labrador Hollow parking area lead to the bottom of the falls. There is also a stairway to the top.

stairway bottom of tinker falls

The harder Tully Limestone caps the top of Tinker Falls. The erosion of the softer underlying Genesse Shale formed the falls.
You can walk right to the edge of the falls from the Onondaga Trail stream crossing. You can see the fractured Tully Limestone well in the photo.

Top of Tinker Falls

The Onondaga Trail climbs up and out of the Tinker Falls Stream by another set of stairs. Caden and I spent a lot of time looking around the stream bed.

I can’t believe how sleek Caden is here. Now he is all feathered out with much longer hair.

The Rest of the Loop

The walk-up out of Tinker Creek Hollow is nice and very wooded, and the trail is in great shape. After leaving the hollow, you leave the Labrador Hollow Unique Area and reenter Morgan Hill State Forest.

The hike is pleasant, with minimal elevation gain or loss. Eventually, you cross Shackham Road. I call this spot Shackham Road South. The Onondaga trail continues to the southeast. But here, we took the road to the north.
The road is quite a climb, with very little traffic, but the shoulders are also not wide, so some care is necessary, especially with a young dog like Caden.

Eventually, you meet up with the Onondaga Trail again. This spot I call Shackham Road North. We took a left to the west and hiked back toward Spruce Pond. The trail is in great shape, back to the pond.

Pleasant Hike Even with the Road Walk

Overall the look was 7.7 miles, according to my GPS, with an elevation gain (and loss) of 1,300 feet. Even with the road walk, it’s a great hike with a lot to see. The trail is well-maintained. As it is a popular hike, you may run across quite a few people at Tinker Falls on the weekends.

I’d rate this hike a 4 out of 5.

If someone wanted to hike this loop, I’d do it again with them. The road walk is the only part that stops this hike from getting a 5 rating.

Doing it again myself, I’d drive to the Unique Area parking and hike to Tinker Falls and the trails that surround it only because I’ve completed the parts of the Onondaga Trail that I need.

The plan is to take some photos of Tinker Falls when there is more water coming over the ledge. When I do, there will be a link to the article and photos!

Favorite Photos From the Hike

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