Weekend Backpacker: Buffalo
For backcountry hiking within striking distance from Buffalo, you won't do better than Allegheny National Forest. A massive 470,000 acres in scope, much of it rugged, Allegheny National Forest is ideal for a wilderness experience, offering genuine backcountry challenges. The western flank is graced by the Allegheny River. Hiking trails include 95 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail and 10 miles of other trails.
Reality check: The US Forest Service works for both recreational users and loggers, so expect to hear the chainsaw or to see some logged-over areas. And the forest does have several communities and highways within it, established long before the feds took over.
Hickory Creek Trail : A 12-mile loop.
Start at Heart's Content Picnic Area for this long one-day or overnight trip of 12 miles. The route takes you west through mixed deciduous and evergreen forest, mostly along the top of a plateau running between East and Middle Hickory Creeks. When you hit Jack Run, swing back eastward. Ups and downs through numerous valleys make it a good workout.
North Country National Scenic Trail
If you can't make it to the Appalachian Trail (or if you're looking for new adventures), here's a fine alternative in the National Scenic Trails System. The Allegheny National Forest encompasses 95 miles of this trail; you can carve out endless sections and loops using side trails. For a multi-day backpacking trip of 40 miles, you could start on the north side of the forest (on the NY-PA border, east of Willow Bay and north of Rte. 346), ending up at Tionesta Scenic Area, where you may want to position a pick-up car.
There are great views over the Allegheny River on this northern section of the North Country Trail, particularly at peak foliage time. Miles of cliff walks and narrow trail on steep hillsides add excitement but no technical challenges. At day's end, westward views from the ridge bring memorable sunsets. On hot summer days, a dip in the reservoir (the river is dammed) can be heavenly.
Camping: In the reservoir area, Handsome Lake and Hopewell campgrounds are your best bet. No ad hoc camping in the forest or near shorelines.
From Buffalo take I-90 west to West Seneca; NY Rte. 219 south to Salamanca and on to Bradford, Pennsylvania; then PA Rte. 346 west into Allegheny National Forest.
Backcountry hiking permits are not required, but camping and cabin reservations are recommended.
Ask Buffalo outfitters or Allegheny National Forest for the Class "A" national forest map (1/2" = 1 mi.).
See Wilderness Weekends in Western New York for brief trail descriptions, or order the Allegheny National Forest Hiking Guide from the Sierra ClubAllegheny Group, Box 8241, Pittsburgh, PA 15217.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication