Shaped like a left-leaning V, the Ontario Pathways Rail Trail travels southwest from Canandaigua to Stanley, then shoots north to Clifton Springs. The rural trail is the pride of an industrious community organization, Ontario Pathways, Inc., that purchased the unused railroad corridor and transformed it into a popular recreation destination. Nineteen miles of the rail-trail are open, and ten of twelve bridges have been redecked or rebuilt. One of the bridges at the Canandaigua end is enhanced with a decorative metal gate in the shape of the organization's logo and name. A similar gate is in place in Clifton Springs.
For the first few miles in Canandaigua, an active rail line is separated from the trail by a thick, overgrown hedgerow. The trail's surface is single track, occasionally wider, of packed cinder ballast bordered by mowed grass and trees.
It's a wonderfully pleasant ride through the vast agricultural landscape of the Finger Lakes region, passing acres and acres of green cabbage, red cabbage, squash, celery, soybeans and corn. If you ride the trail often enough, you will witness the full cycle of America's produce being grown and harvested.
At the Orleans trailhead, along County Road 23, is a railroad water tower. The wooden tank, which held 40,000 gallons, is one of a few of the remaining towers that serviced steam locomotives throughout the Northeast.
At this point there is a break in the trail that requires on-road navigation to reach the last section of rail-trail north of Clifton Springs. It is worth the extra effort to enjoy the northernmost segment's beautiful waterfalls and nicely constructed bridges.
Be sure to budget enough time to explore the quaint town of Canandaigua, perched on the north shore of Canandaigua Lake, one of the smaller of New York's Finger Lakes. With loads of Victorian architecture and a population of fewer than 15,000, Canandaigua has the essence of a tiny resort town. From June through October you can tour historic neighborhoods and a hilltop cemetery in horse-drawn carriages. A replica 19th-century paddleboat offers dinner cruises. In town, local entertainment and art provide a counterpoint to gorgeous views across the lake and valley, dotted with produce farms and vineyards.
Parking and Trail Access
From I-90, exit onto Route 332 South into the town of Canandaigua. Turn left onto Ontario Street and travel one block to the municipal parking lot on the left.
To reach the Orleans trailhead from I-90, take Exit 43 to head south on Route 21/N. Main Street. Turn left to head east on Route 488. Turn right on Waddell Road/Railroad Avenue. A small parking lot is on the left, just before you reach County Road 23.