Rolling hills. River rapids. Stunning cliffs. Unique geological features. And forests, streams, and meadows. Western New York offers a wide variety of hiking opportunities for those looking to get outside and enjoy some fresh air.
Here are 15 unique hikes to take within an hour’s drive of downtown Buffalo:
Eternal Flame at Chestnut Ridge – Chestnut Ridge Road, Orchard Park
Chestnut Ridge County Park not only retains charming hiking trails, but also a hidden gem – the Eternal Flame. The natural gas leak, nestled within a trickling creek waterfall earned it a spot on the “15 Jaw-Dropping Places Worth Visiting” list on Mentalfloss.com. The flame is reachable via a trek up a ravine.
Akron Falls County Park – 44 Parkview Dr., Akron
The moderate trek directs hikers along rushing Murder Creek to the lower falls viewing area – a breathtaking scene of gentle cascades tumbling over natural limestone formations. Picnic and play areas are available for families looking to relax in the sun as well.
Knox Farm State Park – 437 Buffalo Rd., East Aurora
More than 600 acres of rolling meadows and forested trails await visitors just outside the village of East Aurora. The former estate of the Knox family offers a bucolic landscape and myriad of hiking opportunities.
Tifft Nature Preserve – 1200 Fuhrmann Blvd., Buffalo
Families, birdwatchers, and hikers alike would enjoy a quick getaway to the 264-acre Tifft Nature Preserve. Formerly a landfill, the now-rehabilitated land invites visitors to observe native wildlife just minutes from downtown. The preserve – composed of wetlands and expansive forests – features hiking trails, boardwalks, and even a glimpse of Buffalo’s industrial heritage.
Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve – 93 Honorine Dr., Cheektowaga
The family-friendly Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve offers well-kempt trails, allowing visitors to explore the diverse flora and native wildlife. Guests can loop around a peaceful pond speckled with magenta lilies or follow the Beech Tree Trail to view the biggest American beech tree in the state. The park even offers entertainment for children in the form of both an environmental education center and a nature play area.
Niagara Gorge – 3180 DeVeaux Woods Drive, Niagara Falls
The Niagara Gorge at Whirlpool State Park trails will suit both scenic strollers and challenge-driven climbers. The Rim Trail, at the top of the gorge, provides a picturesque overlook of the river. Those pursuing a more adventurous hike may wish to descend the steps to the gorge to view the rapids via the moderate Devil’s Hole or the difficult Whirlpool Rapids Trail. As repairs were conducted this summer, check with the NYS Parks department for staircase accessibility here.
Zoar Valley – Forty Road entrance
“Zoar is a breathtaking spectacle of the kind you would expect to find in the wilds of the West,” according to blogger Ed Healy. “It’s one of the natural wonders of New York State, with old growth forests, dramatic vistas and heart-pounding recreation opportunities.” The cliffs and gorges of Zoar can be found outside the village of Gowanda.
Beaver Meadow: 1610 Welch Rd., North Java
Just 45 minutes from downtown Buffalo, Beaver Meadow is crisscrossed with a series of well-marked trails, ranging from easy to moderate levels of exertion, making it perfect for hikes with children. Pick up a map at the parking lot and head across the road to the aptly named Rusty Stove Trail. Here you’ll find – wait for it – a rusty stove in pieces on the ground — a remnant, no doubt, of a long-ago farm that stood in these woods. Stop by the Interpretive Center on your way out to learn a little about the flora and fauna that flourish here.
Buckhorn Island State Park: E. River Rd., Grand Island
This hike skirts both the Niagara River and the marshy expanse that comprises most of Buckhorn. The 4.1 out-and-back trail takes you under the Grand Island bridges that carry I-190 north, but hike a little further and you’ll find yourself away from the hum of traffic at the tip of the Buckhorn Peninsula. You’ll be right in the middle of the Niagara River as it rushes to the brink of the Falls and plummets downward, creating a plume of mist hundreds of feet high.
Deer Lick Conservation Area: Point Peter Rd., Gowanda
Part of the Zoar Valley conservation landscape, Deer Lick is a relatively easy 3.1-mile hike that wanders through towering old growth trees and gently flowing streams, culminating in a spectacular view of the valley far below. Established by the Nature Conservancy, the trail is well-marked and well-maintained. As with all hikes in and around Zoar Valley, be extra cautious as you near the edge of the cliffs.
18-Mile Creek: South Creek Rd., Hamburg
This four-mile out-and-back hike in the town of Hamburg was described by Visit Buffalo Niagara blogger Eileen Healy as “a place that was worthy of comparison to some of the most impressive natural places we had visited in the past – a deep gorge with a fast-flowing stream seen through a curtain of new green growth.”
Griffis Sculpture Park: 6902 Mill Valley Rd., East Otto
The rolling hills south of Springville provide the perfect setting for the sculpture of Larry Griffis, Jr. and friends. Scores of massive steel sculptures dot the hillsides and circle a pond – imaginative creatures great and small seen through the eyes of one of Buffalo’s most renowned artists. There’s no other walk through woods like it in all of Western New York.
Hunter’s Creek: Hunter’s Creek Rd., South Wales
VBN correspondent Jay Josker described Hunter’s Creek as a hidden gem that reminds him of some of our national parks. “There’s a turn in the gorge that looks like a section of The Narrows in Zion. A heavy spring rain will make the creek gush like Yosemite’s Merced, and if you go on an off-day it’s secluded enough to make you think you’re in Glacier. The scenery isn’t quite the same and the trails are comparatively easy, but you’d be hard pressed to find another spot around here that so fully immerses you in nature.”
Little Rock City – Little Rock City Rd., Little Valley
Massive rock formations and the passageways cut through them by thousands of years of erosion make Little Rock City a magical place to explore. Located south of Ellicottville, this is the most remote hike on our list, taking you deep into the heart of Western New York to a place of geologic wonder.
Sprague Brook County Park – 9674 Foote Rd., Glenwood
The ride south from Buffalo is almost as enticing as the hike. Route 240 meanders alongside the twists and turns of Cazenovia Creek, through the lovely villages of West Falls and Colden and into the part of Western New York locals like to call “ski country.” You’ll pass Kissing Bridge ski resort just before making a left into Sprague Brook Park, where you’ll find a lengthy trail that loops around the park’s namesake stream. Depending on the time of the year, prepare to get your feet wet crossing the brook.