Escape the Urban: Eternal Flame Falls at Chestnut Ridge

16 Oct

Am I the last person in Western New York to visit the Eternal Flame?

One would assume so based upon the foot traffic last Monday, a bright and warm Columbus Day that saw plenty of exasperated parents looking for an active outlet for their energetic children. The trailhead along Seufert Road was packed with cars when we arrived, and overflowed onto adjoining streets by the time we left. On the path itself families and day care groups stood nearly elbow to elbow, a continuous string from roadside trail launch to slate bottom terminus. Most were friendly, a few of the children obnoxious, and only one overweight man hadn’t gotten the memo and smoked cigarettes the entire time. I literally have never seen a trail in Western New York so busy; you can escape the urban here, but not humanity, on a pleasant fall day.

I feel a little silly posting a map to the trailhead, if I am really the only one in town not in the know, but the truth is I had to look up the hike in a trail guide myself, and the Erie County Parks website does little to advertise or direct you to the right location. Once on scene, the attraction of the place is evident: the total distance to hike must be less than two miles, and very little of it is vertically challenging. There are plenty of terrain features to draw the eye the length of the trek. You get to walk along and in the stream bed on the slate bottom itself for the last third. And let’s face it – a perpetually lit flame from a natural gas pocket behind a veil of falling water is just cool. 

But if my description of crowded popularity is too off-putting (there are outdoor hipsters, I’m just not sure what the proper term is), I still recommend you give Eternal Flame Falls a try, especially at the potentially least-busy time. Very early morning. Drenching rain. I want to go back in early spring, when the rushing thaw should produce a torrent over the falls sure to soak the unprepared hiker to the icy miserable bone.  Because the trail is remarkably clean, the narrow water-carved ravine is intimate in its proportions and exquisite in its chiseled detail, and even without the flame-behind-water-curtain effect, the final grotto is genuinely inspiring. Like a setting from an Indian Jones movie transplanted to Western New York, the water drips and cascades around you on three sides, the shark-toothed slate wall rises above, and set in its sanctum, the ethereal flame endures.  

9 Responses to “Escape the Urban: Eternal Flame Falls at Chestnut Ridge”

  1. Jaquandor October 16, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    Am I the last person in Western New York to visit the Eternal Flame?

    No. I’ll go hang my head in shame now. (Tried once, but we missed a trail blaze and ended up someplace else in Chestnut Ridge. It was a great hike, actually, but by the time we realized our mistake, we didn’t feel like making the descent into the gorge after retracing our path.)

  2. RaChaCha October 16, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    Am I the last person in Western New York to visit the Eternal Flame?

    No. Sunday morning confessional–? But Buffalo Hiking Group gets there fairly regularly, so one of these days…

    And I can’t wait to explore all of our fine Erie County parks, after hearing the county executive say that they are in the “best shape they’ve ever been in”!!

  3. RaChaCha October 16, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    BTW, didn’t realize you would have a picture of the actual flame until scrolling down — you should have a spoiler alert 😉

  4. Mike In WNY October 16, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    I am also guilty of never visiting the flame. I will be doing so in the near future. Probably on a week day when the kiddies are at school and most adults working.

  5. Brian Castner October 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    Well, I guess I feel better now.

  6. STEEL October 16, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    Never even knew it existed until just now.

  7. Jesse October 17, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Hey Brian, I look forward to see your revisiting this place in the early spring.  Photos from that time of year would be slick.

    Also, it’s “eternal” as long as you bring a lighter just in case it’s not, you know, actually lit…

  8. Maria October 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    I’ve lived in this area for almost half a century and never even heard about the eternal flame, saw it for the first time about a week ago.

  9. Brian Castner October 17, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    Yes, I did bring a lighter, just in case. These eternal flames aren’t as eternal as they used to be.

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