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The Downtown Loop Trail along the Genesee River (Photo by Paul Ericson)

Great Outdoors


From pounding the pavement in a 5K to schussing the slopes or hitting the links, getting outdoors is a way of life for many in Rochester. Even the hibernation-prone can get into the swing of things easily, thanks to free or inexpensive programs that local parks and recreation departments offer.

One of the area's biggest recreational assets is a sophisticated network of hiking trails, says Sue Freeman, outdoor recreation author and blogger. Freeman recommends the Crescent Trail, whose 35 miles of footpaths wind through wooded hills, parks, scenic overlooks, wetland margins and other preserved open spaces in Perinton. The trail connects with the Erie Canal Heritage Trail and the RS&E Trolley Trail, popular with hikers, runners, snowshoers and nature photographers.

Freeman, who has written 14 outdoor recreation guidebooks with her husband, Rich, particularly enjoys the trail's southern section, known as the Horizon Hill Conservation Area.

"This 2.2-mile loop provides a quick escape into nature, plus an aerobic workout," Freeman says.

Along the way, hikers "climb the glacially sculpted hills through verdant woods to (see) vistas of the countryside and the Rochester skyline in the distance," she says. At the summit, Freeman suggests, dust off and head to nearby Woodcliff Hotel & Spa for lunch.

Abundant local waterways are another easy way to enjoy the outdoors.

"The best paddle trip is a float down Irondequoit Creek," Freeman says. She suggests launching in Penfield's Ellison Park, situated in a level flood plain of Irondequoit Creek, and wending your way for 4.5 miles to Irondequoit Bay. The trip takes average paddlers 90 minutes to two hours.

"You'll swear you're in wilderness, but you only had to drive a few minutes to get (there)," Freeman says.

If you don't have a boat, BayCreek Paddling Center on Empire Boulevard in Penfield specializes in kayak and canoe rentals and provides shuttle service to the launch in Ellison Park.

Enjoying the Rochester area on two wheels has gotten easier in recent years with the rise of cycling races. Now in its second year, Rohrbach's Ellison Park Cyclocross Race calls for tackling a course featuring barriers and various riding surfaces, while QuadZilla tests cyclists' mettle in four consecutive 125-mile rides around all 11 Finger Lakes.

Not looking for an adrenalin rush? Check out the paved Downtown Loop Trail that runs along the Genesee River north to Lake Ontario and south through Genesee Valley Park. There it connects to the Erie Canalway Trail, a mostly flat route along the Erie Canal. Rochester is square in the middle of a 100-mile segment that's been designated a National Recreation Trail. Head east or west to see countryside, suburban neighborhoods and historic small towns.,

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