Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area
- Open for recreation: Year-round, Sunrise to Sunset
- Fee: Free
- Contact Information:
- DEC Allegany Office: (716) 372-0645
- Forest Rangers: (518) 408-5850
- Emergencies: 911
- Location: Cattaraugus and Erie Counties
- Wildlife Management Unit: 9M
- Map: View Zoar Valley MUA Map || View Same Map in PDF (500 KB) || View Unique Area Map in PDF (4 MB) || View Topo Map in PDF (703 KB) || Google Earth || State Lands Interactive Mapper
The 3,014-acre Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area (MUA) is one of the most scenic and ecologically diverse environmental areas in Western New York. The Zoar Valley MUA is known for the spectacular scenery created by its deep gorge, sheer cliffs, flowing waterfalls, and dense forests.
General information on hiking includes how-to and safety tips
Holcomb Pond Trail
Holcomb Pond Trail is the only marked and maintained trail. It runs 2-miles between Holcomb Pond parking lot and the Ross Pond parking lot. The trail drops down from the road steadily through a mixed hemlock/hardwood forest to the rim of the gorge and then follows along the rim before looping back up to the road.
Zoar Valley's spectacular gorge offers breathtaking scenery
Valentine Flats and Point Peter Trail
Valentine Flats Road parking area provides access to Overlook Point and to Valentine Flats by unmarked foot trails.
The trail north to Overlook Point is a 0.75-mile loop that includes a hogs back vantage point that juts out into the gorge.
The Valentine Flats trail to the south from the parking area is a steep trail into the gorge area, ending at the confluence of the South Branch and Main Branch of Cattaraugus Creek. This trail was an old access road leading to a former farm on the flats along Cattaraugus Creek near the confluence. The trail winds down into the gorge through the old growth hemlock/hardwood forest for about 0.8-miles. Along the flat flood plain, the trail winds through a black walnut plantation with thick brush before reaching the creek. It will take considerable time to hike in and out of the gorge. Plan for enough daylight hours to make the hike safely.
The Forty Road parking area accesses the section of Forty Road closed to motorized vehicles. The old road is now a 0.6-mile universally accessible trail leading from the parking area to a scenic overlook where the road once crossed the creek.
Purchase a Trail Supporter Patch to provide funding for maintenance of trail and associated facilities.
Canoeing, kayaking and rafting are popular activities in Zoar Valley. Various rafting outfitters offer rafting trips within the gorge area. Hand-carried water crafts 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 MUA.
The rapids in the gorge range from Class 2 through Class 4, depending on water level. You can walk around most of them, unless the river is running too high. Strainers are the most common hazard. A white water kayak and the ability to perform an Eskimo roll are very strongly recommended. PFDs and a throw bag are essential. The stream is mostly floatable above 2.0 feet, can get sticky in some drops around 2.5 and will require moderate skill levels. Above 3.0, extensive experience in a white water kayak is very strongly recommended. Above 4.0, only very experienced white water paddlers should be out there. The put-in is at the DEC public fishing parking lot on the left descending bank upstream of the North Otto Road Bridge. The take out is on the left descending bank immediately downstream of the Aldridge Street bridge in Gowanda.
A float trip without rapids can be enjoyed by paddling the creek section upstream from the Multiple Use Area gorge. It is scenic, with some strainers, but has no real drops. Put in at the upstream side of Hammond Hill Road Bridge at and take out on the left descending bank just upstream of the North Otto Road Bridge. This section of Cattaraugus Creek flows through private ownerships, so one must stay within their vessel.
General information on fishing includes fishing tips with links to seasons, rules & regulations
Zoar Valley MUA features fishing opportunities on Holcomb Pond, Ross Pond, Cattaraugus Creek and the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek. The Cattaraugus Creek and the South Branch are both trout streams, with steelhead. DEC also holds public fishing rights on Cattaraugus Creek (PDF, 544KB) downstream from Zoar Valley MUA.
Hunting & Trapping
Zoar Valley MUA features both small and big game hunting opportunities. Popular game for this area include deer, ring neck pheasant, grey squirrel and grouse. DEC releases farm raised ring neck pheasant birds at two sites in the unit.
The area also features trapping opportunities for beaver at Ross Pond and Holcomb Pond.
Note that the hours of use are only Sunrise to Sunset. Tree Stands must be removable and must not harm the tree.
Cross-country Skiing & Snowshoeing
General information on cross-country skiing and snowshoeing includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules & regulations
The Zoar Valley MUA is open for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing during the winter. There are no designated cross-country ski trails in the Zoar Valley MUA, but all trails are open to cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
General information on watchable wildlife includes tips for viewing wildlife and links to other watchable wildlife locations
Zoar Valley is a New York State Watchable Wildlife site. The wildlife to watch includes broad-winged hawks, American kestrels, red-bellied woodpeckers, woodchucks, fox, midland painted turtles, and red-spotted newts. The wildlife at Zoar Valley MUA is best viewed from trails and the viewing platform near the Forty Road parking area.
Raptors use the wind currents, thermals while soaring high above the gorge. They can be seen all year but are most abundant during migration periods. Other birds and small mammals can be seen from early Spring through Fall.
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 Cattaraugus Creek. DEC monitors the area by aerial survey annually in order to confirm nest locations.
General information on accessible recreation includes links to other locations with accessible recreation opportunities and information on permits for motorized access.
Zoar Valley MUA features an accessible parking lot, trail, and viewing platform at the end of Forty Road. The universally accessible trail leads 0.6-miles from the parking area to a scenic overlook platform where the road once crossed the creek.
The Google Map links below leave DEC's website.
- Valentine Flats Road Parking Area is located at the end of Valentine Flats Road in Cattaraugus County. A kiosk is provided here which shows a location map with hiking trails. N 42.443657, W -78.904134
- Ross Parking Area is off Vail Road near Unger Road. N 42.451078, W -78.879255
- Holcomb Pond Parking Area is off of Vail Road between Unger Road and Button Road. N 42.451906, W -78.862755
- Button Road Parking Area is located at the end of Button Road near Vail Road. N 42.448134, W -78.853515
- Forty Road Parking Area is located on Forty Road near Point Peter Road. A kiosk is provided here with additional information. N 42.425211, W -78.897056
- Cattaraugus Creek Waterway Access is located outside of Zoar Valley MUA to the east, on North Otto Road; 42.455777, W -78.812004
Rules, Regulations, and Outdoor Safety
Practice Leave No Trace (Leaves DEC website) principles when recreating on state land to enjoy the outdoors responsibly; minimize impact on the natural resources and avoid conflicts.
Anyone visiting this property must observe the rules and regulations, which protect visitors and the forest environment. 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. Camping, fires, alcoholic beverages, and glass containers are not allowed in Zoar Valley MUA. See the link above for the full set of rules and regulations specific to Zoar Valley MUA.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I join The Nature Conservancy, and/or the Nature Sanctuary Society of Western New York, Inc. to go where I want?
A: Even members of these organizations are prohibited from traveling in some areas of the gorge, unless it is part of an organized nature walk. Despite owning "the falls", members of the Nature Sanctuary Society of Western New York, Inc. cannot visit "the falls", and no members are allowed there for swimming.
Private property sign in Zoar Valley MUA
Q: If I don't see a posted sign, am I trespassing?
A: Provided the area has been posted in the prescribed manner, you can be arrested for trespassing. Furthermore, if the property owner or an agent of the property owner informs you verbally that you are trespassing, and you remain on the property, you could face arrest.
Q: Can I walk in the creek without being charged with trespassing?
A: While navigable waterways through private land may be traveled by boat without trespass issues, once you touch land, including the creek bed, bottom or banks, you are trespassing and subject to arrest.
Q: Can I park anywhere?
A: The state owned property has designated parking areas for the general public with accessible spaces for people with disabilities. If the lot is full, and you park where prohibited by sign, or park illegally in the accessible spaces reserved for people with disabilities, you could be ticketed.
Q: When is sunset? Is that a specific time, or is it an abstract idea?
A: Sunset is a specific time of day. You can find it in the newspaper, on television, or in the link to Sunrise Sunset Calendar in the top right corner. At sunset, visitors should be in their vehicles headed home and off of the state property. Warning: Darkness comes much faster in the gorge. This is a major cause of search and rescue missions.
Q: I have heard Zoar Valley is a popular among nudists, is this allowed?
A: Nudity (defined as without clothing below the waste on either gender) is not legally permissible at Zoar Valley MUA, as it is a public property. As in other public parks and recreation areas, choosing to be publicly nude could result in tickets or fines. Please keep in mind that families frequently visit Zoar Valley.
Q: Can I bring my dog? Can my dog be off leash?
A: There are almost as many lost dogs every year as people, and we don't actively search for dogs. Dogs must be kept on leash at all times.
Q: 911 is always there if I get lost, right?
A: For those individuals in legitimate distress, a 911 call on a cell phone may be difficult at best due to the topography of the gorge and poor cell phone coverage.
How We Manage Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area
The management goals for the Zoar Valley MUA are to provide recreational opportunities, to maintain a healthy forest and ecosystem. Within the Zoar Valley MUA, a separate land management area, known as the "unique area" has been designated. The Zoar Valley Unique Area, is comprised of the gorge and a buffer area along the rim of the gorge.
Outside of the Unique Area, land management activities 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, and controlling unwanted exotic species. Timber harvests are 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. Some open fields are still being managed for wildlife habitat and receive periodic mowing or wildlife shrub plantings. A field 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 a Volunteer Stewardship Agreement.
DEC manages these lands in accordance with the management activities described in the Zoar Valley MUA Unit Management Plan (UMP) (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition to management objectives, the UMP contains detailed information on natural features, recreational infrastructure, geology, natural & human history, habitats, wildlife, fisheries, and much more. If you have questions and/or comments about this UMP, please email us.
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Nearby State Lands