Training for the A.T. on the Finger Lakes Trail System

For more area hikes and resources, see the trip summary: Hiking the Finger Lakes Trail

A nifty map of the Huckleberry Bog Nature Trail painted on the trail register box

And so it begins! I just completed the first of many training hikes for my 100-mile backpacking trip in August when I’ll take on the section of the Appalachian Trail that runs the length of Shenandoah National Park. Hiking the Shenandoahs wasn’t even on my radar until the Facebook gods intervened; it goes like this: I have a good friend Anne, Anne has a sister Lynn, they both have a sister-in-law Gay, and we’re all friends on Facebook. Last summer, Lynn and Gay day-hiked in the Shenandoahs covering 40 miles in three days. Lynn posted Facebook updates and at one point commented “…it’s a step toward a bucket list item. I’d like to do the entire AT in the Shenandoah…” to which I impulsively replied “Ahhh I wanna goooooo!!!”. A couple months later, Lynn and I exchanged text messages along the lines of “Were you serious…?”, and here we are. Thank you Facebook :)

First toad of the season (for us). Can you find him?

Our current goal is to average 15 miles a day which seems aggressive based on previous backpacking trips, but I’ve never hiked that area so I’m game to try. Training is key so my plan is to start with low mileage and gradually ramp up a mile a week to at least 13 miles by the time I leave for Virginia, though 15 would be ideal. I took baby steps towards training while still at home in Oregon where I walked twice a week with friends, covering 3.5 to 5 miles carrying 20 pounds in a day pack.

Julie with a 23 pound pack at the Elmboise Road parking area

I’m now situated in upstate New York, spending the summer at family cottages on Keuka Lake. We come most every year and have been eying day hikes on the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) but could never tear ourselves away from the lake; it’s SO nice to have a compelling reason to get out there this year! The main trail runs roughly east-west for 575 miles from the the Catskills to the Pennsylvania-New York border and passes right along the southern end of Keuka Lake just 15 minutes from our cottage. Even better, the FLT System has an additional 412 miles of branch and loop trails including the Bristol Hills Branch Trail that shoots north from the FLT and parallels Keuka’s west side - perfect!

Chris breaking out of the trees on the Bristol Hills Trail

My husband Chris will be my hiking buddy, and for our first foray we chose a 2.5 mile out-and-back (so 5 miles total) on the Bristol Hills Trail from Elmboise Road to Short Bog Spur. When we have more people and cars around we hope to enlist driving support to avoid doubling back. I carried a 23-pound pack including all the water and snacks leaving Chris completely unencumbered, footloose and fancy free. I’ll eventually carry about 28 pounds on training hikes; my pack should be under 25 pounds for the Shenandoahs.

Our one confusing spot. In retrospect we should have known to turn at this marker. I think two blazes means turn; three blazes indicates a terminus.

Finally, the hike! The Elmboise Road parking area was simply a wide, flat pull-out on the shoulder with the trail sign plainly visible across the street. We started hiking in flat, low-lying farmland and forest where the trail meandered over streams and along a small creek. Just before the one real climb, the trail broke out of tree cover and traversed an open field; this marked the one spot where we weren’t sure of the trail. Once you cross over the small wood bridge (in an open field), look left. The trail markers are faded orange ribbons tied to bushes.

Julie at the Bean Station Road access. It gets pretty muddy past this point.

After crossing Bean Station Road, we slogged through a muddy area, passed Covell Cemetery, and climbed up past the Evangeline Shelter, an Adirondack complete with second-level sleeping platform, cooking area, and pit toilet.  At 0.8 miles in from Bean Station Road, we came upon the Huckleberry Bog Loop trail register - what a surprise to find a laminated nature guide inside!

Chris signing in at the Huckleberry Bog Loop trail register

Our pace slowed significantly as Chris read from the booklet and pointed out highlighted trees, plants, man-made structures, and bits of area history. Fantastic! We returned our guide to the same trail register box, but hikers are welcome to take the guide along and pop it in the next trail register box near the south end of the loop.

This is just one of the lovely sturdy bridges along the trail

Overall we were very impressed with trial maintenance, markers and signage - excellent job FLT conference volunteers! Not only was the trail easy to follow, it had sturdy bridges for stream crossings, and one boggy area had had a few strategically placed wood boards for firmer footing. I only had two regrets for the day: 1) I forgot my bandana; and 2) I should have worn long pants. It was a warm day so I had the lower legs zipped off my hiking pants, but by the end of the hike, my shins were covered in small red itchy bumps. Luckily it was just irritation from tall grasses, not poison ivy as I initially feared.

If you go, don't forget the insect repellant.  The hike runs through a bog and has its fair share of standing water - high potential for mosquitoes.

Chris climbing the hill

I had Runkeeper going and the hike summary indicates just 780 of total climbing over the 5 miles. I’m hoping for hillier segments in the future but regardless of the terrain, I can’t wait for next week’s hike. Stay tuned!

For your reference, here's a mile-by mile description of this Bristol Hills Trail for this area.


The Runkeeper summary of our hike


One of the big old trees along the Bog Loop Trail