Author: Liz Westfall
When people think of New York State, several iconic places come to mind: Niagara Falls, the Big Apple, the Thousand Islands, and the Adirondacks. Many New Yorkers have visited these places, so hearing someone say Niagara Falls immediately brings back a memory of being on the Maid of the Mist staring up at that immense wall of water, or the Thousand Islands makes you remember Boldt Castle, or NYC makes you think of the first time you ever saw a real skyscraper or had a slice of pizza so big you had to fold it in half to eat it. Everyone thinks they know New York, but it is a state with many hidden treasures far beyond the most famous. For example, did you know that Ithaca has a waterfall that you can actually swim under (1)? Did you know that you can go prospecting for quartz diamonds in Herkimer (2) or whizzing down the longest, highest zipline in North America at Hunter Mountain (3)? One of my favorite hidden treasures is Chimney Bluffs at Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario (4). It's like nowhere else on earth.
Last weekend my mom took some friends and I to the bluffs. When you first drive in, it seems as though you've just pulled up to any other park on Lake Ontario. There's a nice lawn and a picnic area, and in front of you, as big as the ocean it seems, is Lake Ontario. It's beautiful, and as you approach the water you see a trail on the right. You have no idea what's coming. You step out of the bright sunlight into the cool shade of tall trees. The trail is packed hard and smooth but there are a lot of roots, so tread carefully. Take your time and notice the way the light filters down through the leaves overhead and shines a spotlight on the yellow lichen and bright red berries as beautiful as any stained glass. You step over logs and hop a few puddles and then suddenly, you spot the water again. You come closer and instinctively hold your breath. You can't help it. Framed by that lacy curtain of green and the brilliant blue of the sky are enormous cliffs unlike anything you've ever seen before. It's as if a giant hand made a sand castle a hundred feet high. As you move along the trail, the views just keep getting better. The cliffs rise up in impossibly tall and narrow chimneys and horns, carved out by glaciers a million years ago but eroding every season into new shapes and forms. Be warned though, these cliffs are fragile and it's too dangerous to climb out on them. Enjoy the beach instead. Be five years old again and get your knees dirty. Splash on the shore and skip stones through the water. Listen to the waves crash and the seagulls cry and marvel at the sand castles in the sky. You are in New York in the summertime, and there's no better place to enjoy it.
Chimney Bluffs is located at 7700 Garner Road in Wolcott, NY, about an hour and twenty minutes northwest of Syracuse and less than an hour east of Rochester. It is open from dawn to dusk year round and has four different trails. We chose the Bluff Trail on the western side of the park. It's only 1-1/4 miles and has incredible views all along the way.