[Update: 3 p.m., March 16: With a state of emergency in effect for Erie County, Mark C. Poloncarz suggested the Erie County Parks System as one potential outlet for people looking to leave the house while still avoiding crowds and human contact. Because of this story's association with coronavirus coverage, it has been made free for all readers.]
Every direction heading outside of the City of Buffalo offers opportunities for winter hiking, from wild to manicured and densely traversed to more remote.
Here are six hikes, each 30 minutes or less from the center of downtown. Each hike is designed to be between 2 and 4 miles, duration depending on weather conditions, and the time spent stopping to enjoy the views. As always, dress for the great outdoors: proper, layered gear means greater hiking happiness.
Chestnut Ridge Park
6121 Chestnut Ridge Road, Orchard Park
Chestnut Ridge Park has three distinct areas to hike: the most popular portion near the casino/sledding hill (with tobogganing shoots), the Newton Road entrance and its adjacent trails, and the area closest to the famed Eternal Flame, sometimes referred to as Shale Creek Preserve.
For hiking directly to the Eternal Flame, there is a dedicated parking lot for hikers on Route 277 – 1.4 miles from the main entrance and clearly marked. Some eternal flame hikers park along Seufert Road to access a shorter trail through the woods.
The park is busy year-round with hikers, dog walkers and scheduled events booked at the casino. Inside the casino is the park's concession stand, Grateful Grind, open Wednesday through Sunday for breakfast, lunch and warming drinks. If you're hiking with your leashed dog, you're both welcomed in the park and the cafe.
A framed map of all available trails is inside the casino, near the fireplace. The trailhead at Eternal Flame trail also has one posted. Easy winter trails follow the narrow roads that wind through the park and cross a creek: hiking through the woods is always another option.
225 Fuhrmann Blvd.
With views of nearby grain silos and the Buffalo skyline, winter hiking trails at Outer Harbor on the Buffalo waterfront are, like Tifft Nature Preserve, close to downtown. Wilkeson Pointe, Times Beach Nature Preserve and Outer Harbor trails are accessible from Fuhrmann Boulevard and are adjacent to each other – a couple of boat slips break up the land.
A good starting point is Wilkeson Pointe, where there is a parking lot. It's not visible from Fuhrmann, so when you see the sign for Wilkeson Pointe, turn into the driveway. The lot is on the left just past the brick building for public restrooms.
Hiking at Outer Harbor is flat and easy, with views of the lake and breakwall. Note that the wind can be more extreme on the water. Views from the top of the Wilkeson Pointe hill (think shining silver wind sculptures) are lovely. Look for markers every quarter-mile on a mapped-out, 2-mile trek that begins near Wilkeson Pointe and ends to the south, near Bell Slip and the 25-foot-tall Flatman sculpture by Larry Griffis.
Online is a schedule of winter hikes and other snowy adventures at Outer Harbor that take place until March.
Tifft Nature Preserve
1200 Fuhrmann Blvd.
Tifft Nature Preserve offers 5 miles of trails through woods, fields and on three boardwalks for year-round hiking.
After parking in the lot just off Fuhrmann Boulevard, trails can be accessed around the nearby lake, up hills opposite the lake or past the visitor center. The trails are all clearly marked and loop. Expect to see other winter hikers as well as nature photographers capturing the resident flora and fauna.
Waterproof winter boots are especially suggested for Tifft as many of the paths can get quite wet and muddy. You can rent adult and child snowshoes at the visitor center, open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. It is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For a full list of events, visit sciencebuff.org/events.
Knox Farm State Park
437 Buffalo Road, East Aurora
Located on 633 acres in East Aurora on a former family estate exactly 1.5 miles away from the Roycroft campus, Knox Farm State Park is a fabulous winter hiking destination.
Several trails go through woods, crisscross fields and follow several of its charming roads with views of barns, homes and an active dog park. Those who wish to move along more briskly may strap on snow shoes or cross-country skis.
Amherst State Park
390 Mill St.
This 77-acre park features a former orchard (see if you can spot any old apples up in the trees), a footbridge over part of Ellicott Creek and wide-open fields that stretch to Reist Street near Gethsemane Cemetery. The park is super popular with families and dog walkers.
With its address on Mill Street, access to the trails at Amherst State Park are beyond an apartment building: On your first visit you'll feel like you're trespassing. The mostly flat terrain is good winter hiking for a couple of miles round-trip. When entering the property, head to the left, where the parking lot and trailhead for the park are located.
93 Honorine Drive, Cheektowaga
Reinstein Woods, just under 300 square acres, is yet another jewel of winter hiking. Located in the middle of Cheektowaga, the park has 2.5 miles of manicured trails through forests, around a large lily pond and alongside wetlands. Twice a month, on the first and third Saturdays, Reinstein features guided hikes: No registration is required but it is advisable to call ahead and confirm starting times. Self-guided tours are easy here with maps available at an outdoor visitor kiosk.