What You Need to Know About Zoar Valley Before You Go

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Friends hiking together in Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area

If you want to experience more than the bright lights and busy streets of New York City while visiting New York, Zoar Valley is a must-visit. The deep gorges and thick forests are paradoxical to what many think of when they imagine the Empire State. However, there are some important things that you should know before visiting.

Today, we’ll explain what you need to know about Zoar Valley before visiting this breathtakingly beautiful natural landscape. Let’s get started!

Where Is Zoar Valley?

Zoar Valley sits in the western portion of New York. It’s approximately 25 miles from the shores of Lake Erie and an hour south of Buffalo. 

It’s a stop you won’t want to miss if you’re traveling along I-90 through Pennsylvania and New York. Those coming from Cuyahoga Valley National Park and on their way to Niagara Falls or the Canadian border will find it is a convenient location to explore for a few days. 

About Zoar Valley, New York

Zoar Valley is a 2,978-acre river valley in Western New York. It was created due to the 2007 legislation that designated it as the Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area. The goal was to “protect its unique gorge and ledges, tributary gorges and riverside terraces and associated matrix forest of the main and south branches of the Cattaraugus Creek.” 

It’s full of opportunities for exciting adventures like hiking, fishing, canoeing, rafting, and kayaking. More than 10,000 visitors trek to the park each year to experience the natural beauty of the gorge, sheer cliffs, flowing waterfalls, and dense forests. 

However, before packing your bags or heading out for an adventure here, you must know that Zoar Valley has some hazardous areas. The steep walls and unstable rocky terrain are no joke. New York’s WGRZ could identify at least 15 people who have died in the valley, most of which resulted from falls from the cliffs.

If you plan to visit this area, you need to do your research on safe areas to visit. The Department of Environmental Conservation lists Valentine Flats Trail and Forty Road parking lot as the only safe locations to access the gorge or creek.

What Is the Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area?

The Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area (MUA/UA) is an incredibly diverse ecosystem in Western New York. You’ll find dense forests, raging rapids, and deep gorges. It offers hiking, paddling, fishing, hunting/trapping, and cross-country skiing/snowshoeing. 

Woman hiking in Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area

What You Need to Know About Zoar Valley Before You Go

You need to know several important things about Zoar Valley before you go. If you arrive unprepared, you could put yourself and your loved ones in a dangerous situation. We’ve selected a handful of the most important things to know. Still, you should familiarize yourself with the various rules and regulations for recreating in this area and any other State Forest Regulations.

There Are Four Parking Areas

Depending on where you’ll be adventuring, you’ll want to only park in one of the designated parking areas. The four parking areas are Valentine Flats, Holcomb Pond, Ross Pond, and Forty Road. 

If you want to access the gorge or creek, you’ll need to park at Valentine Flats Trail or Forty Road. There are no safe areas to access the gorge or creek from the Holcomb Pond or Ross Pond parking areas.

Sign In and Out of All Trail Registers

To help keep track of the area’s use and help with search and rescue, guests must sign in and out when using trails. Large groups need only a single person from the group to sign in and out. This can be helpful for officials to know when and where to start looking if conditions change or some sort of emergency occurs. 

Practice Leave-No-Trace Principles

Like many public outdoor recreational areas, you should always practice leave-no-trace principles. Doing so helps protect the land and keep it available for future generations of adventurers to enjoy.

Some examples of leave-no-trace principles include staying on marked trails, disposing of waste properly, not leaving items behind, and respecting wildlife. Many people think taking rocks or leaving trash behind is no big deal. However, what would the land look like if every guest followed your example?

Many of the best natural landscapes in our country, such as Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area, would quickly get destroyed. So do your part and pick up the slack of those who haven’t caught the vision yet.

Girl hiking in Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area

Stay Fifteen Feet From Cliff Edges

As we’ve said repeatedly, this area can be hazardous. Falling over the edge of one of these cliffs would mean a 400-foot fall to the bottom of the canyon. The park requires guests to stay 15 feet from cliff edges. The only exceptions are those engaging in ice climbing or rappelling with ropes.

The cliff edges are predominantly shale, which is a very brittle rock. As a result, the rocks near the edges are fragile and prone to breaking. Stepping too close to the edge is one gamble that’s not worth taking. Accidents near the cliff edges can happen in the blink of an eye and almost always end in tragedy.

Remember That Not All of the Land Is for Public Use

Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area combines public and private lands to make up its nearly 3,000 acres. While the waterway is for public use, you’re trespassing the second you step foot on land, including in the creekbed. As a result, the only way to safely travel the entirety of the water system through Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area is via a boat or raft.

You’ll find bright yellow and black signs when leaving Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area and entering private property. However, if you miss one of the signs, the park says, “If the property owner or an agent of the property owner informs you verbally that you are trespassing, and you remain on the property, you could face arrest.”

To avoid potential conflicts or legal issues, familiarize yourself with the valley’s map. You’re responsible for ensuring you stay within the park’s boundaries and off any private property.

Traveler’s Tip: After hiking in the Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area, relax you muscles by relaxing in the AIRE Ancient Baths in NYC.

Things to Do in Zoar Valley

There’s plenty to see and do while in Zoar Valley. Let’s look at a handful of the activities you’ll want to ensure are on your itinerary while visiting the area.

Hike the Valentine Flats Trail

This steep trail is just short of a mile and takes you down into the gorge area. The trail ends where the South Branch and Main Branch of the Cattaraugus Creek come together. The trail is a former road to access a farm along the creek. Hiking down into the gorge isn’t nearly as strenuous as the almost-mile hike back out.

Including your time exploring the gorge, hiking this trail can take an hour or more. You’ll want to ensure you bring enough water and supplies for your hike and have several hours available if you want to explore the gorge. This is a trail you likely don’t want to complete at night.

Book a Rafting Trip

Rafting down Cattaraugus Creek is a popular activity for many guests in this area. You can find a variety of local rafting companies that provide rafting trips in the gorge. Depending on the water levels, you’ll find rapids ranging from Class 2 to Class 4. 

Guests not needing the assistance of an outfitter can launch their boats upstream from the gorge. You can put in at the Hammond Hill Road Bridge and get out upstream of the North Otto Road Bridge. 

This section of the creek will send paddlers through private property. That means you can’t get out of your vessel in these areas.

The park recommends only those with extensive experience attempt to raft when the stream is at three feet. Only the most experienced white water paddlers should attempt floating the creek when it’s at four feet. Know your skills and be honest with yourself. If not, you could be in a very dangerous or deadly situation.

Group white water rafting down Cattaraugus Creek.

Go Cross-Country Skiing on the Holcomb Pond Trail System

Skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities throughout the entire state of New York. Luckily, you can cross-country ski and snowshoe in the winter at Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area. The best spot to enjoy this recreational activity is on the Holcomb Pond Trail System

These trails loop around Holcomb and Ross ponds. They’re relatively flat. You can shorten or lengthen your trip by choosing various routes. You can adjust your time based on how you feel that day or the weather conditions.

View Raptors From the Viewing Platform off Forty Road

Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area is home to a lot of wildlife. However, one of the area’s most delightful and dramatic sights is the massive raptors soaring high above Forty Road. They use the wind currents unique to the area to fly.

In addition to raptors, you can also see various other wildlife. It’s not uncommon for guests to catch glimpses of broad-winged hawks, American kestrels, red-bellied woodpeckers, woodchucks, foxes, red-spotted newts, and midland painted turtles. The park has also reported increased sightings of bald eagles.

Cast a Line at Holcomb Pond

Fishing is another popular activity within Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area. Some of the best fishing is in Holcomb Pond, but you can also fish in Ross Pond, Cattaraugus Creek, and the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek. You should be mindful of the state’s boundaries and avoid fishing on private property. 

If you’re fishing at the Forty Road parking area, you can continue upstream on South Branch but must stop once you reach the park’s boundary. You may catch steelhead and trout in either Cattaraugus Creek or South Branch. 

Is a Visit to Zoar Valley Worth It? 

Visiting Zoar Valley is a fantastic opportunity to experience the natural side of the Empire State. You’ll quickly discover that the state has plenty more to offer than just Broadway shows, thin pizza, and streets filled with taxi cabs.

If your travels take you through the western portion of New York, build in some time to stop and explore Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Area.

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