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Beautiful Wanderings Henry Davis guides us on his favorite nature hikes

One of the benefits of hiking in Western New York is that you will never hear the phrase, "There's nothing to do."

We've got our problems, but lack lf beautiful scenery to traipse through is not one of them.

So, lace up your boots and grab a hiking stick. Here are a few of the best spots.

1. Chestnut Ridge Park

Where: 6121 Chestnut Ridge Road, Orchard Park

Why: Conventional wisdom says Erie County's oldest park is about sledding in the winter and picnicking in the summer. But wander past the open areas, and you will find exceptional trails through beautiful shale-lied creeks and steep ravines.

What else: How about natural flames flaring up from the rocks under a waterfall? Find the trail off Seufert Road in the southern part of the park.

2. Tifft Nature Preserve

Where: 1200 Fuhrmann Blvd.; 896-5200, Ext. 391.

Why: It's difficult to believe that this sanctuary of woodlands and marshes exists on the edge of downtown. Even more amazing is that it exists at all, having survived as a food-gathering place for Native Americans, a dairy farm, a shipping center for coal and iron, and a dumpsite for city garbage.

What else: Sunsets from the mounds overlooking Lake Erie are spectacular. So are the views of the skyline across the marshes.

3. Allegany State Park

Where: ASP Route 1, Salamanca; 354-9121

Why: It's huge, diverse and lined by 100 miles of trails over rugged hills and thick woods that mark the boundary between Northern hardwood and Southern oak-hickory forests. Around Red House, try the 2.5-mile easy climb up the Osgood loop or the more challenging 6.5-mile Beehunter.

4. Letchworth State Park

Where: Castile; (585) 493-3600

Why: They don't call it the Grand Canyon of the East for nothing. The must-do trek follows all or part of the 7-mile Gorge Trail past three stunning waterfalls. Consider shuttling a car to one end or, for a shorter hike, picking up the trail closer to Inspiration Point.

What else: Get a listing from park headquarters and go on any outing led by Doug Bassett, the park naturalist known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the park.

5. Niagara River Gorge

Where: Trails being just north of Niagara Falls, across from the Whirlpool Golf Course along the Niagara Parkway in Canada and the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center on the Robert Moses Parkway in the U.S.

Why: On the Canadian side, head for the Niagara Glen off of the Niagara Parkway. In the U.S., look for trailheads at the Niagara Falls Discovery Center, and Whirlpool and Devil's Hole state parks. Each side has a different feel; both offer memorable views, monumental boulders and mesmerizing rapids.

What else: You've been to Goat Island more times than you can count. When winter returns, hike it after snow covers the ground and frozen mist sparkles from the trees.

6. Deer Lick Conservation Area

Where: From Buffalo, Route 62 south to Gowanda, left on Hill Street, right on Bradway Road and left on Point Peter Road.

Why: Gorges and old-growth trees in a 400-acre spot that adjoins Zoar Valley. Five trails - from 0.9 miles to 3.3 miles - can be linked into a long hike or taken separately for a shorter walk. It's truly serene.

What else: The bulk of the land was donated to the Nature Conservancy and its considered a National Natural Landmark.

Henry Davis covers health affairs for the News.

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