Best in Dirt: Ithaca, NY
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Ithaca is renowned for waterfalls – locals Steve Shaum and Nancy Kleinrock cool off on a summer run. Photo by David Clifford.
Go if … you want to find out why bumper stickers here read, “Ithaca is gorges.” State parks, national forests, breathtaking gorges, over 150 waterfalls within a 10-mile radius and 26,000 acres of public land surrounding the town make it one of the Northeast’s most extraordinary trail-running hubs. Ithaca boasts over 500 miles of well-mapped and maintained trails, many of which connect state parks and belong to the Finger Lakes Region, known for its elongated glacial lakes, agreeable grape-growing climate and dozens of wineries.
And culturally, you’d be hard pressed to find a more progressive community, thanks in part to the presence of Cornell University. Says local runner Nancy Kleinrock, “You’ll notice a relatively high concentration of rooftop solar panels, community-supported agriculture enterprises and Birkenstocks-and-granola types.”
Best Trails Run through old pine plantations and under towering Hemlocks on the eight-mile Cayuga Trail, (also known as Monkey Run) which winds along Fall Creek and through the Cornell University Plantations, home to rare botanical collections. Follow the orange blazes marking the route through campus and over a pedestrian suspension bridge. On cold winter days, the huge trees offer welcome protection from the elements.
Or go to Robert Treman State Park to explore the Enfield Glen and Lucifer Falls gorges that make Ithaca famous. For a scenic five-mile loop, start along Enfield Creek and turn right at the pavement (approximately 100 meters) for two and a quarter miles to the park office. Here, head up the Gorge Trail to find the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT), which runs along the park’s southern edge. “I also recommend the section of the FLT that traverses the Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area, which has pine plantations, hardwood stands, open meadows, streams and wildlife,” says Kleinrock. “During wet periods, the trails here drain better than many others in the vicinity.”
Race September’s Virgil Crest Ultras (formerly called the Iroquois Trails Ultras, iroquoistrails100.com) in Virgil, New York (30 minutes from Ithaca), include 100- and 50-mile events on the FLT where it traverses Tuller Hill and Kennedy State Forests.
In May, the Thom Bugliosi Trail Runs (fingerlakesrunners.org, 13K and 26K) in Hammond Hill State Forest take runners on trails surrounded by oak, maple, evergreen and beech trees. This, like all the races in the 12-race Finger Lakes Trailrunners Circuit, is relatively inexpensive to enter and offers an encouraging yet competitive atmosphere.
> Go when In spring and summer, daytime temps average in the 60s, though July temps can reach 80. Come in autumn to enjoy the East Coast’s best fall colors. When the snow flies, runners here tend to hang up the trail shoes and don snowshoes.
> refuel Ithaca boasts more restaurants per square mile than New York City. Nestled in the center of Restaurant Row, end your day with a one of more than 20 on-tap brews at the Ithaca Ale House (ithacaalehouse.com). Saturday mornings, browse fresh produce and crafts from 150 regional vendors at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market (ithacamarket.com) on Steamboat Landing, where you can even get a post-run massage. Gimmie! Coffee (Gimmiecoffee.com) is the local’s favorite coffee house.
> Pitstop Finger Lakes Running Company (fingerlakesrunningcompany.com) is an independent specialty running store with a great gear selection and friendly staff.
> Resources Finger Lakes Runners (fingerlakesrunners.org) offer group runs, a shoe recycling program and trail maps. Check the Finger Lakes Trail Conference, an organization that oversees the Finger Lakes Trail, for detailed maps and trail descriptions (fingerlakestrail.org). For Ithaca lodging, dining and shopping information, go to visitithaca.com.