Great Spring Hikes
From Niagara County in the west to Green County in the east, and from Clinton County in the north to Bronx County in the south, New York State offers an abundance of locations where outdoor recreationists can enjoy a spring hike. Depending on your destination, you may see unusual birds, a variety of habitats, a panorama of multiple states, or one of the world's largest and most important collections of azaleas. Remember to dress in layers and be prepared for soggy surfaces in areas wet from melted snow or spring rain.
NY Botanical Garden
The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), located in the Bronx, occupies 250 acres of dramatic rock outcroppings, rolling hills, waterfalls and ponds. There are over one million plants in the 50 theme gardens, delighting more than 750,000 visitors each year.
Trails: The Azalea Garden holds one of the largest and most important collections of azaleas in the world. It is located in the heart of the Botanical Garden, where visitors can meander along woodland paths through the collection of almost 3,000 azaleas and rhododendrons. The pink, white and lavender plants begin flowering in March and are in full bloom by Mother's Day.
The alpine-inspired landscape of the Rock Garden takes you into a natural setting that seems far from the city's skyscrapers. A waterfall, natural rock outcroppings and shade gardens provide the backdrop for the two-and-a-half-acre oasis.
Surface: Paved paths
Difficulty: Easy (some trails throughout the property are accessible to wheelchairs)
Wildlife and Natural Attractions: The centerpiece of the NYBG is the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. There are 11 interconnected galleries within it, each representing a different habitat, from palms of the world to tropical rainforests and African desert.
Getting There: Get directions to NYBG from Google Maps
More Information: New York Botanical Garden
Nearby Attractions: Bronx Zoo
Altona, Clinton County
Hikers in the Lewis Preserve Wildlife Management Area will travel through a mix of abandoned farm fields and hardwood forests. The remains of primitive charcoal kilns are found along a side trail that leads to a brook. The 1,356-acre property boasts several diverse habitats-balsam flats, bogs and sandstone pavement barrens. Anglers can find top quality trout fishing in the river and creeks that meander through the property.
Trails: A hiking trail runs the entire length of the property and parallels the Great Chazy River-an excellent trout stream. Several side trails, most of which are unmarked, lead to popular fishing spots.
Surface: Old roads (dry out quickly in the spring)
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Wildlife and Natural Attractions: Springtime hikers will be treated to blooming apple and cherry trees along the trail. Marsh marigolds and wild sarsaparilla, jack-in-the-pulpit and several orchids can be spotted throughout the property. The drumming of ruffed grouse is frequently heard during the spring months. Song birds and white-tailed deer feed on the abundant flora.
Getting There: The area is located east of Alder Bend Road between Terrien Road to the north and Jerusalem Road to the south in the Town of Altona, Clinton County.
More Information: Lewis Preserve Wildlife Management Area
Nearby Attractions: Ausable Point Campground (opens for camping mid-May; day-use area available)
North-South Lake Campground
North-South Lake Campground is the starting point for some of the most spectacular hikes in the Catskills. On a clear day, an incredible vista of five states can be seen from the 2,250-foot escarpment where the historic Catskill Mountain House once stood.
Trails: Families shouldn't miss the short jaunt through Mary's Glen and a wet meadow to a bridge hewn from a giant hemlock tree. Camera buffs will love the gentle climb to Sunset Rock, which overlooks North and South lakes, distant mountains, and-far below-the Hudson River. A free trail guide at the campground entrance shows all seven hikes.
Difficulty: Easy to challenging
Wildlife and Natural Attractions: Beaver, Canada geese, mallards and other waterfowl. Alligator Rock- two rocks stacked by a receding glacier-is a must-see for kids.
More Information, including directions: North-South Lake Campground
Nearby Attractions:Outside the campground, Kaaterskill Falls is reached by a trail beginning on Route 23A. North-South Lake Campground, one of New York's biggest and most popular, opens for camping May 10 and boasts many amenities.
Bashakill Wildlife Management Area
This more than 2,000-acre mix of marsh and woods just an hour north of New York City comes alive with birdsong and blossoms as mild weather returns to the Northeast. Bashakill is excellent for year-round hiking and spring bird watching is especially spectacular. You'll discover abundant wildlife, rare plants and the ruins of old farms too.
Trails: Several miles of trails trace an old rail line and the towpath of the former Delaware & Hudson Canal on the eastern and western sides of Bashakill Marsh. The Nature Trail off South Road takes you into the marsh, as do Haven Road and Birch Trail. A fishing pier for those with mobility limitations and four viewing towers offer scenic vistas.
Surface: Soil and both paved and unpaved roads (Bring boots; trails can be muddy in spring)
Length: More than 14 miles of trails circle and traverse the marsh and upland areas
Difficulty: Easy, mostly flat terrain
Wildlife and Natural Attractions: In spring, Bashakill is a birders paradise with more than 200 species recorded. Bird lovers come from everywhere to watch nesting bald eagles, ospreys, owls, migrating warblers, vireos, ducks, geese and herons. Helpful volunteers escort eagle watching groups on weekends. Muskrat, beaver, deer and fox are commonly seen, as are turtles, snakes, frogs and salamanders. Anglers can cast for several fish species, including bass and bowfin. Bashakill also boasts a diversity of dragonflies and damselflies. And over 40 species of butterflies pollinate its more than 200 species of wildflowers.
Getting There: From NYS Route 17, take Exit 113. Turn onto NYS Route 209 south. Several major access points, parking areas and cartop boat launches (electric motors only) are available along Haven and South roads.
More Information: Basha Kill Area Association
Nearby Attractions: The Shawangunk Ridge and Sam's Point Preserve
Hemlock-Canadice State Forest
Livingston and Ontario Counties
A more than four-mile-long wooded trail on the west side of Canadice Lake is popular for its scenic vistas overlooking the water. The Root's View Trail on the south end of Hemlock Lake takes you more than a quarter-mile into a wetland and is popular for observing wildlife. Both are easy hikes. With no residences along their shores and only stone walls as evidence of former farms, the lakes offer a serene atmosphere. Steep, forested shorelines guard deep, clear water, giving visitors a glimpse of long ago, when the Finger Lakes were surrounded by wilderness.
Trails: The longest trails provide scenic vistas along the lakeshores. Loops through wetlands are good for observing wildlife. Fishing and boating are popular activities, and several launches are available for small boats. Seasonal hunting is also popular here. Because the lakes are sources of drinking water, visitors are reminded to follow important water-quality protection rules.
Surface: Soil and gravel
Length: About three miles of marked trails; several miles of unmarked trails and unpaved access roads
Difficulty: Easy to moderate; Rob's Trail is challenging
Wildlife and Natural Attractions: As you wander through pine and hardwood forests, along lakeshores and wetlands, you'll enjoy viewing a wide diversity of wildlife. You may encounter deer, fox, beaver and otter, as well as turtles, snakes, frogs and salamanders. Eagles, hawks, owls, game birds, songbirds and several kinds of waterfowl are common sights at various times of the year. The entire watershed has been recognized by Audubon NY as an Important Bird Area.
Getting There: From the north, take Exit 9 off Interstate Highway 390. Travel south on State Highway 15. In Lakeville, turn east onto State Highway 20A. Just past the hamlet of Hemlock, continue straight onto State Highway 15A.
From the south, take Exit 3 off Interstate Highway 390. Travel north on State Highway 15. In Springwater, continue straight onto State Highway 15A.
More Information: Hemlock-Canadice State Forest
Nearby Attractions: Chip Holt Nature Center and Letchworth State Park
James D. Kennedy Memorial State Forest
This popular state forest features the highest point in Cortland County-Virgil Mountain at 2, 132 feet. Two large forested properties are spread across 4,422 acres. You can hike for hours on more than 10 miles of the Finger Lakes/North Country Trail, as well as on miles of spur trails and access roads.
Trails: Depending on how far you want to hike, you can use combinations of the Dabes Diversion Trail, Kuzia Cutoff Trail, Virgil Mountain Trail, the Finger Lakes/North Country Trail, and seasonal dirt roads to create a loop to suit your taste. The Spanish and Swedish loop trails offer two additional hiking choices. Several of the spur trails connect to the more than 900-mile long Finger Lakes/North Country Trail System. Many visitors simply enjoy being close to nature in the varied habitats of this area, observing the flora and fauna of the forest, as well birdwatching.
Surface: Soil and both paved and unpaved roads
Length: More than 10 miles of the Finger Lakes/North Country Trail, plus several miles of spur trails and access roads
Wildlife and Natural Attractions: Stride through towering hemlocks. Drink in the commanding view from atop Virgil Mountain, Greek Peak, or "The Rock Pile." James Kennedy State Forest supports a wide variety of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Early or late in the day, you're likely to see white-tailed deer or woodchucks at forest margins or along roadsides. Box turtles, salamanders, frogs and garter snakes are commonly encountered reptiles and amphibians.
Getting There: From Virgil and NYS Route 392, you can access the forest from any of the following roads: Owego Hill Rd., Daisy Hollow Rd., Babcock Hollow Rd., Van Donsell Rd., O'Dell Rd., Bleck Rd. and Baldwin Rd.
More Information: James Kennedy State Forest
Nearby Attractions: Lime Hollow Nature Center
Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas
Genesee and Niagara Counties
The 2,500-acre Oak Orchard WMA and the Tonawanda WMA, a 5,600-acre wetland tract, are state parcels at opposite ends of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Both fall within Genesee and Niagara counties, and they, along with the refuge, comprise a Bird Conservation Area. Four nature trails, a photography blind, an observation tower and a picnic pavilion are located at Oak Orchard. Hiking, photography and wildlife observation can be enjoyed in public areas year-round.
Trails: At Oak Orchard and Tonawanda WMAs, walking on the dikes, administrative trails and laneways is permitted. Photo blinds at Oak Orchard are placed in spring and removed by summer.
Wildlife and Natural Attractions: Canada geese, ducks and even unusual birds such as the cinnamon teal, ruddy duck, European widgeon and cackling, white-fronted, blue and snow goose stop to rest and feed here before continuing north, although some remain to nest in the area. Interesting shore birds, marsh waders, warblers and other songbirds also use this excellent wildlife habitat.
Getting There: To Oak Orchard/Tonawanda, take I-90 (the Thruway) to Exit 48 toward Batavia. Merge onto Park Road. Continue onto Veterans Memorial Drive. Turn right onto NY 63N/Lewiston Rd. After about 11 miles, turn right onto NY 63N/NY 77N/Alleghany Rd. Turn left onto NY 77/Co. Rd. 12/Lewiston Road. After 4 miles, turn left onto Meadville Road. Turn right onto Owen Road after 1.4 miles.
More Information: Oak Orchard and Tonawanda WMAs
Nearby Attractions: Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge
The Lakeview WMA, designated as a Bird Conservation Area, is part of the largest natural fresh water barrier beach system in New York State. Located in southern Jefferson County, this 3,461-acre WMA is open to the public year-round, but restrictions apply to the sensitive barrier beach system.
Trails: The Lake Ontario Dune Trail begins in a section of hardwoods and ends on the shoreline of Lake Ontario. It also can be accessed via the parking area at Lakeview Pond, where visitors can cross the fragile dunes via a boardwalk. From the Pierrepont Place parking area at Lakeview Pond, the trail goes around Lakeview Pond to the boardwalk (1.2 miles) and continues south to the outlet of Sandy Creek (another 2.5 miles). From the parking area, the Lake Ontario Dune Trail to Lake Ontario, and south on the beach to the outlet of Sandy Creek and back is about 7.4 miles. Although this trail remains dry even in the dampest springs, a strong west wind can blow waves from Lake Ontario far up onto the beach.
A shorter hike (about ¾-mile) along the Lakeview WMA Nature Trail goes from the South Sandy Creek boat launch parking lot on Route 3 along the creek to a viewing platform overlooking the marsh.
A universally accessible loop trail (0.7 mile) begins just outside the entrance to Southwick Beach State Park. This trail also leads to the crossover to hike on the beach and can be damp in a wet spring.
Surface: See above
Difficulty: See above
Wildlife and Natural Attractions: American bitterns, Caspian terns and northern harriers and, occasionally, protected bird species such as black terns and least bitterns can be seen. The site also is home to white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, cottontail rabbit, red fox, beaver, mink, grey squirrel, eastern coyote, reptiles and amphibians.
Getting There: Get directions to Lakeview WMA from Google Maps
More Information: Lakeview Wildlife Management Area Overview
Nearby Attractions: Southwick Beach State Park