Spring is here and it’s time to scope out the best places to take advantage of the perfect hiking weather. We only get so many warm sunny days after all, so the sooner you can get out there the better. Here in WNY we have everything from meadows, to wetlands, forests, water, and more. Whether you prefer a grass trail over asphalt or a pleasantly shaded forest over a beach, there’s something for everyone. If you’re not quite sure where to start, look no further, because this list has you covered.
1. Tifft Nature Preserve
1200 Fuhrmann Boulevard, Buffalo / More Info
The Outer Harbor may be Buffalo’s greatest natural experience, and Tifft Nature Preserve is a large part of the reason. At Tifft you can hike over hills, follow wooden paths, and use pre-constructed blinds to sneak up on wildlife. There are enough trails in Tifft to keep you busy for a few days. The lookout point in the back right corner is a fantastic spot for reflection. Because so few people ever visit it, Woods Ducks and many of the more rare/shy creatures tend to hang out around there. If you’re lucky you may even stumble on a few of the protected snapping turtle nesting sites.
Moreover, Tifft is likely the city’s premier birding site. It’s perfectly located near the water and surrounded by enough city development to cause most migratory birds to stop-by. And don’t forget to check out the newly renovated visitor center. They offer tours, classes and a host of other great activities.
2. Beeman Creek Park – Clarence
Beeman Creek County Park, Clarence Center / More Info
Beeman Creek Park is one of the few truly untouched places left. There’s been very little development here, which means it’s the perfect refuge for wildlife! Beeman Creek cuts through one side of the park, and is a good place to catch trout. It isn’t too well known, so you won’t have to deal with much, if any, competition. Overall, Beeman Park is a great place to hike. Since it’s relatively untouched you’ll get to experience a more raw type of environment.
3. Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge – “Swallow Hallow” – One of our Area’s Best
Basom, NY 14013 / More Info
This National Park is over 10,000 acres! Encompassing a wide range of ecosystems, the park features Emergent Marshes, Forest Wetlands and expansive Grasslands. The best times to visit are during the Spring and Fall. During these times, thousands upon thousands of migratory waterfowl use the park as a stopover point. Each year 30,000-40,000 Canadian Geese can be seen at the refuge. Accompanying the geese are many rarer birds as well. Two pairs of Bald Eagles consistently nest in the park each year. Moreover, the Forest Wetlands supply ample opportunity to spy uncommon warblers while you hike. Look in the canopy for nestling Cerulean Warblers and many other fascinating species.
4. Glen Falls + Amherst State Park
5565 Main St, Williamsville, NY 14221 / More Info
In the heart of Williamsville, Glen Falls is both a great drive-by and hiking destination. View the falls from the street, or walk up for a closer view! Glen Park has numerous ponds where ducks often nest. In late spring there are usually two or three small broods of ducklings waddling around (especially at the somewhat hidden pond in the back). Some people might complain there aren’t enough trails to hike in Glen Park, but what they don’t realize is that Glen Park is connected to Amherst State Park.
If you follow Ellicott Creek away from the falls, and toward the parking lot of the other side of Glen Ave, there are several entry points that penetrate the forest along the creek. The entrances may seem subtle at first, but the paths are obvious enough. Using these dirt trails, hikers can walk along the creek for quite a ways. Eventually you’ll come to an Apple Orchard adjacent to a bridge, which you can use to cross the creek. There are miles of trails in Amherst State Park. The terrain includes marsh, forest, and meadow and there’s plenty to see!
5. Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve – Beavers & Owls Galore
93 Honorine Dr, Depew, NY 14043 / More Info
Reinstein Woods is a unique park with 292 acres of property and an incredible visiting center. Grab a map and traverse the complex trail way where you’ll see all sorts of wildlife. The most outstanding aspect of the park is certainly the large ponds which original caretaker Dr. Victor Reinstein created. Free tours and educational workshops abound, the park makes great use of its education center.
The best time to visit may actually be at night though, after the daytime visitors have left. As the sun goes down, the park comes to life! Listen and watch as herons come and go from the main pond and owls call.
If you sit on a small bench on the main trail (right next to the main pond) you’ll notice there’s an odd path running perpendicular to the manmade pathway. Just as the sun sets each day, beavers cross this path. If you’re extremely quiet you’ll be only a few feet away as they make their daily migration!
6. Walton Woods Park
350-500 John James Audubon Pkwy, Buffalo, NY 14228 / More Info
Behind the Audubon Library is an awesome opportunity to experience some nature. Walton Woods is essentially a large pond, circumscribed by asphalt pavement, and hidden by forest. The pond is a popular fishing spot, and you’ll see fish jump out of the water with some frequency. When the sun peaks in the sky, many of the larger fish seek shelter in the shadows under the trees. Which means you’ll usually be able to see them quite easily! Moreover, this park is great for spying turtles. One of the rarest local species, the Eastern Spiny Softshell, can be found here.
7. Bird Island Pier
Temporarily Closed due to Covid-19
Bird Island Pier, Buffalo / More Info
Walk one of Buffalo’s break-walls! Located on what is now referred to Unity Island (we think…) – Bird Island Park, Broderick Park, and the International Railway Bridge all intersect. The Bird Island Pier is a popular fishing spot and offers an exceptional view of the Niagara River! The pier is quite long, and the ubiquitous breeze feels wonderful on a sunny afternoon. Sunsets taken in from the pier are brilliant, and the nighttime view of the Peace Bridge is spectacular!
8. Griffis Sculpture Park
6902 Mill Valley Rd, East Otto / More Info / Open seasonally
Griffis State Park is truly one of our area’s most unique experiences! There are miles of great trails to hike with a variety of sculptures to see along the way. The level of art combined with the intricate trail ways match, if not exceed, some of the similar parks you’ll find in larger cities so make sure you bring a camera to Insta away. Coupled with the natural beauty of the park, many of the sculptures are “interactive.” Meaning you’re actually allowed to climb many of them! Likewise, depending on your adventurous curiosity, you may find yourself ascending ladders inside some of the larger pieces. Have fun with that.
This park is privately owned and they ask for an optional donation upon entry.
9. Times Beach Nature Preserve + Lighthouse
Due to a bad storm in 2019, Times Beach Nature Preserve is closed indefinitely.
Coast Guard Station S Rd, Buffalo / More Info
Another gem on the Outer Harbor is Times Beach Nature Preserve. Located directly adjacent to the Coast Guard, it’s less of a beach and more of a sanctuary for nature. There are plenty of trails to walk along, which are generally paved with small stones. In the center of the park is a reservoir where numerous animals come to drink, especially as the sun goes down. Walking from one end of the park to the other is a must as the scenery changes quite a bit, going from from forest to brush and eventually coming right up to the lake. Walking along the break wall always makes for a serene end to the day.
On the opposite side of the Coast Guard, we now have access to the Buffalo Lighthouse! Walk up to the structure’s front door, and feel free to examine it for yourself. Free tours are even offered if you schedule ahead of time (things may have changed due to Covid-19). There are also a number of interesting maritime artifacts surrounding the lighthouse.
Did we miss one? Did one of these places close? Send us a note!
This article was originally published in May 2016 and has been updated.