Get Outside: Break out your bike
Wherever it is, your bicycle misses you, especially this time of year, grass greening and sun warming. Your heart and lungs probably miss the workout as well, if the cold has kept you inside and made you less active, except for too-infrequent trips to the gym. But winter is over and there is no better way to celebrate than exercising outdoors again. The flowering spring gets my blood boiling, and an impatience for summer weather sends me out to the nearest bike trail as soon as the snow melts. In Buffalo, we know even early-season sunshine is not to be wasted or taken for granted.
Found your bike and cleaned it off but need a recommendation of where to go? Here are four options—some already popular and some less so—to meet the needs of beginners and seasoned riders alike. See you on the trail.
Outer Harbor Parkway
Level: Just starting out
Length: 6 miles round trip
If you are new to biking, or are concerned your body might not be up to the task, then it’s best to start slow and ease yourself into it. You will discover leg and back muscles that haven’t been used in a while, and learn how quickly your butt can get sore, now that you aren’t nine years old anymore. A good place to begin, and enjoy a spectacular view while you are at it, is the newly completed path along Lake Erie on the Outer Harbor.
Park at Gallagher Beach and work your way north along the fresh, wide asphalt bike path, breeze in your ears silencing any nearby vehicle rumble. The trail passes new trees, lamp posts, and stylized arches that serve as portals to the city neighborhoods on the other side of grassy bermed Route 5: Tifft Nature Preserve, the Old First Ward, City Ship Canal. Buffalo’s waterfront offers a mix of industrial and natural, old ship docks, lakeside warehouses, and grain elevators, as well as restored wildlife habitat that draws transitory birds on the major flyways. If this funky mix appeals, you will be in rusty heaven.
The water comes and goes, sometimes lapping at your heels, sometimes obscured by fields and cottonwoods, as you wind past such familiar landmarks as the NFTA small boat harbor, Dug’s Dive (where you can reward yourself for a job well done with an outdoor lunch), and the China Light Yacht Club. On the way up, take note of the forested Canadian north shore laid out across the narrowing lake. Similarly, the return trip south offers juxtaposed views of windmills and the Boston Hills, a dark wave separating water and sky.
Currently, the path dead-ends at the Coast Guard station. Ideally, in the not too distant future, there will be bike access all the way to the Buffalo Lighthouse. In the meantime, take the time to explore Times Beach Nature Preserve, just before the turnaround and easily accessible from the main bike route via boardwalk and path. As the Skyway fades to a low hum, birdcalls replace diesel growl and you find yourself surrounded by the mudflat marshes that once dominated the entire eastern end of Lake Erie. Keep your eyes open for rare migratory birds or a scurrying in the cattails.
Niagara River and Gorge
Level: Ready for more
Difficulty: A hill or two
Length: 12 miles round trip
If you’ve grown accustomed to thinking of Niagara Falls as an over-visited destination fit only for occasional out-of-town relatives, prepare to rediscover the majesty of the gorge and to see the wonder with fresh eyes on this bike path that puts the chasm into context. The Niagara is more thrilling as a crescendo than a simple destination.
Park and unload your bike at the new La Salle Waterfront Park, a Niagara River Greenway Fund project at the base of the North Grand Island Bridge. The asphalt path, named the Riverview Trail, heads west under the bridge and along the upper Niagara, serene and deceptively calm, a wide lake interrupted only by wooded Navy Island and the shrouded Canadian shore beyond. As you pass the twin modern art sentinel intake towers, the river shows its first signs of agitation in the form of occasional eddies and a restless undercurrent. The momentum is unmistakable at the tugboat slips, the last safe navigable portion for sane mariners. As Goat Island comes into view, the expectation is building, white froth boiling around stubborn rock and rent tree trunks. In the final measure, the terminal fissure is a natural surprise, a shockingly large hole in the earth, as the accumulated water runoff of nine states and provinces pours into massive oblivion, just as impressive as you remember on your first field trip.
But we aren’t done yet. The trail heads north under the Rainbow Bridge, hugs the gorge, and joins up with the Robert Moses Parkway at the Discovery Center. Enjoy the concrete thoroughfare, wide enough for ten cyclists; soon enough you’ll be sweating up the overpass, the Whirlpool Bridge and railroad beneath you. From here you can follow the chasm next to the parkway through Whirlpool State Park to Devil’s Hole, where unfortunately the path currently ends. (Work to bridge the gap to Lewiston via Artpark is ongoing.) Park the bikes and enjoy the quick hike down to the river’s edge on the old, rough-cut stone stairs. Or, simply lay on the soft grass on a sun-drenched day, shaded by a mature thorn-covered honey locust, and soak in the summer.
Delaware Park to the Marina
Level: Good step up
Difficulty: Mostly flat and scenic
Length: 16 miles round trip
This popular route, the granddaddy of city biking, has benefited immensely in the last few years from the stewardship of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. The new path along Scajaquada Creek is undergoing additional cleaning and landscaping efforts, pleasantly connecting two jewels of Buffalo in one great trip.
I recommend starting at Hoyt Lake, using the convenient parking between the Albright-Knox and the Rose Garden. Begin by heading east along the path on the southern edge of the lake, between Shakespeare Hill and the shoreline, all the way to the s-curves of Delaware Avenue at Forest Lawn. Here you need to cheat a bit, skirting over to the sidewalk, and head north to the tennis courts on Nottingham Terrace, picking up the bike trail again running west.
There begins some of the most scenic urban bike path in the country: Stately mansions and fountains, Rockwell Hall above the treeline, the dip to Mirror Lake and the Japanese Gardens, hidden monuments and statues, the proud brick spire of Assumption Church. As it passes into Black Rock, the path becomes more utilitarian, tight against the creek, sneaking you under the elevated highway and across Niagara Street to the mouth of the Scajaquada. It is here, hidden beneath 200 years of shantytowns, dredged waterways, and industrial development, that a forgotten site of American history lies: The shipyards of Commodore Perry. It took six days for oxen to portage overland to Buffalo five brigs and schooners, newly refurbished in the Black Rock naval yard under Perry’s direction. He sailed those five ships to Presque Isle, famously meeting and owning an enemy British fleet at the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. Nowadays, Olmsted to Perry in fifteen minutes isn’t half bad.
The path bridges the water and ends at the Riverwalk, presenting a choice: north to Grand Island and beyond, or south to the Marina. To go downtown cross the highway on the International Railroad Bridge and enter another world. The vehicle sounds fade almost instantly as you pedal down the hill and across Squaw Island, a literal oasis of green in the surrounding urban concrete. The path runs along a rarely seen piece of the mighty churning Niagara, past regular fishermen on the south end, and then back across the Black Rock Channel and on the sidewalk up cobbled Ferry Street.
Here there are no signs to guide you, so trust me that you must make a right on Niagara Street and head south, battling traffic briefly until you pass again between demarking concrete pylons and back onto the dedicated bike path. As you travel under the Peace Bridge, twist around the highway, and pass by the Frank Lloyd Wright boathouse on your right, your destination comes into view. Make a right at Porter to enter La Salle Park, and follow the lake to the waterfront townhomes, where the path snakes through neighborhoods and along the railroad. When you hit Erie Street, make a right to enter the marina and enjoy the view from the trapezoid tower at the end of the road, or grab a mid-trip snack at the Hatch. It’s never too early in the season for ice cream.
Niagara Wine Trail
Level: Getting more serious
Difficulty: Long, but few major hills
Length: 34 mile loop
Dispatched those moderate treks and ready for more? This road bike loop is a real workout, with just enough stops and breaks to make it enjoyable for the wine enthusiast as well as the veteran biker.
Park and unload the bike in Wilson, at the Boathouse Restaurant or a nearby public lot, and head east on Ontario Street (Route 18). The road is wide here, as is nearly the entire loop, with ample clean shoulder space for multiple cyclists to ride as a pack and enjoy the trip together. Make a quick right on Lake Street (Route 425) and work your way south through the center of Wilson, past bungalows and Victorians, sturdy brick stalwarts, and the 160-year-old farmhouses of some of upper Niagara County’s first settlers. This opening leg, 8.5 miles to the first winery, is nearly flat and straight, an excellent opportunity to warm up the body in preparation for more exertion later.
Make a left on Ridge Road (Route 93) and get ready for your first tasting at the Honeymoon Trail Winery, located almost immediately on the right. Honeymoon Trail’s wines tend to the sweet, but if they don’t match your taste buds, don’t worry; there are seven more wineries to go.
Continue east on Ridge Road, make a quick right on Green Road, soon followed by a left on Vandusen, peddling past Niagara Landing’s vineyards laid out at the base of the escarpment, on the way to the tasting room. The road here is narrower, but with little traffic, still quite safe to ride. The route continues east and jogs again (right on Plank, left on Lower Mountain) to pick up two more wineries in quick succession: Evening Side and (ignoring the Wine Trail sign pointing down Budd Road and continuing on Lower Mountain) Freedom Run. While this stretch is the most grueling, it is also the most scenic, thick with orchards and lines of grapevines, tight creek ravines and wooded copses separating farms. Several climbs offer wide views as rewards for leg and back ache, and the wine is worth the effort; be sure to try the Cabernet Franc estate at Freedom Run, in a tasting room decorated with colored art glass and hand-painted wine bottles.
Continuing east from Freedom Run, take the quick right on Townline Road and head up the escarpment to my favorite stop, the organic and sustainable Arrowhead Spring. If your lungs protest, don’t worry—the Meritage Reserve will quench your thirst and is worth the slight uphill detour. As an added incentive, know that you are nearing the back half, mostly downhill.
Now coasting pleasantly, continue north on Townline (Route 93) back to Ridge Road (Route 104) and make a right. There is more traffic here, but soon you are off the beaten path again, making a left on Ewing Road on your way to the final three winery stops. Here the directions can get a bit tricky; before you cross 18 Mile Creek or enter Newfane, make a left on McKee Road and a quick right on West Creek Road. This will keep the deepening gorge on your right as you reach Chateau Niagara, newly opened last year. As you continue north along the rushing 18 Mile Creek, past the surprisingly large Burt Dam, Lake Ontario and Olcott Harbor are laid out below as you pass the last of the apple orchards and vineyards. Make a left on Lake Road (Route 18). Two more wineries—Black Willow and Victorianbourg Wine Estate—await you on the way back to Wilson as you hug the lakeshore and see the dual piers of your finish line come into view.
A word of warning
Sipping wine and riding your bike can be a great combined activity, but only if you plan ahead. Moderate the amount you taste at each winery, and drink plenty of water in between. In addition, pack some snacks or pick up fresh fruit at a farmer’s market on the road to keep your belly full and energy level up. Not only will the alcohol make your legs heavy, slowing your overall pace, but cycling while intoxicated is illegal and dangerous. You can always use this trip as a scouting mission, making plans to return to purchase and taste more in the future.