The access to Highland Forest has been reconfigured so that the main entrance road is gated to unauthorized vehicles very close to the northern end of the park. All visitors must use the Skyline Lodge parking lot and enter the trail system from the same northern trailhead. The single hiking trail is blazed with the orange Main Trail symbol, and leads down to the Community Shelter, passing through attractive pine and spruce plantations. The problem is that the trail closely follows the former access road for the first half mile, and the passing vehicles (maintenance trucks, horse trailers, etc.) are readily visible and audible. The trail system was also realigned, and when I reviewed the new trail map in advance, it seemed like the 1.86-mile green blazed Nature Trail would be our best bet. I was disappointed to think we'd spend such a significant portion of the hike so close to the service road. However, Frankie surprised me by saying he wanted to take a longer hike, so we opted for the 3.6-mile yellow blazed Shortcut Trail instead. That made me very happy!
I can't speak to the horse, bike or ski trails, but the hiking trail system at Highland Forest is very strange to me. With the exception of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which passes through the park, all the trails are nested, overlapping. From the trailhead, the single trail starts out is blazed with both orange Main Trail markers and the blue paint of the North Country National Scenic Trail. At each hiking trail intersection, the left trail branch heads back to Skyline Lodge via the Community Shelter, while the orange Main Trail continues further on to the right. Each successive return route is longer, first the 0.8-mile pink blazed Limestone Trail, then the Nature Trail, the Shortcut Trail, and finally the 7.76-mile brown blazed History Trail. It means that, by design, part of every hike is the same, even when selecting different trails. So bizarre.
It also seems unclear whether the mileage provided for each marked trail includes the Main Trail or Limestone Trail for the final section back to Skyline Lodge. We took the Limestone Trail to avoid retracing our steps further than necessary, and Map my Ride put our mileage at 4.37 miles. We did leave the trail to investigate every possible shelter (and various other worthy pursuits), but I was a bit surprised to see our distance so far above the stated 3.6 miles. Not sure if the discrepancy is from the app or the wonky trail system.
Despite the questionable trail routing near the service road, the Shortcut Trail is beautiful, passing through varied scenic forest types, crossing bridges and corduroy along the way. We had a great time! We were terribly slow, of course, but this simply meant a longer time spent playing in the woods; I am definitely not complaining. Frankie handled the distance with good cheer, and was rewarded with a stop at a new playground on the way home. He saw it from the highway on the drive down, and got super excited. It was a great motivating factor for him on the hike, knowing we'd stop on the way home if he was good.
|We definitely need to explore some more segments of the Finger Lakes Trail!|
|orange bark on the Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris)|
|The service road is clearly visible through the trees.|
|doll's-eyes (Actaea pachypoda) typically have white berries -- this is the less common forma rubrocarpa.|
|plantain-leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea)|
|newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)|
|zig-zag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis)|
|sulphur shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus)|
|spotted St.John's-wort (Hypericum punctatum)|
|toad (Bufo americanus)|
|View looking north from Skyline Lodge.|