Hiking Trail to the Eternal Flame Falls at Chestnut Ridge Park
If you've hiked to the Flame, please rate it below.
Falling Water and Fire
Hike one of the trails to the Eternal Flame Falls and you'll find a dancing natural flame behind a cascade of water. Admit it, the only thing that can make a waterfall cooler, is having fire behind it. Even better, though there are several hundred wild flames, this is the only known natural occurrence combining falling water and fire in the world.
With most round-trip hikes to the falls lasting under two miles, this amazing phenomenon is accessible to many people. This spectacle is located in Chestnut Ridge Park, just about six miles from Ralph Wilson Stadium where the Buffalo Bills dazzle Western New Yorkers with their skills in football greatness.
The map and trail descriptions in this article, detail the journey from both the Corral and Seufert Road trailheads.
So whether you are looking for a family friendly hike in the Buffalo area or to be inspired by a natural wonder, the walk to the Eternal Flame Falls never disappoints.
About the Author:I have been well acquainted with the Flame, having hiked to see its beauty dozens of times in various conditions. As you can see from my photos and videos I've taken over the years, the flame is timeless, even throughout its seasonal cycles.
The Eternal Flame Falls
What Causes the Flame?
Though I am inclined to think that there is a dragon sleeping in a hidden shale cave, the flame is the result of some sort of natural gas fissure. At some point in history, some brave adventurer had the foresight and the courage to light the gas and create the spectacle. Many surmise that Native Americans were the first to discover the Flame and I can only imagine what religious and practical significance it had for them.
Recently, researchers from Indiana University have studied the Eternal Flame to find out the exact cause of its existence. Their findings were published in the May 2013 issue of Marine and Petroleum Geology and have caused renewed interest in the Flame.
Opposed to other eternal flames, the shale of this Chestnut Ridge feature wasn't as warm or as old as expected. Therefore, these geologists surmised that the process here in New York is a new form of gas production that requires additional study.
Occasionally, especially in the Spring, the fire has been flooded out and extinguished. It is quite alright to relight the Flame as no terrible Darth Vaderish burning incidents have been reported.
This part of Chestnut Ridge Park is an especially fragile and unique eco-system, please treat it with respect. While hiking here, practice Leave No Trace backcountry ethics by "Taking only pictures and leaving only footprints." That said, please be careful where you leave your footprints.
- Stay on the trails.
- Stay off of ravine walls and do not climb on the shale.
- Pack out all trash with you.
- If you hike with a pet, make sure it is leashed and clean up after it.
- Do not collect wildflowers, rocks, artifacts while in the park. Leave them there for others to enjoy.
Let's make sure that future generations of adventurers can enjoy the Flame, by treading lightly and preserving this area.
This trail has been the site of several recent accidents and even the death of one teenager slipping into the ravine. As with all outdoor adventures, take care as you are responsible for your own safety.
The trail to the Eternal Flame can be rather slippery in places, especially once you descend into the Gorge and begin walking in the creek bed. Closed toe shoes are a must for hiking and many folks change into water shoes or a hybrid sandal like a Keen Newport for walking in the water.
- Do not walk barefoot or in flip flops. Wear proper footwear like hiking boots.
- Carry the 10 essentials.
- File a trip plan with someone back home so they know where you are going and when you'll be back.
- Consider carrying a hiking stick or trekking poles to steady yourself.
- Stay on marked trails.
- Avoid venturing near the edge of the ravine - many are fragile undercut shale.
- Do not climb ravine walls.
- Hike with a buddy.
- Avoid hiking when the trails are slippery and muddy.
- Don't rely on technology, but carry a fully charged cell phone.
Eternal Flame Trailheads
Hiking Trail Map
Note on the trail map above
I created the above map using Google Earth and the track log from my GPS. I highlighted the different sections of the trail in colors; however, be aware that the actual trail markings do not reflect these colors. Most of the actual markings of the trails in Chestnut Ridge differ greatly, due to a motley group of trail maintainers over the years without a unified vision.
Likewise, I have labeled a few of the intersections on the map to make it easier to follow; these junctions are not labeled within the park.
Corral Trailhead to Intersection A (Magenta)
Of the two trailheads, this one has the best parking and the clearest markings to walk down to the Flame. At one point, the parking lot was a horse corral. You'll hear many locals say, "meet me at the pony corral" even though there hasn't been a pony here in years.
- From the parking lot, head into the woods down the trail.
- Look for trail markers depicting a small flame on the trees; you will follow these down to the ravine.
- Pass through a grove of hemlock trees.
- Arrive at Intersection A after walking .17 miles.
- Walking left will take you to the Seufert Road trailhead, walking right will take you to the waterfall.
Seufert Road Trailhead to Intersection A (Orange)
At one point, the Seufert Road trailhead was the entrance to the Shale Creek Preserve. There is roadside parking for several cars. On this trail, you will want to follow the blue block trail markers, which are standard until you reach Intersection A.
- Begin walking on a jeep-trail past the gate by following the blue blocks.
- At .04 miles you will reach Intersection C with an unmarked trail. Following this unmarked trail allows you to see the waterfall from above; however, it does not give you access to the lower gorge.
- The trail opens up to a large area at .10 miles with a concrete slab from an old pavilion, a kiosk (which in May was in disrepair) and a large log. Take a look at this log, it is the trunk from a California Redwood tree. It was brought here when the Buffalo Museum of Science controlled access to this property.
- After this clearing, take the trail into the woods.
- At .17 miles, cross a small creek on rocks. There is no bridge here and in spring you may end up with a wet boot. After the crossing, trudge up a small hill.
- You will reach Intersection A after walking .23 miles.
- The left branch takes you to the Eternal Flame
- If you go right, you will reach the Corral Trailhead.
Trail Intersection A to the Waterfalls (Yellow)
Whether you decided to walk from Chestnut Ridge Road or Seufert Road, you should end up at Intersection A. From here, you will take the trail down into the ravine and end up at the Eternal Flame Falls. The path is marked with both metal flame placards and blue block trail markers.
As the most common approach to the falls is via the corral, all mileage is based on a trek from that trailhead.
- From the intersection, head North on the trail on the ridge above the creek.
- Soon, you'll hear the waterfall below with occasional glimpses into the ravine on your left. Be careful if you wander to the edge - it is a 150 foot drop in some places.
- At .34 miles from the Corral TH, begin to descend gradually into the gorge.
- Near the creek, reach Intersection C at .43 miles with the Red Trail. This 2.73 mile trail makes an interesting alternate approach to the area.
- Turn left on the trail and follow the stream bed up Shale Creek Gorge.
- At this point, the trail winds to the left, right, and in Shale Creek. Use your best judgement when picking a path and be careful of the slippery rocks.
- There are several small waterfalls in this passage, there is a particularly pretty one at .64 miles.
- At .75 miles from the trailhead, you reach the base of the Eternal Flame Falls.
- To return to your vehicle, simply retrace your steps.
Video of the Falls with Snow
Trail Etiquette Alert!
When the area around the waterfall is busy, allow others to have their time with the cascade by giving them space. It is hard to marvel at the beauty of the natural world, when someone is pushing you out of the way to take a picture.
Do like your kindergarten teach taught you and take turns.
Eternal Flame Falls is a thirty-foot cascade on Shale Creek, which is a tributary of Eighteen Mile Creek. The grotto that contains the flame is located to the right of the waterfall as you are looking at it.
Though some guides advocate climbing up the cliff using root handholds, this is dangerous to you and destructive to the environment.
Other Trail Options
Besides the two trails listed, there are other ways to reach the Eternal Flame Falls.
Some aquatic-minded folks wade up Shale Creek the entire way from inside Chestnut Ridge Park. Avid hikers, use Chestnut Ridge's path network and approach the falls via the red trail. This long approach is by far my favorite way to visit the Falls; it is surely the road less traveled
Someday perhaps, I'll pen the trail descriptions for these. For now, consider this a way to explore the park and make your own discoveries.
The one approach I don't suggest is bushwhacking and scaling down the cliffs into the Gorge via one of the gullies. Not only is this dangerous to you, but dangerous to the fragile eco-system.
Night Hike to the Flame
A Note for Night Hikers
Thought trekking to the Flame at night is popular, the slippery terrain can be perilous after the sun sets. Further, Chestnut Ridge Park officially closes after dusk, so you are hiking "out of bounds" so to speak.
As always, be careful and follow regulations.
The Flame at Night
A Parting Note
If you've had the opportunity to hike to the Eternal Flame at Chestnut Ridge Park or have seen another one around the world, let us know about your experience. If you have any questions about this hike, let me know. I'd rather have informed people hiking in the woods than a bunch of yahoos wandering off trail and destroying this unique area.
As always, thanks for reading!
© 2013 Dan Human
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