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Danby State Forest

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Danby State Forest locator map

Recreational Activities

  • Accessible Trail
  • Primitive Camping
  • Camping, Lean to
  • Cross Country Skiing
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Hunting, Wildlife Management Unit 7R
  • Nature Photography/Observation
  • Snowmobiling
  • Trapping

Background Information

Danby State Forest encompasses 7,337 acres of public open space in the towns of Danby, Candor and Spencer in Tompkins County. Its large size and close proximity to the city of Ithaca and the Finger Lakes Region make Danby State Forest a great place to enjoy activities such as: hunting, hiking, cross-country skiing, bird watching, snowmobiling and camping..

The Cayuga Trails Club (CTC), affiliated with the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC), has built and maintained hiking trails and lean-to facilities throughout the area and the nearly 15 miles of hiking trail on Danby State Forest for decades. Because of their volunteer efforts, there are several recreational trails that offer explorers a one-of-a-kind experience when visiting Danby State Forest. First is a branch of the Finger Lakes Trail known as Abbott's Loop. This trail leads the fortunate traveler through a winding seven miles of scenic landscape, passing by two lean-to sites ready to accommodate those who wish to camp overnight.

There is also a special place, known as Diane's crossing, which passes near an old saw mill site along Michigan Hollow Creek, a protected trout stream. Climb higher to the summit and there, at a place known as Thatcher's pinnacle, you will discover a tremendous panoramic view of a valley created by glaciers. Look closely for the old cemetery off of Bald Hill Road which marks the entrance to the section of trail that will lead to this incredible view.

Bald Hill Road, which is not plowed during the winter, provides nearly 3 miles of recreational access for cross country skiers to enjoy. The Spencer-Van Etten snowmobile club also maintains about 5 miles of trails throughout the State Forest. There is a short accessible trail located off of Bald Hill Road for those with mobility impairments. A permit from the DEC is needed to access this trail with an ATV.

Danby State Forest has a variety of scenic landscapes. Streams, forests, ravines and Michigan Hollow provide wonderful scenery, particularly in the fall. The diverse topography and habitats provide a diverse selection of plants and wildlife. Beautiful views of the Lindsay-Parsons Nature Preserve and Michigan Hollow are good reasons to visit. In addition, the Chestnut and Tamarack lean-tos provide solace for all those in need of rest.


Volunteers constructing a lean-to

Danby State Forest is located on the Allegheny Plateau, which is made of sedimentary bedrock that formed some 350 million years ago when the region was covered by an ancient saltwater sea. Geologists believe that the plateau was created during a collision of the North American and African continents some 250 to 330 million years ago. The collision lifted the bedrock, which has since been shaped by continual weathering and the advance and retreat of continental ice sheets (glaciers). The glaciers created the 'U' shaped valleys of the region and the Finger Lakes.

Tompkins County was originally home to members of the Iroquois Confederation or Haudenosaunee, specifically the Cayuga Nation. The Haudenosaunee was established in circa 1570 under the influence of Hiawatha. It was a bond between five nations: the Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Mohawk, and the Onondaga. In 1715, the Tuscarora nation was added making it a league of six nations. The Cayuga's, who were the main inhabitants of the Tompkins County area, did not use the land heavily. They had semi-permanent dwellings placed near freshwater sources which enabled them to hunt and transport game, as well as irrigate their crops without causing great stress to the land.

Early European settlers and Revolutionary War Veterans referred to the area as "Dark Forest" because the forest was so dense that only small traces of light penetrated through the forest canopy. However, the new settlers had many forest superstitions and they had little or no experience in producing forest goods. They therefore decided to clear the area almost entirely for use as farmland. The timber that was not used for carpentry was burned, becoming a valuable by-product known as potash. This process continued until almost the entire land was converted from dense forest to open fields.

Danby State Forest in Tompkins County

As time progressed, it became apparent that the soils had major limitations for intensive crop production, including a seasonally high water table, low fertility, moderate to high acidity, and steep slopes. Early farmers quickly learned that the long harsh winters and thin, fine textured upland soils of the area would not support intensive agriculture. As such, many of the farmlands were abandoned as farmers sought deeper and more productive soils in the Midwest.

Originally part of the Watkins and Flint Purchase, Danby State Forest lands were added to the state forest system from 1933 to 1997. The most significant acquisition took place in January of 1956 when about 6,200 acres were added to the State Forest from the federal government. Chiefly former farms, the federal lands were acquired as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal under what was then called the federal sub marginal land purchase program. In total, about 50 farms were acquired under the sub marginal land purchase program, with an average land parcel size of about 150 acres. The lands that comprise the Danby State Forest were once rural farming communities. Before federal and state ownership, four schoolhouses and five cemeteries were established on Danby State Forest lands. The 1860 Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State lists grain, butter, apples and potatoes as the top agricultural and dairy products produced in the town of Danby.

Evidence of the Bald Hill farming community can be found today. Family cemeteries on Danby State Forest include: the Fisher Settlement Cemetery (Ward/Theron Family), the Grant Farm Cemetery, the Green and Mettler Cemetery, the Larue Hill Farm Burying Ground (Bogert/McGowen Family) and the Ryant Family Burial Ground (also called the McFall Family Burial Ground). Burials in these cemeteries took place from as early as 1821 to as late as 1918. The Friends of Bald Hill, DEC Adopt-A-Natural Resource Partners, have extensively researched the rich history of Bald Hill. In the past several years, the group has located and mapped many of the former farm buildings, sawmill locations and school foundations on the State Forest.

Danby State Forest has a history of forest fires. On November 10, 1931, a serious forest fire broke out and burned over 2,000 acres of the "wildest sections of Bald Hill." An article from the Ithaca Journal reports that over 200 volunteers, county workers and State Troopers battled the fire which burned mostly second growth timber. On November 12, 1931 an article in the Elmira Advertiser stated that "already the fire had licked up thousands of young pine and elm trees in one of the richest strips of tree country in the Southern Tier." Reports indicated that the fire may have started from careless hunters or from the railroad as it passed through West Danby at the base of Bald Hill.

From 1934 to 1967, Civilian Conservation Corp crew members and Camp MacCormick members planted about 1.1 million trees on Danby State Forest. Most of the trees planted were softwoods such as eastern white pine, red pine, Japanese larch and Norway spruce. However, some hardwood trees were planted as well. In 1934, about 38,000 northern red oaks were planted.

Danby State Forest is a working State Forest that is sustainably managed to provide recreational services, diverse wildlife habitat, firewood and lumber. Today, Danby State Forest is managed to provide a diverse group of ecological, economic, and recreational values, products and services. These values, products and services include: locally grown firewood and sawtimber, jobs, carbon storage, clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, hunting, hiking, trapping, Nordic skiing, rustic camping, snowmobiling and biking opportunities.

Management of the Forest

The Rapid Waters Unit Management Plan, once completed, will help guide management of the forest. Comprehensive in nature, unit management plans provide strategies to conserve, protect and enhance the many values, products, and ecosystem based services that the Danby State Forest provides to the public.

Danby State Forest is part of the Rapid Waters 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.


From Ithaca, take SR 96B for about 5 miles and turn right onto either Bald Hill Rd., Michigan Hollow Rd. or South Danby Rd. Several parking areas are available (please see map). Bald Hill Road is not plowed during the winter and receives minimal maintenance. Low clearance autos are not recommended on Bald Hill Rd. Parking for sedans is available at the Finger Lakes trail head (geographic coordinates 42.30973 N and -76.44333 W) along South Danby Rd. and at Diane's crossing along Michigan Hollow Rd. (geographic coordinates 42.31729 N and -76.47759 W). The Chestnut lean-to is located 7/10ths of a mile east of Bald Hill road (coordinates 42.32790 N and -76.48832 W). Parking for the Chestnut lean-to is available at the intersection of Comfort and Bald Hill roads (coordinates 42.32617 N and -76.49826 W). The Tamarack lean-to is located about 1/2 mile east of Travor Road (coordinates 42.31764 N and -76.42254 W).

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. Three foot radius must be cleared around fire.
  3. All motorized vehicles are restricted to access roads posted as motor vehicle trails. Off road use of motorized vehicles, such as, 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. Permanent structures, including tree stands or blinds, are not allowed.

Important Numbers:

State Forest Office (M-F 8 am-4 pm): 607-753-3095 ext. 217

Forest Ranger (Law Enforcement/Emergencies): 607-798-1797

DEC Forest Ranger Dispatch: 518-408-5850

Emergencies: 911