If you are looking for an easy hike with wonderful vistas of a beautiful gorge within a half-hour of downtown Buffalo, the Eighteen Mile Creek Park trail in Hamburg presents a great opportunity.
With sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-to-high 70s, it was a perfect day for a two-hour hike along the rim of the creek.
The trailhead is located at the end of South Creek Road, where a parking lot with several potholes also serves as a fishing access point for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
This is an in-and-out trail, roughly 5 miles in total, and very level. It follows the south rim of Eighteen Mile Creek downstream until you meet the south branch of the creek. The blue markers then guide you upstream on the north rim of the tributary to a dead end.
You may hear the roar of some tractor-trailers on the Thruway just to the north of the 474-acre county park. But don’t let that discourage you. You still will hear the more soothing sounds of Eighteen Mile Creek below as it wends its way to Lake Erie about 3.5 miles to the west. And if you are lucky, you’ll catch the gobble of the wild turkeys on the other side of the creek.
Walking out of the parking lot, you get your bearings by heading west, following the blue trail markers on what appears to be an abandoned single lane paved road that the forest is reclaiming. Not far from where the old paved road ends, two stone-and-mortar pillars stand, slightly hidden by new growth. They appear to be what is left of a gated entrance.
Several side trails can take you down the creek bed, the best one coming about a quarter mile into the hike.
The first part of the hike takes you through an aromatic and colorful kaleidoscope. Flowering trees and magnificent wildflowers line the first several hundred steps of the trail.
Hemlock and spruce and pine give way to a forest composed of beech and oak with some maple. The oaks are majestic, several isolated giants towering a hundred feet.
But the most impressive sights of this hike are the several vistas of the gorge. Think of it as Zoar Valley Junior. Several 60-foot cliffs are visible from bends of the rim side trail. Sycamores grow at the bottom of the gorge.
One waterfall about a quarter of the way into the hike, near where the south branch meets the main current of the Eighteen Mile Creek, offers a nice spot to stop for a water break. The trail doubles back upstream on the north rim of the south branch of Eighteen Mile Creek, which is where you may hear turkeys on the other side.
While the trail is mostly flat, the last quarter or so of the trail in can be muddy and clogged with roots. And the scent of the flowers on the early portion of the hike gave way to the heavy smell of cow manure.
The trail ended at what appeared to be a deep drainage ditch.
The in-and-out trail may not be ideal for a hiker who wants to see and experience new terrain for every stride. But at least the vistas were from a different direction.
On the return, we passed two or three parties, some carrying fishing poles and one with two kayaks.
This is a fairly easy trail. It took a little over two hours, with occasional stops to admire the gorge or peer up at the canopy of the majestic oaks.