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Important Tips for Visitors to Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area & Unique Area and Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Please read and be familiar with the information below prior to visiting. WARNING: The only safe gorge and creek access at this site is from the Valentine Flats Trail and Forty Road parking lot in the Town of Persia. There is no safe gorge or creek access from any location in Erie County or from any location in the Town of Otto, Cattaraugus County.

Zoar Valley Multiple Use Map (PDF)

Beautiful waterfall at Zoar Valley MUA
Beautiful waterfall at Zoar Valley MUA

Zoar Valley is a scenic area located between Erie and Cattaraugus counties and is comprised of both private and public lands. The Multiple Use Area and Unique Area are public lands under the management of DEC Division of Lands and Forests. Each year the area is used by thousands of visitors. The unique geological formations add to the amazing views, but also make the area potentially hazardous.

New York State Forest Rangers are tasked with law enforcement on DEC lands including Zoar Valley MUA/UA, as well as search and rescue in the wild and remote areas of the state. Forest Rangers and other law enforcement officers that patrol these public lands receive inquiries about its use and what is legal. Additionally, new regulations have been adopted which may catch some users by surprise.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about Zoar Valley and the state owned lands. Please exercise caution when visiting the gorge, be familiar with the area map and Zoar Valley MUA/UA rules and regulations (link leaves DEC website) before visiting.

Question: If I have been going to Zoar for 20+ years, do I still need to read these Q and A's?

Kiosk in Zoar Valley MUA
Kiosk in Zoar Valley MUA

Answer: Yes, please! New regulations have been adopted, which may catch some users by surprise.

Question: Can I access the creek from the top of the gorge on the Multiple Use Area & Unique Area?
Answer: The Zoar Valley gorge features steep shale cliffs with over 400 foot drops to the creek below. The only safe access to the creek is from the Forty Road parking lot in the Town of Persia and the Valentine's Flats parking area, also in the Town of Persia.

Please note that property specific regulations prohibit visitors from entering the area within 15 feet of cliff edges, except on trails designated and marked by the department or when engaged in ice climbing or rappelling by rope.

Question: Where is the best location to access the creek?
Answer: The Forty Road parking area provides easy access to the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek and features a short, universally accessible trail to a scenic overlook. Due to private land upstream, hikers entering from the Forty Road parking area are only permitted to proceed downstream. The Valentine's Flats parking area provides access to a trail leading to the confluence of the South Branch and Main Branch of Cattaraugus Creek. Since, it takes considerable time to hike in and out of the gorge on the Valentine Flats Trail, please plan your trip to allow enough daylight hours to make the hike safely.

Please note that property specific regulations prohibit visitors from proceeding upstream, either by land or water, in the area beginning at the abandoned Forty Road bridge abutments, and extending upstream on the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek to the state land boundary line, except for licensed anglers for the purpose of fishing.

Question: Is it safe to walk along the top of the gorge?
Answer: NO! The gorge walls are over 400 foot high, very steep, and composed of erodible and unstable shale rock.

Please note that property specific regulations prohibit visitors from entering the area within 15 feet of cliff edges, except on trails designated and marked by the department or when engaged in ice climbing or rappelling by rope. Additionally, no person shall scale or climb cliff walls, including any waterfall, except when engaged in ice climbing or rappelling by rope.

Q: Is Zoar Valley all public land? Can I go anywhere I want?
A: No, Zoar Valley isn't all public land; it is a patch work of public and private lands. Most of the private lands are posted, which prohibits trespass or use of any kind. The public land upstream from the Forty Road parking lot adjacent to the Deerlick Nature Preserve on the South Branch of the Cattaraugus Creek is also restricted to access. Visitors should refer to the map (links located at the top of this webpage).

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
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 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.

Please note that by town ordinance, parking on the south side of Valentine Flats Road is not permitted.

Q: Can I camp in Zoar?
A: Camping, the erecting of a structure (tent), fire building, and use of the area between sunset and sunrise are all prohibited.

Q: What are Zoar Valley's hours of operation?
A: Zoar Valley is open sunrise to sunset.

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.

sign prohibiting possession of alcohol and glass containers
No alcohol or glass containers sign in Zoar Valley MUA

Q: Can I drink alcohol in Zoar Valley?
A: Property specific regulations have been put into effect, including no possession of alcohol or glass containers. The use of alcohol and drugs are another major contributor of search and rescue missions in the area.

Q: I have heard Zoar Valley is popular among nudists, is this allowed?
A: Nudity (defined as without clothing below the waist on either gender) is not legally permissible at Zoar Valley MUA/UA, 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: Are there trash bins in the valley? Is there roadside garbage pick up?
A: While DEC makes attempts to provide trash receptacles, this is not always possible. Visitors are asked to treat Zoar Valley as a carry in - carry out area.

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.

Warning sign in Zoar Valley MUA
Warning sign in Zoar Valley MUA

Be Prepared and Use Caution

DEC recommends that users of Zoar Valley be aware of the risks and hazards associated with the area. Please use caution and common sense when visiting and be prepared for your trip both with the correct equipment and appropriate trip planning. Often visitors are unprepared (no light, no map, no first aid kit, no food, no water, and poor foot gear) and do not understand that darkness comes quickly in the gorge. Please sign in and out of all trail registers that you encounter - for groups only one person should sign in.

Remember, any search and rescue incident puts both professionals (Forest Rangers, State Police and County Sheriff's Dept) and volunteers (local fire departments and ambulance services) at risk. With greater levels of hazard exposure due to helicopters, high angle rescues, and water rescues, Zoar missions just increase the chance of injury to a rescuer. If someone should come to rescue you, be guided by two major principles. First, do exactly as you are told, as rescuers are seeking to minimize their exposure (and yours) to the many hazards associated with search and rescue. Second, be very thankful to the volunteers for the sacrifices they make in coming to your aid.

You may call DEC staff at (716) 372-0645 and they can answer your questions or direct you to someone who can.