How To Hike To Eternal Flame Falls In New York



Where Are Those Morgans Eternal Flame Falls

Eternal Flame Falls is one of the nine natural eternal flames in the world sitting behind a cascading waterfall in a beautiful fusion of fire and water. The hiking trail is open everyday and it’s completely free to visit so it’s definitely one you should not miss in western New York.

In this guide, we’re going to show you everything you need to know about hiking to Eternal Flame Falls including tips from a local.

Our Eternal Flame Experience

Three people posing for a photo with Eternal Flame Falls
Kristen, Mark and Kristen’s mom posing for a photo by the waterfall

Kristen lived in the Buffalo area for almost a decade while she received her undergraduate degree and then after purchasing her first home. She’s hiked to Eternal Flame Falls numerous times in a different seasons throughout the years.

Once Mark moved to the US in 2019, Kristen has since taken him to all her favorite spots in the region. We personally hiked the Eternal Flame Falls Trail together before attending a Buffalo Bills game on a Sunday afternoon in fall. The photos in this guide are from an October 2022 visit and the leaves had just fallen for the autumn season. Read more about us.

What Is Eternal Flame Falls?

Close up view of Eternal Flame Falls near Orchard Park, NY
The small yet famous flame burning bright
  • Waterfall Height: 30 ft (9m)
  • Waterfall Crest: Varies
  • Waterway: Shale Creek
  • Location: Erie County
  • Nearest Major City: Orchard park (4.5 miles)

Eternal Flame Falls is a unique waterfall located in western New York state. It features a mini grotto with a natural flame occurring near a 30 ft waterfall cascade. Inside the small alcove, there is a natural gas spring showcasing a flickering blaze ranging from about 4 to 8 inches in height.

The water flow from Shale Creek pours over the small flame creating a magnificence spectacle. We love this waterfall because you can visit any time of year and it’s always breathtaking.

There are various legends as to the origin of the flame. Some say it was lit thousands of years ago by Indigenous groups who called this area home. Another popular story involves defiant elves living in the nearby woodlands who continuously light the flame.

But the real mystery lies with the natural gasses that are pushed through the cracks of the surrounding bedrock. In 2013, a study from Indiana University, discovered Eternal Flame Falls in New York contains the highest concentrations of ethane and propane of any known natural gas seep.

The small grotto acts as a shelter to protect the gas seepage so the flame can remain lit for long periods of time. Research has concluded the flame originates from Rhinestreet Shale formed during the Upper Devonian period about 400 meters deep.

The natural gas eventually reaches the surface of the ground through faults and passages caused by tectonic activity. While there are other tiny fissures nearby, they are not nearly as impressive compared to the primary flame near the waterfall.

Directions To The Park

View of Eternal Flame Falls up close
Close up view of the flame along Shale Creek

Eternal Flame Falls is nestled on the southern end of Chestnut Ridge Park along Shale Creek about 20 miles south of Buffalo, New York. The park includes 1,200 acres of the beautiful rolling hills in Erie County wedged between Eighteenmile Creek and the western branch of Cazenovia Creek. The Shale Creek Preserve is located within the remote southern region of the park and it’s filled with wooded ravines.

  • Address: Eternal Flame Hiking Trail, Orchard Park, NY 14127
  • Location: Google Maps

From Buffalo, follow I-190 S, then I-90 W and finally US-219 S to New Armour Rd in Orchard Park. Take the exit toward Chestnut Ridge Park from US-219 and follow signs to the park. The gravel parking lot will be on your left.

Let’s take a quick look at driving distances and times from nearby major cities as well as the closest airports for you to consider if visiting from further afield.

Eternal Flame Falls distance from nearby major cities:

  • Binghamton, NY – 190 miles (3h 30m)
  • Syracuse, NY – 160 miles (2h 30m)
  • Rochester, NY – 85 miles (1h 30m)
  • Albany, NY – 300 miles (4h 30m)
  • NYC – 365 miles (6h 15m)
  • Erie, PA – 90 miles (1h 30m)

Search for your flights using the best search engine, Skyscanner to compare prices on multiple platforms. The same goes for renting a car, get a benchmark price using Rental Cars then see if you can beat it.

Here are the closest airports near Eternal Flame Falls:

  • Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) – 115 miles (2h)
  • Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) – 60 miles (1 h 30m)
  • Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) – 20 miles (30m)

READ: How to visit Niagara Falls state park

Entry Fee And Parking

Large gravel parking lot at Chestnut Ridge State Park
Large parking lot for the hiking trail

You don’t have to pay an entrance fee and you don’t need a reservation to enter Chestnut Ridge Park. And unlike most New York parks, you don’t have to pay a day-use vehicle parking fee. The park is completely free to enter from 7:00am to dusk in winter and until 9:00pm in summer.

We like Eternal Flame Falls because parking is relatively easy compared to other famous hikes in the United States. When you first arrive, you’ll pull into a huge gravel parking lot. The trailhead is found in the southwest corner of the lot.

While this large parking lot rarely fills to full capacity, the trail and area around the eternal flame itself is quite restricted. So if the parking lot is packed, just be aware the trail will be very busy and there will be limited space to spread out from others.

Since Chestnut Ridge is open year round, it’s a popular spot for winter activities due to its close proximity to Buffalo. However, this hike can be extremely dangerous in the winter months due to heavy snow and thick ice.

Eternal Flame Falls sits within a large ravine and it can be difficult to see the trail when the snow is deep. Use a hiking app in winter to help you find the correct path.

READ: Round up of the best hiking apps

Eternal Flame Falls Trail Walkthrough

Chestnut Ridge State Park Eternal Flame Trail sign
Chestnut Ridge Park sign for the hiking trail

One of the most popular hikes within Chestnut Ridge Park is Eternal Flame Falls. It’s a short moderately challenging route due to the climb down into the ravine. Here is the official trail map from the Erie County Park System.

  • Trail distance: 1.12 miles roundtrip
  • Difficulty: Moderate

We recommend you wear proper hiking shoes or boots. In the winter, you may want to consider purchasing microspikes. According to AllTrails, the hike about 30 minutes to complete and you can check recent comments to see what hikers have said about the current conditions.

Without further ado, let’s hike to Eternal Flame Falls:

1. Chestnut Ridge Parking Lot

Eternal Flame Falls trail sign
Large Chestnut Ridge Park sign at the trailhead

As you make your way to the official trailhead, you’ll notice a large sign indicating the trail for Eternal Flame Falls. Take a moment to read the sign for any important information you may need to know about the area including trail hazards or weather concerns.

As you head west, you’ll also notice the trail is marked with small flame markers nailed to trees. These markers will show you how far you have hiked. Shortly you’ll enter a large grove of Hemlock trees and you’ll remain in the shade for the rest of the hike.

2. Hemlock Trees

Two women walking through a shaded portion of a trail in upstate NY
Kristen and her mom hiking Eternal Flame Falls Trail

As you follow the trail, it becomes extremely peaceful as you walk through the trees. During our hike, we didn’t see another person until we reached the creek and it was eerily quiet for this first section.

Something important to note about this area is you’ll pass by the large ravine which is home to the waterfall housing the eternal flame. It might be tempting to take this shortcut, but DO NOT attempt to climb down the ravine because people have died trying to reach the flame this way.

The walls are steeper than they look from the top and it’s extremely dangerous. Please leave no trace and follow the path because it was designed to help you reach the flame safely as well as minimize our impact on the environment.

3. Descent To Shale Creek

Large tree roots sticking out of the ground in a popular hiking trail
Large tree roots sticking out of the ground

The trail will begin to loop back around as you begin a descent to the Shale Creek. Watch out for thick roots and rocks embedded in the trail. There are a few wooden steps which have been added to help you climb down the ravine.

4. Rotten Egg Smell

White trail marker with a fire blaze indicating the correct hiking path
White trail marker with blazes indicating the correct way

Once you reach Shale Creek, you might notice a faint smell of rotten eggs. This is the natural gas found in the area. The smell will get stronger the closer you get to the flame.

5. Creek Obstacles

Shale Creek with large logs and low water flow
Large logs piled up in Shale Creek

The hike will continue through Shale Creek. When we visited in October, the water level was extremely low and we could easily navigate this section of the trail. If you visit in spring when the snowpack is melting, you may have to walk through water to reach Eternal Flame Falls.

This section can be a bit difficult to navigate because there any many obstacles including large branches and pools of water. Take your time and make sure you watch your footing.

6. Fire View

Eternal Flame Falls and Shale Creek near Orchard Park New York
Our first sighting of the Eternal Flame waterfall

In our opinion, the best part of this hike is when you get that first glimpse of the cascading waterfall with the shimmering red light in person. It almost looks like a mirage, but it looks just like the photos you’ve seen online which isn’t always the case.

Sometimes flooding, pressure changes and snow may extinguish the flame, but it can be easily re-lit with a lighter. The trail ends at the waterfall so take a break and enjoy the views. Once you’ve taken your photos, begin making your way back up the creek and follow the same trail back to the parking lot. Please do not try to climb the ravine to get out.

READ: Best waterfalls in New York state

Facilities And More Trails

One outhouse and garbage can near Eternal Flame Falls trailhead
A portable outhouse located near the trailhead

There is only one outhouse located on the side of the parking lot at Eternal Flame Falls. If you need additional facilities during your visit, head to the main section of Chestnut Ridge Park or nearby Orchard Park.

Dogs are allowed on the trail, but must always be kept on a leash. However, the trail can be very slippery in sections so always keep a close eye on your pet. We saw a few dogs during our hike and they sure loved dodging the large branches in Shale Creek.

Opened in 1926, Chestnut Ridge Park is one of the original Erie County Parks. After hiking to Eternal Flame Falls, use this map here to find more trails.

Here are additional hikes and distances are one way:

  • Boy Scout Trail – 2.3 miles
  • Orienteering Trail – 2.6 miles
  • Reservoir Trail – 0.65 miles
  • Seufert Trail – 0.23 miles
  • Snowmobile Trail – 0.34 miles
  • Ward Hill Trail – 0.90 miles
  • Ward Hill Walkway – 1.15 miles

Hiking Tip: In the winter season, there are two cross country skiing trails including both an inner and outer loop.

Best Time To Visit

Red, orange and yellow leaves in upstate New York during the fall season
Vibrant red, yellow and orange fall leaves along the trail

Eternal Flame Falls will be extremely busy on weekends between May and October, particularly during the holidays. We recommend avoiding this peak season unless it’s the only time you can visit.

Our favorite time to hike to Eternal Flame Falls is the last week of September or first week of October. This time of year showcases vibrant fall foliage throughout the ravine and the water level is low in the creek so you can easily visit without getting too wet.

If you want to see the waterfall at it fullest, visit in early spring when the snow is melting. However, it may be difficult to walk through Shale Creek and sometimes the flame is hidden behind heavy water flow. We recommend you wear water proof boots if you want to visit at this time of year.

Early morning is the best time of day no matter the season because you’ll beat the crowds. We started our hike around 10:00 am on a Sunday in October and only saw a few others on the trail.

Where To Eat And Stay

Woman looking at Eternal Flame Falls in upstate New York
Kristen taking in the view of the flame

We visited the waterfall before a Buffalo Bills game at Highmark Stadium at Orchard Park and stopped at the Anchor Bar for dinner. You could also combine this hike with a visit to Niagara Falls because it’s only about 40 miles to the north. While you’ll find several chain restaurants nearby, we always recommend you support the local options to help the community.

Here are some top rated hotel and restaurant recommendations for your trip:

Best hotel options:

Popular restaurants nearby:

Travel Tip: If this is your first time in Buffalo, we recommend you try the Anchor Bar, home of the original buffalo style chicken wing and one of Kristen’s favorite restaurants!

The Morgan Conclusion

Eternal Flame Falls is moderately challenging 1.2 mile out and back hike featuring a deep ravine and the Shale Creek. It’s a hidden gem in western New York that packs a big punch.

But is Eternal Flame Falls worth visiting?

Yes, we think Eternal Flame Falls is worth it because it’s a short hike that can be enjoyed by the entire family. In addition to the trail, there are many other outdoor activities you can enjoy including picnicking, disc golf, playgrounds, sledding, snowmobiling and cross country skiing in Chestnut Ridge Park. If you’re looking for a unique hike that you’ll always remember, this is it!

Our Eternal Flame Falls Photos

We loved visiting in October and took many photos. Here are a few of our favorites so you know exactly what to expect during your trip:

Large ravine with visitors at the bottom
Large ravine leading down to Shale Creek with a hiker looking at the waterfall
Marking taking a photo at Eternal Flame Falls
Mark getting the perfect shot of Eternal Flame Falls in New York
Side profile of flickering flame at a waterfall in upstate New York
Side profile of Eternal Flame Falls
Close up view of small fire at Eternal Flame Falls
The small grotto housing a bright flame surrounded by water
Yellow sign marking trail in Chestnut Ridge State Park
Bright yellow trail sign along the hike
Shale creek with large logs and boulders during the fall season
Large boulders and fallen trees in Shale Creek
Large ravine at Eternal Flame Falls near Orchard Park, New York
View of the thin waterfall during the fall season
Woman standing by Eternal Flame Waterfall in autumn
Kristen posing for a photo with the burning flame
A hidden grotto with a small flame flickering
Perspective shot of the small fire surrounded by fall foliage

More From The Finger Lakes

More From Upstate New York

Want more New York content? Head over to our New York Travel Guides to explore the Finger Lakes, Adirondacks and the best of NYC.

We hope this guide to hiking to Eternal Flame Falls helps with planning your visit to upstate New York!

Please let us know if you have any questions about planning your hike or Buffalo, NY in the comments below.

Happy Hiking,

Mark and Kristen

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