Buffalo's Neighborhoods


Grand Island, NY

Beaver Island State Park. Photo by Lee Ruk

Over the River

Millions of tourists traveling to Niagara Falls pass through Grand Island every year. Those who drive past the natural beauty, family attractions and other island amenities on their way to the Falls are missing out. From state parks along the Niagara River ideal for year-round enjoyment to Erie County’s only amusement park and an old-fashioned country store, a day in Grand Island is a terrific way to complement a trip to Buffalo, Niagara Falls or both.

Grand Island

Grand Island

Over the River

Pack a picnic lunch and grab the swimsuits and golf clubs in the summer. Or, snowshoe and cross country ski in the winter. Experience a picturesque year-round natural setting at the 950-acre Beaver Island State Park along the southwestern corner of the island, the largest state park in Erie County. Or, if your preference is something wilder, hike Buckhorn Island State Park on the northwest corner, an 895 acre preserve that’s the final vestige of marshlands and meadows straddling the Niagara River.

Once you’ve had your fill of nature, enjoy Erie County’s only amusement park, Martin’s Fantasy Island. The park has been delighting children and families for decades with roller coasters like the Silver Comet, thrill rides, a water park and a Wild West Shoot-Out show performed several times a day.

No island trip is complete without a stop at Kelly’s Country Store, which has been a Grand Island mainstay for over 50 years. From candy jars along the counter to hundreds of varieties of chocolate and gifts, Kelly’s Country Store is a Christmas and Eastertime staple and a must at any time of year.

If a day at Grand Island’s parks has whet your appetite, there are nearly three dozen dining options available, from Louisiana cuisine at Dick and Jenny’s and home cooking at the Village Inn to local flavors like beef on weck at Adrian’s Custard and Beef and char-grilled goodness at Theodore’s Red Hots.

— Brian Hayden

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Discovering a Natural Oasis: Grand Island’s State Parks

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Both Beaver Island State Park and Buckhorn Island State Park are perfect destinations for a few hours or a full day of outdoorsy R&R. Both are wildlife refuges bounded by the beautiful Niagara River and teeming with flora, fauna, and fun. Here are some of the highlights from the only town in Erie County with two state parks:

Beaver Island State Park
Beaver Island State Park is just off of Exit 18B on the I-190; just follow the very visible signs leading to the park entrance ($7.00 entrance fee). Beaver Island is 950 acres encompassing just about every outdoor activity.

One of the park’s main attractions is its half-mile beach accessible from a traditional boardwalk. During the summer the beach is open 11a.m.-7 p.m. and is staffed by lifeguards. The nearby Boardwalk Bar and Grill serves finger foods (including flatbreads and grilled fare) and has a surprisingly large array of beers on tap. Seating is available at the bar or at one of several tables under a large tent with views of the beach below.

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Of special note is River Lea at the southern end of Beaver Island: signs along roads in the park show the way to the historic building. River Lea is the former summer residence of family members of U.S. President Grover Cleveland and now it’s a history museum. The grounds are lovely and a hiking trail beyond the house (look for the cast iron gate) leads to a place where migratory birds, including snowy egrets, nest.

On the road leading to River Lea keep an eye out for several places to stop and observe nature along the lush shoreline of long grasses. There is one small wooden shack, replete with a bench inside, that is perfect for bird watching. Paddlers should also look for a sign marking a good place to put in to paddle out to Strawberry Island and Motor Island. Another less wild place to put in is at the park’s marina, to the right of the beach.

Buckhorn Island State Park
Buckhorn Island is the sister park of Beaver Island – on the opposite end of Grand Island and near the other set of double span bridges. Buckhorn is almost the same size as Beaver Island but is more rustic as it has no restrooms, concessions, sporting facilities, or picnicking/shelters.

While Beaver Island is easy to find, Buckhorn can be a little challenging for first-time visitors. When driving down East River Road, look for a sign for the park on the right side of the street if heading north. A small parking lot with a handful of spots is just off of a long driveway.

Buckhorn

Like parts of Beaver Island, Buckhorn is a nature sanctuary attracting migratory birds and other species and features a meadow. One thing to note is that Grand Island has seen an uptick (bad pun intended) in ticks so do consider wearing bug repellent.

On either side of the trails and close to the marsh note several species of wildflowers: members of the orchid family, asters, and many more. It is possible to kayak or canoe within the park as well as bicycle. Most people are here to hike on the several trails.

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