Cobbs Hill autumn pinnacle hill

A Range of Possibilities: Exploring Rochester’s Pinnacle Hills

The Pinnacle Range forms a portion of the City of Rochester’s southern border. It is a glacial moraine formed by the retreating Wisconsin Glacier 12,000 years ago. It is composed of large mounds of sand and gravel.

The Five Pinnacle Hills are Cobb’s Hill, Pinnacle Hill, Highland Park, Mount Hope, and Oak Hill. Highland Drive connects the first four hills but ends at Mount Hope. The University of Rochester campus on Oak Hill lies just beyond Mount Hope Cemetery at the river’s edge.

As Herman Fairchild states in The Pinnacle Hills, or The Rochester Kame-Moraine, from the Proceedings of the Rochester Academy of Science, “Only two other physiographic features about Rochester can compare with the range for size and interest. These are the Rochester Canyon of the Genesee River and the Irondequoit Valley, the latter being the ancient or Pre-Glacial channel of the river.”

Map of Rochester NY Pinnacle Range
Google topographic map
Best of Rochester - Day Trips Around Rochester book

Day Trips Around Rochester, New York

1. Cobb’s Hill

Cobbs Hill Lake Riley
Cobbs Hill Lake Riley widewaters field
Cobbs Hill Lake Riley eastern wide water
Sledding Cobbs Hill cover
Cobbs Hill Washington Grove path to water towers
Cobbs Hill communication tower reservoir
Cobbs Hill bench cover
Cobb’s Hill

Cobb’s Hill provides one of the best views of the city skyline.

According to an article entitled Dedication of the Widewaters Field Monument, from the Rochester Museum & Science Center archives, “…Widewaters—also called Lake Riley—was once a canal boat turn-around in Cobb’s Hill Park near Culver Road.” Take a look at a photo postcard on of the canal running through Cobb’s Hill Park.

Because of the challenges that the Pinnacle Range presented, major infrastructure like the Erie Canal, trolley line, subway, and 1-490 expressway were constructed around it, leaving this beautiful area intact.

Even still, the hills saw their fair share of mining for sand and gravel. In an article on introducing Gideon Cobb, “Environmentalists soon decried the use of the Pinnacle Range for clay, gravel, and sand pits. In 1910, George Eastman purchased one third of the Pinnacle Range, including Cobb’s Hill, and presented it to the City of Rochester as a park.”

A trail through Washington Grove winds through a quiet grove of ancient oaks and leads you up to the graffiti-tagged water towers.

Cobbs Hill also hosts Monroe Country’s Public Safety Communications and is one of Rochester’s most popular sledding hills.

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Cobbs Hill + Washington Grove

The peaceful view from Cobbs Hill, along with the friendly people walking and taking it all in, make it a unique Rochester experience.

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2. Pinnacle Hill

Cobbs Hill Pinnacle Hill October
Pinnacle Hill
Pinnacle Hill trail
Pinnacle Hill residential
Pinnacle Hill Bike Trails
Pinnacle Hill trail
Pinnacle Hill

Pinnacle Hill is Rochester’s highest point and is home to five of its broadcast signal towers, plus the aptly named Hillside Children’s Center.

Pinnacle Hill was heavily excavated for gravel, especially during the cutting of S. Clinton Ave through the range. It is the most rustic. Woodland bike trails dominate the hill, which borders Pinnacle Rd. and Field St.

Pinnacle Hill also hosted St. Patrick’s Church cemetery. From the RocHistory blog,

“There are records showing that some removals to Holy Sepulchre started in 1872. By 1879, the cemetery had become very overgrown. Old newspaper articles say that the last burial in St. Patrick’s was in 1900. Then, in 1935, it was decided to remove all the rest of the burials in the cemetery.”

3. Highland Park

Highland Hill park view
Highland Park stairs
Highland Park guided walking tours
highland park reservoir cover
late april trees highland park
Sledding Hills Around Rochester: Highland Bowl
Pinnacle Range view from Colgate Divinity
View toward Bristol and the eastern Finger Lakes

Looking roughly 28 miles south, you can see the hills and protected lands surrounding our freshwater sources at Canadice and Hemlock Lakes. Those waters fill the reservoir here and at Cobb’s Hill and provide for the city below.

Highland Park is a series of rolling hills and meandering pathways. Follow them through the memorials, around the reservoir, through the pinetum, and across South Ave. to Highland Bowl and the Sunken Garden.

The Pinnacle Range has been a popular place for early Rochesterians to bury their dead. In a 2020 WXXI News article by Veronica Volk entitled, ‘They’re under our feet’: Highland Park is the final resting place for hundreds of unidentified remains, the plaque, located near the other memorials, reads,

“This plaque is dedicated to the men, women, and children whose unmarked graves were discovered here in 1984. They are believed to have been 19th century residents of the Monroe County Almshouse, Insane Asylum, and Penitentiary that occupied this site.”

Despite best attempts, an estimated 600 individuals remain buried there today.

The old Colgate Divinity campus shares a similar sweeping southern view to standing at the reservoir to the east.

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Highland Park in Rochester

Highland Park has even been described as a museum of exotic trees, many of which are the tallest of their species in the state, though few are native.

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4. Mount Hope

Mount Hope Cemetery kettle
Mount Hope Cemetery fossil wall
30 day trips within 30 minutes of Rochester: Mount Hope Cemetery
Mount Hope Cemetery Geologic History
Mount Hope Cemetery

Mount Hope Cemetery is quite different from its fellow Pinnacle Hills. In The Epitaph, published in 2004, author William Chaisson writes that “the continuous use of Mount Hope as a cemetery since 1838 has also preserved an incomparable glacial landscape.”

Take a guided geology walk to learn about ice age landforms (kames, moraines, kettles), the type of stones that make up gravestones, mausoleums, the ground you’re standing on, and residents who influenced the sciences during their time above ground.

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Mount Hope Cemetery

Mount Hope Cemetery’s winding roads are best explored on foot for a glimpse into the area’s rich history, ecology, and geology.

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5. Oak Hill

Oak Hill U of R tennis courts cover
Mount Hope Cemetery University Rochester
University of Rochester Oak Hill

You may be scratching your head, trying to recall ever having noticed a large hill on the river’s edge. Leveled to create a golf course that has since relocated, Oak Hill is now the University of Rochester’s riverside campus. Oak Hill Country Club was located next to the river from 1901 to 1921 before moving to Pittsford.

More Information on Rochester’s Pinnacle Range

map HL Fairchild The Pinnacle Hills
Map: H.L. Fairchild – The Pinnacle Hills

For more in-depth history, check out a few of these resources:

Monroe County Library System

New York State Geological Association

New York Heritage

The Epitaph, Vol. 23, Winter 2004

To give a perspective of historical events in a modern context, I found this paragraph helpful:

“The final retreat from the Pinnacle kame-moraine was associated with a drop in the lake’s level, and the water body in front of the ice sheet became “Glacial Lake Dawson.” The ice – front was then located roughly along the present shoreline of Lake Ontario. The shoreline of Glacial Lake Dawson was below, the ridge on which Mt. Hope Avenue and East and West Henrietta roads are built, This height of land separates the modern Genesee watershed from the Irondequoit Creek drainage. Lake Dawson filled the Irondequoit Creek watershed, but a smaller glacial water body called Glacial Lake Scottsville remained in the Genesee Valley between Rochester and Avon. The dam that created the lake was the Albion-Rochester kame-moraine, which crossed the valley at the present site of the River Campus of the University of Rochester.”

Dansville pre-glacial Genesee River valley
pre-glacial Genesee River valley through Dansville/Sparta/Groveland
Canaseraga Creek
Canaseraga Creek
Dansville and Mount Morris Railroad
Dansville and Mount Morris Railroad

The Genesee River

The ancient river flowed into Irondequoit Bay from its source in Gold, PA.

Because a terminal moraine near Portageville-Nunda-Dansville blocked its pre-glacial path, the river found another way to Lake Ontario along its current course through Letchworth, reconnecting with its original route at Mount Morris.

“This “Valley-Heads” moraine lies just south of Dansville, and crosses the Genesee Valley at Portage, where it is wide and massive. It is this moraine that blocks the ancient valley and has forced the river into the new channel, the Portage Canyon.” [Source, p. 154, document page 15.]

There is a spot in the valley just north of the Village of Dansville where White Bridge Road crosses Canaseraga Creek. It’s interesting to imagine the Genesee passing through here.

You can drive along I-390 between NY-408 and NY-36 right through the valley.

The Mendon Moraine blocked the river’s course again, where it once followed Irondequoit Creek’s journey from its origin in Honeoye Falls to Irondequoit Bay. A source not far from Honeoye Creek, which flows into the Genesee River.

Additional Reading

The Pre-Glacial Course of the Middle Portion of the Genesee River by R. H. Whitbeck

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Geologic History of the Rochester Area

These day trips into Rochester’s geologic history will remind you just how amazing our corner of the Earth is.

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Exploring The Genesee River

At Genesee Valley Park, the river merges with the Erie Canal and continues north through Rochester before reaching Lake Ontario.

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Explore Letchworth State Park

Letchworth has something for everyone, from hiking one of the park’s 29 trails and picnicking beside a waterfall to taking a scenic drive.

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Mendon Ponds Park

Mendon Ponds is Monroe County’s most expansive park, with woodlands, ponds, wetlands, and 21 miles of color-coded trails across 2,500 acres.

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Gorge Trails Near Rochester

Gorge trails call out from their deep, dark, and cool caverns. If you haven’t already, start checking these spectacular trails off your list.

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Street Art: Exploring Rochester’s Murals & Graffiti

Rochester has a vibrant street art culture, with dozens of murals, graffiti, and other forms of public art on display throughout the region.

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The Best Sledding Hills Around Rochester

Are you ready to play in the snow? Take your sled to one of Monroe County’s thrilling sledding hills, like Mendon Ponds and Black Creek.

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Rochester’s Olmsted-Designed Parks

Rochester is fortunate to be one of a handful of American cities with a park system comprised of Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parks.

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While all of this happened in the past and many have contributed to studies and explanations, the individual who can go see for themself will enjoy noting places where these things can be seen.

Glacial Geology by James S. Wishart.

Where are your favorite spots along the Pinnacle Range?

Your insights and experiences are valuable. Please share them in the comments.

Debi Bower, Day Trips Around Rochester NY

Debi Bower is the founder and creative director of and author of the award-winning book Day Trips Around Rochester, New York.

People often ask me if I get free access to places while exploring. The answer is no unless I’m invited to previews or granted behind-the-scenes access as part of my media role. Generally, I don’t mention my project, Day Trips Around Rochester, NY, because I want the same experience you would have. I create and share content simply because it brings me joy. I would appreciate your support—a cup of coffee or two to help fuel future field trips—if you have found valuable information here that has helped you explore the Rochester area.

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