Awesome Formations at Chimney Bluffs State Park

Some of the badland formations at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Some of the badland formations at Chimney Bluffs State Park

Chimney Bluffs has long been a hidden gem of western New York State.  Located right on the shore of Lake Ontario, the park has seen an influx of visitors in recent years to see the incredible badland spires in the bluffs along the lake.  I’ve never seen anything else like it along Lake Ontario, though it is a little reminiscent of a few of the formations at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (on Lake Superior).

 

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 1.0+ miles Trail Type: Out & back or Loop Elevation Change: 169ft. Pets: Leashed on trails; No on beach Fees: $5/vehicle (in season)

 




 

One ridge of the formations from the cliff above Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

One ridge of the formations from the cliff above

I revisited Chimney Bluffs in mid-December.  For whatever reason, despite visiting fairly frequently 20 years ago, I hadn’t been in close to 15 years, but I was very impressed with the spires and bluffs, as well as the views across Lake Ontario.

Walking the beach between Lake Ontario and Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Walking the beach between Lake Ontario and the bluffs

We started out from the less-official parking area (it’s still very official, but there aren’t any services except primitive restrooms, which were locked in mid-December).  You can see where the road used to extend a bit further, but storms on the lake have been eroding what is left of the pavement.  If you walk a bit to the right, a social trail takes you down to the beach without a scramble, which is required if you go down to the beach right at the end of the parking lot.

Icicles on a log on the beach - the waves came up at night and it was cold enough that the ice froze. Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Icicles on a log on the beach – the waves came up at night and it was cold enough that the ice froze.

The sun was very low in the south this time of year – the sun will just plain be better in the summer, when the sun is further north and therefore shining across the lake – so we decided to hike west a bit along the beach to let the sun rise over the hills.

Silhouettes are great in the winter because the sun is so far south. Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Silhouettes are great in the winter because the sun is so far south

There were a lot of icicles on the trees washed up on the beach.  It really hadn’t been that cold, but I guess the water was cold enough to freeze icicles overnight.  The rocks on the beach were also frozen, which were sometimes beautiful and actually pretty stable to walk on as long as you don’t slip on the ice.

A few of the lakestones covered in a sheet of ice at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

A few of the lakestones covered in a sheet of ice

After 0.25 miles, we came across signs that told us the park ended and not to trespass any further.  So we turned around.  It was a very pleasant walk along the beach, and if you like lake stones, there are some nice ones.

Another example of icicles by Lake Ontario at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Another example of icicles

We wandered the beach eastward toward the formations.  This “early” in the morning (it was after 10am!), the formations were still in shadow, so we took a few silhouette pictures and kept going.  The best of the formations are within about a half mile of the parking area.

Silhouettes of the formations at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Silhouettes of the formations

Since we were at the park to hike, we kept walking along the beach.  It’s very nice, though there is a fair amount of deadfall / driftwood to scramble over in places.  After a mile from the trailhead, a semi-official trail goes up to the picnic area and the more-official parking area.  Since we’d never done it before, we kept walking around Garner Point.

I risked my dry hiking boots to get a picture of the ice-covered roots of this tree on Lake Ontario in Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

I risked my dry hiking boots to get a picture of the ice-covered roots of this tree

The beach definitely becomes wilder after the point.  However, shortly after rounding the point, a sign pointed toward the “clothing-optional beach”.  We didn’t think we’d have much trouble this time of year – and it also happens to be the hunting-allowed area – but we still decided it was time to take one of the many social trails up into the forest.

Zoomed picture of the bluffs from below Garner Point in Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Zoomed picture of the bluffs from below Garner Point

Turn left and uphill, and you’ll fairly quickly intersect a trail.  Turn left a short distance up to the top of Garner Point.  The views aren’t great, but they’re not bad, either.  Looking out, we could see the rocks that were all that remained of the point when it had extended further out into Lake Ontario.

Views toward the lighthouse on Sodus Point from Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Views toward the lighthouse on Sodus Point

We walked back down the trail and took the first left (Bluff Trail) to descend down to the picnic area.  We wanted to walk straight across the picnic area and take the Bluff Trail through the woods and then across the top of the bluffs, but the Bluff Trail is closed for the next year or so (should be open in late 2019 or 2020).  So we walked up the road to take the West Trail and then turn left on the Drumlin Trail to take you through the forest to the Bluff Trail.  It’s really a pretty pleasant trail system so I couldn’t complain too much.

The Chimney Bluffs from Garner Point, New York

The Chimney Bluffs from Garner Point

When we came to the Bluff Trail, we were very happy that it wasn’t closed.  So we turned left so we could walk along the top of the bluff formations.  There are usually two trails: the old one right along the brink of the edge (be careful of undercut edges!) and the second, new trail a bit further from the edge.  There are plenty of social trails between the two.

Some of the formations seem to knife-edge thin at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Some of the formations seem to knife-edge thin

The great thing about the Bluff Trail is that you get quite a good view of the rock formations.  Unlike 20 years ago, you can’t go and climb all over the formations (wise, I suppose, though I know a few kids who happily and safely scrambled all over the place and never got hurt).

This formation - to my best recollection - is called Dragon's Back at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

This formation – to my best recollection – is called Dragon’s Back

We walked to nearly the end of the formations (about 0.3 miles from the Drumlin Trail), then the trail was closed for reconstruction.  That didn’t stop the social trail from going straight by the orange tape, but we turned around and walked back along the Bluff Trail back to the parking area.

Views of the badlands from near the closure at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Views of the badlands from near the closure

The last thing the trail does is to steeply (very steeply!) descend back to the parking area, ending up right behind the restrooms, about 0.4 miles from the closure.

Looking over the bluffs to Sodus Bay at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Looking over the bluffs to Sodus Bay

Overall, we hiked 4.1 miles, and it was great fun, and very beautiful!  In December we saw only a handful of other people, though I expect it’s fairly crowded on summer weekends.  Whatever time of year you visit, the formations are always worth seeing, and the hiking is very pleasant!

More formations from the beach - we came back after lunch to get some sunny photos.  Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

More formations from the beach – we came back after lunch to get some sunny photos

Round Trip Length: Varies; I’d recommend at least 1.0 miles; we hiked 4.1 miles

Net Elevation Gain: 169ft. (246ft. on the lakeshore to 415ft. atop the cliffs)

Facilities: Restrooms in season; picnic area at the “official” parking area

Fees: $5/vehicle, collected April 1-October 31.  I didn’t see a collection station at the “semi-official” parking area, but there probably is something there during the fee collection season.

Pets: Leashed on trails; no pets on the beach

Icy rocks along the shore of Lake Ontario at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Icy rocks along the shore of Lake Ontario

Rules & Regs: Don’t climb on the bluffs; no Hunting, Fishing, etc. except where posted; no camping without permission; keep vehicles on the roads; park off the road or in parking lots; don’t trespass; if you start a fire, stay with it at all times and be sure it’s out when you leave; no littering; don’t remove, cut, or damage vegetation; swimming only in designated area (i.e., no swimming here); motorized boats only in designated areas; no mooring or storage of boats overnight; no grazing domestic animals; don’t do anything that puts others in danger; no damaging gates, fences, signs, buildings, etc.; obey the environmental conservation law.  So really, it’s a lot of rules that you’d probably follow anyway.

Trail Notes: These really are unique for New York State.  They’re also a favorite for photographers.  Use extreme care near the cliff edges (no guardrails exist – which is good if you want to see the formations) and recognize that the lakestones on the beach make for some slightly insecure footing (wear good shoes or boots).

The shadowed side of one of the Chimney Bluffs, New York

The shadowed side of one of the bluffs

Trail ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★

Overall Rating: ★

The bluffs from below at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

The bluffs from below

Key GPS Coordinates for Chimney Bluffs State Park

Trailhead: 43.2905333°, -076.9064500° (N43° 17.432′ W76° 54.387′ / 43°17’25.9200″, -076°54’23.2200″) (243 ft.) (0.0)

East end of beach: 43.2916833°, -076.9041167° (N43° 17.501′ W76° 54.247′ / 43°17’30.0600″, -076°54’14.8200″) (253ft.) (0.23)

Trail up to picnic area: 43.2843667°, -076.9229500° (N43° 17.062′ W76° 55.377′ / 43°17’03.7200″, -076°55’22.6200″) (246 ft.) (1.52)

Turn up into woods: 43.2847333°, -076.9253167° (N43° 17.084′ W76° 55.519′ / 43°17’05.0400″, -076°55’31.1400″) (250ft.) (1.71)

Bluff Trail on Garner Point: 43.2845500°, -076.9249000° (N43° 17.073′ W76° 55.494′ 43°17’04.3800″, -076°55’29.6400″) (293ft.) (1.76)

There are large gullies between the ridges of formations at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

There are large gullies between the ridges of formations

East-West Trail Junction: 43.2821167°, -076.9222667° (N43° 16.927′ W76° 55.336′ / 43°16’55.6200″, -076°55’20.1600″) (274ft.) (2.19)

East-West Trail / Drumlin Trail Junction: 43.2821500°, -076.9124500° (N43° 16.929′ W76° 54.747′ / 43°16’55.7400″, -076°54’44.8200″) (322ft.) (2.77)

Bluff Trail / Drumlin Trail Junction: 43.2886167°, -076.9091167° (N43° 17.317′ W76° 54.547′ / 43°17’19.0200″, -076°54’32.8200″) (415ft.) (3.41)

Bluff Trail east end closure: 43.2874000°, -076.9118000° (N43° 17.244′ W76° 54.708′ / 43°17’14.6400″, -076°54’42.4800″) (391ft.) (3.73)

Hike End (behind restrooms): 43.2900833°, -076.9065333° (N43° 17.405′ W76° 54.392′ / 43°17’24.3000″, -076°54’23.5200″) (268ft.) (4.1)

Looking up at one of the taller formations at Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Looking up at one of the taller formations

The gpx file for my trek around Chimney Bluffs State Park can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.

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(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website.  Thanks!)

The remains of summer wildflowers above Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

The remains of summer wildflowers

Getting to Chimney Bluffs State Park

From Rt-104, turn north onto Lake Bluff Road (about 30 miles west of Oswego, 8 miles east of Sodus, and 35 miles east of Rochester).  After 2.9 miles, turn right onto Lummisville Road for 0.8 miles, then turn left onto E Bay Road.  Stay on E Bay Road for 3.1 miles to its end right next to the lake.  (If you want to go to the main “official” parking area, turn left onto Garner Road after being on E Bay Road for 2.2 miles).

Visual trail map and elevation profile for my loop hike through Chimney Bluffs State Park, New York

Visual trail map and elevation profile for my loop hike through Chimney Bluffs State Park

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