About this Itinerary
The Lehigh Valley Trail, in the Finger Lakes region of western New York, slides between immense Lake Ontario to the north and the delicate appendages of the Finger Lakes to the south. From Victor to Rush, this 16-mile path cuts east-west through serenely wooded and rural landscapes and is just one of several in the area’s developing system of rail-trails. The trail connects on the western end with the Genesee Valley Greenway and on the east end to the Auburn Trail. Our itinerary suggests exploring the Lehigh Valley Trail as a one day round-trip, beginning and ending in Victor (just under 32 miles).
If you are flying into the state, the Greater Rochester International Airport is 20 miles from the town of Victor. Bicycle rentals are available at Towpath Bike in Pittsford (southeastern suburb of Rochester and on your way to Victor). If you brought your own bike, head straight to the 1820 Springdale Farm B&B, a charming 19th century restored house four miles from the eastern terminus of the trail in Victor. Settle in, relax, or get revved up for your upcoming adventures. Word of advice: try not to get too distracted by visions of the heavenly breakfast that will be awaiting you in the morning (selections may include poached pears, raspberry crepes, or homemade pumpkin bread).
Some call the rail-trail you will be riding the Black Diamond Trail, which stems from the Lehigh Valley Railroad's nickname, "The Route of the Black Diamond." The railroad's 435-mile main line between Buffalo and New York City was used for hauling anthracite coal (black diamonds) from Pennsylvania. For nearly a century, from 1892 to 1981, this rail line witnessed 500,000 trains busily servicing the trade. The Finger Lakes region does not need the movement of black diamonds to lure visitors to its doorstep, however. The stunning beauty of its waterfalls and gorges, the wine trails that make up the second largest wine producing region in the U.S. and even the mega-shopping prospects (right in Victor) are just some of the region’s many attractions.
In Victor, you can park just off Victor Mendon Road or a little farther west at the Phillips Road Trailhead. The Lehigh Valley Trail's newly decked trestle bridge stands between the two parking areas and the short connector to the Auburn Trail is just west of the bridge. The Lehigh Valley Trail is a smooth, crushed-stone path and equestrians are encouraged to preserve the trail surface by using the 5-foot grassy space that parallels the trail. You have open views of meadows and some industrial park buildings, but trees soon enclose the corridor as you head west.
In 2.5 miles, you come to Mendon, an affluent suburb of Rochester. The trail crosses two roads, so be cautious. In earlier days, many milling businesses flourished here with the streams’ water power. By mid-1800s, the Town of Mendon contained three hamlets and one village (including early Quaker settlements) and the mills were steadily processing grains, wood and wool. Stop in Mendon to stretch your legs, discover more of its history, or pick up a snack.
After leaving town, the view from the trail alternates between wooded sections and farm fields with occasional horse paddocks. Another 2.5 miles further, the trail crosses Chamberlain Road at which point you might opt to travel north (off-trail for 1.5 miles) to the southern boundary of Mendon Ponds Park. This park has been designated as a National Natural Landmark due to its interesting geology, which includes glacial ponds and sphagnum moss peat bogs. Don’t get overly curious about the bogs though; the one near the “Devil’s Bathtub” is home to carnivorous plants. Beaver, muskrat, fox and deer also live in the area and the park is known locally as a bird watching destination. Even if you decide to carry on without detour, keep your eyes out for red-winged blackbirds and listen for the trill of the numerous songbirds whose habitations are in the surrounding wetlands.
Near the midpoint of the journey, between Victor and Rush (2.7 miles from Chamberlain Rd.), a kiosk in Rochester Junction tells the history of the railroad spur that ran to Rochester. Rochester Junction is actually the crossroads for many historical chapters, including the lore of the Seneca Indian village of Totiakton that once existed here till it was destroyed by the French during the early Colonial Wars. Before crossing Plains Road, the trail splits and the Lehigh Valley Trail–North Branch heads toward Rochester. Stay to the left. Within minutes a bridge takes you over Honeoye Creek, a tributary of the Genesee River. During the remaining 7.2 miles, you will cross several public roads along the way to finish just beyond the old railroad bridge in Rush.
Once on the bridge, take time to appreciate the lovely Genesee River. Rising from the hills of Pennsylvania, this river flows north to empty into Lake Ontario. Its water spills over six waterfalls along the way, three of which are in the city of Rochester and one in the extraordinary Letchworth State Park. The river has long been considered the lifeline of Rochester, enabling the town to become a milling and industrial powerhouse beginning in the 1800s. Before that, the Genesee River was a lifeline for the Iroquois people, a group of five nations that were largely based in present-day New York at the time of European encounter and colonization. Many a history has been made on these shores.
Surely by now you are hungry. You may want to stop in Rush on your first pass through or wait until your return visit. The Rush Creekside Inn is a bar and grill conveniently placed right next to the trail. On Friday nights, they host a fish fry so be prepared to wait a bit during this popular feast.
If you are in Rush on a Sunday and are interested in transportation artifacts, you are in luck! The New York Museum of Transportation and the Rochester & Genesse Valley Railroad Museum (the old Erie Railroad depot at Industry) are connected by a rail line on which an electric trolley transports visitors between May and October. This dual-museum experience offers everything one could want to learn about trolley, trains and other old vehicles. Seeing this part of the Genesee Valley would be particularly beautiful in the autumn; check out the dates and times for their annual Fall Foliage by Trolley & Train rides.
Once you’ve eaten and rested, it’s time for the return trip back to Victor!
Spend today at a relaxed pace exploring Victor. You can start with the Valentown Museum (open May-Sept. on Saturdays), full of exhibits and artifacts depicting 19th-century life in the Greater Rochester area. Well before the 19th century, however, villages and cultures thrived here. The Ganondagan State Historic Site has a visitor center, a reconstructed bark longhouse and miles of trails at this location of the largest Seneca Indian settlement of the 17th century. Trails are open to visitors year-round but the visitor center closes between November-April.
If you’re getting hungry, you will have no shortage of dining options in town. Several eateries line Main Street, including Lucca’s wood-fired pizza and The Soup Spoon (a limited menu but perfect for anyone wanting to try a traditional Southeast Asian soup). If strolling through the large Eastview Mall is on your agenda, there are quite a few restaurants in or nearby the mall as well.
Of course, Rochester is only about 15 miles north where there are many options available. Does BBQ-fare in a roadhouse atmosphere sound appealing? If so, make a bee-line to The Dinosaur Bar-B-Que - they offer everything from brisket to fried green tomatoes to deviled eggs. Heck, if you are in Rochester, why not catch a concert or show? The 1922 Eastman Theatre regularly hosts musical ensembles, orchestras or chorales, and the Geva Theatre Center similarly gives up the stage for live theatrical performances.
Finally, no trip to the Finger Lakes Region would be complete without including an excursion down a wine trail. The Canandaigua Wine Trail comprises wineries, restaurants and other attractions (including, by the way, the 1820 Springdale Farm B&B) that offer travelers a fun self-guided way to experience the beauty, charm and abundant offerings of the rural and agricultural surrounds.