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GPS: Parking (N 43.28086 / W 76.92235)
Directions: From Rt. 104 take County Hwy 254 north, which soon becomes Garner Rd. After 4.5 miles it will bend sharply to the right and shortly thereafter on the left will be the main entrance to the park. An alternative entrance can be found by continuing past this entrance and making a left on East Bay Rd. Follow this road until it reaches the lake.
Use Google Directions.
Parking: There are two parking areas and enough room for 30 cars. A large lot is at the main entrance and is adjacent to the restroom and picnic facilities. Another, smaller lot is located near the beach off of E. Bay Rd. where it meets with the lake.
Best time to visit: Summer through fall.
Time: Plan for half a day to enjoy the park. A walk along the bluff trail and then back through the woods takes about an hour and a half.
Handicap accessibility: No.
Pets: Allowed if on a leash. For your pet’s safety, and the safety of other hikers, keep your pet on the leash! It doesn’t matter if your dog is “friendly,” it’s the law. Please clean up after. Please do not bring your pets onto the bluff trail. Hikers must be careful and because of the risk of falling, it is best not to have pets interfering with other hikers’ safety.
Swimming: Not allowed. No lifeguard on duty.
Boat launch: Hand launch only. The best spot to launch your kayak or canoe is on the east side of the park from the small parking area on East Bay Rd near the Lake.
Accommodations: Restrooms; picnic tables; hiking trails. No swimming.
New York State Parks
The towering mud cliffs of the Chimney Bluffs, which drape down to a vibrant pebble beach, comprise what is easily the most beautiful vista over Lake Ontario. Less than an hour east of Rochester, the glacial landscape of the Bluffs is a draw for tourists all over Western New York. Nearly four miles of hiking trails traverse the park, with the most popular, the Bluff Trail, bringing hikers literally to the brink of thrilling cliffs made from glacial deposits and sculpted by harsh weather. The Chimney Bluffs never fail to give visitors breathtaking views of the Great Lake and a sense of wonder about this region’s natural history.
A lush forest envelops the hill behind the bluffs, while lively swamps surround three sides. The park wetland to the southeast is a favorite stopover for migrating birds, and watchers frequent the south end of the park near Garner Rd for excellent spotting opportunities. Squirrels, insects, frogs and snakes are common here. Just a walk along the roads bordering the wetland will kick up frogs and toads by the hundreds. Although recently becoming more developed, much of the park remains untouched and wild.
To the north is Lake Ontario. Its beach is a collection of rounded stones from all over Canada and the Great Lakes region, ground and polished by glaciers, and deposited over thousands of years. Hundreds of types of stones can be found, as well as interesting shapes of driftwood and, unfortunately, some beached trash. Beachcombing is a popular activity, and those jewel-like pebbles found close to the water make great souvenirs.
Not as apparent as the Bluffs themselves, the park benefits from its angle along the lake. Much of the property overlooks the lake heading west, which positions the setting sun right out over the lake. For photographers this is the place to be for summer sunsets. With the jagged ridges of the bluffs, the sparkling pebbles of the beach, and the often rowdy waters of Lake Ontario, the possibilities for sunset photographs are endless. If you didn’t bring your camera, set up some chairs along the shore, and stick around until the beach disappears and all that’s left is the sound of crashing waves.
Swimming is prohibited here, though it is common to see people wading. The lake gets deep and murky quickly, and with no lifeguards nearby, it is risky to swim. The cove, which is a section of stagnant water between the Bluffs and Garner Point, can get stuffed with algae at times, creating a bit of a stench and creating a possible hazard for swimmers and boaters.
Although the state has owned the land and many people have enjoyed visiting the Bluffs for decades, recently the parks department has beefed up trails, added modern restrooms and steps, as well as a few picnic tables. The effort has paid off and the park is more popular and accessible than before. It is a wonderful destination for families and photographers alike.
There are several trails within the park, which are all shown on the map below. The most popular route is outlined here.
Distance: A complete loop of just over 1.2 miles.
Markings: Blue diamonds along the Bluff Trail, rocky beach coming back.
Directions: Park in the main lot off of Garner Rd and proceed north past the picnic area until you have a view of the lake. To the east (right) is the trailhead to the Bluff Trail. Follow this trail as it passes a muddy dip and then heads uphill. At about 3/4 mile you should find yourself at the top of the bluffs.
Be careful while on the Bluff Trail. Exposed roots, animal burrows, and stones are easy to trip over. One missed step and you could be in for a tumble. Take it easy and plan your route. Some old offshoots of the trail lead right off a cliff. Please do not bring your dog on the Bluff Trail. People need to pay attention and not lose balance or be pushed off a trail. A dog running at them, sniffing or jumping at a nervous person or child could knock them off the bluff. Be a responsible pet owner and follow the rules.
Although some forks of the Bluff Trail lead into the woods and down to the East-West Trail, keep the lake to your left and continue on. After about a mile, you’ll be heading downhill and then soon reach a set of steps. Head down these steps to the small parking area on East Bay Rd. Head to the beach just north of here and walk left along the lake back to the other side of the park.
Map: Interactive map
View Chimney Bluffs State Park in a larger map
The Great Lakes were once the valleys of a massive river system that drained into the Atlantic Ocean. Repeated periods of glaciations gouged out the valley, creating large basins that soon filled with the melted ice water of the receding ice.
The Bluffs were formed by a glacial drumlin, or pile of ground up mud, sand, and stones pushed along by the glacier as it scoured the land. Over time, Lake Ontario grew and began eroding away at the northern end of the drumlin, exposing the cliffs. Wind, rain, and snow melt-water continue to eat away at the cliffs, reshaping the Bluffs and providing us with a dynamic landscape that can be vastly different from year to year.
Drumlins are common for Western and Central NY, but one that is sliced in half like this is pretty rare. There are only three large examples of this in the region, with the Chimney Bluffs being both the largest and the most accessible. Other bluffs along Lake Ontario can be found just to the east near Port Bay and then at Fair Haven Beach State Park.
Old shack foundation
Explore the woods to the west of the picnic area. Somewhere along the trail is an old stone foundation. We couldn’t find any information about what it was and from what time period. If you have any information please share.
Every year the bluffs erode as much as several feet. In spring the cliffs often experience slow-moving mudflows and can cover the beach below as they flow down to the lake. To the east private cottages sit above smaller cliffs. Some cottages, built long ago, have been removed as the cliffs eroded to the point where the cottages hung over the edge.
The pebbles that dot the beach and are embedded within the dirt cliffs of the bluffs were carried here by glaciers from all over eastern Canada. Many of these rock types are not native to New York. The rocks were polished into round pebbles by the high pressure grinding of miles of glacial ice as it moved the stones across the landscape. Some small pebbles are glass (from bottles, most likely) which have been smoothed out by grinding with other pebbles in the action of the waves.
A vein of gray clay can be found just west of the bluff, embedded in the cliff, though it is often covered by a layer of mud. This soft clay is just the kind used for sculpting and pottery.
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