A Short Walk on the Longest Trail

North Country Trail Locator Map US.svgHuman nature being what it is, we sometimes ignore the valuable resource right before our eyes while gazing at greener pastures out around the bend. Sadly, I’ve pretty much ignored America’s longest foot path even though it passes my backyard just a dozen miles downstream. I’d like to rectify this oversight beginning now.

The North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST) stretches some 4,600 miles across the northern U.S. from New York State to central North Dakota. It’s the longest of America’s  eleven national scenic trails authorized by Congress. Managed by various federal, state and local agencies, this longest trail in America can be accessedOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA within a dozen miles or so from my backyard. And for some strange reason or another, I hardly know a mile of it.

Luckily I can get more acquainted with the national pathway, which is still being developed across the states, by stepping to the well-known Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) that coincides with it for 380 miles in New York  State. The Finger Lakes Trail is more definable as a natural feature than the longer route and is less dependent on highway passage. As such, it’s easier for my “hiking mind” to get a handle on this recreational opportunity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith a short drive into the hills of New York’s Southern Tier, I can easily access the fine foot trail also known as “one of upstate’s best-kept secrets.” The FLT takes in a mix of public and private lands and constitutes the longest continuous hiking trail in the state. Whereas thousands have hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail, only eleven people have currently walked the entirety of the North Country Trail. The Finger Lakes Trail has been completely walked by more than 350 hikers at this point, and one person has apparently hiked the whole route on 10 separate occasions. I had walked a few small stretches of it in the past, but never with a purpose of shaking its hand. I stepped to the trail like a humble dog, happy to get acquainted and to sniff around with pleasure.

It was Earth Day, a symbolic time (once more) to step above routine and recognize the fact that, damnit all, human beings aren’t really as big as we think we are; we have tremendous capabilities for both destruction and for care, and now is a good a time as any to see where we’ve come from and to look at our next move.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I parked on the high hills north of Canisteo and entered the Burt Hill State Forest via the Finger Lakes Trail. At first my path led through a red pine plantation where I flushed a ruffed grouse nearby. The trail made a half mile drop through secondary woods to the Burt Hill lean-to, a site I had read about and wanted to see first-hand. No one was there on Earth Day morning, but a phoebe gave its rasping two-note call nearby and it wasn’t long before I saw a year-old nest constructed under the eaves. There is a picnic table and a fire-ring in front, a privy constructed about a hundred feet off among the hemlocks. The lean-to occupies a remote and peaceful location, although every now and then I caught a glimpse of giant turbines through the barren trees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAContemplating those windmills on a neighboring ridge, I could hear the whirring of silver blades, a sound like distant wind. I have no objection to wind energy, as long as the turbines have been located somewhere other than on a major migratory bird route, as long as they actually help to decrease our total amounts of energy consumption (I am not yet convinced), and yes… as long as I didn’t have to live right next to them.

I hiked back to the road and crossed to where the trail runs westward on Burt Hill. I descended to a point where the meadows begin. From there I could gaze westward for miles, to think about this place so close to home, and to think about the thousands of miles to North Dakota where the North Country Trail comes to an end. Out there, wintry weather still reigns over the land this day. Out there my Earth Day thoughts took rest.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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14 Responses to A Short Walk on the Longest Trail

  1. Junior says:

    I’m going to have to walk some of the FLT soon. Catherine wants to go on a walk when we come to visit, so maybe that can be part of our agenda.

  2. Junior,
    Yeah this section is easy to get to from the house. The lean-to, only .6 miles from road, has a nice location.

    • Bob Stanton says:

      I’ve hiked various sections of the NCT here in the Allegheny National Forest; I’d like to do the ANF section unbroken someday. I’m looking foward to getting on a chunk of the AT when I get to the Smokies…got a new pair of Vasques I have to break in.

  3. Puget Keith says:

    I know little of the NCT except the part that is the Baker Trail. That is a beautiful shelter that seems just asking for folks to visit. Seeing that snow is becoming a memory for you and the trees are a bit green the overall sense that spring is coming must be wonderful. I am sure you know this but there are a lot of l inviting trails in north central PA like the Quehanna, the Susquehannock – a name you know well – and the Black Forest trail. Although I am fortunate to see the snow capped mountains of the Olympics (when it isn’t cloudy) daily I am a bit envious of the lowland trails that grace your neck of the woods. Good luck exploring the NCT.

    • I know so little of the NCT. Will have to see what the Baker Trail is. The Susquehannock and Black Forest are trails I’ve hiked in entirety and remain attached to. There’s so much out there even after decades of investigation. As for your Olympics, how I’d love to see them. That’s another world to me. As always, thanks for reading, and I hope your spring season is a beauty.


      • Bob Stanton says:

        Walt, we are off to the Smokies the second week of May, so it’s comin’ up soon…can’t wait! As for the NCT in the ANF, there is very little “on pavement” time due to the large tracts of public land available, and the trail is well mantained by very dedicated volunteers. @ Puget Keith – were you a PA resident at one time? I’ve walked a little of the Baker Trail (too little), from what I’ve seen of it, it’s beautiful.

      • Thanks Bob. If Keith doesn’t see this, I can tell you that he, yes, was a PA resident at one time. You guys are convincing me to check out the Baker Trail.


      • Puget Keith says:

        I was never a PA resident but pretty close as I spent my first 27 years a few miles from the Delaware River in south jersey; my Dad was from Oil City. I never hiked (and probably never will) the Baker but recently purchased the new guidebook and maps. It starts a bit north of Cooks Forest and wanders generally south to Plumville. Then it more or less wanders west to Freeport, PA. Unlike the trails in the Olympics the Baker doesn’t run far from civilization. There are a handful of shelters but it looks like much of it crosses private lands. It looks like a lot of backroads and trails. On Google Earth there are very few photos which makes me think that it doesn’t attention. It is kind of hidden but I did read that the Cooks Forest section is wonderful with many large trees. From what I recently read the trail doesn’t receive much traffic and in some areas is a bit overgrown.

        Peter’s comments below resonate with me in that I see Mt. Rainier a lot. It was remarkably beautiful today and the last time I visited the mountain was 1997.

      • Keith, OK, sorry I had it wrong, and will try to direct Bob’s attention to the fact. For some reason I was thinking you had a Phila. area background. Admittedly, that region of the East is a blur to me, but no excuses implied. Appreciate the clarification, with your Oil City connection, and the added detail of the Baker Trail business. It’s been about 15 years since I visited the Cook Forest area, and I need to get back. Some of the hemlock and white pine groves there are amazing. Old growth that is rare in the East.


  4. Good ol’ NIMBY.

    Likewise, living in Maine, I have never hiked the 100 mile wilderness. I think if you have grown up around it, there is never a pressing need to do it.

    • Peter, I think you’re right about that. It’s not pressing until, in my case anyway, it becomes paramount to check it out a bit more. My good friend in VT recently hiked all of the 100 Mile Trail in Maine and really enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!


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