I'm not quite sure where to start as this is the first of many hiking articles and videos. Not only of the Onondaga Branch of the Finger Lakes Trail, but the whole Finger Lakes Trail System.

Should I introduce the North Country Trail, first? A trail that extends across 8 states totaling over 4,700 miles. 

It's where we started to hike, but even though many of these hiking excursions will be on the NCT, several hundred miles actually, I'm not hiking that trail.

The goal is to hike the Finger Lakes Trail system, a 950-mile hike that includes a 580-mile main trail and several branches that extend both north and south from west to east main trail.

finger lakes trail system

Finger Lakes Trail System in south central New York State.

Clicking on the map will take you to the FLT website and interactive map.

It will be best to write an article on each of those two trail systems (I'll link to them) and concentrate on my hike.

The Onondaga Branch of the Finger Lakes Trail

I decided to starting hiking the FLT on the Onondaga Branch of the trail system. The main reason is that it's the part of the trail that is closest to where I live. 

The Onondaga Trail runs from the main trail southeast of Cuyler, New York 40+ miles to the northern edge of the Tioughnioga Wildlife Management Area south of Cazenovia, New York.

Onondaga Trail a branch of the Finger Lakes Trail

The Onondaga Trail is highlighted in blue.

Besides the management area mentioned the Onondaga Trail goes through Deruyter State Forest, Highland Forest County Park, Morgan Hill State Forest, Labrador Hollow Forest, and the Peage Hill State Forest. 

I will include links to those areas when I write an article on the Onondaga Trail (I want to finish it all first).

Note that the almost all of the write-up on other websites describes the trail from south to north (main trail intersection to terminus). But I'm starting from the terminus and hiking south.

Also, I'm section hiking the trail and describing the sections with lots of photos along the way. 

First Section Hike - NCT to Route 13

I found it odd that the start of the Onondaga Branch, a 40 plus mile section, does not terminate at a road or even at a parking area. Especially since the FLT follows the North Country Trail (NCT) a few hundred miles along the main trail and the Onondaga trail. But stops a mile or so short of a good parking area.

Starting the Section Hike

I parked at the parking area at the elbow in Irish Hill Road. At this junction, the NCT follows the road north. 

Caden and I were excited to get going so we dove into the woods and headed southwest following the NCT.

NCT and Irish Hill Road

Caden being patient. Where the NCT enters Irish Hill Road

Click any picture to expand it for better viewing.

Hiking is all new to Caden. He is 6 1/2 months here and never really been in real woods or on a real marked trail. 

Everything was new to him.

Documenting the Section

The first couple of hikes are practice runs for both of us.

Eventually we started to take more video and will include trail videos in the articles.

In this one, and maybe the next couple I want to show you what the trail is like so you can decide if you want to take an afternoon and hike the section.

I did manage to take some video of Caden, I was excited for him and his first hike. He loved and still loves streams. Below is a quick little video of Caden's first day on the trail!

Click to play

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Below are some photo galleries of the trail and the condition of the trail, photos of nature, and highlights along the trail.

Views along the Onondaga Branch Section

I'll have a summary of the section at the end, including how many miles the section is and my thoughts.

But let's start with some photos of the trail.

Below is a map of the first part of the section and photos to the bridge, or lack of bridge, across the East Branch of Limestone Creek.

Click photos to expand them for better viewing.

map of the end of the Onondaga Trail

From Irish Hill Road to Damon Road.

Note: My trail description, route, and conditions are explained as seen on the day of my hike. These, of course, can and will change with the weather, seasons, time, and maintenance. The explanation is meant to give the reader some idea of what may be encountered, not necessarily as they may find it later.

Bridge Out on the Onondaga Branch Trail

As we left the Tioughnioga Wildlife Management Area we entered a beautiful hemlock forest and approached the east branch of Limestone Creek. 

In the prior week, central New York had some heavy rains and apparently lifted the two section bridge that crossed the creek and swept them to the creek banks. The bridge sections were held tight by ropes.

bridge across limestone creek on the Onondaga trail

I pulled the left bridge back into the creek so I could jump across without going over the top of my hiking shoes.

Caden waded across. Then went back, and cross again. Repeat and repeat. He loves water!

Caden Wading across Limestone Creek on the Onondaga Trail

Road Portion of the Section

After crossing the creek you walk out into pasture. Follow the hedge row out to Damon Road (fairly busy road). Walk up the hill about 9/10's of a mile then turn left onto Smith Road (no traffic). Walk up the hill about 7/10's of a mile and there is a car parking area for hikers.

Caden and I had lunch here.

There are nice views overlooking the valley from the fields and roads.

From here the trail goes a bit down a driveway then turns right into a field and eventually into the forest again before emptying into a couple tractor paths and fields that lead you to Route 13. 

Below is a map of the second part of the section and some photos of the overlooks. Click to expand the images for better viewing.

second map of the onondaga trail

From Irish Hill Road to Damon Road.

Other Photos From the Trail

Find Caden

Caden in amongst the ferns!

caden dog in the ferns

Irish Hill Road to Route 13 Section Summary

Northern Most section of the Onondaga Branch of the Finger Lakes Trail

Over all this section was nice to hike. There was plenty to look at and the terrain and vegetation changed frequently along the trail.

For the most part the trail was dry even though it raining quite a bit a few days before the hike. 

The 1.5 mile road hike (3 miles total since we had to hike the trail back to the car) isn't much fun, especially with a puppy. 

The creeks views were nice and since I'm a geologist that gives me an extra excuse to look for fossils on the bedrock exposures.

According to my GPS we walked 10.3 miles with a total ascent of 1,713 feet. 

That makes the section between the NCT at Irish Hill Road and the Onondaga Trail crossing at Route 13 a bit over 5-miles. 

MVFTW Trail Section Rating

Overall, I would give this section of the trail a 3 to 3.5.

However, the first part I walked, from Irish Hill Road to Damon Road, I would rate that portion a 4.

Trail Section Ratings

5

I would walk the trail anytime and recommend it highly to anyone.

4

If someone wanted to hike the trail I'd definitely hike it again. 

3

Ahh, if someone wanted company to complete the trail I'd go with them.

2

Nope, not again. Have fun if you want to do it.

1

Nope, if asked, I'd laugh and turn away.

I hope you got some thing from this article. In the future, there will be more video for sure. 

As new articles are published on the different trail systems, additional links will be added to help bring more clarity. 

After all, this hike occurred on three trails. The Onondaga Branch of the Finger Lakes Trail system as well as on the North Country Trail. 

In essence, this afternoon hike was 5 miles of a 44 mile trail, and 5 miles of a 990 mile trail system as well as 5 miles of another 4,700 mile trail. 

If you have any questions, or would like to use any of the photos, please reach out to me and I'll get right back to you.

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Onondaga Branch of the Finger Lakes Trail link
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About the Author T.Marsh


Hi, my name is Todd. My View From the Woods documents my journey of gardening, growing microgreens, preserving food, searching for a homestead, and hiking with my new Springer Spaniel, Caden.

Follow me on Instagram at @myviewfromthewoods

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