Tag Archives: Golden Hill State Park

Get Out and Explore … The Niagara Region of New York State Parks

Home of the awe-inspiring and world famous Niagara Falls, this region stretches from the shores of Lake Ontario to the shores of Lake Erie, encompassing sand dunes and waterfalls, old growth forests and reclaimed agricultural lands, grasslands and gorges, urban and rural greenspaces, rivers and wetlands.

Covering Niagara and Erie counties, this diverse region includes 18 parks, two historic sites, and many miles of hiking trails, as well as several Bird Conservation Areas, an Internationally Significant Important Bird Area, and a Ramsar designation for the Niagara River as a wetland of global significance.

To start, any successful hike starts with a good map. Maps for hiking trails and a variety of other useful information on State Parks, including those in the Niagara region and other regions, are now available on the NYS Parks Explorer app. The free app, which is available for use on Android and iOS devices, is easy to download, user friendly and allows patrons to have park information readily available every State Parks facility across the state.

Trail maps are also available on each individual park website page at parks.ny.gov and at the main office of each park. Links to maps are also included in the trail descriptions in this post. Be sure to download maps ahead of time to your phone or tablet, and maybe even carry a paper copy as a back up to aid your hike.

As with all hikes, there are a few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Check the weather forecast before you go, and dress appropriately. Wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring enough water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera to capture what you see. Be mindful of wildlife and give it appropriate space, particularly in areas marked as protected, such as for shorebird nesting.

Always be aware of your surroundings and mindful of hikes on steep terrain or those that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of an emergency is never a bad idea.

Hiking poles are also useful on longer hikes and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.

Hikers should plan their route in advance, know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. If weather conditions change for the worse, be prepared to turn back. Don’t let a desire to reach a specific destination make you press on. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, even in summer when days are longer, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.

State Park facilities are carry-in, carry-out, so don’t leave trash behind. Follow Leave No Trace principles to keep trails clean for everyone.

Additionally, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard.

Lastly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, remember to practice safe social distancing, particularly in parking lots and at trailheads, and use face coverings when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained, even if you have been vaccinated. To learn more about important COVID safety guidelines, click HERE.

Erie County


Buffalo Harbor State Park, 1111 Fuhrmann Blvd., Buffalo, (716) 822-1207 – The only state park in the city of Buffalo, this park is located within Buffalo’s Outer Harbor area and covers about 190 acres on the shoreline of Lake Erie. It has a nautical themed playground for the kids and slips for up to 1,000 boats.

The Shoreline Trail along the waterfront is a multi-use trail for walkers, runners, cyclists, and people of all ages and abilities. Visitors can enjoy the brisk breeze coming off the lake on a hot summer day while watching kites and gulls soar high above, see the sailboats, kayaks, and motorboats gliding across the waves, and witness stunning sunsets.

This trail is particularly important for its connection to a larger trail system. The Shoreline Trail connects all the way through Niagara Falls to Fort Niagara State Park, and also links to the Empire State Trail, the  750-mile trail from Buffalo east to Albany and New York City, and north to the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks.

The Gateway to the trails at Buffalo Harbor allows access to a larger trail network, including the new Empire State Trail. The park’s trails are paved to provide universal access to those of differing abilities. (Photo courtesy of Niagara Region Interpretive Office)

Evangola State Park, 10191 Old Lake Shore Road, Irving, (716) 549-1802 – Located 24 miles west of Buffalo, this Lake Erie shoreline park has more than five miles of trails within its 733 acres of forest, marsh, meadows and vernal pools.

Starting behind the Evangola Nature Center, the half-mile Rim Trail traverses high bluffs with picturesque views of Lake Erie. During summer, trail hikers experience a leafy canopy overhead and a moss green carpet trailside, while enjoying cooling lake breezes and the the sound of waves crashing far below. Belted-Kingfishers, Bald Eagles and a variety of gulls can often be spotted soaring above the water here.

During the winter, the park’s plentiful lake-effect snow provides cross-country skiers and snowshoers with a chance to glimpse unique ice formations and spot artic ducks found here seasonally. The trail is a place to watch a sunset, catch a cool breeze or see the power of a storm rolling in across the lake.

A storm blows in from across the lake as seen from the Rim Trail, while below, in winter shoreline vegetation and ice for intricate formations. (Photos courtesy of Niagara Regional Interpretive Office)

Find a trail map here.

Knox Farm State Park, 437 Buffalo Road, East Aurora, (716) 652-0786 – Covering 633 acres, this park is the former country estate of Seymour H. Knox, a Buffalo businessman who co-founded the F. W. Woolworth stores. He purchased the property in 1890s to train standardbreds and carriage horses. Primarily grasslands that are home to a variety of grassland bird species, the site includes some woodlots and wetlands.

The park contains about seven miles of trails, including the Library Trail, which is reached directly from the parking lot. It leads into a field active in summer ith bobolinks, a grassland bird related to blackbirds and orioles. From there, the trails leads to a small woodlot with towering sugar maple trees and a small library in the woods.

Find a trail map here.

Niagara County


Golden Hill State Park, 9691 Lower Lake Road, Barker, (716) 795-3885 – This park contains Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, built in 1875 to warn ships of a rocky shoal and shifting sandbar in Lake Ontario. There were several shipwrecks in the vicinity; the most famous being the HMS Ontario, a British warship that sank Halloween night in 1780. An active light until 1958, today the upstairs cottage is rented year-round and the foghorn building is now a visitors’ center with displays on the lighthouse and local maritime history.

There are three trails at Golden Hill, with the likely favorite being the scenic Red Trail which travels along the lakeshore and leads to Golden Hill Creek. Along the creek is an oak grove with trees up to 300 years old. Bald eagles are known to frequent this area, as well as great blue herons and wintering waterfowl. After crossing the creek on the footbridge, the trail branches off – east to the marina or west along the creek with stands of apple, beech and hop hornbeam trees.

The Red Trail travels along the lakeshore for continuing inland along Golden Hill Creek. (Photo Courtesy of Niagara Region Interpretive Office)

Find a trail map here.

Wilson Tuscarora State Park, 9691 Lower Lake Road, Barker, (716) 795-3885 – Established in 1965, the park on Lake Ontario encompasses 476 acres bordered by the east and west branches of Twelve Mile Creek. It has approximately seven miles of trails.

Nestled along the east branch of Twelve Mile Creek is the one-mile Interpretive Trail, which moves through several habitats, including wetlands, successional fields (a field transitioning to a forest), shrub lands, and ending in a mature beech-hemlock forest. This trail is best known for its spring wildflowers – notably white trillium, New York’s largest flowered trillium – that appear on the forest floor in May.

White trillium are found on the forest floor starting in May. (Photo courtesy of Niagara Region Interpretive Office)
The Interpretive Trail along Twelve Mile Creek, where pileated woodpeckers can be spotted. (Photo courtesy of Niagara Region Interpretive Office)

Find a trail map here.

Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park, 450 South 4th Street, Lewiston, (716) 754-7766 – Founded to promote the visual and performing arts, this park is on the lower Niagara River below the world famous falls. It contains two trails that are a part of the Niagara Gorge Trail System.

Trail 7, also called the Artpark Gorge Trail, takes a path through the Niagara Gorge, providing views of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, the New York Power Authority, and the vibrant blue green waters swirling in the lower Niagara River. Along this trail are seen fossils from the era of the Silurian Sea, before the time of the dinosaurs. After a climb around boulders and a waterfall view, a set of stairs leads down to the river’s edge to Trail 8, which is popular with fishermen who seek the river’s salmon or lake trout.

A view of the Lewiston-Queenstown Bridge from Trail 7 in Artpark. Below, a New York Power Authority hydropower plant is visible from the trail. (Photos courtesy of Niagara Regional Interpretive Office)

If the stairs are not taken, the trail traverses a shale slide and woods before emerging in a flourishing grassland ecosystem that connects to Trail 2 heading toward Devils Hole State Park.

Find a trail map here.

Get Out and Explore Other Regions in New York State Parks


The “Get Out and Explore …” series outlines staff-recommended hikes in State Parks across the regions of New York, including GeneseeFinger LakesLong Island, Central, Palisades, Taconic, Saratoga/Capital and Thousand Islands.

Cover Shot – Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse at Golden Hill State Park.

“Big Day” Birding Adventure in State Parks of Western New York

Planning for a New York State Parks birding “big day” started before the COVID-19 pandemic changed our world and lives. Originally, it called for a team of three to four birders to see how many species could be tallied in one day while visiting only State Parks during the height of spring migration in May.

Besides being a fun adventure, I wanted to highlight the fabulous birding opportunities for visitors to the State Parks in Western New York, and bring attention to habitat restoration projects in several parks that have enhanced the birding in the parks. The third week of May is the best time to see the most bird species in Western New York and it was perfect that my kids and wife were scheduled to be away for a trip to Boston.  

While the school trip and the team approach didn’t work out due to COVID, my original target date of May 20th held up and I embarked on a solo, New York State Parks only, birding big day. Of course, this was done while wearing a mask and maintaining social distance from other Parks visitors as spelled out in these guidelines.

And the day started early…

Sunrise at Golden Hill State Park.

* 4:40 a.m., Golden Hill State Park, Niagara County. While listening in the darkness for any vocalizing nocturnal birds, an Eastern Whip-poor-will sounded off like an emphatic alarm clock– “whip-poor-will! whip-poor-will! whip-poor-will!” This uncommon migrant to this region was the first great addition to my big day list. Two more heard vocalizing shortly thereafter in another part of the park to add to the excitement.

Many bird species started singing as sunrise approached and then after sunrise, I quickly realized that it was going to be a great day because there were warblers and other migrant birds all throughout the park.


Cerulean Warbler at Golden Hill State Park

I departed Golden Hill around 8:45 a.m. with 93 species, including 22 warbler species. I also realized that luck was working in my favor, as evidenced by one notable example. While scanning Lake Ontario with my spotting scope, I heard a Cerulean Warbler sing from some trees behind me. I turned away from the lake to go find this rare migrant and watched a pair of Sandhill Cranes fly by as I walked. Had I not turned when the warbler sang, I would have missed the cranes!

* Wilson-Tuscarora State Park, Four Mile Creek State Park, and Fort Niagara State Park, Niagara County, through 1 p.m.  The lakeshore parks were all filled with migrant birds and it was tough to leave them even though I was well behind schedule at this point. With 109 species already, it was time to head south along the Niagara River for some species I had “staked out” in the weeks beforehand.


Red-tailed Hawk at Fort Niagara State Park
Swainson’s Thrush at Four Mile Creek State Park
Bay-breasted Warbler at Four Mile Creek State Park
Red-eyed Vireo at Fort Niagara State Park

* 1:10 p.m. Joseph Davis State Park, Niagara County. Not only was the Pied-billed Grebe still present as I was hoping, but I found another sitting on a nest. After some quick photos to document the breeding activity of this State-listed threatened species for the New York Breeding Bird Atlas III project, I hiked the trails to find a few other likely breeding species that were present a week earlier. It’s rewarding to see that the vegetative habitat in the eastern part of the park is still in good shape after an invasive species removal and bird habitat restoration project was completed in 2013. I was involved in that project design through my employer Ecology and Environment Inc (E&E)., a WSP company, as part of grant funded project with Buffalo Audubon Society and Audubon New York.


Pied-billed Grebe at Joseph Davis State Park
Baltimore Oriole at Joseph Davis State Park

*2 p.m. Artpark State Park, Niagara County. Even among local birders, not too many people think of Artpark as a birding destination; however, an upland grassland habitat was created on the Lewiston Plateau as part of a 2003 project involving E&E and the Village of Lewiston with funding from the NYS Environmental Protection Fund and Niagara County. This grassland has hosted Grasshopper Sparrows for years, and this year I discovered rare Clay-colored Sparrows there as well.


Grasshopper Sparrow
Orchard Oriole

While I expected to get these two “staked out” species, I also picked up two nice bonus species with Black Vulture and Merlin, both seen flying from the expansive view looking toward the Niagara Gorge. My list was up to 120 species.

* 2:45 to 4 p.m., Reservoir State Park and Niagara Falls State Park, Niagara County. A quick check of the Lewiston Reservoir provided an Osprey but not any hoped-for shorebird species. While Niagara Falls State Park is one of my favorite local places to go birding, I didn’t spend a lot of time there beyond picking up a few expected species in the afternoon on this warm day. Falling more behind schedule, I had to drop one of the planned stops and reluctantly passed by Buckhorn Island State Park, which is a great place to go birding. However, I felt that I had better chances of adding new species at other parks with less hiking time. I likely missed out on a few species there.

* 4:15 p.m. Beaver Island State Park, Erie County. This spring, the local birders have regularly visited the recently restored marsh habitat along the Niagara River in East River Marsh. Marsh birds have really taken to this location and I added a handful of species including Sora and Marsh Wren to my list. It’s been delightful to see such a rapid response from birds to this restored habitat. New York State Parks took on the design and construction project efforts with funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This serves as a great predecessor to some upcoming similar projects at Buckhorn Island State Park.

*5:50 p.m. Amherst State Park, Erie County. This is the park where the warmest day of the spring caught up with me through more than fatigue. I’m a regular visitor to the park in spring and fall for birding and family hikes but I’m always there in the early morning. I had never seen so many people in the park as on this visit and I knew right away that birding would be a challenge, as well as trying to maintain social distancing even though most in the park did not share that concern. I picked up two staked out species plus an obliging White-breasted Nuthatch, a common species that I was in danger of missing out on for the day.

*6:50 p.m. Woodlawn Beach State Park, Erie County. A walk on the beach on a beautiful evening with the sun starting to set over Lake Erie was picturesque but without any new shorebird or gull species that I was hoping to add. A Cooper’s Hawk seen from the parking lot kept up the streak of adding at least one new species at each park on the day.

*8 p.m. Knox Farm State Park, Erie County. The last stop was good to get Eastern Meadowlark and American Kestrel in the extensive grasslands and then the last addition for the day was a Wood Duck that I saw fly into the woods. With sunset nearly on hand, I called it a day and headed home.

And what a birding adventure it was. The final count was 138 species, which was much better than I was expecting. Other notable numbers were 185 miles by car, over 30,000 steps on foot, and 11 State Parks visited.

While I have known of the tremendous birding in these parks for many years, it was great to get out and experience so many of them in one big day. It only reinforced to me how important these parks are for providing bird habitat, and how habitat restoration projects I’ve been involved with professionally have improved bird habitat even more at several of the parks.

Birding has been one of the best ways for me and many others to get outside during these pandemic times. A big day is at the more extreme end of the birding hobby, and not the way for someone to start into birding. Visiting your local State Park is a great place to go and start out.  For the more experienced birders, the bar has been set at 138 species for a New York State Parks (only!) big day. I’ll be interested to read about the efforts of others who try a similar adventure.


Cover Photo- Baltimore Oriole at Joseph Davis State Park. All photos by Mike Morgante.

By Mike Morgante, Senior Group Leader, Ecology and Environment Inc.


Resources

  1. The New York Breeding Bird Atlas III has something for everyone from beginner birders to the most experienced.
  2. Find background information and recordings of bird calls at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
  3. Review the 23 separate Bird Conservation Areas to be found in New York State Parks across the state.

Hiking Hidden Gems

Planning a hike this fall? State Parks staff recommend you try one of these hidden gems:

At Golden Hill State Park in Niagara County, Renee recommends the Interpretive RED Trail. The 1.7-mile-long trail provides a magnificent view of the 30 Mile Point Lighthouse as you hike along the shoreline of Lake Ontario.  The lakeshore habitat is very important for migrating birds. They use this area to rest and refuel before making their way across Lake Ontario. The hike will take you through diverse habitats including shrublands, grasslands, deciduous woodlands, a variety of evergreen forests, and an oak grove with 300-year-old trees.   The trail follows Golden Hill Creek where an abundance of wildlife can be seen. Watch for herons, kingfishers, warblers, great horned owls, white tailed deer, red fox, chipmunks, and woodchucks. This hike is rated easy to moderate.

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If you are looking for a moderate four-mile hike, Mike suggests the Fire Tower Ramble which features scenic views in Sterling Forest State Park in Orange County.  Climbing the fire tower, you can see Sterling Lake, Cedar Pond, Greenwood Lake, Schunnemunk Mountain, and the surrounding Hudson Highlands. On a clear day, New York City is visible in the distance. This 60-foot fire tower was built in 1922 by the Department of Conservation. It was one of the first all-steel fire towers built outside of the Adirondack and Catskill Preserves.

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Mark notes that the trail system at Robert V. Riddell State Park in Delaware County provides a diversity of experiences and opportunities. Once a dairy farm, Riddell has many trails which traverse both fields and forest and has access to Schenevus Creek, a tributary of the nearby Susquehanna River. Nature enthusiasts regularly enjoy the trails on the north side of I-88 not only for the scenic views but also for the diverse wildlife along the creek. History lovers can also see the remnants of the former dairy along the trail, including the slate-roofed dairy barn built in the 1830s. The southern part of the park (south of I-88) has a different trail experience with longer, more rugged trails, access to a waterfall, and the spring-fed Mud Lake. Mud Lake is a bog surrounded by spruce and tamarack (larch) trees, low shrubs and a floating mat of peat moss along the edge of the open water. This fascinating habitat makes Mud Lake a destination for local nature enthusiasts.  Plans are in the works to expand the trail system in the southern side of the park to enhance hiking opportunities in the area.

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One of the most popular attractions at Long Point State Park in Chautauqua County is the Point Trail, according to Tom.  Approximately 1/2-mile-long, the trail loops through a forest of maple and oak trees and rewards hikers with fantastic panoramic views of Chautauqua Lake once they arrive at the “point.”  There are a few benches and interpretive signs along the way to sit on and learn about the park and history of the lake.  This level trail is accessible to everyone and state park staff recently put down a new layer of crushed stone to make the walk a bit nicer on rainy days.

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Before you head out, check out our trail tips. See you on the trail!

Nature Times Spotlight: Can you guess what the name of this winter guest is?

Good news, bird lovers! Not all birds are leaving New York for the winter. This beautiful bird, the Rough-legged hawk or roughy, spends its summers in the Arctic tundra, but when winter comes along he or she takes up residence in Southern Canada and the Northern United States, including New York State. So this winter you might see them circling high above or sitting at the highest point on a tree scanning an open grassy field for a bite to eat. These birds prefer to hunt on open grasslands, farmland, and large open wetlands. This type of habitat is similar to the grassy tundra of their summer homes. State Parks you may see a Rough-legged hawk are Jones Beach State Park, Golden Hill State Park, Chimney Bluffs State Park, Point au Roche State Park, and Clermont State Historic Site.  Other northern visitors that you may encounter while looking for roughys are Snow buntings and Short-eared owls – they also prefer the same type of open land to find food.

roughlegged_hawk_soaring_usfsw
Rougy in flight – notice the dark feathers in the middle of the wings and the white feathers on the chest. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service

Some characteristics to look for when identifying a Rough-legged hawk are the dark patches at the bend of the wing and a dark bellyband and a white bib around the throat (and no red tail like one of its cousins). There are light and dark color varieties of this species, so a bird book should always be on hand when searching for this and other bird of prey!

Roughys search for food from utility poles or while hovering over the ground.  They use their powerful eyesight to spot small mammals like mice and voles far below in grassy fields. Then they swoop down to catch the food in their talons.

Don’t be surprised if you look up and see one (or two) of these high flyers in the next few months.

tom-koerner-usfws
Rough-legged hawk in flight, photo by Tom Koerner, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Post by Greta Alvarado, State Parks