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Bear Swamp State Forest

View Bear Swamp State Forest Map || View Same Map in PDF (217 Kb) || Google Earth || State Lands Interactive Mapper

View Bear Swamp State Forest Map (black and white with full trails shown) (936 kB) || Bear Swamp Narrative (41kB)

Bear Swamp State Forest locator map

Recreational Activities

  • Accessible Trail
  • Primitive Camping
  • Cross Country Skiing
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Hunting, Wildlife Management Unit 7J
  • Horseback Riding
  • Mountain Biking
  • Nature Photography/Observation
  • Snowmobiling
  • Trapping

Background Information

Bear Swamp State Forest is covers 3,316 acres in Cayuga County. The forest is known for its nordic ski trail, and its large wetland and creek that bisect the forest. The ski trail system, over 13 miles in length, was developed with volunteer help in the 1980's. The trail has become increasingly popular, and was improved in 1993 by DEC. There is also a long multiple use trail on the forest here on can mountain bike, hike, snowmbile or horseback ride. Parts of this trail are accessbile for those with mobility issues.

Cross County Ski Trail- Entry Point

The cross country ski trail is accessed via three parking lots on state forest land. The west entrance is just off Route 41A and Harnett Road, and behind the lodge. This parking lot gives access to the west loop of the trail, with a warm-up short loop of 1.75 miles. The complete loop is just under 3 miles, and includes a gradual climb from Guidepost 5 west to the parking lot.

The south entry point is the parking lot about .25 miles north along the Bear Swamp Road from its intersection with the Iowa Road. Trails branch out north of the parking lot, with a short loop of 1.33 miles. The north entry point 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 with the main trail system.

Ski Trail - West Entry

Starting at the west entry parking lot, the ski trail goes westerly through flat terrain and conifer plantations of Norway spruce and white and red pine. These conifers were planted in 1932 by the Dresserville Civilian Conservation Corps on the many acres of abandoned farmland. You are now at Guidepost 1, where the trail turns north along a firewood road. You will see stumps and tops of trees cut for firewood and pulpwood. Diseased, crowded and culled trees were marked for removal to favor healthy and vigorous trees. Traveling north through more planted forests of red oak and red pine, you reach Guidepost 2 on an old fire road. This road is a relic of the 1930's, when young conifer plantations needed fire lanes for access and protection. The trail continues north to the blazed boundary, and then north and east along a red pine plantation to Guidepost 3. Here the trail intersects a woods road and turns south. As you ski south, note the contrast between a thinned managed hardwood forest on the west versus a crowded, unmanaged red pine forest on the east. There are many young hardwood seedlings free to grow in the managed forest, and the mature trees are healthy and vigorous. The trail soon turns east and continues along the woods road and fire lane. At Guidepost 4, you can turn south and return to the parking lot-having skied 1.75 miles. Or you can continue east, and downhill, to cover the 3-mile trail that climbs uphill to the parking lot.

As you ski east along the fire lane, you eventually reach the bottom of a gradual hill and turn south through a Norway spruce forest. This plantation was planted in 1933, and thinned by a timber sale harvest in 1991. You ski south on a skid trail to the Harnett Road. On this road, you can ski east down the road to connect up with the rest of the trail system. Or you can cross the road and continue to Guidepost 5. Here the ski trail turns west and climbs uphill back to the parking lot. Then you climb gradually through a young hardwood forest of native maple, ash and cherry. This forest shows the healthy affects of thinning. You now reach the hilltop and ski along the Harnet Road back to the parking lot.

Ski Trail - South Entry

Starting at the south parking lot, you ski a short distance north to where the trail splits. Turn left or west and cross the Bear Swamp Road and continue northerly, to cross the road again, and eventually end up at Guidepost 8. Or turn east along a fire lane to Guidepost 13. Here the main trail turns north, while the short-loop trail goes east for about 1 mile back to the parking lot. On the main trail, you are primarily on old fire lanes as you ski by 1932-1933 planted red pine and Norway spruce forests. You continue north a short distance to Guidepost 11. Here the trail forks, and you stay left or north on the main trail. On your left or west is a healthy red pine forest that has been thinned three times. The most recent thinning in 1991 left the 60-year-old red pine with good growing space and increased sunlight on the forest floor has stimulated natural reproduction of native hardwood. This pine forest will receive a final harvest of the mature pine in the next 20 years. The developing hardwood seedlings will be released to become the new forest. Continue north across the Ridge Road and along the fire lane, turning east to Guidepost 10. The trail is closed to the Ridge Road, and parallels the road as it goes north. Ski along the flat terrain until the trail crosses the Ridge Road and turns sharply from east to south.

Skaneateles Lake is in view at this spot on the trail. You are on the ridgetop overlooking the lake, Grout Brook and the Glen Haven Valley. The trail now enters the "long glide" or gradual downhill run of about 1 mile, going south. A turn west and short climb leads to Guidepost 12. This is the junction of several woods roads. Follow the ski markers that lead you back to Guidepost 11. Then continue to backtrack to the parking lot.

Ski Trail - North Entry

From this parking lot on the Curtin Road, you can ski cross-country on unmarked trails on over 1,200 acres of state forest. NYSDEC plans to keep this area undeveloped for winter recreation. The marked ski trail goes south from the parking lot and joins the Bear Swamp Road. You ski south for about .5 miles to a left or east turn onto a farm road. You continue east past old farm foundations, stone walls, apple orchards and planted fields to Guidepost 7. Since you've left the road, you've seen much evidence of past farming activity. From Guidepost 7, you continue east and south along fire lanes and woods roads to Guidepost 9. As you look northwest at the vista of farms and Route 41A, you owe this vista to a recent clearcut in 1991. An over-crowded red pine forest, planted in 1945, was clearcut in 1991. A dense growth of briars, shrubs and young hardwood trees is developing. You now have the temporary benefit of a good view. This clearcut is a major activity center for wildlife. From Guidepost 9, you can proceed west past Guidepost 8 to the Bear Swamp Road, or you can go east and ski the "long glide."

Whatever entry point or trail loop you ski, don't forget to ski to Guidepost 6. One of the highlights of the trail is skiing to the dead end trail south of Guidepost 6. This gives a great view of Bear Swamp - an impressive view in any season. The swamp has an Adirondack-like quality, with the balsam fir, swamp-meadow grass and alder patches.

This completes the ski trail description, with its 3 entry points, 13 guideposts, swamp, creek, hills, lake, plantations and forests. Enjoy the 13-mile trail and all Bear Swamp State Forest has to offer.


The state forest and surrounding area was 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 1930's. 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.

The present day landscape of pine, spruce and hardwood forests reflects these past events. Very little old growth forest is present today. Remaining old growth can be seen on the steep valley slopes leading to Skaneateles Lake, as well as in small pockets around the creek. The forest plan for this state forest will emphasize management to protect and encourage this diversity and use.

Forest Management

Bear Swamp State Forest is managed by the multiple-use concept. Foresters plan complementary uses such as habitat diversity, recreation, water, wildlife, wood products, and natural beauty so as to promote a healthy and useful forest. Bear Swamp State Forest is part of the Hewitt-Cayuga Highlands Unit Management Plan. A Unit Management Plan (UMP) guides the DEC's land management activities on several geographically related forests for a ten-year period, although a number of goals and objectives in the plan focus on a much longer time period. Each UMP addresses specific objectives and actions for public use and forest management. A copy of the plan is available in the Lands and Forests Office in Cortland.

State Forest Regulations

Anyone enjoying the use of this State Forest must observe the following rules which protect them and the forest environment:

  1. Do not litter. Carry out what you carry in. Burying of refuse is prohibited.
  2. If you build a fire, do so with care and use wood from dead and downed trees only. Never leave a fire unattended.
  3. All motorized vehicles are restricted to access roads posted as motor vehicle trails. Off road use of motorized vehicles, such as ATVs, trail bikes and four-wheel drives is not allowed, except where specifically permitted by signs, posted notice or by DEC permit.
  4. Camping for more than three nights or in a group of ten or more requires a permit from a Forest Ranger. Camping is prohibited within 150 feet of water, roads or trail.
  5. No permanent structures should be established, including tree stands or blinds.

Important Numbers

State Forest Office (M-F am-4 pm): 607-674-4036
Forest Ranger (Law Enforcement/Emergencies): 607-283-1159
DEC Forest Ranger Dispatch: 518-408-5850 Emergencies: 911

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    Cortland Sub-office
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    Cortland, NY 13045
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