Chimney Bluffs State Park
Location: On the south end of Lake Ontario; east of the village of Sodus Point; in the town of Huron; Wayne County; New York.
- Parking (west lot): N 43.28086 / W 76.92235
- Garner Point: N 43.28525 / W 76.92451
Directions: From NY-104 take CR-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 Maps.
Parking: There are two parking areas and enough room for 30 cars. A large lot is at the main entrance off of Garner and is adjacent to the restroom and picnic facilities, but carries a $5 parking fee. Another, smaller lot is located near the beach off of E. Bay Rd. where it meets with the lake, which has no parking fee but very limited space.
Information / Accessibility / Accommodations
Seasons/Hours: Open year-round, from dawn until dusk.
Admission: $5 parking fee for the lot off of Garner Rd
Best time to visit: All year. One of the few lakeside parks I recommend visiting in winter.
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. Take some time after to visit Thorpe Vineyard down the road.
Handicap accessibility: No.
Pets: Allowed if on a leash. It’s recommended to NOT bring your dog on the bluff trail. It’s narrow, dangerous, and simply not a safe place for pets and those not comfortable being in close proximity to your pet on the narrow and dangerous trail. In recent years there have been some incidents with pets falling. Be responsible and make good decisions for your pet.
Swimming: Not allowed. No lifeguard on duty, but people do it anyway.
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; grills; nature signs; hiking trails; fishing; hunting. No guarded swimming here. The closest guarded swimming beach is at Sodus Point.
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. Beach-combing 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.
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.
The land was private and largely undeveloped, with one parcel operated as a private recreation area, up until 1963 when the state acquired it. Under state ownership, it still remained undeveloped, but accessible. It was a little-known natural area with makeshift trails and roadside parking until 1999, when park facilities were added to the west side of the park, official (and less risky) trails were established, wooden steps installed, and restroom facilities added.
Chimney Bluffs Media
Hiking / Walking Trails
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/being friendly, or jumping at a nervous person or child could knock them off the bluff. It’s not a safe situation for pups either. 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
Chimney Bluffs Interactive Map
Fishing is allowed in the park. Cast from the shoreline.
Snow & Ice
The park is open in winter and given safe conditions, the Bluffs and the lake can be a winter wonderland of interesting slights. While Lake Ontario doesn’t freeze over, the shoreline can build up layers of ice by mid-winter. From the top of the Bluffs, the view of the rich blue lake and frosted spires of clay is a breathtaking landscape.
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.
- Don’t get too caught up in capturing the majesty of the bluffs… go macro and focus in on those jewel-like pebbles that line the shore.
- Try to include driftwood or large boulders of the beach in the foreground of your shots.
- For a perspective most don’t shoot from, plan on getting wet, and wade out into the water for a wider shot.
- Because of the angle of the beach, sunsets are best (positioned more over the water) in mid-summer.
- The ridges and ravines make for great layering. This is best seen from the west side of the bluffs. Shadows from an afternoon sun can enhance the layering.