Gorgeous Gorge on M-12
by Margaret and Ken Reek
The featured special place is Mitchellsville Gorge near Hammondsport. This is a delightful hike at any time of year, but will be especially so on a hot, sunny summer day, as you will be walking in a cool forest listening to the sounds of a lively creek that peeks in and out of your view. You can easily make this into a weekend trip, as there are many recreational and lodging opportunities in the immediate area.
This hike is on private, posted land, so please be especially mindful of your “trail manners”: stay on the trail, pack it out (even if you didn’t pack it in), and don’t camp or have fires. We are extremely fortunate to have landowners willing to share their special spots with us, and we must respect their property and wishes.
The major features of this hike are the creek and its many waterfalls, and the beautiful pine and hemlock forest. The waterfalls range widely in size and shape, but the view of many is partially blocked by the trees, limiting the possibilities for great waterfall pictures. There are places on the trail that are reminiscent of Letchworth State Park, with waterfalls cascading down the side of a deep rock-walled gorge. You will also walk right through a vineyard, which is not something most of us do every day; just follow the blazes on the end stakes on the vineyard rows.
The trail is not very steep; the steepest part gains only 500 feet in 1.5 miles. This makes it suitable for a wide range of ability levels. However, the trail runs along the edge of a steep embankment for quite a bit of this hike, so to quote a Harry Potter character, “constant vigilance” is in order if you are hiking with small children. Also take care not to miss the turn signs when walking along the short section of old railroad. The trail blazes are painted right on the rails, but the turn can be easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. If you want to bring a picnic lunch, there is a nice spot about 2 miles from the eastern starting point of the hike. Just don’t get too close to the edge of the gorge in that location, as the hill seems to be undercut by erosion. You might want to bring a plastic grocery bag so that you can pack out any trash that others might have left behind.
The hike is 2.5 miles one way, and can be done either as an out-and-back with one car for a total of 5 miles, or a one-way hike with two cars. If you don’t have much time, or want to hike mostly downhill, park a car near the corner of NYS Route 54 & County Route 88. Then drive west on Country Route 89 to County Route 13, turn left onto 13 and park near the trail crossing. You will then hike from west to east. If you have only one car, decide whether you prefer hiking uphill or downhill first, and then park your car accordingly.
You can get some nice views of Keuka Lake by extending your trip. The easiest way is to drive along Route 54 towards the east and turn south at the stoplight where 54A comes in. The street sign says Back Valley Road, and very soon after getting on it, you will turn left and follow the aptly named Winding Stairs Road. Go up the hill until you see the trail come in from the left, then turn around and you should get some views on the drive back down the road – no hiking necessary! The other option would be to hike the trail from Rt. 54 to Winding Stairs. However, this section begins with a long, steep hill, and if the leaves are out, the views from the trail are much less spectacular than they are from Winding Stairs Road.
If you are coming from far away, there are many other attractions in the area so you can easily turn this trip into a mini-vacation. Some of the sights within a few miles of the trail include the Glenn Curtis Museum (aviation), Pleasant Valley Winery/Great Western, a public beach in Hammondsport, and many fine eateries. If you want to stay for the weekend there are numerous bed and breakfasts in Hammondsport, and the Vineland Inn on Rt.54 is within 100 steps of the trail.
So enjoy the summer and enjoy the trail.