This Scenic New York Hike Leads To One Of The World's Most Bizarre Natural Phenomena

Hikers are no strangers to great views. From scenic beginner hiking trails in national parks to stunning death-defying peaks, the reward for all those steps is an in-person glimpse at natural beauty — no filter or airbrushing involved. The Eternal Flame Falls Trail in Orchard Park, New York, is no exception, and it comes with a special surprise for hikers who reach the gorgeous 30-foot waterfall. As its name suggests, the trail leads to an awe-inspiring "eternal flame" that flickers in a grotto behind the cascading water.

Native Americans are thought to have ignited the flame first, and after all these years, a small seepage of natural gas seems to keep it going. However, note that the eternal flame isn't actually eternal. The 5- to 10-inch fire, depending on fuel and climate conditions, is known to go out at times, so hikers are encouraged to bring a lighter during their trek to relight it as needed.

How to hike to the eternal flame

The Eternal Flame Falls Trail is located in Chestnut Ridge Park, but the legendary flame can be a little tricky for park visitors to find. Instead of starting at the park's main entrance, head to the Eternal Flame Hiking Trailhead parking lot, just south of the Chestnut Ridge Cemetery. From there, follow the marked trails, appropriately dotted with flame signs along the way. If the trail ends and you're unsure which direction to go, continue following the creek until you reach the waterfall. After visiting the eternal flame, retrace your steps back to the parking lot to finish the hike.

The 1.2-mile round trip takes about 30 to 40 minutes to complete. However, despite being short and quick, the Eternal Flame Falls Trail can be challenging to hike. Prepare to climb stairs and walk through water in some spots. The trail can also be muddy and slippery, especially after rainfall. Consider hiking when the ground is dry, or strap on your best hiking boots to trudge through the slick path.

Don't miss the other nature trails and stunning sights nearby

Chestnut Ridge Park may be best known for its unique eternal flame, but that's not the only hiking trail on the property. Explore the area by following one of its other marked paths, including the lengthy Boy Scout Trail and Orienteering Trail. When completed together as a loop, these hikes span 5.6 miles and require a little over two hours.

For more outdoor adventures, drive 16 minutes northeast to Knox Farm State Park. Just like Chestnut Ridge Park, Knox Farm features plenty of greenery and exciting trails, but as the former site of the Knox family's country estate, it's also packed with a distinct historic flair. Stroll through the charming grounds, visit the barns, and stop at the Library in the Woods.

If you finish your hikes before the sun goes down, consider heading to the Mill Road Scenic Overlook in time for sunset. This viewpoint is little more than a parking lot on the side of the road, but it's the perfect spot to watch the sky turn pink and orange as the sun lowers beneath the horizon. If you plan to spend multiple days in Upstate New York, visit Niagara Falls and the city of Buffalo, each within driving distance of Eternal Flame Falls.