I've been eager to get out and explore more new sections of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT), not just on the Erie Canal, but back in the woods and hills. We had such a long stretch of mild weather in February that I felt confident I'd be able to find safe parking, even on a dirt road. I decided on a section of the NCT that follows the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) through Tuller Hill State Forest. This section is quite close to Interstate 81, which is part of the reason I selected it, as the proximity to the highway made the drive time comparable to many closer sites. I fully expected to be able to hear the highway for most of the hike, and was pleasantly surprised not to. I started on West River Road, and hiked up, up, up, crossing the seasonal Snyder Hill and Pipeline Roads before reaching my turnaround point at Cortland Road 9. I then retraced my steps back the way I came, for an out-and-back hike of approximately 5.9 miles with over 1,000 feet elevation gain. Not too shabby!
About a tenth of a mile into the hike, the trail passes through the backyard of an isolated home. I started to turn back when I first approached, assuming I had missed a blaze, but soon found more confirming I was on the right track. It puts me a little on edge to be so close to a strange home. Rationally, I know the homeowners have granted permission for the trail to be there (thank you!), and of course I kept carefully to the well-marked path. But still... it felt strange.
The trail follows Howe Creek for the first mile or so, cutting across the steep forested slopes and along the edge of a farm field atop the ravine. The sound of the running water fully obscures the highway noise, at least in these spring-like conditions. There are small downs mixed in with the general up, as the trail passes through lesser drainages, and eventually crosses a foot bridge over Howe Creek. From there, the trail climbs out of the hemlocks and runs roughly parallel to Snyder Hill Road through a stand of young even-aged hardwoods. After crossing the road in sight of a camp, the trail turns south again, climbing through a recently logged section before popping out in Pipeline Road. The trail approaches the top of Snyder Hill, but doesn't quite get there, dropping a few contour lines and wrapping around the hill, following the property line of the State Forest and crossing a pipeline before descending a bit more to Cortland 9 Road.
Since I did most of the climbing on the way in, the return trip went quicker. A front blew in and it started sprinkling when I was almost back to the car. I jogged the last couple hundred feet because it seemed easier than stopping to pack up the camera. I didn't see another human on the entire hike, and when I signed the register, saw that the last hiker had signed in December 16. How I love being alone in the woods! This kind of thing always leads me to wonder what percentage of people actually stop and sign in, though. Has no one really hiked here in months? And if so, why not? It's a terrific hike.
|trailhead along West River Road|
|follow the blazes through this backyard|
|Snyder Hill Road|
|just north of Pipeline Road|
|approaching my turnaround point|
|Cortland 9 Road|
|bridge over Howe Creek|
|the trail register was last signed December 16|
|last descent to West River Road|