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Tuesday, February 20, 2024
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The top five trails for hiking with friends in Western New York

I have tried them all (almost)

<p>Akron Falls is spectacular in the spring, but it's worth checking out in the winter too — the waterfall turns completely to ice.</p>

Akron Falls is spectacular in the spring, but it's worth checking out in the winter too — the waterfall turns completely to ice.

Whenever I’ve got a day off, I’m drawn to the hiking trail. It’s a great time to ground yourself in nature, get some exercise and have a face to face conversation with a good friend. 

Having lived in Buffalo for the past 17 years — my whole conscious life, really — I have tried most of the trails in the area, many of them repeatedly. I know which ones are worth the drive, and which ones are worth skipping. This is a definitive ranking of my five favorites. 

No matter where you go, just remember to be safe. Some of the trails on this list can be dangerous in precarious weather conditions or at night, and some are relatively remote. Keep in mind it’s always safer to hike with a buddy. 

5. Zoar Valley 

Zoar Valley might be further from North Campus than any of the other entries on this list, but it’s worth the hour-long drive. Situated in Gowanda, New York, this hike concludes with a clifftop view of massive stretches of the valley, but the creekside path that leads to it is just as beautiful. You’ll likely have the path more or less all to yourself, but I highly recommend you bring bug spray. And you’re definitely going to want to be careful on this one: if you fall off the edge, you’re toast.
I’d put Zoar Valley higher up on the list, but the distance from campus is definitely a drawback. 

4. Eighteenmile Creek 

I consider Hamburg’s Eighteenmile Creek to be the “diet version” of Zoar Valley, but it’s about half the distance from North Campus. Much like Zoar Valley, this undeveloped county park  has trails running on top of and just beneath huge cliffs. 

And from what I’ve seen, Eighteenmile Creek boasts better fishing than Zoar Valley. During one early morning fishing trip, I caught tons of smallmouth bass and even saw a few 3-foot gar (though they didn’t bite). I’ve heard rumors that you can catch drum and steelhead there too.

3. Akron Falls

This trail is a sleeper. At only .8 miles, Akron Falls is by far the shortest trail in the top five. The waterfall is spectacular in the spring, when the water volume is at its highest. It’s a shame that there’s a $500 fine for going close to it — which they do enforce, by the way — but people have gotten seriously injured jumping off it. Despite being home to pan fish, bass and carp, I’ve found it to be a pretty mediocre fishing spot. 

I would describe Akron Falls as a more remote but way better version of Amherst’s Glen Falls. It’s worth checking out in the winter too — because of its small stature, the waterfall turns completely to ice.

2. Niagara Gorge 

Located at Niagara Falls State Park, the Niagara Gorge trail spans over six miles and connects to trails leading to Goat Island at Niagara Falls and to Artpark State Park. Despite its popularity, it’s always super easy to find a parking spot. I haven’t gotten the chance to hike all the different routes in their entirety here, but I’m certainly looking forward to doing so. This one would be frigid to do in the winter, as it is right next to the Niagara River.

1. Franklin Gulf 

By far the most underrated trail on this list, Franklin Gulf is a hidden gem. Located in North Collins, New York — about a 40-minute drive from North Campus — , this trail has everything: Ravines, cliffs, waterfalls, plenty of routes, etc. At different points throughout the hike, it feels like you are teleporting to different biomes because the foliage and terrain change so drastically. The smell of pine is super strong in the spring, and unique to this park. 

This is also the only trail that gets even better in the winter: you can walk directly on top of the frozen creek and see the water running beneath you. The sound is just so relaxing. 

Franklin Gulf has charm in the summer too. Two Augusts ago, I saw hundreds of red-spotted newts (basically a bright orange salamander). It was hard to walk the trail and not step on one accidentally — there were that many.

Honorable Mention: Knox Farm 

Knox Farm State Park is super lowkey. On the side of the park closest to Bowen Road, you’ll find some really massive oak trees that are easily 100 years old. There is a dog park here too, so it’s pretty ideal if you have a dog to bring along. Not to mention the park’s hometown, East Aurora, has a lot to offer itself.

Honorable Mention: Eternal Flame 

Located in Orchard Park’s Chestnut Ridge Park, the eternal flame trail snakes through a ravine before ending at a natural gas leak that people light on fire, resulting in the trail’s titular “eternal” flame. It’s a pretty small flame, I’d say less than half a foot. Overhyped in my opinion, but still worth mentioning.

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