Located just over a mile north of the Pennsylvania border in southwestern New York, you’ll find one of the state’s most incredible rock outcroppings: Rock City Park.
Rock City Park has been drawing people to this corner of Cattaraugus County since the 1890s. This site is said to be the world’s largest exposure of quartz conglomerate and has rock walls that tower upwards of 100 feet above the top of the hillside.
I always enjoy visiting rock outcroppings during my travels. In fact, I’d already visited the nearby Panama Rocks. So, I was excited to take my family to explore this unique natural spot.
Visits to Rock City Park start in the building adjacent to the parking area. In addition to the ticket counter, this building also contains a gift shop with both souvenirs from the site and art from local artists. There is even a small museum with a cheesy, but still worthwhile video about the site.
When you pay your admission, make sure you get the paper guide to the park. This includes not only a brief history of the site but also a map and a guide that offers some nice information on some of the rocks that you see along the way.
One thing that I really enjoyed here was the uniquely named spots along the trail. All told, the park’s map calls out 17 different places along the trails. These include some inventively nicknamed rocks and unique formations. I wasn’t able to make out all of them, but the ones I could find were very cool.
The trip through Rock City Park starts atop the outcropping. You can walk along the top of the rocks here and there are even some small railingless concrete bridges that have been constructed over some of the gaps in the rocks.
Still, be very careful when exploring this upper area, especially with younger kids, as there are many gaps in the rocks or slopes that could cause some very dangerous falls if you get too close to the edges.
Nevertheless, do take some time to explore this upper portion as it’s very beautiful and offers some great views of the area of New York known as the Enchanted Mountains.
Once you are done exploring the upper area, look for a very steep stairwell that heads down into the formation. Above the entrance, there is a yellow sign that says “Main Trail”.
From the bottom of the steps, the trail meanders its way through the many passages and crevices through this quartz outcropping. Unlike Panama Rocks, signs here request that you stay on the trail, which is well marked, but there are plenty of side trails that indicate that this isn’t widely enforced. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea for your safety to stay as close to the trail as possible.
However, even just staying on the trail, there are a lot of really fun areas to explore at Rock City Park, especially when you use the printed guide to help you find some of the outcropping’s unique spots.
One of my favorite areas was Tepee Rock. This is a huge arch that must reach upwards of 100 feet high. Here, you can find three unique features of the park including a 120-year-old carving and some unique rock formations.
This spot is especially impressive once you walk through it and then look back at the giant arch that you just passed through. Make sure at this point to look out for the Three Sisters Rock and the Old Man of the Rocks.
Just beyond Tepee Rock and near Sentinel Rock, the large free-standing rock in the park, you’ll find a historic piece of equipment from the area’s oil drilling past.
Oil was discovered in these hills in the early 1900s and there were several oil wells dug in the area that is now Rock City Park (including one that was over 2,000 feet deep!).
This is the center section for a three-part drilling rig that was used from 1935 until 1962. This is a really neat piece of old machinery to see, and it’s a nice reminder of the region’s oil-drilling history.
The drilling rig actually marks the point where the trail turns and starts to head back towards the entrance to the park.
For most of the way back, the trail actually passes along the edge of this rock outcropping instead of through the heart of it. This provides a great look at the size of these rocks and the forest that surrounds them.
The trail winds its way passed more interestingly-shaped rocks including the moray eel, hamburger rock, and a very large balancing rock. These uniquely named rocks reminded me a bit of the cave tours I’ve done where strange rock shapes are pointed out along the way.
Eventually, the trail winds its way to a stairwell known as the Indian Stairs. This set of stairs is actually cut into a towering stone wall.
Legend has it that the local Seneca Indians created these steps to reach the top of the rocks, which they used as a lookout. At the top of the steps, there is a beautiful wooden swing that you can use to rest for a few minutes and enjoy the beauty of this spot.
From the top of these steps, the trail follows the edge of the rocks and heads back towards the open area at the top of the rocks and the park’s gift shop.
Without a doubt, Rock City Park is a ton of fun to visit.
I do wish that visitors were more encouraged to explore the many nooks and crannies here as there are a ton of fun-looking spots to check out. However, even sticking primarily to the trail proves to be a lot of fun and offers the chance to see one of the region’s most impressive natural destinations.
If you are traveling through southwestern New York and are looking for a unique hike or something fun to do with kids, I definitely recommend a stop at Rock City Park near Olean and the Pennsylvania border.
Looking for more great places to visit nearby? Check out Bridal Falls in Allegany State Park, Wellsville Brewing Company, and the Lucy-Desi Museum. You can also drive a short distance into PA and hike the fantastic Marilla Bridges Trail.
Rock City Park
Hours: Daily: 9a-5p
Cost: Adults: $5, Children: $3
Address: 505 NY-16