A Running Map for Six Mile Creek in Ithaca, New York

In early summer 2005, I learned about the existence of trails in the vacinity of Six Mile Creek in Ithaca, New York. In particular, I learned that many of these trails might serve as good running trails for me. I looked around, both in local stores and online, for a good map of these trails. Unfortunately, although I was able to find some maps that had some limited information, I was not able to find any comprehensive maps of running trails in the area.

Consequently, my summer ended up being spent exploring and recording trails. I started from the South Hill Recreation Way and from the parking lot of the Six Mile Creek Natural Area and ran along every trail that I could find to see where it went and to see what other trails branched off from it. I recorded what I found and gradually developed a map of my own. At some point I realized that other people might find my map useful, so I made up a digital version of it to display on this page.

I should highlight here that my focus in this project has been on running and good running routes. There are many trails that I excluded because:

  • They are bad for running (too steep, overgrown with vegetation, surface is slanted, easy to lose the trail).
  • They are not part of any sort of loop (for example, a trail that just goes down to the water).
  • They go to essentially the same place as another trail and I found that other trail to be clearly preferable.
Moreover, there are some bad trails, or bad sections of trails, that I included because they are needed to make a nice loop out of other good trails.

Some notes on the map:

  • The thin, colored lines are the trails, with roads being black and the creek being light blue.
  • The thicker, royal blue line on the west side is the Rec Way.
  • When a line is dotted, it indicates trail that is bad for running, such as when crossing the creek or for the reasons listed above.
  • At the dotted creek crossings, there are stones or logs in the water that make it possible to cross without getting wet. However, over the year, it will often be the case that the creek is too high and the stones and logs will be underwater.
  • The gray lines are trails that I do not use for running but that I decided to include in here anyhow for a couple different reasons that I will explain below.

And here it is.

Six Mile Creek Map

A larger version of the map is here, which is a bit easier for making out some of the detail and nice if you have a high resolution screen.

Notes on trail entrances:

  • Just east of the Giles St bridge is a nice parking lot that can be reached from Giles.
  • There is street parking available at the other Giles St entrance.
  • For starting at the Rec Way entrance on Hudson, I find that the best option is street parking on Crescent and then taking one of the little connectors down to the Rec Way.
  • Juniper Dr ends at the Rec Way and there is a nice parking area there.
  • There is street parking at both the Penny Ln and Burns Rd entrances.

You can think of the map in quadrants -- the west and east sides, and up to and after the first reservoir. There are no repeat colors within a quadrant.

In the downstream-west quadrant, the yellow trail hits the Rec Way between posts 7 and 8. To get to it from Giles St, go up the driveway just west of the Giles St bridge and then follow the trail around the side of the fence.

The red trail starts at the yellow trail. There are several (about four) trails branching off of it shortly after it starts that head toward the creek. Just keep to the right to stay on the red trail, except for the connector to the Rec Way. If you are trying to get to the red trail from that connector, look for the little fence between posts 11 and 12. Further down the red trail, there are two more connectors to the Rec Way through the fence where the Rec Way turns up the hill. Just beyond these connectors, the red trail starts to head up a hill. There is a little branch of the red trail to the right there that is on the side of what appears to be an old grade, and this branch is a good way to avoid the hill.

The lavender trail hits the Rec Way at a little fence that is after post 12. It cuts through some bushes but then comes out and crosses the red trail. It heads down to the creek, and you can cross the creek there by stepping on the rocks in the water when the water is low enough. You end up on a rocky beach right next to the light green trail.

The dark green trail hits the Rec Way in two places. The first is at the Northview Barricade near the 1.5 mile mark from Hudson St. It starts with a short, steep downhill there. The second entrance is somewhat harder to spot. It is a little ways further down the Rec Way, past the 1.0 mile mark from Coddington Rd. With the second entrance, you cut through bushes a little bit, but you avoid the steep downhill. The second entrance crosses a small creek just before meeting the first entrance.

There is a trail or two branching off the dark green trail to the left as you run along it from these entrances that don't go anywhere useful, so keep to the right. You'll come to a concrete post in the ground, which is where the lower branch of the red trail meets it. Head up the hill to get to the other branch of the red trail. And then down the other side of the hill to get to the 30 foot dam. You can avoid some of this hill by taking a fairly crummy branch of the dark green trail that cuts around the side of the hill. This branch connects on one side near that concrete post and on the other side right where the hill turns very steep. Once you get to the dam, you can follow the dark green trail to the left to end up at the level of the creek, and there are some nice rocks that you can use to cross the creek there when the water is low and end up at the light green trail.

The gray trails in this downstream-west quadrant all head to an area where there is a nice waterfall with some rock steps. The gray trail from the red trail is actually a good trail for running to get there. Unfortunately though, there is no other good running trail leading to this area, which means you can't make a good loop. You can, however, settle for some mildly difficult hiking by taking the dotted gray trails. The one from the lavender trail sorta cuts up a small hill after the lavender trail gets at about creek level. For the one from the dark green trail, if you continue along the creek, instead of taking the dark green trail across the creek, you will also end up going a small hill that will get you to this area. Again, this area is not good for running loops, but since it is pretty nice to be able to visit, I thought I would include here how to get there.

Let's move to the downstream-east quadrant now. The light green trail is apparently known as the Greenway Trail, and it is an excellent trail for running. It starts from the Giles St parking lot and ends with a loop. The back corner of this loop is where you can cross the creek for the dark green trail, if the water is low enough. About halfway along the portion of the loop that is close to the creek, you can see an opening that leads to a rocky beach. Head downstream along this beach a short ways and hopefully low water will provide some good rocks for crossing. This is where the lavender trail from the downstream-west quadrant crosses the creek.

Near the end of the loop of the light green trail, on the side of the loop that is further from the creek, the yellow trail branches off and heads up the hill. Close to the top of the hill, there is a branch of the yellow trail that turns off to the right. If you continue up the hill, you will reach the lavender trail shortly. If you take the branch to the right, you will also reach the lavender trail, but a little ways further down. Stay to the left on this branch, unless you want to end up on the gray trail that runs along the shore of the reservoir, that is not particularly good for running.

The lavender trail is a dirt road from the gated entrance on Giles St up to the first reservoir. At the reservoir, it turns into a smaller, single-track trail. A little ways after the clearing overlooking the reservoir but before the crossing of a small creek is a small trail to the right that heads down the hill through the grass. This is the dark green trail. The lavender trail ends at a very steep hill that is quite bad for running, and that I would recommend avoiding, if possible. However, I do mark the trail up that hill with a gray dotted line here because hiking up it is occasionally useful for reaching the upstream-east quadrant.

The red trail starts out from Penny Ln and heads down the hill to the lavender trail at the clearing overlooking the reservoir. It is possible to continue going down from this clearing to the trail along the shore of the reservoir, but I do not recommend this for running.

The upstream-east quadrant is the most difficult quandrant to get to from the other quadrants. From the downstream-east quadrant, you either have to go up the steep hill at the end of the lavender trail, cut through Commonland Community to get to the bottom of Lois Ln, or take a narrow trail that is steep in parts and sometimes floods in other parts. Of these three ways, probably the easiest and most reliable is by going through Commonland Community and taking the blue trail. At the very back of Commonland Community, a short ways south of the pond that is there is the beginning of the blue trail.

The blue trail meets up with the steep connector to the lavender trail shortly after it begins and continues to the left with another steep hill that is less steep than the connector and that I find to be tolerable for running. It splits apart into two branches that then come back together. It eventually follows the creek through a gorge and ends at the top of the sixty-foot dam, at the second reservior.

To get to the light green trail from the blue trail, first take the left branch of the blue trail when coming from Lois Ln. You will come to another trail split that I denote with a solid gray line. After this split, you will cross a small creek. Right after this creek, turn left up the hill. At first it does not seem like much of a trail, but it gets much better, and this is the light green trail. It is possible to get to the light green trail from the gray trail here as well. Follow the gray trail up the hill, keeping to the right, and then cross over the small creek. Crossing the small creek in this way does not make for good running, however, and hence why I recommend crossing the creek where the blue trail crosses it.

The light green trail can be somewhat difficult to follow, primarily because there are connectors from it to private property. Also, when heading back toward Lois Ln on it, after crossing another small creek, it veers to the right, but one may miss it and instead follow one of two other trails that are to the left. I include these trails on the map in gray and, as indicated, they cease to be good running trails after a short while. While on the light green trail, you will pass a roofed wooden structure and some rusting industrial garbage. Toward the end it becomes a little challenging to run on as it goes into and out of small creek beds, before finally meeting with the blue trail again at the sixty-foot dam.

The red trail starts at the end of the blue trail at the top of the sixty-foot dam, is wide and easy to follow, and ends at Route 79.

After the blue trail comes out of the gorge, coming down from the dam, the dark green trail starts. It sticks close to the side of the creek, and there is a branch of it that makes one more connection to the blue trail before the two trails fully split from each other to be at much different elevations. The dark green trail continues along the side of the creek to end up in an area that can have tall grasses and sometimes be flooded over by the creek. After you reach the back of the first reservior, the dark green trail turns up the hill and ends at the lavender trail. If you continue straight rather than following the trail up the hill, you will continue along the shore of the reservior through more grass that I would advise avoiding.

In the upstream-west quadrant, coming up the Rec Way, past the 1.5 mile mark from Coddington Rd, is a gate that marks the entrance to the lavender trail. The lavender trail is a relatively wide good running trail that eventually ends up at the sixty-foot dam.

The light green trail starts at a little fence past the start to the lavender trail but before the 2.5 mile mark from Hudson St. It is narrow and potentially grassy at first, but it gets better and meets up with the lavender trail after the lavender trail comes up out of a creek bed.

I consider the yellow trail to be the worst of any of the "official" trails on the map, and the only reason it is included here is because it is the only way I could find to get between the upstream-west quadrant and the upstream-east quadrant. It is a faint trail that starts from the lavender trail a short ways after the intersection of the lavender trail and the light green trail. It follows along the rim of a creek bed, and so, if the trail seems to disappear, just keep following the rim and the trail will show up again. Eventually it turns steep and heads down to the creek bed. The trail crosses the creek bed and then follows it to Six Mile Creek. The trail makes a left here before making a right across logs crossing the creek, when possible, to get to the dark green trail.

Note that rather than crossing the creek, you could keep following along the side of the creek either up or down, as I have indicated in gray, but I would highly discourage this. While exploring up the creek in this way once, I happened to disturb a wasp nest. I got stings on my arm, my shoulder, and all over my legs before I managed to hurl my body into the creek (and break the romantic moment being shared by an underwear-clad couple on the shore). If there's nothing else you appreciate about my creation of the map here, I would encourage you to at least appreciate the two days I spent with the pain of wasp stings all over me, from trying to explore up this trail. That stated, this particular shore of the creek is least commonly visited by humans, and you might find the wasp nest I found or perhaps another one or perhaps other sorts of troubles, that I think generally make it better to just follow the yellow trail across the creek.

Right before the end of the Rec Way is the start of a trail that I have marked as a gray trail. It is not really a useful trail for running, but it does take you to the back of the second reservoir, which I found to be interesting to check out. The trail eventually makes its way down into a creek bed and then by following the creek bed, you will end up at a nice shore of the reservoir.

Well, I hope that all solves any confusions that might exist with the map. Happy running!

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