What if we told you there’s an Army post that is nestled among some of the most gorgeous scenery in the United States? It’s basically a nature-lover’s dream, surrounded by beautiful hiking trails, waterfalls and rivers.
But, it’s also a duty station that makes people dramatically throw their heads back and yell “NOOOOOOOOOO!” as they shake their fist at the sky when they see it on their orders.
This paradoxical post is none other than Upstate New York’s Fort Drum—home of the 10th Mountain Division.
Sure, there are months of the year when you can’t even find your car because it’s buried under so much snow. But, when the sun is out, this gem located just east of Lake Ontario and about 50 miles south of Canada has a lot to offer. This list of nearby hiking trails and all-around pretty places will help motivate you to discover the perks of living in Fort Drum.
Robert Wehle State Park
Distance from post: 40 miles
Photo by Konrad Lawson
Located in Henderson, this state park consists of 1,100 acres and 17,000 feet of shoreline on Lake Ontario. It’s essentially on the side of a cliff, so this isn’t an ideal place to visit if you’ve got little ones. Until 1947 it was a military training ground known as Stony Point Rifle Range, then it became the estate of Robert Wehle who used the land to raise English pointers. The park includes 10 miles of hiking/mountain biking trails, tennis court and even cross-country skiing. Hunting is allowed in designated areas. There’s also a rental property—two cottages and a studio—that can accommodate up to eight people.
Nearby there’s also Westcott Beach State Park, Southwick Beach State Park, Selkirk Shores State Park and Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site.
Tug Hill State Forest
Distance from post: 30 miles
Photo by Flickr
While the whole 12,242 acres is beautiful, Rainbow Falls waterfall and Inman Gulf are the highlights of Tug Hill State Forest. The popular trail is the Inman Gulf Hiking and Nature Trail, which is 9.3 miles out and back. It’s dog-friendly, but parts of the trail are very steep and get close to the cliff’s edge (some parts are more than 300 feet deep), so perhaps the kids should sit this one out. There’s also a 6.9 mile moderate loop called Inman Gulf Loop that takes you along the rim of Inman Gulf and by the waterfall.
Right and Up tip: This area is renowned for its snowfall and harsh winter, which means it’s a great destination for snowmobiling and cross country skiing.
Distance from post: 31 miles
Photo by Flickr
The gorgeous Whetstone Gulf State Park is part of a three-mile-long gorge cut into the eastern edge of the Tug Hill Plateau. It has 56 wooded campsites, a scenic picnic area along Whetstone Creek, a man-made swimming area, and trails. Above the gorge is Whetstone Reservoir, which is great for fishing and canoeing.
Right and Up tip: The hiking trails double as cross-country skiing routes in the winter. One of the trails here circles the gorge. Snowmobiling and snowshoeing are also great activities to do here.
Salmon River Falls
Distance from post: 51 miles
Photo by Dave Paps
It’s a bit of a drive—clocking in at about an hour on the road—but great for a day trip away from Fort Drum. In Orwell, you’ll find a great hiking and fishing spot in Salmon River Falls Unique Area. It covers 112 acres of land and is highlighted by the breathtaking 110-foot waterfall. Camping is prohibited here, and pets must be kept on a leash when other hikers are around. The hike to the falls is easy and is even wheelchair accessible.
Distance from post: 35 miles
It’s not an easy hike, but the destination—Gleasman Falls—is worth the effort. The trail is considered moderate to difficult, but it’s clearly marked and maintained. It’s about five miles round trip, but it’s mostly level and hiking/water shoes aren’t necessary.
Cranberry Lake Wild Forest
Distance from post: 60 miles
Photo by Tony Webster
This 24,111-acre forest features 33 miles of hiking trails and a number boat-only accessible campsites. In fact, it’s considered one of the most remote areas in the state of New York. The hiking trails are such a draw here that Cranberry Lake 50 (also known as CL50) was created. It’s a 50-mile loop that forces hikers to explore lakes, ponds and woods of the northwestern Adirondacks.
Right and Up tip: This is the place to go if you want to go camping. There are 173 campsites—some of which have toilets and showers.
If you’re in the mood for a nice hike, but don’t want to venture off post, Fort Drum has a handful of pretty trails to check out. Plus, Fort Drum’s MWR has a hiking club that costs just $5 per person per hike for transportation off post. Check out the calendar to see upcoming trips. MWR even provides free whitewater rafting trips every Friday throughout the summer.
Distance from post: 8 miles
Photo by Flickr
With this trail being in Fort Drum’s backyard, it’d be silly to not give it a visit. The 3.3-mile trail is paved, which makes it a nice and easy route. Plus, it’s great for kids, pets and bike rides. Black River is a favorite spot for birdwatchers, paddlers and whitewater rafters, as it is 114 miles long and flows into Lake Ontario.
Right and Up tip: Experienced whitewater rafters can get their Meryl Streep on by taking on Bottom Moose, which is world-renowned for its Class V (extreme) whitewater features, complete with a 15-foot drop.
Buttermilk Falls State Park
Distance From Post: 142 miles
Photo by Jim Liestman
If you’re up for making the 2.5 hour drive down to Ithaca, Buttermilk Falls State Park will not disappoint. In fact, my Upstate New York-native friend, Brian, says this is the best state park in the region. Buttermilk Creek cascades more than 500 feet down to the valley below, giving the falls its descriptive name. The Gorge Trail is his favorite, as it takes hikers .75 miles on a strenuous walk along Buttermilk Creek and gives you gorgeous views of the falls.
Right and Up tip: We recommend making your visit here a full-day trip or even a weekend excursion by checking out Ithaca. If vegetarian cuisine is your thing, be sure to eat at the famous Moosewood Restaurant. It’s an eatery that has been in business for more than 40 years and the chefs have written 13 internationally-acclaimed vegetarian cookbooks. Purity Ice Cream has amazing made-from-scatch sweet treats. Ithaca Bakery has picnic-friendly snacks and meals that are perfect for your Buttermilk Falls excursion. The Boatyard Grill has a gorgeous location overlooking Cayuga Lake with fantastic food. And finally, Viva Taqueria has fabulous California-style Mexican cuisine and great drink specials.
This article could easily list 50 more gorgeous locations in the Fort Drum vicinity. In addition to checking out these spots, we recommend downloading the AllTrails app and doing some exploring of your own. You can’t go wrong with any location you visit, as everything around here is incredible. Even though the winters are brutal here, the rest of the year tries to make up for it.
Featured Image of Buttermilk Falls by Brian Solamon
About the Author
Rachel is an Auburn grad (War Damn Eagle!) and holds a degree in journalism. While working as a sports writer covering the Tigers, she met a cute, tall officer stationed at Fort Benning. A few margaritas, some conversations about why a no-huddle offense is superior and 18 months later, they got married. They have PCS’d to Fort Huachuca, Fort Riley and will soon head to Washington DC. They have a ridiculously adorable son named Gavin and two furry children, Jeter and Lilly.