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Nelson Swamp Unique Area

View Nelson Swamp Unique Area Map || View Same Map in PDF (185 KB) || Google Earth || State Lands Interactive Mapper

Nelson Swamp Unique Area locator map

Recreational Activities

  • Accessible Trail
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Hunting, Wildlife Management Unit 7M and 7J
  • Nature Photography/Observation
  • Snowmobiling
  • Trapping

Background Information

Nelson Swamp Unique Area is located approximately 20 miles southeast of Syracuse in the Madison County towns of Cazenovia, Fenner and Nelson. A segment of the North County Scenic Trail passes through Nelson Swamp on the abandoned grade of the West Shore Railroad. The elevated grade offers the best opportunity for accessing interior sections of the swamp without impacting sensitive wetland soils. A trail head kiosk and parking area are located adjacent to Stone Quarry Road. There are also two short segments of snowmobile trails that run through Nelson Swamp.

Accessible Features

Universal symbol of accessible site

The 0.7-mile Nelson Swamp Interpretive Trail provides opportunities for people with disabilities to access a northern white cedar swamp and learn about its natural and cultural history.

Full listing of DEC's Accessible Recreation Destinations.


The path at Nelson Swamp

From State Route 20, which passes through the swamp, a traveler's gaze is often drawn to a low lying landscape of wet meadows, deciduous woods and dark groves of cedar and pine. From the State Route's hilltop perspective, one can follow the Chittenango Creek as it meanders on its circuitous journey north to Lake Ontario. The Chittenango, which is the dominant water course within the swamp, was commonly referred to as Chittening by settlers but was derived from the Oneida word "Chu-de-naany" meaning "where the sun shines out".

Historically, "Cedar Swamp" played an important role in the development of Nelson's agricultural economy. Many area farmers owned swamp parcels known as "post lots" that provided a ready supply of timber and other forest products. The rot resistant wood of white cedar was used for split rail fencing and poles for supporting hop vines. White pine was cut and milled for building materials and balsam fir was harvested for decorative greens and Christmas trees. Baskets were woven from thin strips of black ash and the dense wood of American elm was used to manufacture a variety of farm implements

Field Notes

Flowers at Nelson Swamp State Forest

In recent decades Nelson Swamp has been of interest to botanists and other students of natural history who have been attracted to the area's rich diversity of plant and animal life. The most recent survey cataloged 400 species of vascular plants including the endangered striped coral root and threatened spreading globe flower. Striped coral root, showy lady slipper and small purple-fringed orchid are just three of the many species of orchids known to occur within the swamp. The area also supports a diverse population of breeding birds with 105 species recorded during a 1990 survey. In an effort to ensure perpetual protection of the swamp's unique natural resources, while at the same time providing opportunities for compatible public use, the DEC released the Nelson Swamp Unit Management Plan (UMP) in March, 2000. The plan includes specific objectives for habitat management, land conservation, public education, research and access for passive recreation.

Nelson Swamp Unique Area is managed through the Nelson Swamp Unique Area 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.

Posted Restrictions

State Land Use Regulations (link leaves DEC website)

Anyone enjoying the use of this Unique Area must observe the following rules which protect them and the environment:

  1. Do not litter. Carry out what you carry in. Burying of refuse is prohibited.
  2. 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 are not allowed.
  3. No permanent structures may be established, including tree stands or blinds.
  4. Camping is prohibited at Nelson Unique Area.
  5. Fires are prohibited at Nelson Swamp.
  6. Snowmobile use is prohibited except where designated and posted snowmobile trails exist.
  7. Removing protected plants is prohibited.


To reach the trail head, take State Route 20 east from the village of Cazenovia to Stone Quarry Road. Proceed south on Stone Quarry Road for 2.2 miles and the trail head is on the left.

Important Numbers

State Forest Office (M-F 8am-4pm): 607-674-4017

Forest Ranger (Evenings, Weekends and Holidays): 315-886-1669

DEC Forest Ranger Dispatch: 518-408-5850

Emergencies: 911

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