Rock cities are natural groupings of large boulders. When you walk among them you feel as though you are on a city street among sky scrapers. Enjoy exploring these cool, quiet, mossy rock cities near Rochester, with some boulders the size of houses!
What I found most striking about Little Rock City specifically is how serene it can be exploring the alleyways. The moss helps to absorb sound, the shadows keep the trails cool, and the crack of a twig under foot is amplified around you.
Visiting these rock cities is an experience like no other. Ask anyone who has camped in Allegany State Park what their favorite memories are and I’ll bet Thunder Rocks ranks in the top 3!
A cluster of rock cities
This map highlights how close these massive rock parks are to each other, nestled in the southwestern corner of New York State. These rock cities each have a unique creation story going back to when the area was covered by a vast, shallow inland sea, impacted over time by continental drift, glacial activity and mountain-building.
I would encourage you to see all 4 as they each offer unique experiences! Here are a few highlights, but do check their websites for seasonal information, and the most current admission fees and policies. Fees listed below are based on 2018 and are meant to provide a planning estimate only.
1. Little Rock City in Rock City State Forest
- Located in Little Valley, between Ellicottville & Salamanca
- Free and open to the public, and pets on a leash
- Access to the trail is from the end of Little Rock City Forest Road at the turn-around loop, which may be inaccessible in snow.
2. Panama Rocks
- Located in Panama, near Jamestown
- Admission fee ~$7.40, ~$15 season pass (as of 2017)
- Seasonal (May-October)
- Disposables are not allowed in the scenic area (water bottles, plastic bags, etc.)
- Pets are not allowed
- Guests under 18 must be accompanied by an adult
- Repelling is allowed, except down moss-covered cliffs
3. Rock City Park
- Located in Olean
- Admission fee ~$5 adult, ~$12 season pass (as of 2017)
- Seasonal (May-October)
- Leashed pets are allowed on the trails
4. Thunder Rocks
- Located in Allegany State Park
- Access include with park admission, free for Empire State Pass holders
- Climbing on rocks permitted, as are leashed pets
This is probably bigger than a day trip
You can’t see all of these in one day trip from Rochester, so spread them out over a few months, or spend a night in the area. You’ll want to plan at least an hour for each park.
When we visited Little Rock City in November we spent an hour in Allegany State Park first. We spent a few hours in Little Rock City, and were going to have dinner in Ellicottville but time just slipped away from us so we ate the remains of our picnic food on the drive home.
Here are a few resources to learn more about these geo-interesting places!
- Learn about New York State geology watching the videos in this excellent YouTube playlist
- This article on Western New York Explorer’s Guide goes into more detail on a few of the rock parks
- An excellent write up on Panama Rocks geological history
- Little Rock City is on state land, and the DEC has a great article to familiarize you with the area
Venture into one of these New York State Parks within a 2-hour drive of Rochester and discover what makes them each unique!
Have you been to one of our rock cities?
Share with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!