Photo: Nigel Kent

Great Hill Nature Preserve

Want a vigorous hike through a hardwood forest overlooking Canandaigua Lake?  Follow the trails of this preserve, high above the lakeshore and next to High Tor Wildlife Management Area.

Today, most people know it as South Hill, but this majestic hill overlooking Canandaigua Lake has collected many names and stories over time: Nundawao, The Great Hill, Whaleback, and Sunnyside.  One hill, many names.

Natural History

During the last ice age, glaciers thousands of feet thick covered much of northern North America. The ice scoured the land, sculpting the beautiful topography of the Finger Lakes Region.  As the tongue of ice retreated, it left behind Canandaigua Lake and the glacially steepened Great Hill. Streams rushing down the slope to the lake cut several gorges into the hillside, a process that continues even today.  The glaciers also left behind erratics, boulders transported over vast distances and left on the hillside. Pathways on the Great Hill preserve wind their way through these marvels of nature.

Much of the Nundawao Preserve is covered by stands of oak and hickory, which thrive on the sunny, dry, well-drained slopes, but many other trees and shrubs do well here as well, shadbush and witch hazel are two favorites.

On a spring day listen for the ethereal song of the Hermit Thrush and the short twitters of the Yellow-rumped Warbler.  In the winter, snowshoe through the preserve and find the tracks of wild turkey, fox and deer.  Pick a piece of the wonderfully fragrant mint, Pennyroyal, and breathe in a reminder of summer.  The Great Hill Preserve features a 1.6-mile trail through hardwood forests.  The Land Trust’s nearby West River Preserve also offers views of the Naples valley as well as extensive marshes along the West River.

Recent History

Nundawao (Great Hill, in English), as the Senecas call South Hill, is revered by the Senecas as the birthplace of the Seneca people.  Native American settlements and relics have been found in the valley to the south of Great Hill.

Although logged over the past couple of hundred years, this preserve is too steep to have ever been farmed.  Thomas and Sandra Hansen of Middlesex, NY, donated 219 acres to the Land Trust in December 2000, followed soon thereafter by a gift of a 5-acre inholding from James Fralick of Canandaigua.  The Hansens and Fralick wanted to protect this unique woodland from future development.  Their action will help protect the water quality of the lake as well as views of this mile-plus length of hillside from many vantage points.

In 2012, a 32-acre parcel was purchased as a non-contiguous addition to the Great Hill Preserve, bringing the size of the preserve to 255 acres. And in 2022, an additional non-contiguous 58-acre parcel was added thanks to an anonymous donor. Although there are no trails on these two parcels, their mature forests continue to provide a home for wildlife, filter runoff to Canandaigua Lake, and maintain scenic vistas for which the area is well known.

Land Acknowledgment

The Finger Lakes Land Trust recognizes that our nature preserves exist on the homeland of the Haudenosaunee. We hope to honor indigenous peoples’ ongoing relationship with the land by conserving wild places forever.

Public Use

Please see our public use policies for recreational activities on nature preserves.

Go Finger Lakes logo


Go Finger Lakes is the free web site created by the Finger Lakes Land Trust to promote recreation and conservation. Use the interactive map of 50+ hiking, biking, paddling, skiing, and outdoor adventure destinations across the region!


From Rte. 5 & 20, east of Canandaigua Lake, turn left on Rte. 364 South. Continue on Rte. 364 to Middlesex. At the town center, turn right on Rte. 245 South. Continue 4.8 miles and turn right on Sunnyside Rd. Go over the West River for 0.4 miles and bear left at fork in the road. Go 0.4 miles to the next fork and bear right onto South Hill Rd. Go 0.7 miles up the hill to the entrance to the Great Hill Preserve, on left side of road.