Friday, September 27, 2019

Four family-friendly fall hikes

Autumn in New York is really something special.

While it tells us that summer is but a memory and winter is on its way, Mother Nature must take pity on us because she treats us to an explosion of color that is remarkable and breathtaking, magnified by the Empire State’s waterways, farmlands, and mountains.

Leaf-peeping is something every family should do, multiple times, over the early fall. That fosters visions of road trips, but not every family has the time to spend the entire day in the Southern Tier or the money for gas, lodging, and food while on a long weekend in the Adirondacks. Luckily, we are blessed with so many natural assets throughout the region that you can take the kids on a mini-adventure in parks and trails that are just minutes from your home.

This column appears in the newspapers of 3 communities (Niagara Falls, Lockport, and Batavia), so I offer to you 4 great fall hikes that are close to some if not all of my readers:

Swallow Hollow: If you grew up in eastern Niagara, Orleans, or Genesee Counties there’s a good chance your class took a field trip to Swallow Hollow and an equal chance that you haven’t thought about this trail since. You should put it back on the radar. Located on East Shelby Road on the Iroquois Wildlife Refuge, it’s a pleasant 1.3 mile loop trail around a wetland and through some woods, the highlight being two long stretches of boardwalk over the top of swampland. The entire trail is in great shape, so great as a matter of fact that you can push a baby stroller through the entire length as I have quite a few times. This is definitely an autumn hike for the entire family – I’ve seen folks take seniors on wheelchair rides on the boardwalk.

Victor Fitchlee Park: Also known as the Royalton Ravine, this Niagara County park in Gasport is 150 acres of open space, woods, and two ponds. The forest is very diverse with beeches, maples, oaks, and hickories that produce a wide variety of colors which make for great sights and photography. Cutting through the center of the park is Red Creek which you will cross on a suspension bridge that’s 140 feet long and bounces like a wave when kids jump up and down on it. Towards the west end of the park the stream plummets over Norton’s Falls, which is 24 feet high. It’s a really interesting hike; just be sure to wear appropriate footwear because there are some slick spots going down some wet trails in the ravine.    

The Erie Canalway Trail: Never overlook what is commonly known to long-time locals as “the towpath” (which harkens back to its originally purpose when the Erie Canal was a critical shipping route). As it cuts through Niagara and Orleans Counties it passes by hundreds of farms and woodlots, the rolling fields and colored woodlands complimenting each other quite nicely, offering a palette of brilliant hues. Access is plentiful, found at any number of bridges, and the trail is perfectly flat, in excellent shape, and stroller friendly. 

The Devil’s Hole: I’ve saved the best hike, and the most difficult, for last. It’s difficult in terms that someone with bad knees or hips can’t do it and neither can most kids under the age of 4 (unless you have them in a baby backpack) -- but that shouldn’t scare away hikers. At Devil’s Hole State Park, right off the Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara Falls, you will descend a stone staircase deep into the bowels of the Niagara Gorge (and you will use a staircase to get out), encompassing hundreds of steps. It’s 2.5 miles round trip, much longer if you join up with the Whirpool Trail (which is itself is a little adventurous). It’s worth the exertion (which isn’t so bad if you pace yourself and your kids and periodically stop) because the scenery is unmatched – it’s what helps make Niagara Falls a world-class destination. The river’s rapids are incredibly powerful and offer a nice foreground to photos you would take of the varied fall colors from the dozens of species of trees and shrubs found growing on the steep cliffs of the gorge that is hundreds of feet deep. It really is a “must see”. 

There are dozens more trails to tackle in Western New York this fall, each with its own beauty, its own set of colors. Take the time to do some leaf-peeping on them – there are wonderful autumnal staycations to be had with family.

From the 30 September 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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