By Jeff Martin
The road less traveled is a bit of an oxymoron when it comes to Western New York.
It is both true because there are places few have explored, but also false because there are few places residents and visitors donít seem to know about. Case in point is the wide variety of state and county roads that zigzag throughout the area.
There really is no way you can go wrong in whatever main or side road you pick, especially now that itís mid-September and the leaves are beginning to turn. Driving home late one night just recently, I was pleased to see leaves scattered on the road ó an undisputed sign that autumn is beginning to show its face.
I want to point your attention to Route 353. The portion of the road I travel ó between Broadway Road and Cattaraugus ó is especially beautiful. There is a small lake located in that area (the name escapes me) that isnít very deep, so even driving by it at 55 mph you can see the fallen trees just below the shimmering surface. In the background is a mammoth hill that, once October arrives, explodes with color.
For views that will take your breath away, I want to direct you to Dake Hill Road, located just north of Otto. Just over the bridge (assuming youíre traveling from Ellicottville west into Otto) hang a sharp right and travel up and up, keeping left until youíre delivered on top of the world. The elevation must be significant because in late May, while the town of Otto was snowless, the highest reaches of Dake Hill Road still had snowdrifts.
Park your car on the shoulder and step out and, to the northwest, you can see just the faint blue horizon of Lake Erie. Turn the opposite direction and the whole valley lies before you. In October, Mother Nature and the strokes of her paintbrush will hold your attention rapt for what feels like hours.
Driving out of Ellicottville on Route 242, toward Little Valley, the leaves and their vibrancy slap you in the face. There are many areas where the contrast between pine and sugar maple is spectacular. But be careful pulling off the side of the road, for traffic moves pretty steadily on that route.
If you want to see both color and Amish culture, chart a course from Cattaraugus into Leon and follow the signs into Randolph. When you leave Randolph, head towards Interstate 86 and take Route 62 instead. Route 62 is one of the oldest routes in the United States and certainly one of the most scenic.
The following are other suggested routes and sites that Iíve discovered, whether through personal experience or research. The point is, the cost to enjoy the vibrancy of autumn is a simple tank of gas and a little sense of adventure.
Pennsylvania Route 6 takes travelers through the Allegheny Highlands. At 2,100 feet above sea level, the highland area has some of the finest hardwoods in the east. Follow it long enough and you reach the Kinzua Byway and, eventually, Kinzua Bridge State Park. The view will change you.
The famous Route 66 travels through the area, and I for one have traveled a slice of it, specifically the Allegheny National Forest. Sadly, I didnít visit during the autumn season, but I can only imagine what it looks like.