When tourists come to the Buffalo region, they usually have one waterfall on their minds.
Niagara Falls is undoubtedly majestic and awe-inspiring, but there’s another cascade tucked away just south of the city that you shouldn’t miss. As a lifetime Buffalonian, I’ve hiked to the curious Eternal Flame dozens of times and can attest that it will be the highlight of your trip.
Western New York’s Eternal Flame is a beautiful fusion of fire and water that seems to defy natural law. Located off the beaten path in Chestnut Ridge Park, one of the Southtowns of Buffalo, New York, the Eternal Flame Falls is a local haunt and popular hike for Western New Yorkers and tourists in the know.
Nobody knows who lit the flame in the first place, although it’s speculated that the first fire was sparked by Native Americans thousands of years ago. But the most puzzling aspect of the falls is that while a natural gas stream fuels it, the shale below the flame is nowhere hot enough to support the flame. There’s no rhyme or reason why the flame should exist, especially as it’s shrouded in a curtain of water.
All this mystery only makes the Eternal Flame even more alluring. The more you know about it, the more eager you’ll be to put this lesser-known cascade on your bucket list.
Hiking To The Eternal Flame
The round-trip hike to the Eternal Flame, which AllTrails rates moderate, is just a little under a mile and does involve some hiking up and down at the beginning of the trail. There’s also a big drop into the shale ravine at the bottom. Regardless of the season, the river bed is generally wet, muddy, and slippery. Proper footwear and a walking stick are a must.
People hike to the Eternal Flame year-round, but winter comes with its own set of challenges (and beauty). Buffalo is famous for its unpredictable winter weather, and the Southtowns are often slammed with Lake Effect Snow, or snowstorms that crop up courtesy of Lake Erie. The Eternal Flame looks nothing short of magical during the winter months, but the hike to get there will be icy, frigid, and challenging.
Summer is a popular time to visit the Eternal Flame as the riverbed is generally drier and the weather is pleasant. Summertime is also a fantastic time to snack on local comfort food at nearby George’s Hot Dog Stand or Taffy’s. Taffy’s has a cult following in the Southtowns, thanks to their 130 varieties of signature milkshakes and charbroiled hot dogs.
No matter what time of year you visit the Eternal Flame, bring a lighter with you. The flame occasionally goes out. Although you will hear a soft pop, it’s not dangerous to light the Eternal Flame. In fact, it could be one of the most memorable moments of your vacation.
Getting To Chestnut Ridge Park
The Eternal Flame is part of Chestnut Ridge Park and is located in Orchard Park, one of Buffalo’s so-called Southtowns. It’s only roughly 30 minutes by car from the Buffalo Niagara Airport. You can technically take a bus from the airport to the main Ellicott Street station, and hop on an either 16 or 14 bus to the McKinley Mall, but you’d still have to take an Uber, Lyft, or taxi to Chestnut Ridge Park. Ultimately, taking public transportation will tack on at least an extra hour and a half to your trip, meaning it’s better to drive or rent a car.
There are ample taxis, Ubers, and Lyfts at the airport, but if you want to explore the Southtowns and save a few dollars, renting a car or driving your own is the absolute best and most time-efficient option.
Spending Time The Southtowns
Chestnut Ridge Park is a perennial hotspot where folks congregate to go tobogganing and sledding in the winter and play frisbee golf during the summer. Picnics are common, and dogs are welcome as long as they’re leashed.
If you want to explore the Southtowns beyond the park, head to idyllic Lake Erie Beach Park during the summer for a fun and festive vibe right on one of the Great Lakes. Drive further south to East Aurora and visit the charming Roycroft Campus, which boasts a vast selection of unique handicrafts and is a preserved guild of Roycroft crafts workers. You can tour the complex and appreciate the nature of these guilds, which has been preserved since the 19th century, as well as their material and philosophical contributions to the region.
If you’re in the mood for an adult beverage after your hike to the flame, Hamburg Brewing Company is close by. There’s also First Line Brewing, a brand new kid on the block. Buffalo is famous for its love and mastery of craft brewing, so you won’t have any trouble getting that perfect pint.
Of course, you could always travel north to Niagara Falls to visit the other famous Western New York waterfall! Niagara Falls is roughly an hour north of Orchard Park.
The Eternal Flame is a thing of beauty and an emblem of Buffalo pride. Next time you’re in my hometown, check it out!
Want more waterfalls? Climb up Thailand’s incredible sticky waterfalls in Chiang Mai, or hit the trails to find these eight stunning must-see waterfalls in Tennessee.