Dryden Rail Trail

New York

9 Reviews

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Dryden Rail Trail Facts

States: New York
Counties: Cortland, Tompkins
Length: 10.4 miles
Trail end points: Game Farm Rd. (East Ithaca Recreation Way) and East Lake Rd. (Harford)
Trail surfaces: Crushed Stone, Dirt, Grass, Gravel
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 12683625

Dryden Rail Trail Description

The Dryden Rail Trail is a developing trail that will someday connect with the East Ithaca Recreation Way, forming over 16 miles of continuous walking and biking in Tompkins County. But it's not just pedestrians and cyclists who benefit: horseback riders, cross-country skiiers, bird- and wildlife enthusiasts can enjoy the trail too.

The trail has a combination of stone dust surfacing, as well as dirt/ grass. Future plans include making the trail surface uniform (stone dust) and ADA compliant.

The west segment begins on State Route 13 and heads southwest into Varna, and then passes through the Reynolds Game Farm (owned by the NY Department of Environmental Conservation) to meet the East Ithaca Recreation Way near the Cornell campus.

Presently, two pieces of the trail are open. The east segment runs from a pond near Virgil Creek to the Village of Freeville and then heads southeast to West Main Street in Dryden, where it seamlessly continues east towards Harford along a section of trail know as the Jim Schug Trail. 

Jim Schug Section (4.2 miles)

This section of trail is know as known as the Jim Schug Trail in memory of the late town supervisor who acquired the land. The trail follows a remarkably level Lehigh Valley Railroad corridor; the railroad constructed the bed by creating cuts and using the removed earth and rock to fill in low spots. The resulting trail is level, while the surrounding landscape dips and rises, leaving you on an elevated berm or passing through cuts where ground level is above your head.

There are numerous road crossings—many with small parking areas—that provide easy trail access. From the village of Dryden, the trail runs south and east; it also links with the Finger Lakes Trail, a footpath for hikers.

Benches mark your distance every 0.5 mile, and accompanying informational signs reveal historical and natural features along the trail.

When the trail crosses State Route 38, the landscape becomes more rural. Farm fields and silos, woods and wetlands lie ahead. Don't hurry through the next mile but rather sit and listen to the sounds of the wetlands. In the evening, especially in spring, the sounds of frogs surround you.

The area around Dryden Lake and along the trail is said to have some of the best birding in the Finger Lakes region. Dryden Lake Park surrounds the lake and has picnic tables, a pavilion and fishing access, including a handicapped-accessible platform. All seasons see activity on the lake: Birders flock to the area for waterfowl in the spring and fall. In the winter, the lake is a popular spot for ice fishing.

Adding to the bucolic appeal is an array of cultivated, alien and native plant species. From spring through autumn wildflowers bloom along the trail, and the woods show spectacular fall color. The ever-changing natural palette warrants return visits to this trail throughout the years 

Parking and Trail Access

Parking can be found at Monkey Run Natural Area in Varna, at the Freeville Pavillion (287 George Rd), near the Station Creamery in Dryden (62 W Main St), where the trail crosses Keith Ln. and at 307 Willow Crossing Rd. 

See TrailLink Map for detailed parking directions and all options.

Dryden Rail Trail Reviews

Simple and Short

It’s a fun little trail to walk or bike down and have fun with your friends, nothing too crazy but in the summer or fall it can be very beautiful!

Pretty trail, level, great for a family with smaller children

Easy to find; we parked in Dryden Park, nice picnic pavilions, playground. We only walked 2 miles, and the trail was very well kept, clean, nice and wide. Great for younger kids, strollers, dogs.

Really awesome wetlands

Don't let Mt Bike trail comment scare u. Nice bike trail and has been extended south to Freeland. Great natural wetands as well as Dryden lake. A few areas are sod but brief. Don't plan to have access to restrooms with Covid. Bikers and hikers Labor Day but no horses.

Attention New Trail riders!

This trail is ideal for you and your horse becoming accustomed to the many sites and sounds on the trail. It is flat and wide enough for two horses and riders to travel side by side if desired. The footing is crushed rock. Expect to cross short roads and wood bridges and to encounter a variety of wildlife including humans on their bicycles, pushing strollers or just walking.


Jim Schug Rail Trail

Rode the length of the Jim Schug Rail Trail, and then continued on a new extension of the trail from Dryden to Freeville that opened Saturday, 5/11/2019. About 14 miles round trip. I rode a hybrid. No issues. The Jim Schug section of trail was in great shape. No holes or debris on trail. Many wood bridges newly sealed. Many bikers and walkers. A few joggers. Lots of people fishing in the lake, ponds, and stream along side the trail. Saw 5 beaver dams, and lots of wildlife along the trail.
Note: Attended opening ceremonies for the trail extension and told plans are actively being worked to extend trail into Ithaca and connect with the East Hill Recreation Trail (which is another rail trail). Length of trail planned to be about 20 miles.

Southern end very nice...but there is a challenging other end, too!

I am always leery of trails that don’t show ‘biking’ as an activity, just ‘mountain biking’. I have a trail near me that I detest that is maintained by atv people. It has rocks and mud puddles. So I read the few reviews about the trail and was skeptical, because no one said much about biking. But the photos made me hopeful.

The reviews made me realize what I saw as I passed a parking area and obvious trail crossing on Spring House Road just outside Dryden. This was the western/northern part of the trail that is not shown on Traillink, or even on Google bike map. To my east was a river of grass without any indication of roadbed, other than the tunnel of vegetation on both sides. To my west, it looked to be reasonable trek, with 2 visible wheel paths. I started to the west. You can travel the few miles to Freeville along this path.

This is like the unloved stepchild portion of the trail. The grass is mown. The tree limbs are cleared. There are even benches. But you keep asking yourself, ‘why couldn’t they just put down some stone here and make this a reasonable trail?’ The western/northern end alternates between grass, roadbed and the occasional muddy spot. I own a hybrid bike and still found this trail reasonable, but only because I started out early in the day, with the most energy. Slogging through grass saps your strength pretty rapidly.

Heading back to Spring House Road, I asked myself if I could tolerate the grass that lay to the east. I figured I had it in me, and that it would be no more than a mile to connect up to the mapped portion of this trail. That river of grass is probably a half mile (grass always seems longer!) till you indeed link up with the mapped portion. Initially, the trail is wide and obvious, but as you enter Dryden, you suddenly feel like you are in someone’s side yard. On my return trip, I noted that, if approaching from the south, you would have no idea this northern portion exists because of that side yard you find yourself in.

Nonetheless, I kept going …to find MORE grass along the mapped portion, for the first quarter mile. THEN it got decent.

The southern 3.75 miles of this trail are idyllic. The trail bed itself is reasonable for any bike and the scenery is varied and enjoyable. Numerous beaver dams are within feet of the trail. You’ve got lakes and streams and fields and forests. It has to be some of the most enjoyment I have had per mile.

So, highly recommended southern end…and a reminder that there is a western/northern end, if you are up for a challenge.

Unsurpassed nature trail

In addition to a welcoming trail for walkers , runners, etc. the 4 mile long Jim Schug Trail is an outstanding nature trail. Dryden Lake is known regionally as a must visit bird watching destination during Spring and Fall bird migration and through out the year. Almost every species of locally present mammal has been seen from the trail and plant species abound in its many and varried habitats. Fully 8 species of native maple can be seen within a few feet of its edges.

Great running spot

Very nice trail for running, with hard-packed cinders or dirt. Lovely areas past lakes & marshes. Beware of the horse droppings though.

A trail that could be better

The Jim Schug Trail goes through attractive territory, with a bridge over a small creek, and several wetlands infested with chirpy, flying, bug-eating things. Oh, right, birds. They have signage at both ends of the trail, but no parking near the trailhead (park on village street nearby). Nice interpretive signs along the trail, with benches every half mile serving as mile markers. And yet ... I want more. The northern end of the trail is grass with a single track through some of it. Packed crushed rock would make the trail easier for bicyclists and strollers. The right-of-way goes on for another mile with no apparent obstacle to travel other than signage. Get permission, extend the trail.

My ride notes: http://blog.russnelson.com/bicycling/1221944166.html

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