Mitchellsville Gorge, the Finger Lakes Trail

On a clear, comfortable morning in late May, Brent and Catherine and I rambled above the Mitchellsville Gorge, near Hammondsport, N.Y.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Finger Lakes Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail follows the rim of the gorge for 2.5 miles. We walked that distance up and out and then returned by the same route. Our access to this private property (no camping allowed) was at a field of grapevines at the crossroad known as Pleasant Valley. From there we crossed Cold Brook on a wooden bridge and made the gentle climb into a forest of white pine and hemlock trees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had heard of this gorge before, but in all my years of living within an hour’s drive, I had never seen it. I didn’t feel so bad about this negligence when I considered that a friend of mine, a work associate who had grown up in nearby Hammondsport, had never even known of its existence.

For the people living in the Finger Lakes region, the long trail winding through the glaciated hills and lake country has a way of making their backyards come alive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore we knew it, we were looking down steep rock walls into an impressive glacial cut. The depth at which Mitchellsville Creek appeared to be flowing was two to three hundred feet below. Uncertainties about this hanging valley seemed to shroud it in a veil of mystery. The gorge lay perpendicular to the great valley of Keuka Lake. It was somewhat shielded from our eyes by overhanging trees and rocky twists and turns.

Cascades and waterfalls are a main feature of the gorge but it’s difficult to get more than

giraffe tree

giraffe tree

a glimpse of them at any given point. You stand on a spur trail that seems highly eroded, a path that lowers itself toward the falls. You’re tempted to ease your way out there for a look. The path is so narrow, however, you might have to straddle it. But the drop-offs are shear; your reason prevails. You stay behind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWithout a special camera lens, there was no way to get a decent photograph of the falls. There was no way for me to capture a passable image of any natural feature below the level of the trail.

Recalling a news event from several years ago, in which two or three college students, attempting to brave the elements of this gorge, were drowned, I was satisfied to hang back on the trail where I belonged.

It was a great morning for a walk. The wind in the trees produced a lot of “tree talk,” theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA groaning and creaking of trunks and branches interlocked above. A red-shouldered hawk flew up from a clearing nearby. Catherine pointed out a tree trunk shaped like a giraffe. Brent suggested that a wavering tree’s tattoo upon another resembled the hammering of a pileated woodpecker.

At an overlook close to the end of our trail, we enjoyed some moments with a northern view. We decided that the Mitchellsville Gorge made an excellent hike along the Finger Lake and North Country Scenic trails. The brisk walk downhill to Cold Brook and the grapevine acreage was accomplished in half an hour.

Already I was planning an investigative return.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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10 Responses to Mitchellsville Gorge, the Finger Lakes Trail

  1. Junior says:

    I didn’t imagine that the pictures down into the gorge would carry an appropriate sense of depth and magnitude, but the third to last picture (the trees clinging to the side walls) almost seems to hint at it better than a direct shot might have. Have you made it back to check out the upper trailhead?

    • Junior says:

      Looking at the topo map of the trail (, it appears that we were maybe five minutes from the gate…at most.

    • You’re right; the direct shot doesn’t work; the angular is more suggestive. I haven’t been out to check the upper trailhead yet. Maybe next week.


      • Bob Stanton says:

        Nice post, Walt. A great reminder that there are plenty of really wild and extreme places ’round here if one is willing to look. There are some features of our native landscape that, though we try our damdest to tame them, still prove beyond our efforts.

      • Those wild fragments still exist, Bob, and maybe that’s one reason I’m attracted to ravines, gorges, and canyons with water running through. They resist our attempts to tame them, even with dams. They’re especially endearing when they’re close to home.


  2. Daniel L Silliman says:

    Grew up and spent thousands of hours in the Glen, from the Two Rod Bridge to the last and tallest waterfalls, which was on My Grandfathers property. You all have no idea!

  3. They would be unusual for this area, or seldom seen.

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