Several of my fondest personal memories of summer involve camping and being in the outdoors, taking in the fresh, authentic, and astoundingly beautiful audacity that is our natural world. Perhaps it’s not for everyone, but many (and in particular many of you nature-loving Ithacans) might agree that there is no better way to clear one’s mind and totally immerse oneself in the present than to go for a long hike, or better yet take a few days off to set up camp and spend that time stargazing and listening to the trees. It doesn’t particularly matter where you are, whether in the redwoods of California or Acadia in Maine. It’s the there-ness that is appealing, the Thoreauvian solitude or collective sublime. It’s a way to connect with one’s roots—the earth—and just appreciate life for the sake of appreciation.
Obviously, there are numerous locations near Ithaca that would allow such an opportunity to explore nature to its fullest. As far as the slogans go, Ithaca is gorges, replete with more than its fair share of falls, hiking trails, and wineries aplenty. But if you’re looking to go a bit further than an afternoon trip to Buttermilk Falls or a quick stop at the Cayuga Nature Center, it doesn’t hurt to venture out of the area and take advantage of even more of upstate’s resources. In this particular instance, I’m referring the Finger Lakes National Forest, an area of nature preservation situated between Seneca and Cayuga lakes that covers more than 16,000 acres of public land and is the only national forest in New York State. And, best yet, the forest is only a half hour drive away from downtown.
As with all national forests, there are several ways you could go about camping. Open year round, and particularly popular in autumn, thanks to the changing foliage, the Finger Lakes National Forest carries an explicit philosophy of multiple use, meaning it’s not dedicated or confined to a single type of recreation. It’s a place to ski in the winter, hunt in the fall, and in the summertime you’re free to hike, camp, ride horseback, bicycle, and fish. In fact there is an entire semi-private campsite, the Backbone Horse Campground, designed for campers and picnickers with horses to use as they please.
The other campsites on the premises include the Potomac Campground, meant for groups and the only site that requires reservations ahead of time, and the Blueberry Patch Campground, open through the end of October and next to a blueberry patch for which it gets its name. Both grounds are $10 a night for up to 14 nights, while entry into the Backbone Horse Campground is wholly donation-based. Blueberry Patch and Backbone Horse are both first-come-first-serve for spots. Another option is dispersed camping, without a campsite. It is recommended that you stay 200 feet from trails, roads, and bodies of water (in order to disperse impact on the land). Visitors are allowed to set up camp without charge anywhere in the forest unless otherwise noted.
“We do advise campers to plan ahead,” Travis Sauerwald, a forestry technician at the Hector, New York ranger station, did mention. “This includes bringing your own water, as there is no running water on-site, and to source firewood locally.” The latter is meant to limit the amount of invasive species and particles brought into the area. Most importantly, Sauerwald continues, is to use Leave No Trace principles while in the forest. These include a “carry in what you carry out” policy, leaving no refuse behind, as a way to actively keep the forest clean.
If you need even more reason to stay outside, now is the perfect time. Along with June being Great Outdoors Month, Saturday, June 11 marks National Get Outdoors Day, which also means that entry into all national forests is free that day. Along with all that, this August (specifically the 25th) marks the National Park Service’s 100th birthday. Time to celebrate with a camping trip. §
Find more information about visiting the Finger Lakes National Forest at: www.fs.usda.gov