Friday, June 17, 2016

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Golden Hill State Park – more than a campground

When people think of Golden Hill State Park, the first things that come to mind are its famed lighthouse and its impressive campground.

But, it’s much more than that. For the nature lover, the Park offers a nice excursion. And best of all, it’s free.

While you might have to pay $6 per car to enter the primary section of the Park, or $15 to camp there, if you drive just a little past the campground entrance on Lower Lake Road to the sign that announces the boat launch, you will have free access to parking, hiking, picnicking and fishing.
The free section of Golden Hill State Park is one of my favorite places to visit in all of Niagara County. If any part of the county could be considered remote, it’s the town of Somerset where the Park is located.

It’s off the beaten path, a decent drive from Lockport and you’d better make a day’s adventure out of it if you plan on visiting from the Falls.

There are plenty of natural wonders to see if you choose to do that.

A great view of the lake

Unlike other views of Lake Ontario, the view at Golden Hill is pristine. You don’t look across the lake and see Toronto. You don’t look to your left and right and see collections of cottages. You see an open expanse of water, with little to no boat activity, and few humans onshore -- it looks just as it did before Man set foot here.

Such an environment lends itself to impressive collections of gulls and other sea birds. Old squaws – a type of northern duck -- regularly winter in these waters and I was a little shocked to see a female old squaw near the mouth of Golden Hill Creek last weekend. It’s awful late in the year for her to be here.

Quite the sight!

Heading east from the underutilized boat launch (there were no boats in the water on a perfect Saturday), there is a trail that stays on the rim of the high embankment, affording you views of young, new-growth forests to the south and the lake to the north. This calming path, which is complimented by the crashing waves, will lead you all the way to County Line Road.

Great hiking and bird watching

If you walk west from the boat launch, you will encounter an entrance into the forest that leads to agreat network of trails, some that stay to the south of Golden Hill Creek through stands of forest, brushand open space, and others that cross a very nice bridge over the creek that will lead you through an oak grove, to the lake shore, and through forests all the way to the campgrounds and lighthouse.

These trails are all easy to navigate. The park employees keep them well identified, maintained and regularly mowed. They are quite wide, too, so if you are one of those folks who fears ticks…don’t. These trails are custom-made for you.

You can spend a good portion of the day walking these trails and if you do so in the spring or summer, bring binoculars…the bird life is pretty outstanding. On a hike with an adventurous and noisy 4 year old last weekend I saw flycatchers, kingfishers, waxwings, orioles, vireos, warblers and catbirds to name just a few.

Great picnicking

Overall, this section of the park is not used too much. I’ve never seen all of the picnic tables used near the boat launch area, so it’s a good “go to” option for families looking for a nice place to take a packed lunch (or you could grab takeout at Pizza, Wings and Things in nearby Barker).
There are also some picnic tables out of the way near the bridge over Golden Hill Creek and across that bridge. Those tables on the peninsula remain mostly unused and from there you can marvel at a lot of wildlife.

Just be sure to bring out what you bring in! There are no garbage cans in this section of the park.

Great kayaking and fishing

If you put your trailed boat in at the launch, you will have to pay a $6 fee – tickets are distributed by a meter there. But, if you put in a car-top kayak, you could do it for free. Golden Hill Creek is shallow, but still deep enough for kayaking and a family could take their fleet about a third to a half mile into the woods (depending on how wet the summer is). Beavers live in this stretch, so keep your eyes peeled for these cute, giant rodents.

If you have some confidence and a PFD on you, you could also venture out into the lake. When the predominant southwest wind is coming in, the vast area to the west of the creek’s mouth is dead calm because 30 Mile Point (where the lighthouse is set) acts as a powerful buffer. Many days of the year it is safe for kayaking and canoeing – just respect Mother Nature; the weather and conditions can change.

While you are on or by the water, bring a fishing pole. The inlet and creek hold bass, pike and panfish in the summer while colder waters bring in the trout and salmon at other times of the year. It’s a neat place to get a young kid started in fishing.

For more information…

The 500-plus acre Park is a wonderful place to visit for the day. If you’d like an extended trip, stay the night at the campground. Details about this public asset – and reservation information -- can be found online at

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident. His column, Exploring the Niagara Frontier, is published every Thursday on All WNY News.

From the 16 June 206 All WNY News

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