For many in Western New York, biking is a warm-whether activity, something you do to enjoy summer vibes whether pedaling to work or strapping on your Bern helmet for a casual weekend cruise along the waterfront.
But for a region that has made long-overdue improvements to its implementation of biking infrastructure and support of cycling culture over the past 10 years, limiting oneself to enjoying these changes over a singular season is painfully shortsighted. Yes, our plethora of natural riches, waterfront scenery and expanses ideal for enjoyment by bicycle shine most desirable in the summer. But dependent on how much we get of it, fall is no slouch for two-wheel touring, either.
“Riding in each of our seasons offers a different experience,” said Thea Hassan, communication director for GObike Buffalo, the region’s leading cycling advocates.
“Biking as the temperatures decline is rewarding in that it offers crisp air, additional comfort in longer rides in the cool weather, and the opportunity to be outside, engaging in physical fitness, and enjoying our region. Biking in all seasons is an amazing way to explore Buffalo-Niagara, and each season allows new challenges to be confronted and overcome as we bike.”
In the fall, there’s still plenty to explore amid dramatic changes to scenery enjoyed throughout earlier months. Rides along riverfront stretches in Buffalo and Niagara Falls elicit crisp breezes, mitigated by hooded Bills sweatshirts. Bike lane-accommodated rides or GObike's weekly Slow Roll (which runs through its Oct. 28 ride from Community Beer Works) will pass through city neighborhoods soon to be festooned with falling leaves. And a diversity of trails and terrain throughout the region can provide a little something for everyone.
“Our trail network offers a choose-your-own-adventure bike ride for visitors and community members, as you can always find a place to ride to suit your needs,” said Hassan. “Whether it’s riding with young kids or riding the hills in the Southtowns or Niagara Falls, you can find a great ride.”
Many more options are on the way, with New York’s forthcoming 750-mile Empire State Trail (due for completion in late 2020) and $50 million from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation for extensions and connections to existing routes throughout the Buffalo Niagara region.
But for this fall, there are more than enough routes to satisfy. Here are some to consider, along with some additional suggestions to enhance your seasonal rides.
Chestnut Ridge Park
At more that 1,230 acres, Chestnut Ridge in Orchard Park has provided solace for those looking for beautiful suburban nature escape, shelter for picnic and parties, and challenging roads for runners and cyclists. Paved stretches twist throughout the park, and provide gorgeous shade and autumnal scenery for those looking for a fun cruise or challenging miles of winds and inclines.
Instagram stop: Atop the park’s cherished sled and toboggan hill, where the panorama of distant downtown Buffalo is always a sight.
Reward for your ride: Relax in the porch swing atop that same toboggan hill, located near the park’s entry.
Tonawanda Rails to Trails
This 3.9-mile paved stretch was laid atop rail beds that cut through the City and Town of Tonawanda, and started carrying passengers and freight in the 1880s. Now, it provides a recreation run near North Buffalo’s Shoshone Park to Young Street near Ellicott Creek, and provides plenty of playgrounds, parks and marquee hot dog stops (see: Ted’s on Sheridan Drive) to color its straightforward course.
Instagram stop: Pick your spot, as most of the path — encased by residential development — is fairly uniform.
Reward for your ride: Curl off at Sheridan and grab a frozen custard at Anderson’s, a mere block off the trail.
Knox Farm State Park
Though boasting only 1.4 miles of designated biking area, there are three reasons to consider rolling through the former country estate of Buffalo's Knox Family in East Aurora. One, there’s an additional 2.5 miles of undesignated trails to explore; two, it provides an excuse to visit one of the city’s most idyllic suburban landscapes; and three, it lures you into an expanse that, when the leaves are shaded just right, can be the embodiment of fall.
Instagram stop: Find some high ground over the park’s rolling hills, and snap away.
Reward for your ride: Ride back into the village of East Aurora, and grab a dark roast coffee at Elm Street Bakery (72 Elm St.).
[Read more: Stay on Breadule at Elm Street Bakery]
Lakeside Bike Park
Visitors to the newest bike-focused attraction on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor can look forward to three different tracks for mountain bikers; the availability or rental bikes ($15 per hour; $25 for a half day); and incredible views of Lake Erie off the designated (and, in some cases, obstacle-laden) tracks and along additional paths winding throughout the ever-evolving Outer Harbor.
Instagram stop: Rolling through the entry tunnel between Track Two and Three.
Reward for your ride: Roll down to Charlie’s Boat Yard (1111 Fuhrmann Blvd.) for a crisp Oktoberfest-style brew.
[Related: Charlie's Boat Yard gets major expansion before Year Two]
Niagara Gorge Rim Trail
Paved and riding parallel to the Niagara Scenic Parkway for much if its 6.5-mile stretch, the Niagara County trail gives riders some of the same beautiful views of the Niagara River afforded to visitors of the American side of the Falls. The trail crosses over the river via pedestrian bridge, but provides access to three state parks — Devil’s Hole, Whirlpool and Niagara Falls — during the journey.
Instagram stop: Wait until the end of the trail on Goat Island, pick a spot over the Falls, and smile.
Reward for your ride: Spend the day exploring Niagara Falls State Park, and appreciate the overwhelming magnitude of its chief attraction.
[Related: Update on invasive plant species removal at the Niagara Gorge]
Ellicott Creek Trailway
Amherst continues to add new bike paths, but this nearly 6-mile stretch along Ellicott Creek through Tonawanda and Buffalo (with eastern entrance at Audubon Town Park) is still a favorite of locals and University at Buffalo students. For UB students, it's popular because of its proximity to its North Campus. For everyone else, it’s a nice stretch to explore and also leads more ambitious riders to the start of the Erie Canalway Trail.
Instagram stop: One of the trail’s footbridges over Ellicott Creek.
Reward for your ride: Rack your bike or roll off course to grab some post-ride wings at Elmo’s (2349 Millersport), less than a mile away.
[Related: Cajun-style blackened wings make Elmo's a local landmark]
When all of its currently planned phases are complete, this paved path will ride along Lake Erie from the southern end of Erie County to deep into Niagara County.
For now, it spans more than 22 miles, with riders able to traverse from north of Grand Island to the recently completed stretch into Lackawanna’s evolving Bethlehem Steel property with the bulk of the ride featuring waterfront views.
Instagram stop: Time your ride close to sunset, and catch some breathtaking shots from stops like Black Rock Canal or LaSalle Park.
Reward for your ride: Take a break at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Fontana Boathouse (1 Rotary Row), right past the Buffalo Yacht Club.
Haul your bike over the U.S.-Canada border to …
Niagara River Recreation Trail
If you’re down to tie a brisk ride into a weekend at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., take on all or part of this 35-mile route along the Canadian side of the Niagara River. Riders can roll from Fort George down to the Town of Fort Erie, with breaks in the route through city sections of Queenston and Niagara Falls, Ont.
Instagram stop: Brock’s Monument inside Queenston Heights Park, noting the picturesque final resting place of War of 1812 hero, Major-General Isaac Brock.
Reward for your ride: Enjoy a perfectly poured pint of Guinness inside Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Olde Angel Inn (224 Regent St.), opened in 1789 — and rebuilt in 1815 after the war.
And if you’re really motivated this fall, there’s always …
The Erie Canalway Trail
Compiled of 360 miles of stone dust, gravel, paved and natural surfaces, the statewide path allows dedicated riders to travel from Buffalo to Albany along the original path of the Erie Canal. The ultimate goal for all riders, regardless of season? Complete the whole trek to become an “End-to-Ender,” an accomplishment that, according to Parks & Trails New York, is currently held by almost 2,000 people.