About this Itinerary
In the heart of New York's Finger Lakes Region, the Keuka Outlet Trail connects the historical lakeside village of Penn Yan on Keuka Lake with Dresden on Seneca Lake. Though a short rail-trail, just seven miles, it has a unique heritage that blends natural wonder with industrial archaeology. The trail follows alongside Keuka (KYOO-ka) Lake Outlet (technically a stream) which physically connects Keuka Lake to Seneca Lake in the east, the only two Finger Lakes in New York connected by a natural waterway. For early Americans, this waterway became a gateway to western New York state, supporting mills, dams and the Crooked Lake Canal. Today, large rusting gears sit silent by beautiful rushing waterfalls and sections of the trail meander through remnants of cut stone walls. While on this gentle trail, it is easy to appreciate the beauty of a countryside that hosts fields of farms and vineyards and at the same time invokes the ghosts of 19th-century industrial America.
We recommend beginning and ending your trail ride in Penn Yan and, though the trail can be ridden in a couple of hours, consider making a day of it: you might want to plan a picnic lunch, wade at the creek’s bank or just watch the turtles sunning themselves on creek-side logs. The creek, with its multi-layered bed of shale and limestone, drops 270 feet on its journey to reach Lake Seneca and is utilized for a variety of recreational purposes, including paddling and fishing. Though you may not spend any time in the water yourself, it is important to be aware that the water level can change suddenly—both from heavy run-off from tributaries and also from water releases controlled by the dam at Penn Yan.
Several airports service the region, including the Greater Rochester International Airport and Elmira/Corning and Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airports. If you need a bicycle, Carey’s Penn Yan Farm & Home Centers rents hybrid bikes and is just off the trail on Seneca Street in downtown Penn Yan.
The village of Penn Yan, incorporated in 1833, derived its name from the fact that most of the early settlers were Pennsylvanians and New Englanders (or Yankees). Penn Yan still maintains plenty of historical charm, as evidenced by the 200 or so structures in the historic district which chronicle the village’s development from the 1820s to 1929—a development largely influenced by the Crooked Lake Canal of which the village was the western terminus. New York state built the canal (opening in 1833) along the entire length of the eight-mile outlet—a colossal venture with 27 locks built of stone and wood (by comparison, the 360-mile Erie Canal has only 90 locks). As you cycle down the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail you will also be traveling through the Crooked Lake Outlet Historic District, which includes nine areas containing surface and subsurface archaeological remains. Keep on the look-out for these reminders of the past. But first, check in at your B&B, of which there is no shortage of exceptional options.
The popular La Belle Vie B&B is on Main Street, making it easy to walk to the pubs, shops and historical homes of the village. Another option is Los Gatos B&B, a mile from the trail, offering a slightly more rural experience in a Mennonite community. You can burrow under quilts made by local Mennonite women and perhaps even hear the clip-clop of horses’ hooves as the neighbor’s buggy goes by.
Since the rail-trail is a relatively short one, no worries if you get distracted by Penn Yan’s allures and begin the ride in a leisurely fashion. For instance, a look at the fine arts from local, regional and international artists displayed in the gallery at the Arts Center of Yates County might be too hard to resist. The Yates County History Center sponsors two houses-turned-museums that are nearby as well.
Eventually, you make it to the trail; the western terminus is off of Elm Street, next to a community ball field, and the parking area is slightly farther east off of Water Street. Make sure you are stocked with enough water and snacks to keep you going until you reach Dresden. A short section of trail in Penn Yan is paved with asphalt, but the majority of trail is crushed stone and dirt. The bulk of the path passes through lush vegetation and follows a narrow strip of dirt smoothed by countless bicycle tires. Its proximity to water makes the surrounding land a haven for waterfowl and wildlife. Look for the herons that often perch on the water’s edge.
For the first half mile, you cycle toward the center of Penn Yan, eventually passing under the Main Street Bridge which was built from canal stone in 1884. Notice the dam on your left and the brown building previously used as a grain warehouse. Imagine a time when this area was filled with several woodworking factories, a cooperage, and a sash-and-blind factory. Shortly after, you come to two former railroad trestles: the first served as a trestle to Birkett Mills in 1824 and the second, High Bridge, was originally built of wood in 1850 and was renovated in 1890. Though the initial economic impact of the canal was positive, the canal required constant repair and construction, so the state eventually sold the land in 1878. The canal corridor was then converted to the Penn Yan and New York Railroad Company and the New York Central ran the railroad until 1972 when floods from Hurricane Agnes destroyed the corridor.
Another half mile further, you cross Foxs Mill Road. Take a right down the road, then a quick right toward the outlet to find remains of Fox Mill, a straw-paper manufacturer. The stones used for its walls were from the dismantled locks (around 1865) of the canal. Back on the trail, conjure up the sounds and sights of the 1800s: the clinking of the blacksmith as he made shoes for mules and the stacks of wooden wheels leaning against the walls of the Dibbles Mill. In the late 1700s, the Society of Universal Friends settled in the area and built 12 dams in order to harness the water and power numerous mills: lumber mills, tanneries, distilleries and mills producing linseed oil, grain and plaster. By 1835, at the peak of industrial activity, 30 to 40 mills were in operation.
Before you come to a bridge over a wood-lined sluice and cross Milo Mill Road (0.7 miles from Foxs Mill Road), look for a small side path that leads to the ruins of Shutt’s Mill. Here you can still see the stone vats from this paper mill; the first mill at this site was a saw mill built in 1812. Be mindful in your exploring, however, as there may be poison ivy in the area. After passing the large brick chimney towers, you leave behind you the most industrialized section of the Keuka Lake Outlet. This next section of the trail is particularly beautiful in the spring as it is lined with trillium. Beavers are known to be busily moving about here as well.
The trail continues past crumbling remains of forges, mills and dams. Look for the large rock between the bike path and the outlet with a plaque commemorating John Sheridan, a lawyer who negotiated the purchase of land for the Keuka Lake Outlet Preservation Area. You are roughly at the trail's midpoint and near the largest falls along the trail (also the location of the first mill, Seneca Mills). The Seneca MillFalls picnic area (two miles from Milo Mill Road) is a popular trailhead and a good place to stop for a picnic lunch. After passing the parking lot off Outlet Road, look for the brick remnants from a factory that made paper from rags. There are public restrooms at the Alfred Jensen Memorial Visitor Center (after you cross Ridge Road). For the next three miles, you cut through a steep gorge carved from shale and limestone during the last ice age. This natural wonder contrasts sharply with the historical mill remnants scattered about on the first half of the trail.
Before reaching the village of Dresden, you cycle past remnants of the 1840 truss bridge that went over the outlet to the village of Hopeton. The eastern terminus of the trail brings you to Seneca Street near the center of Dresden Village. For many cyclists, the first order of business is to continue on for another few blocks to Main Street and Mr. Twistee’s for an ice cream pick-me-up. If you are hankering for food and drink along the lines of craft brews, locally produced wine and pub fare, the Dresden Hotel, also on Main Street, may be the place for you. Put up your feet and relax some before the return trip to Penn Yan.
Dresden is scenically situated on the western shores of Seneca Lake and is a popular place for fishing and boating enthusiasts. It is also in the heart of wine country and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. The closest winery is Anthony Road Wine Company, two miles north of town.
If you don’t get the chance to appreciate the bounty and hospitality of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, the Keuka Lake Wine Trail is accessible within minutes from Penn Yan. So, too, is the Windmill Farm & Craft Market, a large outlet for local producers and craftspeople. You might just want to set yourself down on the shores of Keuka Lake, however, for some swimming, reading, even paddling. Boat rentals are available as are cruises on one of the local tour boats. You could also spend time at the magnificent Watkins State Glen Park on the southern tip of gorgeous Seneca Lake.