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Chautauqua Gorge: A Hidden Gem in Chautauqua County, New York

Leah Lefler enjoys adventures with her family and frequently camps with her two sons. Letterboxing is a newly discovered pastime.

Hanging Out at the Chautauqua Gorge

Hanging Out at the Chautauqua Gorge

A Stunning Day Trip

A very short distance from the world-famous Chautauqua Institution and Chautauqua Lake, a short trail leads to an impressive swimming hole. Complete with waterfalls and fossils in the shale alongside the creek, Chautauqua Gorge is a very easy hike with an impressive destination.

Wading in the gorge  Leah Lefler, 2011

Wading in the gorge Leah Lefler, 2011

Getting There

Chautauqua Gorge is part of the New York State Forest System, and it includes several day-use trails, picnic areas, and fire ring. Fossils are abundant in the shale alongside the creek. Overnight camping is not allowed.

The address of the Gorge is Hannum Road, Chautauqua, NY. From Mayville, take Rte. 430 west to Hannum Road. Follow the road until it ends (it will become a dirt road). To reach the swimming holes, drive to the end of the road and park: a short trail (less than 1/4 mile long) will continue downhill from the end of the dirt road, leading to the swimming holes and creek.


The shale stone alongside the creek is extremely slippery when wet, so watch young children carefully. The water in the main swimming hole (immediately at the end of the short trail) is fairly deep, and it may be quite cold, even in the summertime. Care must be taken when crossing the creek and its associated waterfalls. Bring bug repellent during the hottest summer months.

In addition, hunting is allowed in the state forest, so hikers should exercise caution during the fall hunting months. Check the state hunting dates and stay on the trail during this season.

Naturists (individuals who participate in nudist activities) also enjoy the local area. The nudist areas are upstream quite a distance, and are marked by spray-painted rocks. The main swimming hole and waterfall areas are frequented by fully clothed (or bathing-suit wearing) visitors.

Slippery when wet.   Leah Lefler, 2011

Slippery when wet. Leah Lefler, 2011

Hiking in Chautauqua Gorge

The state forest in the Chautauqua Gorge contains 1.2 miles of the Fred J. Cusimano Overland trail, which is 24 miles long. Bicycles, hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing are allowed on the trail, which makes this portion of the Chautauqua Gorge accessible year-round. There is also a 1/4 mile long looping trail, paved with crushed stones for day-use visitors. Four covered picnic areas, an information kiosk, and fire rings are in place at the end of Hannum Road, placed conveniently near the trail heads.

Overnight camping is not allowed in the day use area, but lean-to shelters are placed along the Fred J. Cusimano trail for backpackers to use. The area is well shaded in the summer, providing a welcome respite from the heat. Bring insect repellent if hiking in this area during the spring or summer months, as mosquitoes can become quite bothersome during this time of the year.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can we collect fossils in the Chautauqua Gorge?

Answer: There are fossils in the Chautauqua Gorge, but you should not collect fossils here. It is always better to leave no trace! Also please remain on public lands and avoid wandering onto private land. The state forest owns some of the creek bed, but parts of the creek bed are private property.

Question: What is the likelihood of coming into contact with bears, wolves, etc., in Chautauqua County?

Answer: We do not have wolves in this part of New York state, but bears are fairly common in the woods. You are unlikely to come in contact with a bear in this area as the day use area is often frequented by people, and black bears tend to avoid noise and people. We have hiked many times in this area and have never run across a bear, though we have had a bear or two in our backyard! There are coyotes and fox in the area, but they are shy, and I have never seen one in the gorge area.

Question: How deep is Chautauqua gorge from the top?

Answer: Chautauqua gorge is deeply forested, so it is difficult to obtain a good vantage point of the precipice of the gorge. The total elevation is approximately 800 feet, though varies along the length of the river.


Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2011:

I've never seen the nudists there, either ;-) There are nudist websites that cover that area of the gorge, haha! They may enter from another area of the forest!

Aaron on August 24, 2011:

Loved it. Though I couldn't find the nudists. :(

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 24, 2011:

It is a really beautiful gorge, and there are almost never any crowds. For people in the general area, it is definitely a great day trip!

Charlinex on January 24, 2011:

Looks like a wonderful place to visit!

Better Yourself from North Carolina on January 23, 2011:

I checked out the link and the place looks beautiful.