It was a lovely day in October. The trees in the back yard were just beginning to turn color, but the air was unseasonably warm. The sun shone (very untypical for western New York State at this time of year). And I was out in it, taking a break to ride my bicycle. I saw the group I usually hike/travel with nearby. Quickly, I biked over to find out what they were contemplating.
“Are you going over to the Midnight Trail?” I asked, knowing that they’d been wanting to take me over there for several weeks.
They replied that they were, and would I like to come along? “Of course!”
Ten minutes later, we were on our way, past vibrant trees in red, yellow, and green. The wind and sun were warm on my face as we peddled our bicycles down the road towards our destination. In place, the road was covered with fallen leaves, covering up potholes I only found after riding across them.
Another ten minutes later, we pulled up to the beginning of the trail. A wooden sign on a post marked it: “Midnight Trail”.
“Y’all who haven’t biked this before had better follow me, or someone who has ridden it before,” MD shouted, which was followed by a babble of voices: “Have you done this before?” “Do you remember which side of the trail to be on?” “Remember, I did it last time.” “No, I’ve never done it.” “I thought you had.”
Finally sorted out, the six of us started down the trail. “Which way do we want to go?” I asked. “Does it matter?”
“Yes, you definitely want to go clockwise around the loop,” MD said, beginning to peddle in that direction. I followed MD and CR, closely followed by the rest of the group. “Here’s the first place to look out,” MD shouted back to me, quickly taking a left turn and narrowly avoiding a wooden sign post with a sign that read “trail”. Close to the same color as the sticks and yellow leaves that covered the ground, I nearly missed the sign and would have continued straight to—well, over a cliff. But MD and CR were getting ahead.
“And here’s the first really important place,” MD called. With a sense of horror, I saw a large beech tree leaning over the trail. There would be just room to get under it if I swerved to the left side of the trail…but MD was heading straight for the right side of the trail. Wondering what on earth he could be doing, I watched as he swerved even further right to avoid some roots in the trail, and then took a quick left to go under the tree. I followed suit, giving a sigh of relief. But not for long.
We went steeply downhill, then MD took a sharp right into the woods. This obviously wasn’t the trail, but there was nothing stopping us from going straight through what might have been an old road—or maybe just a place where the trees didn’t grow as well. “You could go straight if you wanted to,” MD called back, “and you might even want to do it—once. But there’s a steep hill with a cliff at the bottom and a 90 degree curve. Then there’s another 90 degree turn, and the trail goes straight uphill—it’s downright dangerous, so we go this way.” By this time, we’d come back out and picked up the trail again, this time going left.
Now we were on what was obviously an old road. Fence posts marked where a fence had once run along it. On our left was still trees (and a picnic area with picnic tables), but on our right was an open space like a meadow. The road turned, and so did the trail, and then the road turned again, and the trail went straight into another open section. A sign marked the junction, but I was more worried about avoiding the roots that laced this section of the trail.
“Now comes the really exciting part!” MD said, zipping through the grassy section and into the woods. “Up here—I’ll show you where—you’ll need to be on the far left side of the trail, then quickly switch to the right side of the trail. Whatever you do, don’t go down the middle. I tried that and nearly launched! Even if you get the wrong side, it’s better than going down the middle!” I followed closely on the heels of CR, who was right behind MD, as we entered the woods, keeping close to the left side.
At first the trail wasn’t bad at all, and I wondered what the issue was. We were biking through a lovely section, later termed “the Golden Hall” because of the yellow leaves that hung on the trees and fell on the ground and trail—it was a beautiful picture with the sun shining down. Then, after we climbed a small incline, I saw the large, weathered roots—some three inches high—protruding from the dirt. At this time of year, the area was especially treacherous because of the leaves that had fallen on the trail, hiding many of the roots. They’re not visible until you are right on top of them. After this, the trail dipped downward and headed toward one of the few pine trees I’d seen in the area—most of the trees are deciduous, which makes it a wonderful place to go in the fall. I dutifully moved over to the right side, following MC’s lead. However, I couldn’t see what the issue was until, suddenly, right ahead of me was a huge root that nearly spanned the trail. I certainly wouldn’t want to go over that!
From here, it was a breeze to circle back around to where we’d begun the loop. As soon as we got here, MC and CR raced off at top speed—they wanted to go around again, and I was just as happy not to try and keep up with them! I went around a good number of times more, though—it’s about a half mile (0.8 km) around the loop, so when I’d gone 10 times, I decided five miles (8 km) was enough for one day. But I’ll be back there riding again soon!
Getting to the Midnight Trail:
There are two basic ways to get to the Midnight Trail. One is to park in the parking area for the Whiting Road/Gosnell Nature Preserve (located on Whiting Road) and the other is to park along the road or in the parking area near the Webster Park Campground. If you’re hiking, you’re fine parking either place. However, you’re not allowed to ride your bicycle on the trail between the Whiting Road parking area and the Midnight Trail. So if you’re biking, you’ll want to park near the campground.
From Whiting Road: The parking area is located on Whiting Road, 1.1 miles (1.7 km) from Klem Road and 0.6 miles (1 km) from Lake Road in Webster, New York (east of Rochester). Park in the large, gravel parking area near the kiosk. You want the trail across the road—it will immediately descend to a large “bridge” that crosses a swamp and then go uphill. After 0.25 miles (0.4 km) you will T into a trail. A sign here will direct you to turn right to get to the Midnight Trail. (This is the end of the section where bike riding is not allowed.) The trail will be quite flat, descend into a gully, climb the other side, then turn sharply and descend to a stream and a bridge. Not long after this, the trail will quickly ascend a small hill to a gravel road. Turn right. Climb up the steep hill to the top of the road; to your left will be a cabin (which is sometimes rented to Boy Scouts and other groups) and on your right will be a water pump. Head over towards the pump; behind it will be a trail—follow this trail. A quarter mile (0.4 km) after you turned at the T, you will come to the entrance of the Midnight Trail. It is well-marked with signs, but easy to miss.
From the Webster Park Campground: The campground is located on Lake Road, 0.5 miles (0.8 km) from Whiting Road and 0.7 miles (1.1 km) from Holt Road. If the campground road is open (and it often is), you can drive down it a ways to the entrance to the campground. Park along the road near here (the road continues, but the gate beyond the campground is usually closed). If the gate at the beginning of the road is close, there is a parking area just east of the road (closer to Holt Road) where you can park. You can then walk or bike down the campground road to the gate. Beyond the gate, keep walking or biking past a cabin on your right. Just after this the road will split; keep going straight (right). Go down the hill and the road will split again; go right. Keep following the road to its end at a cabin. You want to find the water pump (which is right at the top of the hill near the road). Behind the pump is a trail; follow this until you reach a sign for the Midnight Trail on your right. A short access trail will take you to the loop itself. It’s about a mile (2 km) from the end of the campground road to the Midnight Trail.
More information on the Midnight Trail (including a map) can be found at http://www.webstertrails.org/midnight/midnight.php. I’d give you a link to the Webster Park trails, but the map is so horrible I won’t confuse you with it 🙂
Round Trip Trail Length: 1.5-2.5 miles (2.4-4 km)
Facilities: Port-a-Potty at the beginning of the trail near Whiting Road; very primitive outhouse near the cabin where you turn near the pump. Water from the pump (it’s on most of the year, though usually not in the winter).
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
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Wed Oct 18
Clear. Lows overnight in the low 50s.
Thu Oct 19
Generally sunny despite a few afternoon clouds. High 71F. Winds SW at 15 to 25 mph.
Fri Oct 20
Mainly sunny. High 67F. Winds WNW at 5 to 10 mph.
Sat Oct 21
Sunshine and clouds mixed. High 74F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.
Sun Oct 22
Partly cloudy skies. High near 75F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.