Navigating the Trails and Waterways in Chautauqua County

One if by land, two if by…lake

By Mark Stevens

Luensman Overlook with mapIt was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who coined the famous phrase “One, if by land, and two, if by sea” in his poem, Paul Revere’s Ride about the American Revolutionary War. It was a lantern-based secret signal during his legendary ride from Boston to Concord alerting Patriots about which route British troops were travelling.

Yet in Chautauqua County, NY it’s no secret that no matter how you travel, there are a lot of adventures for visitors both on land and in the water. So grab a lantern, or two, as we celebrate the fact, “The tourists are coming, the tourists are coming!”

One-Lantern Land Lovers


Chautauqua County Rails to Trails

_MG_2844For those of us who like to hit foot to pavement, there’s no better way to explore some of the finest scenic areas than through Chautauqua County’s Rails to Trails system. Lace up for an adventure through miles of some of the most picturesque wetlands, forests, pastures and vineyards. Not only are you taking a walk back in time through some of the region’s richest history, you’re also getting a great workout at the same time.

Grab a camera, or in most cases now, a smartphone, and snap some great pictures of the birds, plants and animals you’re bound to see along the way. Depending where you’re coming from, you can pick up the trail in the village of Brocton off Route 20, or take I-86 to the Sherman Exit, or in Mayville beside the old train depot building. You can also run and ride your bike through the trails as well.

For those unfamiliar with the trail system, the Chautauqua County Hiking Club organizes periodic hikes on the county’s trails. Members of the group post their upcoming trips on their Facebook page and welcome anyone from the area or out of town to hike along.

Overland Trails

Eastside Overland Trail 5-16Another Chautauqua County must see is the Overland trails. Starting with the Earl Cardot Eastside Overland Trail which spans about 19 miles from Gerry to the Northern section of Arkwright. The trail is named after the man who served as Arkwright Town Supervisor for 36 years and was also once a part of the forestry committee.

From the East, we travel to the Fred J. Cusimano Westside Overland Trail, named after a man many call the “father” of the Chautauqua County Park System who served as the first chairman of the park’s commission during its first decade in existence.  It covers 24 miles and runs from Mayville south to Panama and the NY-PA border.

No matter which trail you choose, you will enjoy time well spent crossing state reforestation and wildlife management areas, as well as private lands.  The Overland trails are open year round for both Summer and Winter recreation.

Panama Rocks

Panama Rocks_Cannonball-Medium-RangeImagine 60-foot high rocks forming crevices, secret passageways and hidden caves inside an ancient forest. Well imagine no more, welcome to Panama Rocks, one of Chautauqua County’s top-rated tourist attractions. If you’re a climber, you’ll love Panama Rocks, just 45 minutes from Erie and 90 from Buffalo. It’s one of the very first places I traveled to when I moved to the area, and I can’t wait to bring my young daughter, so she can climb on things other than the living room couch and kitchen counter.

The formation of the exquisitely formed rocks is surrounded by a mile long hiking trail. Whether on the trail or up on the rocks, visitors can make a day of it just exploring the park. Panama Rocks is open now through October from 10am to 5pm.

Running / Walking

For those, who like to pick up the pace and put a little spring in their step, there are several running and fast walking adventures to mark on the calendar.

walkFindley Lake Nature Center Race/Fun Walk – This 12th annual event is set for July 2, 2016 around beautiful Findley Lake, NY, located in the Southwestern portion of Chautauqua County. Proceeds from the 5-mile race and fun-walk help benefit the Findley Lake Nature and Wildlife Education Center. Call 716-769-7610 for a registration form or more information.

Marauder Trotter 5K Run/Walk – This too is on July 2, 2016, in Dunkirk NY, and is being hosted by the Dunkirk High School Class of 1989. Proceeds from the 5K event are placed in a memorial scholarship fund in honor of their late classmates. There’s also a kids warrior challenge for those 10 and younger. The race runs from 9am to Noon, and begins and ends at Wright Park in the city. To register and for more information, call 716-785-1537.

Lakewood Y Firecracker 10K and 2 Mile Run/Walk – Start your Independence Day off with a bang! This is set to take place on July 4, 2016 from 9am to 10:30am. In addition to a 10K, 2 Mile Run and walk, it also includes free kids races. This annual event around beautiful Chautauqua Lake steps off a day-long list of fun holiday celebrations at Richard Hartley Park in Lakewood that includes a spectacular fireworks display at dusk. For more information on the race, contact the Lakewood Y at 716-763-0303.

Laurel Run – This 20th annual event takes place in Silver Creek, NY on Saturday July 16, 2016. Hosted by The Resource Center, Laurel Run raises money to improve the lives of people with disabilities in Western New York. It features a 5K walk, and a 1K fun walk, as well as an 8K race, beginning at 9am. It’s signature moment by far has to be what’s known as Laurel’s Lap, a time when those with disabling conditions make their way around the track.  Having been there to witness it first hand on many occasions, it is truly a remarkable moment. I had a chance to speak with the Resource Center about one of its most anticipated events of the season.

“We call the Laurel Run 8K “The Toughest Race You’ll Love to Run” because of the three H’s, hills, heat and humidity,” said Steve Waterson, community relations director for The Resource Center and Filling the Gap, Inc., the two entities that put on Laurel Run and benefit from the money raised. “We like to remind runners that they only have to face the physical challenge of Laurel Run one day a year, while people with disabilities must live with their personal challenges every day.”

If hiking, running or walking isn’t your thing, perhaps you’d like a little vroom vroom in your adventure. Well sit back, buckle up and let’s throw this thing into high gear, as there is a little something for everyone on two wheels.


Team Hollyloft on FerryI stopped by Hollyloft in Jamestown the other day and the staff was buzzing with excitement about the weather being just right to hop on a bike and explore several of the area’s cycling routes. Depending where you travel and how far you want to go, there are several routes where you can ride from a mile up to 100 miles.

The Chautauqua Lake Ride for instance will allow for a relaxing ride around a fifty mile perimeter of one of the area’s most treasured resources. It includes a number of historic stops along scenic routes 394 and 430.

The Jamestown-Ellery Ride takes you through the city of Jamestown and the villages of Lakewood and Celoron. Get ready for a few challenging hills along the way as you pedal your way through some historic locations.

And for the more challenge-seeking rider, there’s the Westfield Century Ride, along the shores of Lake Erie. This exciting tour runs right through the heart of grape country and a handful of local villages. It runs from Westfield and Silver Creek, over uplands and rolling hills, back to Lake Erie and Barcelona Harbor.

Mountain Biking

I then asked Hollyloft about mountain biking and was told of one in particular that seems to be the most popular and certainly worth checking out. It’s Harris Hill State Forest, near 28th Creek Rd. and Gerry-Ellington Road in Gerry, NY.  Along the top and sides of a peaceful ravine there, sits what’s called the Extension. It’s about 13 miles of singletrack loops that can provide hours of physical entertainment. For more information on this and other trails, you can call Hollyloft in Jamestown at 716-483-2330.

Two-Lantern Water Warriors:

Those wanting to make a bigger splash this vacation season, have plenty to do. Let’s set sail for a few water-based adventures.


STA70372John R. Turney Sailing Center

From the novice to the most experienced sailor, the waters of Chautauqua Lake can provide hours of enjoyment. Those wanting to be the captain of their ship, have a number of resources to learn how to man the helm. The Turney Center, at Chautauqua Institution offers a comprehensive one-week long sailing course. In addition to lessons, the sailing center also offers guided excursions for families and small groups. Those looking to get their feet wet, or sign up for a refresher, can contact the Center at 716-357-6392.

Ready About Sailing at Long Point State Park

Located within historic and picturesque Long Point State Park sits one of the area’s leading dealerships and marinas in the area. Ready About Sailing is an accredited American Sailing Association sailing school where you can chart a course to new adventures. For more information, call 716-664-3883.

Dunkirk Yacht Club

Sailing lessons are also offered in Northern Chautauqua County at Jamestown Community College through the Dunkirk Yacht Club on Lakeshore Drive. People will learn from a  number of certified experts how to maneuver a small sailboat in open waters, the terminology and rules of boating, and troubleshooting when out in the water. For more information, you’re asked to contact JCC North at 716-363-6500.


Evergreen Outfitters

Whether it’s on Chautauqua Lake, Cassadaga Lake or Findley Lake, visitors can often be found kayaking across the area’s vast waterways. One of the area’s leading rentals is Evergreen Outfitters in Mayville. They also offer basic and intermediate lessons for those wanting to get a foot in the door, or in the boat. They have summer and winter hours, so for more info call 716-763-2266.

Stand-up Paddleboarding

SUP Erie Adventures

Over the past few years, stand-up paddleboarding has really taken off in popularity. In addition to Evergreen Outfitters, a new business has opened in Sunset Bay on Lake Erie called SUP Erie Adventures.

“It’s not as difficult as it looks,” said Co-Owner Christian Edie.

I had the chance to interview her the other day about her new business and the popularity of the sport. Last year, she and her husband took a stroll along Lake Erie from Sunset Bay to Dunkirk, and thought the area could really benefit from the experience.

“Anybody can do it and it’s a great workout,” said Edie, who along with her husband Ken Cullen hail from Buffalo and compete professionally.

The company offers rentals, adventure tours, guided trips, and lessons for beginners and advanced boaters. For those wanting to experience it for themselves, SUP Erie Adventures is hosting Sunset Bay Paddle Fest on May 28th.  For more information on the sport, call 716-868-2975.

So whether you’re a one-lantern vacationer, or prefer to travel with two, Chautauqua County is the perfect backdrop for summertime adventure! For a complete list of trails and waterways, more suggestions for cycling routes, and a list of events throughout the year, visit the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau.

Originally from New England, Mark Stevens is a writer and journalist who lives in Jamestown, NY with his wife and three children. He enjoys travelling and spending time with family and friends.

Posted in Chautauqua Institution, Family Activities, Lakes, Nature and Environment, Outdoors and Recreation, Press Room Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments on “Navigating the Trails and Waterways in Chautauqua County
  1. Bonnie says:

    Where can we enter the lake with our own kayaks. TY

  2. Hi Bonnie,

    You will find a list of boat launches, ramps and marinas throughout Chautauqua County here: If you want more detail, feel free to call the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau at 866-908-4569.

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