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The Keuka Outlet Trail offers a sinuous route of nearly 7 miles between Penn Yan and Dresden in New York’s Finger Lakes region. The rail-trail follows a railroad corridor that traced a former canal dug along the natural drainage of Keuka (KYOO-ka) Lake Outlet from Seneca Lake to Keuka Lake. Today, the millsite ruins along the watercourse add another dimension to the natural beauty of cascading waterfalls and rocky ravines.
Settlers moved into the area in the late 1780s, and by 1790 the first mill began operation on Crooked Lake Outlet, as it was then called, based on the “crooked” shape of Keuka Lake. By 1820 more than 20 mills operated along the stream. New York’s canal-building boom led to construction in 1833 of the Crooked Lake Canal, which required 27 locks along its course. The canal never made money and was abandoned in 1873.
The Penn Yan and New York Railway Company opened a branch in 1884 that used the towpath as its corridor. Later becoming part of the Fall Brook Railway Company, it was acquired by New York Central, which stopped using the route after extensive damage from Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972.
From Penn Yan, the trail climbs an easy grade to Dresden. Both towns are tourist destinations with plenty of services. The first 1.3 miles in Penn Yan is paved, and the remainder of the Keuka Outlet Trail is gravel, ballast, and dirt. The Friends of the Outlet have installed numerous interpretive signs along the route. Snowmobiling is allowed east of Penn Yan.
Penn Yan is named for its early transplants from Pennsylvania (PENN) and New England (YAN-kees). The trail begins at a sports complex at Keuka Lake’s northern tip and joins the Keuka Outlet in 0.4 mile. Crossing under Main Street at 0.7 mile, one of the area’s first mills—Birkett Mills—still operates across the stream. After Cherry Street, you’ll soon be on the unpaved portion of the trail.
You’ll pass nearly a dozen old lock sites along the canal, as well as seven former millsites, some deteriorated to crumbling brick walls or a set of rusty gears. At 3.5 miles, you’ll likely hear the roar of Seneca Mills Falls before you see it, as it drops more than 40 feet in three cascades at the former paper mill site, now a popular picnic area. This is the only spot where you’ll leave the old towpath and drop into the former canal channel as you pass through Lock 17.
The trail follows the creek through a narrow glacier-cut gorge for the next 3 miles. Cascade Mill Falls appears 1.3 miles past Seneca Mills Falls and is one of the few millsites on the eastern half of the trail. A covered picnic pavilion here features interpretive displays.
At 3.1 miles past Seneca Mills Falls, you’ll cross under the NY 14 overpass on your way to the Dresden trailhead in another 0.2 mile. Seneca Lake is 0.5 mile east.
To reach the trailhead in Penn Yan from I-90, take Exit 42, and turn right onto NY 14 after passing through the tollbooth. Go 0.7 mile, and turn right onto Cross Road. Then go 1.8 miles, and turn left onto Pre-Emption St. Go 18.4 miles, and turn right onto NY 54/Clinton St. Go 1.5 miles, turn left onto Main St., and then go 0.2 mile. Turn right onto NY 54A/Elm St. Go 0.5 mile, and look for Penn Yan Sports Complex on the left. The trail starts at the rear of the parking lot.
To reach the trailhead in Dresden from I-90, take Exit 42, and turn right onto NY 14 after passing through the tollbooth. Go 5.4 miles, and turn right onto NY 14/Seneca St. Then go 0.2 mile, and turn left onto NY 14/S. Main St. Go 13.2 miles, and turn left onto Main St. Then go about 200 feet, and turn right onto Seneca St. After 0.2 mile look for parking and the trail on the right.
We rode the trail today. First (and only) piece of advice: Start in Dresden and ride toward Penn Yan. Your return trip to Dresden will be largely downhill. (We did not take this advice and we’re sorry.)
Most of the time this trail is really just a single wide dirt track (or, in the case today, some mud), but it widens at various points and includes paved surfaces, packed gravel, and (in a very few places, my least favorite) ballast. Still, we had no trouble on any of the surfaces with our hybrid bikes.
Whatever drawbacks it may have, this trail is a real pleasure overall: it winds along the river through quiet woods where you hear almost nothing but birds and bubbling water. It passes two waterfalls, both of them beautiful, and one of them, spectacular. It’s rise is gentle (with one or two minor exceptions). We will certainly ride it again when we’re in the Finger Lakes. If the trail were a bit wider and packed gravel, I would give it five stars, because those are the types of trails we prefer. If you’re more of a dirt track rider, though, you’ll find nothing to complain of here.
Fantastic bike ride. The bridge is out near the end at Penn Yan, but you can work around it on the streets and jump back on the trail on the other side. Great recommendation.
Trail is CLOSED! About 1/2 mile from Pen Yan the trail is washed out and closed. I tried to find a way around the closed part without success.
We really enjoyed this trail with beautiful views of the outlet and falls. It is definitely doable on almost any bike except maybe a road bike. We did it on cyclocross bikes and had no issues. Varying surfaces from stone dust to crushed stone and single track but really not difficult or too rough IMO.
As other reviewers have noted, this is an absolutely beautiful shaded trail. It is slowly, ever so slowly, being developed by a not-for-profit organization of volunteers. These volunteers need someone to help them prepare grant applications to New York State's current method of funding, the Consolidated Funding Application as well as to private foundations making grants in New York State's Finger Lakes Region.
Without a significant infusion of funds this Trail has no chance of reaching its potential as a major tourist destination as well as an outstanding recreational facility for residents of Yates County.
Walking the trail is a wonderful experience biking it not so wonderful.
Some sections of the Keuka Outlet Trail are now single track and double track trail surfaces. Fine for walking, not good if you are bicycling on an non-suspension bicycle. The Penn Yan Rotary & other organizations have placed very nice benches along the KLOT/KOT.
I bicycled the entire Trail on a folding (20" wheels & tires with a well defined but not mtb tread) touring bicycle without suspension but I'm a very experienced bicycle who wears well padded bike shorts!
The Keuka Outlet Trail is much smoother, even in the gravel and single track sections than the NPS's C&O Trail between Cumberland MD & Hancock MD.
I recommend the KOT or KLOT as a walking trail with much to see (waterfalls, remains of mills) and admire along its route. Go to the Yates County Chamber of Commerce office for a map & brochure of the Trail. Make a contribution to the "Friends of the Outlet, Inc." to improve the trail surface. There are "lock boxes" along the Trail for you to make contributions but a nice sized check would certainly help.
I walked 1-3 miles of the trail 4 times from Penn Yan with cousins in mid-July. It was a great, well-shaded trail for walking with the chance to meet friendly bikers and walkers. It also reflected a heavy rain on the last day's hike; what had been a gentle shallow creek the first walks was a deep, surging, bank-full small river the last day.
Great trail for biking or walking. It was just my husband and I, but this trail is perfect for families with kids also. Well maintained and not too crowded
On Wednesday, 5/10/17 I parked at the baseball field in Penn Yan and walked about 2.3 miles with my dog, then turned around and we walked back to the car. Beautiful flowers and peaceful views. I used the restroom about 1/4 mile from the baseball field and found it very clean.
On Sunday, 5/14/17 I returned with my husband, daughter, and dog. We parked at the baseball field and walked about 3.5 miles out, then turned around and walked back to the car. Beautiful views again (despite the rain that started halfway through), but this time the restroom was locked. I highly recommend the trail, but wanted to warn others that the restrooms shown on the map may or may not be available.
I have walked, rode my bike and ridden my horse on all parts of this trail. It is an amazing place with seasonal changes that make it different every time you go. My favorite time is May when the whole trail is decorated with wild lilacs of white, pink and purple. It is a lush fairyland. A word of caution regarding horseback riding. Approximately 1/2 mile from Dundee trailhead the overpass of Route 14A crosses over the trail. You can start to hear the traffic long before you get near it. My horse who is usually spook proof would not continue on the trail. She reluctantly allowed me to lead her with me on foot but the noise is awful. I would never again take my horse on that last 1/2 mile stretch. I will bike it to the end next time. In Dundee continue on Seneca Street to dead end at a small lake parking area. Very pretty view of the lake. I always take my visiting friends to walk the trail. It is always awesome. The history of the trail is quite interesting to read about.
Rode this trail 10/5/16 on a sunny day. Trail surface was good all the way from Penn Yan to Dresden and the falls and stream provided a pleasant view with several good places to stop and take photos. Not quite as flat as we expected but nothing too challenging. Ice cream store in Dresden was closed but the diner across the road had some. :-)
Great Trail, well maintained. A lot of interesting things to see along the way. One of my favorites.
typical rails to trails trail. Flowing river adjacent to the trail. Dissapointing ending at dresden.No over looks. waterfalls were scenic. watch out for STINGING NETTLES!! bike rentals at hardware store are not good to say the least.
We rode the trail this morning, back and forth the whole distance. It is not an inherently difficult ride. Some surfaces are loose (gravel) or muddy; I would not try it after a heavy rain. There are a couple of points where the creek bank has washed out. These are marked with safety netting, but one point --the most treacherous -- comes up rather suddenly and is narrow.
The ride is easier (mostly downhill) heading East toward Dresden. The trail itself is about the same width most of the way, but the biking surface improves markedly toward Penn Yan (wider and more even). Beware of muddy ruts, large sticks, and the occasional large-ish, pointy rock. Note also that there are MANY access points, so the number of cars in the lot is not a predictor of trail traffic.
Lots of neat stuff to see along the trail: waterfalls, abandoned buidlings, trees. We saw an enormous Great Blue Heron in flight, and a colony of turtles (at least 25) warming themselves on logs in a brackish section of water.
Take bug spray. We talked to a group of hikers that gave up quickly because their spray was not protecting them. We were fine while cycling, but the mosquitoes were aggressive whenever we stopped, which is a real concern given the presence of EEE in the region. Long pants/sleeves are a must for walkers/hikers, and even cyclists should do a tick check at the end of the day, especially is you got off the bike to take a closer look at anything.
We will definitely ride this trail again.
The May 2015 review is quite accurate. I rode this trail in late May 2015 and was not aware how variable the surface (sand, loose gravel, smooth packed earth, etc.) and width of the trail were. Hit a sand filled hole just and flipped off my bike -- not hurt though. Scenic and a great area, but will walk it next time.
Perfect day on the trail by bike. The trail is as advertised: an easy ride along the water, usually, with lovely views of riffles and falls.
Rode this trail on May 14, 2015 starting from the Penn Yan start point behind the ball field. About the first half of the trail on the way to Dresden was rather picturesque. There were several wooden bridges to cross right from the start. Tail surface was asphalt at the beginning then changed to a mixture of crushed stone, dirt and a section of loose stone about 3/4 of the way to Dresden on a rather steep hill. This was very dangerous and fortunately the hill, though steep, was short. The trail width ran anywhere from abut six feet to just wide enough for a bicycle.
Thursday was not a particularly good day for a ride as I learned it was the local Mennonites day off and they hit the trail for their outings. Sometimes it was a little rough trying to pass people without going into the weeds.
All in all it was a nice ride and quite picturesque with the Keuka Lake Outlet running next to most of the trail. The Keuka Lake Outlet is a stream that connects Keuka and Seneca lakes. There are of course the old mill and a couple of water falls also. All in all it was a nice trail and well marked.
November 4, 2014 - We walked the center section (about 4 miles - 2 miles either side of the Parking area on Outlet Road with the rest room. Kind of a 'trail Zen experience" - Quiet except for leaves or gravel crunching underfoot and water sounds from stream sections with rocks. Beautiful day with sun coming & going behind clouds. Not all leaves were down so canopy rustled when the wind rose. Great waterfalls and rest area at one of former mill sites (Seneca Mill, I believe).
We started in Dresden to have the slight advantage of the 'down hill' for our seven year old. Our area was recently impacted by some heavy storms and high waters so some areas of the trail were damaged by this storm and you had to walk over a few spots. All in all the trail is great. The views are interesting and plenty for this off the beaten path. The water was raging the day we went so the water fall was amazing. The trail is mostly single track dirt with surrounding grass and some of the newer maintained areas were packed stone and at least two rides wide. The trail is great and nearly 80% shaded which is a plus as most rail trails are too wide open and blazing hot on hot sunny days. This is a great ride for kids who have endurance to long walks and rides. Our seven year old had no problems making it from one end to the other with a stop for picnic lunch and then the ride back felt easy cause she had a little downhill. Check this out - you won't regret it.
My first time on this trail, I walked it solo...from one end to the other & back. It was love @ first hike! I have taken family members with me since then, once with my nephew & once with my husband. My nephew & I walked the whole distance & back to our starting point in Penn Yan. Of course we enjoyed some ice cream in Dresden @ Crossroads Ice Cream Shop before walking back to Penn Yan. This summer I took my husband & starting once again in Penn Yan, we only walked about half of the trail. We are planning to finish the rest this time starting in Dresden.
I love not only hiking but photography as well & this trail has a lot to offer for photos. Not only do the waterfalls offer great shots, but also the old mills & the amazing stone walls near the parking area off of Outlet Road. This is also a wonderful spot to take a break & even have a picnic lunch under the pavilion.
Now I just need to know how to post more pictures to this site since this is my first time using it with a profile. I have other reviews & photos to share @ a later time...still more good hiking weather this season!
Not what we thought !!!!!!!!
We started at Dresden Trailhead, easy to find and park. Almost all of trail was shaded which was why we did the trail on the day we did. oh my it was a hot day! Trail reminds me of an old forgotten country road. Trail is indeed a great fit for mountain or hybrid bikes. Not good for road bikes. We enjoyed exploring Penn Yann, small upstate NY village. We chose to stop and eat in Angels Diner, old fashioned place, good food, friendly service. We enjoyed ourselves, very pretty, fun ride. Oh, watch for turtles, we stopped and moved one out of harms way.
The Keuka Outlet Trail is well maintained and is an easy ride. The grade for most of the trail is very small, with only one section that has a moderately difficult hill to climb (at the trail head near the Seneca Lake side). It will take you about 2 hours to complete a round trip from end-to-end, riding at a moderate pace. The scenery is pleasant, with many wild flowers along the trail, waterfalls and a few interesting artifacts and abandoned buildings.
Today, 10/6/2011 I started out in Dresden, NY heading West on this trail. The ride was uphill most of the 6.7 miles but the grade was very mild and was an easy run to the West side of the trail. Acorns along about 10% of the trail proved uneasy but even the dirt trail with all the recent rain proved very easy to handle. The Bridge IN PENN YANN IS BEING REBUILT AND MAKES ACCESS FROM THE WEST SIDE OF THE TRAIL IMPOSSIBLE. I would suggest for the balance of 2011 and most of 2012 to come in from the East side of the trail in Dresden. Parking in Penn Yann and the traffic with the bridge out makes it very hard if you don't know the area.
We rode this trail from Dresden to Penn Yan, so the slight climb came first. Our party was Mom, Dad & 3 kids ages 10 & 11. The surface was fine for hybrids & mountain bikes. I wouldn't try it on a road bike. The trail is partly shaded, the scenery is varied and interesting. The trail crosses quiet roads in only a couple of places. The creek is gorgeous! My kids were thrilled by the crumbling mill, defunct bridges and old dam ruins. We all enjoyed blue herons and, in one pond in the old canal, 12 turtles on logs! Mr. Twisties Ice Cream (at the Dresden trail head) made a good treat at the end of the ride. We drove quite a distance to bike this 14 miles and we figure it was well worth it.
This is my favorite trail for riding my Icelandic horse with friends. There are many spots with beautiful views of waterfalls and interesting old buildings. The footing is generally very good for horses and everyone is friendly and likes to pet them. Our horses are very easy-going and friendly, and enjoy the attention. There is at least one nice spot where the water is shallow and you and your horse can wade there to cool off. Parking space is somewhat limited, but even with horse trailers we've never failed to find a spot. This is a beautiful ride in all the seasons.
This is one of my favorite trails for horseback riding. It’s like stepping into a magical valley lost in time. Beautiful scenes and foliage all along the way. The surface is usually good and they do a great job of trying to deal with problems as they arise. All the other trail users that I have met have been very kind and accommodating of horses. In the summer make sure to stop for ice cream at the Dresden end – very refreshing after a ride!
The trail was fairly scenic but trail maintenance had been neglected. We rode from Keuka Lake to Seneca Lake and back. There is only a service station with snacks in Seneca. With some good trail mx this could be a great trail.
"I biked this trail on Sept. 5, 2004. I drove up to Dresden, NY, and started my ride from the Seneca Lake side and rode west to Penn Yan. I have a Rans Stratus recumbent bike with narrow wheels and was not sure how it would handle the dirt path, which runs almost the entire length of the trail. As it turned out the ride was O.K., but I held my speed down to around 8 miles per hour. I was told that the Dresden to Penn Yan ride was an up hill ride but you can hardly notice that you are going up hill. The ride back, however, was a lot faster with a lot of coasting and speeds around 12 miles per hour.
The trail runs parallel a high volume waterway. Kayaks forget about it. The water is class 4 with a few large waterfalls. It was a sunny day but you’re in the woods and the trees provide you with a nice shady ride. I brought one bottle of Gader Aid with me and it lasted the whole trip – just under 2 hours.
I passed a lot of other bikers but the most interesting was a group of 6 young Amish girls. They were all dressed the same with blue dresses and white bonnets, and they were all very attractive girls. Must be those Amish people have the right genes.
All in all, it was an enjoyable day, and I would recommend the ride. "
"My family and I did this trail over the Fourth of July. It's very nice and there are lots of old mills to look at. We even swam in a waterfall and my kids -- ages 8 and 11 -- slid down the 10 foot drop. All in all, it's a nice, easy trail."
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