Discovering Sanctuary at Hunter’s Creek Park

In Buffalo, we like to say that you can get anywhere in 20 minutes. And it’s true. There’s not too much around here that’s more than a quick trip away. And while the convenience of locales like the airport and New Era Field make the top of the “20 minute” list there’s another spot within driving distance of downtown that you can’t miss if you’re a fan of the outdoors.

Hunter’s Creek Park (also dedicated as Sgt. Mark A Rademacher Memorial Park) outside of East Aurora may not be as popular as Devil’s Hole State Park or Chestnut Ridge’s Eternal Flame, but it’s a hidden gem favored by locals in the know. It may be comparatively small, but the winding gorge, waterfalls, and abundant trails to explore give it a much bigger feel.  It’s a conservation park so it’s underdeveloped by design, and since it’s not as well advertised as other parks it’s been largely unscathed by the graffiti and litter that can often plague popular outdoor areas.

My dog Bo and I head to Hunter’s Creek just about every weekend in the summer.  The 20-mile network of crisscrossing trails give you endless options. You can stay on the high ground and look for the remains of Kellogg Cabin or head down into the gorge and hike along the creek bed. If you’re looking for a longer hike, there’s a long linear trail that starts from the northern end of the park and stretches all the way to the southern edge.

What I love about Hunter’s Creek is that the park’s personality changes with the seasons. In the dry summer months, the creek is low enough to hike in or cross over. The fall foliage paints the park with a palette of yellows, reds, oranges, and purples while the winter months transform it into a frozen playground. Come spring the snow melt roars over the waterfalls and through the gorge.

At the risk of exaggerating a bit, Hunter’s Creek sometimes reminds me of some 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. And then there’s the location. Like many of our National Parks, Hunter’s Creek takes a little work to get to, but there’s a charming small town close by if you’re in need of rations. On my way home from a hike, I like to head into East Aurora to stop at Homegrown Kitchen and re-fuel with their Chunky Monkey Smoothie or the Ranchera grain bowl.

If you do decide to head out to Hunter’s Creek make sure you check the weather. It can drastically affect conditions. Dry days are best to visit. Bring waterproof footwear if you have it. You’ll almost certainly end up near or in the creek. I like to bring a pair of flip flops to change into afterwards. Make sure you have plenty of water, food, sunscreen, a first aid kit and all the other standard hiking necessities. Here’s a good checklist to work off of. Cell service can be spotty so make sure you take a screen shot of the park map on your phone. You can find a map here. There is also one at the main trail head at the south lot.

One last thing: those of us that enjoy the outdoors can be a bit over protective of our natural resources. Promoting conservation areas like Hunter’s Creek can increase visitation and could have a negative impact on sensitive environments in the park. But it doesn’t seem right to keep such an awesome place a secret. I share it with you in hopes that you’ll enjoy it responsibly. We all play a role in caring for our shared public land.  Before you visit any park, familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace Principles and Park Rules. Help preserve places like Hunter’s Creek so that we can continue to enjoy them for years to come.

So, meet me and Bo on the trails this weekend?

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