While advocacy groups have worked to make Buffalo and other areas of Western New York biking-friendly, sometimes cyclists just want to get off the main roads. Entering the autumn season, there are plenty of trails to explore throughout the region – from off-road mountain bike trails to historical paths to the burgeoning rails-to-trails program. There’s something for every level and every bike. Here are five bike paths and trails to try for fall:
A favorite spot for mountain bikers. There are over 30 miles of trails keeping the traditional ski area busy in its offseason. Fall is a particular favorite time to visit this Southern Tier spot.
Where to go: There are two popular starting spots. The lots for the Yodeler Lodge and Mountain Sports Center, part of Holiday Valley, are easy to get to and close to town. It offers easy access to trails with the notably drawback of about a two-mile climb on a fire road before hitting the actual trails. There are also several pull-offs along Mutton Hollow Road, a maintained dirt road, near Spruce Lake. It’s a 10-15 drive outside town.
What to know: Be prepared to climb! Since it’s a ski area there are hills even on the hilly trails. Carry more water and food than you think you will need.
Skill difficulty: Trails are accommodating to beginners but the majority rank an intermediate level because of the climbing and descending. If you are truly a novice, take a few turns at Sprague Brook in Glenwood, and start on the park’s cross country ski trails, which are wider and can provide some confidence at building off-road skill.
Local info: You can buy maps of local trails (and a burrito) at Bike and Bean on Washington Street in Ellicottville. The shop also hosts local rides at 6 p.m. on Monday nights. If making the trip, consider stopping in town to visit one of many local shops and restaurants, including the popular Ellicottville Brewing Company.
For more information: The WNY Mountain Biking Association has information on group rides and trail maps on their website (www.wnymba.org) and Facebook page. First-timers through experts can enjoy the Fall-Fest MTB race on Oct. 9. (http://www.heartrateup.com/fallfestmtbrace109.html).
The Erie Canalway Trail
You can ride your bike from Buffalo to Albany
along the Erie Canal with a few detours where the path is not complete. In Western New York there are plenty of places to ride the canal with Lockport a perfect starting point.
Where to go: You can pick up the canal trail by Locks 34-35 with public parking available around the Erie Canal Discovery Center. There are also parking lots with access off North Canal Road.
What to know: The trail is mostly crushed gravel in this area, which lends itself best to hybrid bikes or road bikes with wide tires. If you start in Lockport, follow the canal path east toward Gasport, Middleport and Medina. An out-and-back to Medina is about a 35-mile round trip. To go west from downtown requires following bike path signs on city streets until hitting the newly paved portion of the trail on State Road.
Skill difficulty: There is a hill at Locks 34-35 but the rest of the ride is flat. Distance can be adjusted to your desire for the day – a few miles or a day-trip.
Local info: History buffs can stop at the Erie Canal Discovery Center. Ice cream lovers can visit Lake Effect, steps from the start of the trail. There are several places to eat in downtown Lockport while the trail runs through the business district of most canal towns, meaning you can find some interesting stops in Middleport and Medina for a bite to eat and refreshment.
For more information: Parks and Trails New York has a thorough website (www.ptny.org) complete with an interactive trail map. Hard copies are available for purchase. Every summer, the organization sponsors Cycle the Erie Canal – an eight-day supported bike ride that begins in Buffalo and ends in Albany.
Add an international experience to your cycling with a trip to Ontario’s Niagara region. The Niagara River Recreation Trail runs from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort Erie.
Where to go: From point to point the trail is about 32 miles long but is easily divided into four sections – Niagara-on-the-Lake to Queenston, Queenston to the Whirlpool Aero Car, Chippawa to Black Creak and Black Creek to Fort Erie. Fall presents a great time to tackle the portion near Niagara-on-the-Lake. There is plenty of parking at Queenston Heights, right over the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. (Look for the towering statue that is the Brock Monument). There also are parking areas along the Niagara Parkway toward Fort George and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
What to know: The path is paved and suitable for road bikes. The trail ends near Niagara Falls and cyclists must take to the road through the city and the park, but the trail picks up again and continues toward Fort Erie.
Skill difficulty: Easy to moderate with a few rolling hills between Queenston and Niagara Falls. The path between Queenston and Fort George, ending outside the village of Niagara-on-the-Lake, is easy and flat.
Local info: Niagara-on-the-Lake is home to dining, theater and unique shopping. There are several historical sites on or near the route, including the Laura Secord Homestead, Mackenzie Printery and McFarland House. The route passes several farm stands and wineries. And Niagara Falls has its own spectacle of tourist stops.
For more information: The Niagara Falls Tourism website (https://www.niagarafallstourism.com/play/outdoor-recreation/the-niagara-river-recreation-trail/) has a good map of the trail and Ontario By Bike (http://www.ontariobybike.ca/great-places-to-cycle/niagara-region) offers maps to other cycling routes in Southern Ontario.
The number of rails-to-trails continues to increase in Western New York and the Town of Clarence bike path, which connects to the Newstead-Akron path, provides a paved, tree-lined route that can give cyclists an easy family outing or a solid number of miles.
Where to go: There is a parking lot at the beginning of the West Shore Trail in Clarence off Wehrle Drive. The trail does cross Main Street in Clarence, and while there is a traffic light it can be a tricky cross. If you want to completely avoid that portion of the trail (about 3.5 miles) park in the lot on Salt Road just off Main Street. As the trail has several road crossings there are limited opportunities to park along the road or in small cut-outs at the trail.
What to know: The path is shaped like a “Y.” the Peanut Line Trail, which starts at Transit Road in Clarence, is 4.6 miles. The West Shore Trail, which begins at Wehrle, is 4.1 miles. That’s where both trails link up with the Newstead-Akron trail. The two meet at the “Akron Junction,” continuing together to the terminus at Cedar Street. Total length of the Peanut Line to Akron is 10.4 miles. Total length of West Shore Trail to Akron is 8.6 miles. The trail runs behind a few residential areas and while it is lined with trees and shrubs, the grass is cut and open along the path – good for sight and safety, bad for shade. Be sure to bring plenty of water on a hot day.
Skill difficulty: The route is flat and easy. You can add difficulty with a longer ride.
Local info: The West Shore Trail goes through the Clarence Farmers’ Market, open Saturday’s 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. June through October. There are several places to eat near where the trail crosses Main Street in Clarence. The end of the Akron trail at the intersection of Cedar Street and Eckerson Avenue is about 1.5 miles from Akron State Park.
For more information: Maps for both bike paths are available on the Erie County website for Clarence (http://www2.erie.gov/clarence/sites/www2.erie.gov.clarence/files/uploads/pdfs/BikePathBrochure.pdf) and Newstead-Akron (http://www2.erie.gov/newstead/sites/www2.erie.gov.newstead/files/uploads/pdfs/bike_path_map.pdf) Also check out the Niagara Frontier Bicycle Club, which offers group rides (mostly on roads) with details at nfbc.com.
If you haven’t been to the renovated Outer Harbor, it’s perfectly designed for exploration on your bike. You can stay within the park at Wilkeson Pointe with about a half mile of paved road, or venture on the Greenway. It’s also a good starting point to link up with other bike trails.
Where to go: There is a small parking lot at Wilkeson Pointe on Fuhrmann Boulevard and also on-street parking.
What to know: The Greenway Nature Trail hugs the Lake Erie Outer Harbor and is a 1.8-mile point-to-point route. You can then pick up the Fuhrmann Bike Path, which runs to Buffalo Harbor State Park and Gallagher Beach. Turn left at Tifft Street and you can find your way to the Ship Canal Commons and a recreational trail. Turn left at Ohio Street and you can ride to Tifft Nature Preserve or ride the Shoreline Trail along Ohio Street to Downtown Buffalo.
Skill difficulty: The route is flat and easy.
Local info: The Outer Harbor (outerharborbuffalo.com) has a ton of daily activities, including fitness classes, bike and kayak rentals and special events. Next to Wilkeson Point is Times Beach Nature Preserve (http://www.friendsoftimesbeachnp.org/). Bikes are not allowed on the trails but the walking paths take you to a “globally significant important bird area,” where more than 240 species of birds have been identified. At the end of Fuhrmann Boulevard is the Coast Guard station and a path to the Buffalo Lighthouse.
For more information: Visit outerharborbuffalo.com for details on events. For complete news on the Shoreline Trail, which contains existing and proposed trails along Lake Erie and the Niagara River, check out the Erie County government site. (http://www2.erie.gov/environment/index.php?q=shoreline-trail