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James Kennedy State Forest

hikingprimitive campingcamping with lean tofishinghuntingtrappingsnow mobilingcross country skiingsnowshoeingaccessible trailparking icon key

James Kennedy State Forest locator map

James Kennedy State Forest is comprised of 4,507 acres and was named in memory of the District Forester James D. Kennedy. There are many recreational resources on the forest, including snowmobile trails, a portion of the Finger Lakes Trail, and a cross-country ski trail.

There are also three public forest access roads (PFARs) within the forest. They are: Scutt (2.1 miles in length), Courtney Hill (0.8 miles in length), and Cotton Hanlon (0.9 miles in length). PFARs are permanent unpaved roads that are open to public for various recreational uses unless gated or otherwise noted.

Featured Activities



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

There are 16 miles of Finger Lakes Hiking Trails (leaves DEC website), and there are three annual competitive running events scheduled on the trail.


primitive camping
camping lean to

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

There is a lean-to, referred to as the Foxfire lean-to, along the Finger Lakes Trail.

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 ten or more requires a permit from a Forest Ranger.



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

Fishing information for Central NY is available.

Nesting Birds at James Kennedy State Forest

Hunting & Trapping


Wildlife Management Unit: 7R

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



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

There are 12 miles of snowmobile trails (leaves DEC website) that are part of corridor trails 2B, 5A, and 5B and secondary trails 22 and 53. They are managed by the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and provide snowmobiling between Dryden, Cortland, and Marathon.

Cross-country Skiing & Snowshoeing

cross country skiing

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

There are three miles of cross-country ski trails on the forest. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are permitted on all hiking trails.


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

Accessible Features

accessible trail

General information on accessible recreation includes links to other locations with accessible recreation opportunities and information on permits for motorized access.

There is a 0.2 mile trail off of Courtney Hill Road that allows ATV motorized access for people with mobility impairments. A permit is required through the Motorized Access Program for People with Disabilities.


Roads into the forest include: Babcock Hollow, Baldwin, Bleck, Cook Hill, Courtney Hill, Cortwright, Hauck Hill, Hilsinger, O'Dell, Owego Hill, Quail Hollow, Scutt Hill, Valentine Hill and Van Donsel.

  • Courtney Hill Road Parking (42.468585°N, 76.15432°W) Google Maps (leaves DEC website)
  • Finger Lakes Trail Parking, Daisy Hollow Road on western edge of the property (42.470643°N, 76.231133°W) Google Maps (leaves DEC website)

All coordinates provided are in decimal degrees using NAD83/WGS84 datum.

Rules, Regulations and Outdoor Safety

Practice Leave No Trace Principles (leaves DEC web site) 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 James Kennedy State Forest must follow all State Land Use Regulations and should follow all Outdoor Safety Practices for the safety of the user and protection of the resource.

Basic XC Ski Trail Etiquette

  • Pass only in flat areas and the faster trail user should verbally indicate a desire to pass.
  • The slower user should yield by moving to the right where possible.
  • Users going down hill have the right of way because he or she is moving faster and may have less control.
  • Do not descend a hill until the trail is clear.
  • After a fall, move off the trail as quickly as possible to minimize the risk of collisions. When skiing, fill in the sitzmarks before proceeding after a fall.
  • Don't hike or ski alone. Serious injury can occur while using the trails. Therefore, it is wise to have a partner on hand to help if an injury should occur.
  • Do not hike in the ski tracks.

Planning and Management

DEC manages these lands in accordance with the management activities described in the Virgil Mountain Unit Management Plan (PDF) with Maps Part 1 (PDF) and Part 2 (PDF). In addition to management objectives, the UMP contains detailed information on natural features, recreational infrastructure, geology, natural and human history, habitats, wildlife, fisheries and much more.

If you have questions and/or comments about this UMP, please email us at


Between 1931 and 1976, approximately 2,280,500 pine, spruce, cedar, larch and red oak were planted to aid in reforestation of the area. The trees were planted by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp S-125 based in Slaterville Springs, NY, Conservation Department staff (now DEC), Camp Pharsalia crews, and social service crews. Today the forest provides a diverse group of ecological, economic and recreational services.

The towns of Virgil, Lapeer, and Harford, in which the forest is located, were developed under the Military Tract that was established in 1789. During the Revolutionary War, New York State needed soldiers to protect its borders from British attack as well as attacks from Native Americans. Since the State had little money to pay its soldiers, a plan was devised to pay them with land. The Governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton, plotted land from Oswego to the southern border of present day Cortland County. This land was dedicated for the payment of New York's Revolutionary War soldiers. The land was then divided into smaller sections of about ten square miles called townships. These townships were then divided into sections of land approximately 600 acres each to be allotted to individual soldiers. Unfortunately, the majority of the soldiers did not utilize such payments, preferring instead to take their chances elsewhere. In those instances, the soldier sold his land warrant to a speculator who would commonly divide the lots into smaller pieces and then sell them for a large profit.

As part of the Military Tract, the town of Virgil was named after the Roman poet, Virgil. Originally the town of Virgil was connected to Homer, New York. Virgil separated from Homer in 1804. The first settler of the Virgil area, Joseph Chaplin, arrived in 1792. Chaplin was commissioned by New York State to cut a road through the dense forest from Oxford to Ithaca in order to open Central New York to settlement and development. Chaplin strove to cut a road as straight as possible and eventually ended up coming out near Ludlowville. This road was referred to as "The First Road." However, the state was not satisfied with "The First Road," and refused to pay Chaplin until he made another road from Virgil to Ithaca which was named "Bridle Road." After two years of breaking the road, Chaplin's work ended in 1794. New York State achieved its goal of promoting the settlement of Central New York. Shortly thereafter, John M. Frank and his family used the road to settle in the town of Virgil. John Gee and his family followed the Frank family in 1795. They were later followed by John Roe and his family in 1797. These were the first three families to settle in Virgil.

Daniel C. Squires named the town of Lapeer, and he was responsible for its split from Virgil. Squires is reported to have commented after the split, "Although among the youngest of all the towns of Cortland County [it is] the peer of them all." Squires combined the French article La, which is commonly used like "the" in English, with the English word Peer. "Lapeer," the town's name, is a direct reference to Squires' statement meaning "The Peer." Although not organized as a town until 1845, Lapeer's first settler was Primus Grant, a native of Guinea, who came to the area in 1799. Unlike Virgil or Lapeer, the town of Harford has no solid information as to the origin of its name. However, there is a hypothesis regarding its origin. It is assumed that Harford followed the example of the neighboring town of Richford in determining its name. Richford received its name from the first owner of Richford's general store, Ezekial Rich, around the year of 1821. Theodore Hart ran Harford's first general store around 1824. It is also interesting to note that Harford was and is often spelled "Hartford." Therefore, it is feasible that Harford did receive its name from Theodore Hart, although it cannot be proven.

Nearby State Lands, Facilities, Amenities & Other Information

State Lands and Facilities

Where to Find Nearby Amenities

  • Gas, food, dining and lodging may be found in the nearby community of Cortland.

Cortland County tourism (leaves DEC website) and Finger Lakes tourism (leaves DEC website) can provide information about other recreation, attractions and amenities in this area.

Numerous guidebooks 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 on-line 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 the internet for listings.

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