By Alicia Dziak
If hiking in and around giant rocks are your thing, ASP is your place, offering visitors two formal areas for exploring these wonders of nature.
Explore Bear Caves
The Bear Caves, located on the Quaker side of the park, feature small dark caves among moss-covered rocks, which are an outcrop of Devonian-age Salamanca Conglomerate bedrock. The Bear Caves-Mount Seneca hiking trail covers four miles and is rated moderate on the ASP trail map.
Those in it for the long haul should start at the trailhead near the Diehl cabin trail and Quaker Museum. You can expect an immediate steady climb up Mt. Seneca that will get your heart pumping, leading you deep into the woods over rolling hills on the well-marked path. About three-quarters of the way through the trail, you’ll arrive at the top of the Bear Caves, a series of large, mossy rocks waiting to be explored.
The trail splits into several smaller trails that lead you around the rocks. You can roam the tops, enjoy the view looking down, and venture into the crevices below. There are three small caves, and rest assured, there are no bears inside, just the occasional bat.
The largest of the caves can be accessed from the bottom of the main middle section of rocks, and there is usually a small crowd of people gathered around its entrance. The opening for this is slender, so adults most likely have to turn sideways to get inside, but once you do, it opens up about 10 feet in height. Be sure to bring a flashlight so you can see inside.
A second smaller cave is also in this general area, but it’s more of a crawl space. Unfortunately, the cave on the far left, now has a boulder blocking part of the entrance.
After taking in the scenery, continue downhill a short distance, back to ASP 3. The trail leads to the road near Creekside and Kaiser cabin trails, about a mile from the other trailhead. If you anticipate being tired after four miles of moderate hiking, plan on leaving a vehicle in the trail parking area across the street from the second trailhead.
Wander Through “Rock City”
If you continue away from Quaker’s “main drag” by car down ASP 3, it turns into ASP 2 near the park’s Bradford entrance. Continue to follow ASP 2 until you see signs for Thunder Rocks. Like nearby Little Rock City in Little Valley and Rock City Park in Olean, Thunder Rocks is considered a “rock city” because of the street-like walkways formed between the rock formations, composed of Olean conglomerate.
According to information compiled by Riley Brumagin and Owen Dudley for the Cattaraugus County Geology Trail: “About 360 million years ago, New York State, along with Allegany State Park was covered by a large, shallow sea. The nearby Catskill Mountains were formed to the east during this time. Sediment from these mountains eroded westward towards western New York and deposited within this area. Thunder Rocks is made up of this sediment. Over some time, frost wedging and gravity erosion shaped the boulders into their present arrangement. Gravity was able to pull the large rocks down some slopes and hills. This resulted in the rocks being scattered away from each other.”
Thunder Rocks is an area within the park more than it is a marked nature trail, but hikers will enjoy walking through its “streets” and exploring some short pathways that lead away from the rocks and into the woods, not to mention putting those leg muscles to good use by climbing up and around the rocks. If you want to make this a longer hike, park at the end of one of the dirt roads that lead you toward Thunder Rocks off ASP 2 and walk from there.
Make the Bear Caves and Thunder Rocks your destinations for the day or make them a brief stop on your hiking tour of the park. However you choose to explore these two amazing places, you won’t be disappointed!