Are you looking for a hike with a little bit of a twist? A unique scene? The Eternal Flame Falls Trail fits the bill! A fairly easy hike will take you to the base of the Eternal Flame Falls. Although the falls itself is nothing to spectacular, especially when compared to nearby Niagara Falls, the small flame burning brightly behind the falls will make you fall in love with the scenery!
Geology of the Falls
The flame seen burning behind the waterfall is caused by natural gases that are emitted from the base of the falls. The gases contain methane, ethane, and propane that originate from the Rhinestreet shale located 400 meters below the surface. It is believed that tectonic activity led to movement and openings in the shale that allows the gases to escape.
Located in the Shale Creek Preserve of Western NY, the trail leading to the falls lies within Chestnut Ridge Park. You will find a fairly large parking area at the trail head off of Route 277 in Orchard Park, NY. The parking lot is found about 1.5 miles South of the main entrance to Chestnut Ridge Park.
About the Trail
The Eternal Flame Falls trail is 1.4 miles out and back trail. The trail is considered moderate due to some steep and sometimes slippery areas heading down into the ravine and along the creek. The elevation gain for the trail is 137 ft.
Depending on when you visit, you can have a very different experience viewing the falls. If you visit after high rain fall, you may find a rushing waterfall, while other times it may be no more than a trickle. But either way, catching a glimpse of the flame burning bright makes for a beautiful picture!
Tip: Be sure to wear some good shoes or hiking boots because the trail can be wet and slippery in some spots. Depending on water levels, you may potentially have to walk through some deeper parts of the creek, so be prepared!
Hiking the Eternal Flames Falls Trail
Once you have reached the parking area head over to the trailhead sign marker. Here you will begin the hike along a gravel path that will quickly turn into a wooded area. Along the trail you will find small flames marking the trail.
Once you reach the wooded away you will find a mix of ascending and descending areas along the trail past hemlock trees that will quickly lead you to the descent into the ravine. As you walk through this section you will find the trail covered in tree roots poking out, so watch your step!
As you continue along the trail take note of the signs warning of the danger along the ravine. Staying on the trail will keep you perfectly safe, but there have been many instances where people who have fallen or climbed into the ravine have had to be rescued.
Once you have reached the bottom of the ravine you will find the Shale Creek, which you will follow to the until reaching the waterfall and flame. When you reach the creek, you will want to continue left towards the falls.
There is a trail on the side of the creek, or if the water is low like it was on our visit you will be able to walk over the shale rock bottom of the creek.
Along the way you will find small cascading waterfalls along the ravine walls, adding to the beauty of the trail.
At the end of the trail you will find the much anticipated Eternal Flame. (If the flame is out, which does happen on occasion, you can relit it with a lighter).
If you are looking for more to do, be sure to check out the rest of Chestnut Ridge Park. You can enjoy more hiking trails and other outdoor activities like bicycling, disc golf, picnic areas, and in the winter skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.
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