Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area
Encompassing more than 2,939 acres in total, the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area (MUA) is one of the most scenic, ecologically diverse and potentially sensitive environmental areas in Western New York. A favorite spot among local hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, Zoar Valley is known for the spectacular scenery created by its deep gorge, sheer cliffs, flowing waterfalls and dense forests.
The Zoar Valley MUA is composed of three parcels of land including an area located along the Cattaraugus Creek Gorge, a 5 acre Cattaraugus Creek Waterway Access,and a 387 acre detached parcel. Approximately 1,912 acres of the Zoar Valley MUA are located in Cattaraugus County; the remaining 1,011 acres span into Erie County.
Before You Visit
*Visit the Frequently Asked Questions page about Zoar Valley MUA.
*Note that the Rules and Regulations on this unit have recently changed, please be familiar with the new part 190.25 regulations before you visit.
Zoar Valley's spectacular gorge offers breathtaking scenery
For safety reasons, it is important for visitors to Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area to know and be conscious of state land boundaries. Trespass onto adjacent private lands is not allowed. Maps of Zoar Valley are available online and are posted at visitor parking areas. When visiting Zoar Valley, please be sure to stay within state land boundaries. Recent trespass and litter problems have heightened security in this area.
People who visit State Land do not necessarily have permission for access onto adjacent privately owned land. An area of special concern in Zoar Valley is along the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek. About 900 feet upstream from the Forty Rd parking lot, the State Land boundary comes into the Creek from the west and follows the centerline upstream. There is no public access upstream of this point. To ensure safety and to help preserve privacy of adjacent landowners, this area is routinely patrolled by law enforcement officers.
The Zoar Valley Unit has a rich and unique history. Two sites containing archeological evidence of early human use have been documented on private property near the Zoar Valley Unit. Although much of the area has been disturbed by farming and other activities, the presence of archaeological findings on nearby parcels indicates the Unit may have been an area once inhabited by Native Americans.
In the early 1800s, the surrounding area including the Unit was deeded to the Holland Land Company. The land was surveyed, subdivided and sold during the 1820s. Historic records from 1842 reveal that farming was practiced along both sides of Cattaraugus Creek near what is now Forty Road. A cheese factory was located near the intersection of Forty and Wickham Roads, which is now private property.
Shale within the Zoar Valley Unit contains evidence of past mining activities. There are reports of two lime kilns in the Unit area -- one that has not yet been located but was said to be near Overlook Point, and the other near the Forty Bridge on the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek. These lime kilns are believed to have operated in the early 1800s.
Sawmills and Railroads
At least two sawmills were located in the area. Historic reports indicate that logs and produce were moved along Cattaraugus Creek. Trees that were of saw log quality that were located near the river, or that could be easily pulled to the river, would have been logged during past sawmill operations.
Oil and gas wells were drilled on the property in the late 1890s. One of these abandoned wells was recently plugged near Overlook Point by a contractor to DEC.
Around 1865, the Atlantic and Great Western railroad was planned to cross the Zoar Valley Unit near North Otto Road. The approaches to the bridge were built and most of the grade work was done up to Collins Center before the project was abandoned. Small parts of the grade still remain. The rest was converted back to farmland.
Boy Scout Camp
For many years a Boy Scout Camp existed on the north side of the confluence of the Cattaraugus Creek and its South Branch. A cable car was used to cross the main branch. The foundations of the camp buildings remain visible today.
The foundation of an old Boy Scout camp still remains.
Valentine Flats Area
The current Valentine Flats area, at the confluence of Cattaraugus Creek with its South Branch, was first deeded by the Holland Land Company to Elisha Derby (pronounced "Darby") in 1837. The land became known as "Darby Flats." According to old maps, his house was located just below Overlook Point. In 1900, the land was sold to Ernest and Caroline Valentine and later became known as "Valentine Flats."
In 1926, the Valentine property was deeded to Niagara, Lockport and Ontario Power Company. The power company purchased land from the Valentine Flats and downstream to Overlook Point to build a hydroelectric power dam. Test borings were made in the area just above Overlook Point to determine if the rock would hold a dam. The brittleness of the shale, however, made dam building impractical. The Valentine family stayed on the farm as tenants for a time. After the house was no longer occupied, the field in the area was rented out for bean farming.
In 1952, Mr. Herbert Darling purchased land, including the Valentine Flats area, from the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation, the successor to Niagara, Lockport and Ontario Power Company. Mr. Darling gifted 1,425 acres to the State of New York in 1961 and 1962. This marks the beginning of the New York State ownership and stewardship of the Valentine Flats area. Other parcels were added later using Bond Act funds.
The Valentine Flats area has always been a popular recreation area for hiking, swimming, fishing, camping and picnicking. Irresponsible behavior on the part of some campers led to the State's ban on overnight camping and motor vehicles in 1971. The Valentine Flats and the Forty Road areas still remain popular spots for outdoor recreation. In April 1968, a black walnut plantation was established in the Valentine Flats area. About 7,300 black walnut trees were planted on approximately 12 acres in the center of the Flats. Many of the other upland areas used as fields and pasture were planted with conifer and hardwood trees by the DEC. There is also an experimental American Chestnut plantation on the Unit. Many areas once used as pasture have reverted to hardwood stands. Evidence of the old farms, fields, fences, roads, and final resting places of those who were here before is still visible throughout the area.
Management goals for the forest are to provide recreational opportunities, to maintain a healthy forest and ecosystem, and to improve the forest for future generations. Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area contains two separate land management areas within its boundaries. Within the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area, a separate land management area, known as the "unique area" has been designated. Outside of the Unique Area, land management activities will include converting conifer plantations to natural forest stands or grasslands, maintaining existing grasslands and shrub land communities, enhancing conditions for unique species and habitats, increasing overall species and forest diversity, controlling unwanted exotic species, and creating opportunities for the reintroduction of diminishing species such as American chestnut and butternut. Natural stands will be managed to control exotic species, enhance conditions for unique species and habitats and to increase overall species and forest structural diversity. Tree removal is one of the tools used to meet this management objective.
Many of the upland old fields have been planted with conifers and high value hardwood trees such as black cherry, tulip poplar and black walnut. Some open fields are still being managed for wildlife habitat and receive periodic moving or wildlife shrub plantings. A filed along Vail Road has been planted with American Chestnuts in an effort to help re-establish them after decades of devastation from the Chestnut Blight fungus. Information on the chestnut plantings may be obtained from the New York Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation (TACFNY) who manages them under an Adopt-a-Natural Resource-Agreement.
Management of Unique Area
An aerial view of the Zoar Valley Unique Area
The gorge floor, sides and a buffer area along the rim of the gorge comprise the Zoar Valley Unique Area. In 2007, this area was dedicated as the Zoar Valley Unique Area to protect the unique features of the gorge. This area is bounded by a line that is at least 300 feet from the rim of the gorge. In a few areas, real property boundaries are less than 300 feet to the rim of the gorge. In those cases, the real property boundary becomes the boundary of the Unique Area. No trees will be removed from the Unique Area except for the possibility of removal of trees that present a threat to public safety. No development will occur in the "Unique Area" except for possible improvements to public access, search and rescue operations and for signs for safety and educational purposes. The Multiple Use Area and the Unique Area are only open sunrise to sunset. No overnight camping is allowed and no camp structures of any kind are allowed.
The gorge of Cattaraugus Creek in the Zoar Valley MUA cuts west for 7.5 miles through Late Devonian shales and silt stones. The heights of the cliffs range from about 100 feet to about 500 feet if you measure to the tops of the hills.
The creek drops at an average gradient of 0.3 percent from the head of the gorge to the first rapid, 0.6 percent from the first rapid to the mouth of the gorge and 0.4 percent to the end of the rapids one mile downstream of the mouth. Practically all of the drops occur in 19 rapids (Meyers 1999).
Several locations within and along Zoar Valley's gorge contain impressive stands of large trees. Some trees within these forests are reputed to constitute examples of an "old growth" forest. These areas will be assessed according to the old growth definition found on page 27 of the Unit Management plan. Some tree specimens within Zoar Valley have even been noted as the tallest of that species in the State and in one case, the world!
The ten trees that are the tallest in New York State include tulip poplar, sugar maple, slippery elm, American sycamore, black walnut, cottonwood, red oak, bitternut hickory, yellow birch and white ash. A 128 foot tall basswood within Zoar Valley has been reported to be the tallest basswood in the world.
Zoar Valley is a popular area for a variety of outdoor recreational activities. Please note important visitor guidelines on this page when visiting the park.
Hiking and Winter Recreation
There are several different trails within the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area that can be used for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Holcomb Pond Trail
This trail runs between Holcomb Pond parking lot and the Ross Pond parking lot, and passes by Ross Pond and Holcomb Pond. The Ross parking lot, with room for about 5 vehicles, is off Vail Road near Unger Road. The Holcomb Pond parking lot has room for 2-3 vehicles. The trail is marked with red trail markers with reflective white lettering.
Valentine Flats Trail
The Valentine Flats Road parking lot is located at the end of Valentine Flats Road in Cattaraugus County. This lot provides access to Overlook Point and unmarked foot trails to Valentine Flats, as well as to other areas at the top of the gorge. This trail is a steep trail into the gorge area, please note that due to this it takes ample time to hike in and out of the gorge. Please plan and allow for enough daylight hours to make the hike safely.
Hunting and Fishing
Hunting and Fishing are permitted in Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area. Please adhere to New York State's general hunting and fishing regulations before visiting.
In recent years there has been an increasing number of bald eagle sightings on the area which lead Department staff to believe there may be one or more active nests along the gorge portion of the Unit. DEC staff hope to continue to monitor the area by aerial survey annually in order to confirm nest locations.
Boating and Rafting
Canoeing, kayaking and rafting are popular activities in Zoar Valley. Various rafting outfitters offer rafting trips within the gorge area. Hand-carried water craft can be launched from the Cattaraugus Creek Waterway Access on North Otto Road. It is currently the only public place to start a boat trip on the main branch of Cattaraugus Creek within the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area.
The Forty Road parking lot, near the former Forty Road bridge, allows access to the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek. This area allows universal access for all persons to a viewing area in the gorge. Please be respectful and leave the lower lot open to people with disabilities only.
Full listing of DEC's Accessible Recreation Destinations.
Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area Regulations
Note that the Rules and Regulations on this unit have recently changed, please be familiar with the new part 190.25 regulations before you visit.
- Possession of alcoholic beverages or glass containers (except for medicines) is not allowed.
- Littering is not allowed. Carry out what you carry in.
- Burying of refuse is prohibited.
- Overnight camping is not allowed.
- No fires are allowed
- All motorized vehicles are restricted to access roads posted as motor vehicle trails. Off road use of motorized vehicles, such as ATVs, trail bikes and four-wheel drives is not allowed.
- No permanent structures should be established, including tree stands or blinds.
- Zoar Valley Gorge MUA is open sunrise to sunset
Please also see additional "Tips for Using State Forests."
Zoar Valley contains impressive stands of tall trees.
All directions start from downtown Gowanda, NY.
Valentine Flats Parking Area:
Start from US Route 62/NY 39/East Main Street in downtown Gowanda. Turn left onto South Water Street/CR-4. Follow this for 0.5 miles. Turn right onto Broadway Road/CR-4. Follow for 0.9 miles then turn left onto Point Peter Road and follow this for 0.9 miles and then make a left onto Valentine Flats Road. Follow this road and it will dead end at the parking area. A kiosk is provided here and shows a location map with hiking trails.
Ross Pond Parking Area/Chestnut plantation:
Take Route 62/Main Street north from downtown Gowanda, turn right onto Perry Street/CR-74 (this turns into Gowanda Zoar Road) for 2.6 miles, then turn right onto Unger Road. At the stop sign make a left onto Vail Road and a quick right into the parking lot entrance.
Holcomb Pond Parking Area on Vail Road:
Take Route 62/Main Street north from downtown Gowanda, turn right onto Perry Street/CR-74 for 2.6 miles, then turn right onto Unger Road. At the first stop sign make a left onto Vail Road and follow this until you see a brown DEC sign on the right hand side of the road with yellow lettering. There is room here for three or four cars.
Forty Road Parking Area:
Off US Route 62/NY 39/ E Main Street in downtown Gowanda turn left onto South Water Street/CR-4. Follow this for 0.5 miles. Turn right onto Broadway Road/CR-4 and follow for 0.9 miles, then turn left onto Point Peter Road and follow this until you come to a triangle intersection and veer left on Forty Road and continue until it dead ends at the parking area. A kiosk is provided here with additional information.
Cattaraugus Creek Waterway Access:
Take Route 62/Main Street north from downtown Gowanda, turn right onto Perry Street/CR-74 and go 4.8 miles. This road then turns into Gowanda-Zoar Road for 1.5 miles, then make a right onto North Otto Road. You will go over a bridge on Cattaraugus Creek and the parking area will be on your left.
Important Phone Numbers
DEC Allegany Office (M-F 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.): 716-372-0645