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Bear Swamp State Forest

hikingpaddlingprimitive campingbikingfishinghorseback ridingtrappinghuntingsnowshoeingsnowmobilingcross country skiingparkingIcon key

Bear Swamp State Forest locator map

Bear Swamp State Forest covers 3,539 acres. A large wetland and creek bisect the forest and provide excellent opportunities for those who love to paddle.

Bear Swamp also offers a 14.3-mile multiple use trail system. All trails are designated by color and are marked with circular DEC trail marker signs (see map above and descriptions below). The trails have been designed to offer family-based cross-country skiing, hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Trails are available to serve beginners and intermediate users. There are 12.5 miles of snowmobile trails on Bear Swamp State Forest. The trails include 2.5 miles of corridor trail and the 10-mile Bear Swamp/Ridge Road loop trail.

Featured Activities



General information on hiking includes how-to, safety tips, and links to rules and regulations. Multiple trails allow for hiking.

The property offers 3 main hiking loops: the blue, red and yellow trails. See descriptions below.

  • The blue trail is 4.3 miles long and crosses the northern section of the property.
  • The red trail is 3.6 miles long and traverses the western portion of the property.
  • The yellow trail is 6.4 miles long and follows the eastern and southeastern areas of the property.



General information on paddling includes how-to, safety tips, and links to rules and regulations.

Informal parking is available along road shoulders.


primitive camping

General information on primitive camping includes how-to, safety tips, and links to rules and regulations.

At-large primitive camping is allowed. Campsites must be at least 150 feet away from the nearest road, trail, or body of water. Camping for more than three nights or in groups of 10 or more requires a permit from a Forest Ranger.


mountain biking

General information on biking includes how-to, safety tips, and links to rules and regulations.

Multiple trails on Bear Swamp State Forest allow for mountain biking.



General information on fishing includes how-to and safety tips and links to seasons, rules and regulations.

Fishing access maps are available. Fishing easement maps are available.

Hunting & Trapping


General Information on hunting and general information on trapping includes how-to and safety tips with links to seasons, rules and regulations.

Hunting and trapping are allowed during appropriate seasons.



General information on snowmobiling includes how-to, safety tips, and links to rules and regulations.

Cross-country Skiing & Snowshoeing

cross country skiing

General information on cross-country skiing and snowshoeing includes how-to, safety tips, and links to rules and regulations.

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are permitted on all multiple-use trails.

Red Trails, 3.8 miles - West Entry

The trails start on the flat land off of Rt. 41A, loops downhill to Bear Swamp Creek and then climbs up hill back to the trail register on Harnett Road. Trail sections and their lengths are: Red 1 - 1.4 miles, Red 2 - 0.8 mile, Red 4 - 0.4 mile, Red 5 - 0.5 mile, and Red 6 - 0.4 mile. Snowmobiling is allowed on part of Red 1 and on Red 3 and 6.

Yellow Trails, 6.4 miles - South Entry

The Yellow Trails offer both the ease of traveling on level ground and the challenge of hill climbing. Trail sections and their lengths are: Yellow 1 - 1.3 miles, Yellow 2 - 0.8 mile, Yellow 3 - 0.7 mile, Yellow 4 - 0.2 mile, Yellow 5 - 0.3 mile,
Yellow 6 - 1.7 miles, Yellow 7 - 0.2 mile, Yellow 8 - 0.2 mile, and Yellow 9 - 1 mile.

Blue Trails, 4.1 miles - North Entry

From the parking lot on the Curtin Road, you can ski cross-country over 1,200 acres of state forest on unmarked trails. NYSDEC plans to keep this area undeveloped for winter recreation. The marked Blue Trail goes south from the parking lot and joins the Bear Swamp Road. The trails offer a contrast between easy travel on the lower parts of the trails and tougher uphill climbs to higher parts of the forest. Blue trails can be accessed from the Curtin Road parking lot. Blue 5 is a 0.2 mile dead-end trail that offers a spectacular view of Bear Swamp. Along side trail Blue 2 is the high point in Cayuga County at an elevation above 1,860 feet. Trail sections and their lengths are: Blue 1 - 1 mile, Blue 2 - 0.8 miles, Blue 3 - 0.5 miles, Blue 4 - 0.2 miles, Blue 5 - 0.2 miles, Blue 6 - 0.4 miles & Blue 7 - 0.7 miles. Snowmobiling is allowed on part of trail Blue 1.

Horseback Riding

horseback riding

General information on horseback riding includes how-to, safety tips, and links to rules and regulations.

Multipleuse trails allow for horseback riding. Proof of current negative Coggins certificate is required for all horses and out-of-state horse owners are required to produce a 30-day health certificate.


General information on animals includes links to information about birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and insects that inhabit or migrate through the state.


Bear Swamp State Forest has 3 parking areas:

  • The west entrance is just off Route 41A and Hartnett Road, and behind the Colonial Lodge. This parking lot provides access to 3.8 miles of red multiple-use trails. (42.749104°N, 76.318144°W) Google Maps (link leaves DEC website)
  • The south parking lot is about 0.25 miles north along the Bear Swamp Road from its intersection with the Iowa Road. Approximately 6.4 miles of the yellow multiple-use trails branch out north of the parking lot. (42.73665°N, 76.285011°W) Google Maps (link leaves DEC website)
  • The north parking lot is at the end of the Curtin Road, about 1.5 miles from Route 41A. From there, a trail leads south along the Bear Swamp Road and connects the blue multiple-use trails, totaling 4.1 miles in length. (42.763126°N, 76.306093°W) Google Maps (link leaves DEC website)

Rules, Regulations and Outdoor Safety

Practice Leave No Trace (link leaves DEC website) principles when recreating on state land to enjoy the outdoors responsibly; minimize impact on the natural resources and avoid conflicts with other users.

All users of Bear Swamp State Forest must follow all State Land Use Regulations (link leaves DEC website) and should follow all Outdoor Safety Practices for the safety of the user and protection of the resource.

How We Manage Bear Swamp State Forest

DEC foresters have the responsibility of managing Bear Swamp State Forest and are guided in the management by the Hewitt-Cayuga Highlands Unit Management Plan. A unit management plan (UMP) guides the DEC's land management activities on forests for a 10-year period. Each UMP addresses specific objectives and actions for public use and forest management.

The management goal of Bear Swamp State Forest is to maintain a healthy forest ecosystem, to provide recreational opportunities, and to improve the forest for future generations. Forest product sales are one of the instruments land managers use to implement actions to meet many of the goals and objectives. There is now a rich, diverse and productive forest which is available for a variety of activities. Ecosystem-based management principles are being employed to ensure the biological improvement and protection of the forest ecosystem and to provide the public with many benefits of forest land.

The State Forest and surrounding areas were dramatically affected by glaciation about 10,000 years ago. Skaneateles Lake, the steep valley walls, and the flat-top ridges are the result of this geologic event. Human effect on the area was more recent, since Native Americans used the area sparingly to hunt and travel through. After the Revolutionary War, veterans and their families cleared and settled the area. One famous son of the area is Millard Fillmore, our 13th President, who was born and raised nearby.

The peak of farm settlement was around the Civil War era, and slowly declined until the Great Depression of 1929, which hastened farm abandonment. Most of the State Forest was abandoned farmland bought in the 1930s. The large amount of open land was planted with coniferous trees - red pine, Norway spruce, and larch. Thus the term "reforestation lands" was aptly applied to these state forests.

Nearby Amenities and Attractions

Nearby DEC Lands & Facilities include

Information regarding where to find amenities

  • Gas, food, dining and lodging may be found in the nearby communities of Cortland, Homer, Moravia and Skaneateles.
  • Cayuga County Tourism Webpage (link leaves DEC website)

Numerous guide books and maps are available with information on the lands, waters, trails and other recreational facilities in this area. These can be purchased at most outdoor equipment retailers, bookstores, and online booksellers.

Additional information, outdoor equipment, trip suggestions and guided or self-guided tours may be obtained from outdoor guide and outfitting businesses. Check area chambers of commerce, telephone directories or search online for listings.

Consider hiring an outdoor guide if you have little experience or woodland skills. See the NYS Outdoor Guides Association (link leaves DEC website) for information on outdoor guides.