[This is a general description of a way to hike from Summit Parking Area to Thunder Rocks Parking area. Part 2 will describe the hike in detail from south to north (Thunder Rocks to Summit) . Part 3 will describe the hike in detail from north to south (Summit to Thunder Rocks.)]
Using a combination of the Ridge Run Ski Trail, an old hiking trail, and Horse Trail #2, one can hike from the Summit parking area to the Thunder Rocks parking area (or in reverse), a hike of about 7.5 miles.
This hike is along one of the highest and longest ridges in Allegany State Park. That is probably why the ski trail portion is called the “Ridge Run Trail”, the Horse Trail #2 portion is called the “Thunder Ridge Trail”, and the old hiking trail is designated as a future hiking trail in the Allegany State Park Master Plan to be called the “Firebush Ridge Trail.”
This route generally stays above 2200 feet, traversing several summits over 2300 feet, but virtually no significant vertical climbs, just a few ascents and descents of 150 feet or less.
However, there are two important caveats:
1. You cannot hike this route in winter because hiking is prohibited on ski and snowmobile trails, which include the Ridge Run Ski trail and Horse Trail #2 (which serves as the “Ridge Run Snowmobile Trail”, not to be confused with the Ridge Run Ski Trail.)
2. The middle section, the old hiking trail, requires a gps or a map and compass because the trail is not well marked, has a few obstructing blow downs to hike around, and it disappears in several places. You can probably stay on track by paying attention to the direction of the ridge and using trail intuition, but a gps or map and compass could be a life saver if you should wander far off track.
The northern section (2.3 miles on the Ridge Run Ski trail), and the southern section (2.6 miles on Horse Trail #2) are well marked, highly visible, wide tracks on the ground.
The middle section (the old hiking trail) is not easy to find at its northern intersection with the ski trail or at its southern intersection with the horse trail.
However, once found, it is mostly visible on the ground and has a variety of trail markers including flagging, paint blazes (red and yellow), and old faded metal trail markers (both snowmobile and hiking trail disks).
Unfortunately, in places where the visible trail disappears there is often a lack of trail markers. But here are a few hints to help you connect between those points:
- Look ahead for a widening of space between old growth trees. That is often the place where the trail continues.
- Look ahead for tufts of grass growing in a line. These often represent places where the grass grew on the old trail after it was abandoned.
- Look for sawed logs. These represent cut blowdown when the trail was being maintained.
- When the trail is blocked by impassible blowdown, first, look left and right for trail markers or signs of the trail on the ground. Some blowdown areas have the trail marked around the blowdown, or hikers going around them have left a track on the ground. Second, look beyond the blowdown before going around it to see if you can spot the trail ahead (using one of the three techniques listed above) or possibly even a distant trail marker ahead. If none of these produce any good results, then proceed around the blowdown. Try to position yourself as close as possible to the spot you would have reached if you magically walked straight through the blowdown. That is where the continuation of the trail should be.
Most importantly, use a map and compass (or a gps) to stay on the ridge. Heading south you’ll eventually run into Horse Trail #1. Heading north you’ll eventually run into the Ridge Run Ski trail.
You can see the entire trail on the 1961 USGS Topo map for Limestone, NY. Current park maps don’t show the old hiking trail, but they do show the Ridge Run Ski trail loop (the western side of which makes up the northern 1/3 of this hike) and Horse Trail #2 (which makes up the southern 1/3 of this hike.)
On the 1961 topographical map you’ll see two parallel trails in the southern 1/3 of this hike. The one on the east is an old forest road that is now Horse Trail #2 and the Ridge Run Snowmobile trail. The one on the west is the old hiking trail.
Horse Trail #2 goes around the next two hilltops in that area, while the hiking trail goes over them. The horse trail then returns to a common portion of the trail at the junction with the power line.
Because of the availability of the wide open horse trail in this area, the portion of the old hiking trail that goes over the hilltops has been almost completely reclaimed by the forest. It is possible to bushwhack over it because it is just a matter of going up and over the hilltops, then descending south to the power line. But unlike the old portion of the hiking trail north of Horse Trail #2, this portion has not had much traffic over the years so there isn’t much of a trail visible on the ground, and there are a few spots with significant underbrush. Purest may want to bushwhack this portion. The practical will take advantage of the parallel horse trail.
Parts 2 and 3 of this article will describe in more detail the hikes from south to north, and then from north to south. Hikers can either park cars at both ends and then shuttle back to the beginning (a 7.5 mile hike) or hike the trail in both directions (a 15 mile hike.)
For those interested in hiking just the old hiking trial portion (the future “Firebush Ridge” hiking trail) parking is available at the Equestrian Staging and Camping area on ASP 2 (it is on the west side of ASP 2, across from Group Camp 10.)
You can park in the front portion of the staging area (don’t park in the designated camping areas.) Follow the Horse Trail #1 west up the side of the mountain (an elevation gain of about 700 feet over 1.25 miles) until you get to the junction with Horse Trail #2, which is just a bit west of the crest of the ridge. Then turn north into the woods and look for the first pink flagging marking the old hiking trail. It is about 120 yards into the woods, just west of the crest of the ridge. Then hike the old hiking trail to the point where it intersects with the Ridge Run Ski Trail. Turn around and hike back to the junctions of Horse Trails #1 and #2, then head back down Horse Trail #1 to your car. Round trip of about 8 miles. And you get treated to views like this: