The weather is finally consistent enough to plan outdoor activities. (Knock on wood…) And while the beach is always fun as are patio drinks with friends, if you’re looking for something a little different that involves getting your blood pumping, incredible views, and maybe a furry, four-legged friend, keep reading.
Western New York is a diverse area filled with everything from waterfalls and gorges to forests and valleys. There’s something for everyone including easy and advanced hikes, hour long walks to hiking day trips. Here’s a list of some of the best hiking trails In WNY, categorized by day trips and quick trips:
1. Zoar Valley
If you’re a pretty decent hiker and have a whole day off during the week this summer, check out Zoar Valley. Put “Valentine Flats Road, Gowanda NY” into the GPS and it’ll take you to the end of a road where you can park in a cornfield. The trailhead is marked, but take care to remember your route as you make your way through the woods down to the gorge. (There are often reports of people getting lost in this area.) Once you make it down the woods path, you’ll find yourself emerged in a gorge that has you believing you’ve left New York and landed out west. If you’re looking for some direction, hike upstream and to the right when you come to the fork in the stream. You’ll pass beautiful waterfalls coming down the gorge on both sides.
Note the signs that clearly mark where public use ends and private property begins – please be respectful of all the land, do not go on private property, and “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints”. Bringing a book bag packed with lunch and lots of water is highly recommended, as is taking everything and anything you brought in with you. If you’re looking to stick around for more than a day, worry not – there’s plenty to do. Also, be on the lookout for bald eagles!
Stay on marked trails. The MUA contains hazards associated with rocks, steep slopes, cliffs and swift water. Safe gorge and creek access is only from the Valentine Flats Trail and Forty Road parking lot. There is no authorized, safe trail to access Cattaraugus Creek on the Erie County side or from the Town of Otto, Cattaraugus County portion of the Multiple Use Area.
Another great place to check out for a whole-day hiking trip is Devil’s Hole, a trail that is part of the Niagara Gorge. This area has a much clearer trail than Zoar but still requires carefulness and attentiveness. The water is extremely powerful here – do not go to close to the edge and do NOT enter the water. That being said, pack a lunch and water and explore the area.
As you walk along the gorge, you’ll see a giant rock cave off to your left – that’s Devil’s Hole, a cool place to explore. Keep hiking up the trail and find many rocks that jut out over the water – the perfect stopping point for lunch with an incredible view. If you continue upstream, eventually the trail diminishes and you emerge among rocks that go right up along the rapids. A very cool, but dangerous area – leash your dog here so they do not get too close to the edge. The power of the water and rapids here is humbling and will take your breath away.
A more advanced trail, the Whirlpool Rapids trail has a steep advancement into the gorge that will put you at ground level, face-to-face with the Niagara River Rapids. For the go-getter willing to put in a full workout, this is the trail for you.
Day Trip / Website
If you are looking to see a not so touristy waterfall, this is the place to go. Located in the village of Akron, the state park has a stunning 40 foot waterfall located at the foot of Murder Creek. In addition to trails for hiking, the state park also has opportunities for biking, fishing, and outdoor recreation at the basketball and tennis courts . Pavilion rentals are also available for hosting events with grilling stations provided for all your picnic needs.
Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park contains 66 miles worth of hiking trails that come across 3 major waterfalls. Trails are also available for biking and horseback riding as well as guided tours of the area. To further enhance the experience, the park also offers opportunities for white water rafting, kayaking, swimming, and even hot air ballooning! With multiple opportunities to explore the area, Letchworth makes a perfect day trip for you and a couple of friends to embrace one of the most scenic regions of the East!
If you’re looking for a shorter trip that involves less care, less planning and less of your day, check out Chestnut Ridge. This is a classic for any WNY Southtowner. It’s Easy to get to and offers short hikes through beautiful wooded areas and smaller gorges. You could easily spend hours here or just take a quick trip. Enter the main park area and turn left towards the main lodge, keep going past the main parking lot and continue, slowly, onto the car pathway through the park.
Pass over a stone bridge and find the next set of shelters which house the 100 steps down to the gorge. Park off to the right and walk along the woods behind the shelters. You will come to a pathway that leads to the 100 steps. Take special care as the steps are eroding from harsh weather and lack of maintenance. You can explore the gorge at the bottom, but go to the right. Fallen trees block the left a little ways up.
The Eternal Flame has a separate entrance from the Ridge just past the park coming from Buffalo. This hike is fairly easy, but use your judgment, there have been several injuries this year alone from people falling over the edge. Stay on the path down to the water and go upstream. It’s a short, easy hike but you will get your feet wet. You will come up to the waterfall and hear the water and smell the natural gas before you see it. The flame is small but really an amazing thing to have in Buffalo’s backyard. (Note: bring matches just in case). If you Google this phenomena you’ll realize how rare naturally occurring flames are. This is a really cool winter hike as well.
7. Knox Farm
Knox Farm is another shorter trip with easier trails a short drive away from Buffalo in East Aurora. The park is actually 633 acres where visitors can hike in addition to observe wildlife, cross-country ski and ride horseback along beautifully scenic nature trails. The farm has a large open area for big dogs to run around and get their energy out before exploring the rest of the farm. Trails weave in and out of the woods here offering fun for humans of all ages and dogs alike. Nature walks are also offered through a partnership with New York Audubon and the Buffalo Audubon Society, as well as programs offered by state park naturalists.
8. The Town of Lockport Nature Trail
Quick Trip / Website
Explore the miles of trails through wooded areas that lead to some rolling water and waterfalls. Large trees surround the area with oaks reaching diameters of 8 feet! Multiple trails of different difficulty allow for hikers of all skill levels to take in the beauty of the area.
Please remember to respect all of these areas. Nature areas that we are free to explore are diminishing due to human abuse and neglect. Do not litter or graffiti and pick up after yourself and your four-legged friends. We highly recommend visiting each parks website and printing out park/trail maps to take with you on your journey. Enjoy!
This post was originally published in June 2015 and has been updated.