Fun fact: The Eternal Flame isn’t eternal at all. It does go out sometimes, so bring along a lighter if you’d like to see it in all it’s glory.
It’s not a stroll in the woods
I have found that this trail is extremely challenging, although it’s not categorized that way in many of the trail blogs I’ve read. After one successful attempt and one failed attempt to reach the flame, I can say there are spots along the trail that require creativity and flexibility.
The first spot is the trail leading from the rim to the gorge. It’s not so steep that you can’t walk straight up, but you definitely choose your foot placements carefully around tree roots as you boot-scoot down. Remember, too, that this is the return path so every step down is a step up later.
Once you’ve made it to the creek bed, you just keep following the water upstream until you hit the falls at the gorge’s dead-end. Sounds easy, right? Except that there is not a well defined trail along the creek bed. There’s a lot of teetering across stones and fallen logs to cross back and forth along the way to find the most optimal walking path. There are fallen trees blocking the way that must be navigated over or under to proceed. The walkway is slippery shale and sometimes muddy. To see water falling over the rocks, it’s best to go when there’ been a steady spring rain. Of course, the higher water level only adds to the aforementioned challenge. Most folks walk in the water at some point, so a change of shoes is a great idea.
An Eternal Flame at the end of the tunnel
Once you have successfully done all this, you will reach the Eternal Flame, sheltered in a tiny cave under a beautiful little waterfall. This unique geologic feature is a gorgeous reward for all of your hard work. Stand there in awe, enjoy the dark calm of the gorge, take a few pictures (if you can get the other hikers to scoot over!) You’ve done it! Now turn around the way you came and retrace your steps back to the car.
With all of that said, I have witnessed people of all ages and abilities making the trek. I have seen college students in high heels MAKE IT to the end! Maybe I’m a wimp, but I did this hike the 2nd time with 4 adult women (one with a back issue) and my daughter and we didn’t make it. No guts, no glory I suppose. It’s not discouraged me from doing it again, though! I read a great article, unfortunately after my 2nd hike, that recommends having an experienced friend along for the hike. I agree, that’s great advice. There are multiple places to park, and I’m still not certain if I’ve gone in the best way!
8 Gorge Trails to Hike Before Winter
From the NY Waterfalls website
“Eternal Flame Falls is a 30 ft high cascade in two segments. A small grotto to the right houses a natural gas spring that can be ignited to create a flame of 4-8 inches in height. The best time to visit is in early spring, or after bouts of rain lasting several days.”
Chestnut Ridge Park
As a treat before you head home, stop at Chestnut Ridge Park (get directions) and swing while looking out over the City of Buffalo all the way to Niagara Falls, and Lake Erie.
- Cost: Free
- Located in Orchard Park, roughly 90 minutes / 85 miles from Rochester (get directions)
Note: These directions are to the place you’ll park to find the trail head. There are two trail heads, the other can be found here, and is not necessarily wrong, but folks tend to recommend the other one.)
- More information: nyfalls.com/waterfalls/eternal-flame-falls/, and map