The Eternal Flame Trail in Chestnut Ridge Park Orchard Park Buffalo

🔥 The Eternal Flame Hiking Trail

The Eternal Flame, where natural gas escapes through the shale into a sheltered grotto beneath Shale Creek’s 35-foot waterfall, is not actually eternal, despite its name. If the flame goes out, it’s a good idea to bring a lighter to reignite it.

To find the Eternal Flame Trail in Erie County’s Chestnut Ridge Park, start from the large parking lot on New York State Route 277/Chestnut Ridge Road and follow the trail markers to a staircase with approximately 135 steps. Then, proceed to follow the creek upstream.

You must cross back and forth through the creek using stones and fallen logs to find the best walking path. Please be aware that most people end up walking in the water at some point. The way may be more difficult after heavy rain, but the waterfall will be more impressive. This unique geologic feature is a stunning reward for your effort.

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Where to Find the Trailhead

Eternal Flame Trail parking lot sign
Eternal Flame Trail parking lot
Eternal Flame Trail bathroom
Eternal Flame Trail trailhead

Use this Google Maps link to help you navigate. You’re seeking a large parking lot on New York State Route 277/Chestnut Ridge Road, where the trail begins. There are several access points from other trailheads within the park that connect to the Eternal Flame Trail, but the most direct route starts from this parking lot.

The trail has clear wayfinding signs, and the presence of many people makes it unlikely that you’ll lose your way. Before you visit, you may want to download the Erie County Parks trail map and/or AllTrails app.

Many articles about The Eternal Flame Trail mention the absence of a bathroom at the trailhead. However, there is a seasonal port-a-potty available next to the parking lot. Additionally, restrooms can be found throughout Chestnut Ridge Park. If you look on the park map for a playground, there’s sure to be one nearby.

The Eternal Flame Trail

Eternal Flame Trail path
The Eternal Flame Trail

I have found that this trail is quite challenging, although it’s not categorized that way in many of the trail blogs I’ve read. There are spots along the Eternal Flame Trail that require creativity and flexibility.

The Eternal Flame steps

The creek bed is accessible via 135 steps, offering a more secure alternative to the previous steep and slippery trail that these steps replaced in 2023. Despite the improvement, it remains a demanding workout, totaling 270 steps in and out of the gorge. They are made of wooden frames and hard-packed dirt, sometimes turning to mud after heavy rains, as shown in the photo above.

If you’ve walked the 127 steps to reach Letchworth’s Lower Falls, you can draw parallels to this experience.

The Eternal Flame creek walk
Eternal Flame Trail creek
Eternal Flame Trail debris
Eternal Flame Trail walking
Shale Creek

Once you reach the creek bed, follow the water upstream until you reach the falls at the dead-end of the gorge.

Sounds easy, right? Except that there is not a well-defined trail along Shale Creek. To find the most optimal walking path, you must teeter across stones and fallen logs back and forth. Fallen trees blocking the way must be navigated over or under to proceed. The walkway is made of slippery shale and is sometimes muddy.

The Eternal Flame creek walk
The Eternal Flame waterfall

To get the best view of the water falling over the rocks, it’s ideal to visit after a steady rain. However, the increased water level adds to the challenge mentioned earlier. Most people will end up walking in the water at some point, so it’s a good idea to bring a change of shoes.

Eternal Flame Trail close up cover
Eternal Flame Trail flame waterfall
Eternal Flame Trail flame

The “Eternal” Flame

This unique geologic feature is a gorgeous reward for your hard work. Hopefully you headed the advice mentioned earlier and brought a lighter! (If not, one of your fellow travelers may have one.) Stand in the moment, experience the deep calm of the gorge, and take a few pictures. You’ve done it!

Now, retrace your steps back to the car.

swing overlooking the City of Buffalo from Chestnut Ridge Park
swing overlooking the City of Buffalo from Chestnut Ridge Park

Chestnut Ridge Park

As a treat before you head home, stop near the toboggan launch and enjoy the bench swings overlooking the City of Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Lake Erie, and Highmark Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills.

swing overlooking the City of Buffalo from Chestnut Ridge Park zoom

More Information About the Eternal Flame Trail

Cost: Free

Located in Orchard Park, roughly 90 minutes / 85 miles from Rochester (get directions).

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Have you hiked the Eternal Flame Trail?

Your insights and experiences are valuable. Please share them in the comments.

Debi Bower, Day Trips Around Rochester NY

Debi Bower is the founder and creative director of daytrippingroc.com and author of the award-winning book Day Trips Around Rochester, New York.

People often ask me if I get free access to places while exploring. The answer is no unless I’m invited to previews or granted behind-the-scenes access as part of my media role. Generally, I don’t mention my project, Day Trips Around Rochester, NY, because I want the same experience you would have. I create and share content simply because it brings me joy. I would appreciate your support—a cup of coffee or two to help fuel future field trips—if you have found valuable information here that has helped you explore the Rochester area.

2 thoughts on “🔥 The Eternal Flame Hiking Trail”

  1. My daughter and I hiked to the flame! It was worth every step! There were waterfalls and adventure getting there! We loved it! Recently I saw it featured in a 4th grade reading book by Harcourt! Wow!

  2. Visited here ( Eternal Flame) 40 years ago when it was a ‘secret’ place and few people knew about it. There was no parking lot, you parked on a side road and walked in. The Buffalo Museum of Science people knew about it but didn’t tell. No more: overcrowded at times, trail is over worn and eroded. Some things in nature are best left a secret.

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