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The Ontario Pathways Rail Trail is the crown jewel of the trail system managed by the organization for whom it is named in Ontario County, New York. Comprising two disconnected segments, including a long V-shaped route, the trail runs through woodlands and picturesque farmland in rural communities dotting the northern fringes of New York’s scenic Finger Lakes region. Although the trail was built on a former rail corridor and is open to a variety of nonmotorized uses, its rough surface of rocks and roots demands cyclists use mountain bikes or durable hybrids, and it may be better experienced on foot or horse.
The trail’s beginning can be traced to two rail lines developed separately in the 19th century. Ultimately the railroads’ successors were both acquired by the Northern Central Railroad, which in 1913 became part of the much larger Pennsylvania Railroad. An ill-conceived merger with the New York Central Railroad in 1968 led to the combined Penn Central’s bankruptcy in 1970. Fortunately, with the help of a loan from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and a local bank, Ontario Pathways Inc. was able to purchase unsold portions of the rail corridor in 1994 to begin trail development.
Northern Segment (Phelps): 2.5 miles
If you are looking for a long and continuous experience, you can skip this segment, which is separated from the main, V-shaped trail by privately owned land and the New York State Thruway. But the stretch has its charms: its lack of road crossings promises a peaceful trip, and its green envelope of trees provides constant shade and the perfect perch for birds. Those who do visit this scenic section should be aware that the trail technically dead-ends in the north without an outlet at the Wayne County line. Therefore, an out-and-back trip from the parking lot on Gifford Road in Phelps at the southern end of this segment may be best; from there, the trail heads north, unmarked, for 2.5 miles and ends at a closed gate. Beyond that is private property.
Southern Segment (Phelps to Canandaigua): 21.8 miles
The main, V-shaped section of the Ontario Pathways Rail Trail begins on the opposite side of the New York State Thruway and spans nearly 21 miles. Start your trip at its eastern end in Phelps, where a large parking lot on NY 96 welcomes trail users. Like the northern segment, the trail proceeds through dense tree cover for its first several miles. Flint Creek is never far away, and a bridge offers trail users a close-up of the water below.
Before long, a short detour onto NY 488 is required. (Follow the signs; you will reach a dead end if you continue beyond the detour access.) Exercise caution on the detour, as NY 488 sees fast-moving traffic. Just over half a mile, the trail turns left off State Highway 488 onto Waddell Road in the hamlet of Orleans. The trail resumes at the end of Waddell Road under tree cover before emerging into open farmland, where the sudden sunlight may be jarring. After alternating between the two environs and passing over US 20/NY 5 via a trail bridge, the trail eventually reaches its halfway point at a large trailhead park in Stanley.
From the park, you must turn sharply right, briefly paralleling the section of trail you just completed, to continue your journey. About a mile in, you'll cross Flint Creek via the Great Stanley Bridge, a 362-foot trestle. You soon may have a feeling of déjà vu as you pass over US 20/NY 5 again via a second trail bridge. The scenery along this stretch is primarily farmland, although a constant strand of trees on both sides blocks most of the direct sun. You’ll feel more bumps and jolts from large tree roots and loose rocks (especially if you are on a bike) along this second half, so consider taking it slower until they clear up. There are also several road crossings along this stretch, many of which are offset; look for a green hiker sign at each intersection to locate your next move.
Eventually you’ll cross the Canandaigua Outlet and immediately begin to closely parallel an active rail line (a rail-with-trail configuration) on the outskirts of Canandaigua. Shortly thereafter you’ll emerge in the charming city’s downtown, where numerous restaurants await hungry trail users. The community sits at the northern tip of Canandaigua Lake, so if you’re not too tired from your trek, consider taking South Main Street south to reach the lake before beginning your return trip.
To reach the northern segment’s Gifford Road trailhead from I-90/New York State Thwy., take Exit 43, and turn right onto NY 21. Take the first left onto NY 96, and travel 4.5 miles. Turn left onto County Road 25, and travel 3.5 miles until the road ends at a T-junction. Turn right onto NY 88, then take your first left onto CR 26. Immediately turn right onto Irvin Road and proceed to the road’s end at a T-junction. Turn right onto Wilber Road, and then immediately turn left onto Gifford Road. The trailhead and parking lot will be on your left in 0.3 mile.
To reach the V-shaped segment’s eastern trailhead on NY 96 from I-90/New York State Thwy., take Exit 43, and turn right onto NY 21. Take the first left onto NY 96, and travel 7.3 miles. The trailhead and parking lot will be on your right shortly after NY 488.
To reach parking for the V-shaped segment’s western end in Canandaigua from I-90/New York State Thwy., take Exit 44 and continue onto NY 332 for 8.6 miles. In downtown Canandaigua, turn left onto Niagara St. Ample public parking can be found on your left, across from Lafayette Ave.
Started out in Canandaigua, rode our bikes to Stanley and back. This trail is actually what the title says, because there is a hint of manure smell throughout most of this trail (not too over baring though), as it goes through farms and ranches where cows are. There are also a bunch of signs that somebody hung up in the Canandaigua area with Winnie the Pooh comments on them, which were entertaining. Most of this path was wide enough to ride, but at every street that we came to, there was a gate that we needed to be very careful going through due to it being very tight. The scenery most of the past was pretty much the same until we came to the bridge that went over Flint Creek which was very surprising to see. It took us about 4 hours to ride approximately 25 miles (round trip) because the terrain went from gravel to dirt to grass and very bumpy due to roots. We hardly saw any wild life except for birds and bugs due to being 82° in the early part of August. Over all, it was mostly pleasant and only saw 2 other bikers, and 2 walkers. Yes I would ride it again in the future, but not too soon as we are exploring different paths to ride.
Certainly not per the photos. Long grass, big roots which create problems with biking. Very poorly maintained. Went to numerous trail entrances hoping for improvement to no avail.
The Ontario Pathway is exactly that; a pathway. It is a wide grassy path with a narrow-worn bike path. I was not expecting such a primitive trail. It is a beautiful trail that is under a canopy of trees that travels through lush farms. On our ride, the weather was great but the trail could be a problem in wet weather.
The Ontario Pathway seems to be lost in time. I felt I should have been riding a balloon tire Schwinn instead of my hybrid. It was a great experience but a little more strenuous that we expected.
Ran from the trail intersection and Freshour Rd to Canadaigua YMCA. Beautiful tree canopy made sun protection unnecessary. This portion of the trail was about 50/50 wide enough to run on the path vs. in the grass.
About 3/4 had a taste in the mouth manure smell. Not sure time of year, wind direction or weather its a common occurrence.
Anne and I biked this rail trail today and loved it. We arrived in Canandaigua just as thunderstorms were moving through, so visited the Dalai Java coffeeshop on Main Street for some coffee and lunch. Very nice. After the rain ended, we rode for about 8 miles round trip. The beginning little bit along the active train tracks is just okay, but it fairly quickly leaves the tracks and enters an enchanted green tunnel. The shrubs and trees arch over the trail to provide shade and a feeling of isolation in nature. Unfortunately we had to turn around between Smith and Freshour Roads, due to a tree across the trail. It could be cut with a hand saw, but I did not have one.
Thanks to the folks who created and maintain this gem.
April 17, 2017: After reading the reviews, I decided to ride my fat bike on this path since it was new territory to me. After riding the trail from Canandaigua southeast to Gorham & turning around after 11 miles at Old Mill Road, this rail trail can easily handle a hybrid bike. If you have knobby-er tires/GatorSkins, even better. Though our weather here in Update NY over the past two weeks has been rainy, there were some low lying spots with mud/standing water. These areas are totally do-able on a fat bike and I'd be able to navigate them on my hybrid too. I wouldn't call this rail trail rutty by no means. It's comparable to the Greenway or Lehigh Valley Rail Trails...bumps and ruts randomly, but not consistently along the path. Talking about scenic...farmlands, Ontario County Fairgrounds, rusty cars, backyard neighborhoods, light industrial, great spanning bridges going over rivers and streams...it's just an overall delight to experience. I would recommend OPRT for anyone training for long distance trail run/walk where you need flat distance over technical terrain, bikers looking to ride on hybrid, mt., or fat bike. I can't wait for my next adventure on the OPRT!
Rode this just recently from Canandaigua to Phelps/Rt 96. Beautiful scenery and very rural. We rode it on a week day and did not see any other cyclists for the full 19 miles. Definitely a mountain bike trail due to the tree roots in some sections.
I picked this ride based on the reviews and the fact that it was not paved and not packed crushed stone. We were looking for a little more terrain on our ride and this one sounded promising. It passed with flying colors. We decided to start in Stanley and went towards Phelps - this section was about 5 miles one way and stopped at the water tower. We biked this with our nine year old and it was a good turning point. It made the total trip about 10 miles.
It was shaded and well kept (a couple areas could use the hedge trimmers, but all in all not bad). We all rode our mountain bikes. In my opinion this is not the type of trail for hybrids and road bikes (not paved and not crushed stone). The section we rode is rooty and we found many large wood chuck holes so watch out, but this is right up our alley as we are inspiring our nine year old to like mountain biking when she gets older and stronger.
The trail is completely grass covered with a worn single track lane. The bugs were not that bad today as it was windy, but still wear spray. The trail was very beautiful country farm land and peaceful. We only saw two groups out during our ride. Well worth the drive from Corning, NY to experience something different and ride the beautiful countryside. You will not have any regrets as long as you bring bug spray, have a mountain bike and understand this is not a paved/crushed stone typical rail trail. Enjoy!
I rode the first 7 miles, starting at the Canandaigua end in Oct. 15 on a hybrid. My husband had a hard tail Mt. bike. As others have stated, the roots made for a rough and tiring ride. As we live close by and really enjoyed the trail, we bought full suspension Mt. bikes soon after. We went back to the 7 mi. point and did another section. The new bikes made for a much more enjoyable ride. We can't wait to continue our exploration in the spring as winter has finally arrived.
This is a mountain bike trail. I rode this a few days before Christmas 2015 and enjoy this trail very much. The Phelps-Stanley section is better than Stanley-Canandaigua section. Flint Creek is adjacent for most of the Phelps section giving to good photos during high water...and check out the RR water tower in Orleans! I thought the Stanley-Canandaigua section was less scenic and a little rougher. I turned off onto Freshour Rd. and went to Shortsville and back to Phelps. Very enjoyable.
Rode this in September on a touring bike with 38" tires. I did a section from Charlton Rd to Smith Rd outside Canandaigua. It was pretty bumpy due to lots of roots, some rocks, and long sections overgrown with grass. This is noticeably downhill and I sometimes could get up some pretty good speed, but had to be ready to slam on the brakes for big roots. Some parts are so enclosed by trees that it looks like you are going into a green tunnel. Very pretty but not good if you're in a hurry. Wider tires a must. Would be great for XC skiing!
Grassy, bumpy, and rooty. Very uncomfortable, even with a shock. The grass masks the holes and roots. The farm views are few, except at road crossings, due to the thick hedgerows on either side of the trail. I meant to go to Canandaigua too, but the trail surface was too daunting.
This trail seems to be built primarily for bikes, however if you enjoy more of a trail run this one is nice. Half mile markers along the trail help to track mileage. Pleasant run, well maintained trail.
This trail is great for hiking and true mountain bikes, but not great for those who want to enjoy the views while trail riding. There were several deep slopes that went directly into busy roads and the entrance ways were so narrow you could not ride through. Many roots in sections and were difficult to see until you were right on them due to the changing light (sun to shade).
The trail was everything we had hoped for. We rode from Canandaigua to the southern turning point and back and could not have been happier. Single track, wide grassy areas and cindered sections made for an interesting and not too challenging ride. The trail was well marked and well maintained. A great experience and highly recommended trail ride...
Rode a portion of this trail on Saturday, July 23. We had a difficult time finding access to it at the northern end. The directions weren't clear and the roads weren't marked well. The entrances around the gates are very narrow. In fact, I caught my light on the edge of one and took a fall down the edge of a ravine! Next time we'll try the Canandagua section.
Fall 2009 Two of us rode this trail in September 2009 and found it to be an excellent experience. Much of the trail is singletrack, with long sections of wide smooth cinder. The trail is well marked with quality bridges over the creeks and busy roads. Very narrow gates at the road intersections to keep out ATVs make for careful passage (I broke my mirror). In a few sections there are well marked detours around private property allowing for a ride of the entire 20+ miles.
There is now a parking lot in Stanley where the east-west and north-south sections of the trail meet. I rode north 2.5 miles to a bridge that was closed. Then I came back and rode west for about 4 miles. The only reason I stopped there is that the surface is grass all the way and I was getting pretty tired.
The scenery is nice and the trail is away from main roads and very quiet. It's a nice trail. I recommend a mountain bike because the surface is mostly grass and a little bumpy at times.
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