Trifecta Wilderness Adventure at Allegany State Park

Allegany State Park (ASP) is New York’s largest state park. It offers many activities from hiking, biking, fishing and paddling. It is a popular summer destination for families with 144 cabins and 130 campsites. There are two major areas to the park,  the Red House area and the Quaker area, each with a lake and other amenities. ASP holds many memories for me back with Scouts.  ASP is a popular Cub Scout/Boy Scout camping location because of its large group camps.

Locked our mountain bikes to a tree.

Living near Buffalo, ASP is just over an hour away. It has been my family’s first exposure to camping overnight both in a cabin and backpacking in a tent. Most people when staying at ASP opt for a cabin or campsite. The summer months can be busy and it can detract from the wilderness experience. ASP also offers, albeit lesser known, lean-tos. The lean-tos are first come, first served and are located on the North Country Trail (NCT) which runs through the park, north to south.

Last year, my boys and I stayed at two different lean-tos at ASP, the Willis Creek lean-to and the Ridge Run lean-to. Unfortunately, we were unable to actually STAY IN the lean-to. One time the bugs were unbelievably hostile and the other time the lean-to was occupied by Boy Scouts, ironically. This year, the bugs have been almost non-existent and given the fact that I had planned the trip during the work week, I assumed that one of the more remote lean-tos would be unoccupied.

Our trip plan was to store our mountain bikes at the Eastwood Meadows trailhead and then we would drive to our trailhead located near the Red House Entrance located on ASP 2. We would then hike the NCT to the Beck Hallow lean-to, spend the night and hike to our bikes in the morning. We would then leave our packs in an inconspicuous area and mountain bike back to the car via the Lonkto Hallow horse trail or Bay State Rd. I setup our route so that our mountain bike trip back would be mostly downhill.

We arrived at ASP after lunch on the first day. We had no problem finding the Eastwood Meadows Trailhead as it is very well marked and has its own parking lot. After securing our bikes to a tree a bit off the trail with a couple of U locks and cables, we headed back to the entrance gate to find the NCT trailhead. I thought the trailhead was in the park, but after not seeing a trail and consulting with the gate attendant, we ascertained the trailhead was on Bay State Road outside the park. Retrospectively, it is pretty clear on the Caltopo and park maps.

Gearing up at the trailhead.

The trail started in a grassy, bushy meadow. It was pretty hot, near 85 degrees and rained the night before making this section VERY humid. At the top of the knoll, the trail entered the forest by way of some wooden steps.

Stairs leading into the forest.

The trail to the lean-to was about 2.3 miles with some elevation (about 650ft over the first mile) to climb initially until you reached the top of the ridge.  Then it was all downhill into the hallow. We arrived at the lean-to mid-afternoon to find it (thankfully) empty and Boy Scout free.

Our first two actions were to gather some firewood and setup our sleeping bags and pads. We found a bunch of what appeared to be dry firewood.  With the rain the prior day and generally wet forest, we needed to pull out every trick in the book to get a fire going. It took a little longer, but alas, we made fire.

Arrived at the Beck Hallow Lean-to.

Next was on to dinner. Charlie looks forward to camping because he makes a mashed potato and Cheetos “casserole”. Jackson is a much simpler chef with standard issue Ramen noodles. I had tuna, mayo and avocados, my go-to keto backpacking meal.

Cheetos and potatoes.

As dusk settled in, we too settled into the lean-to with only the fire to illuminate the area. The boys wanted some Oreo Hot Chocolate and I settled for some Hazelnut instant coffee. The surroundings make it taste better than it really is. We talked about man things like finances and girls. Charlie wanted me to “bestow some fatherly advice”. The best I could come up with was to “Be honest, always be first and have a firm handshake”.  The more I think about it, I it was a real special moment that I was not prepared for. Next time, I will have a better answer.

Camp coffees is the best.

I made sure we were careful about our camp kitchen area and stowed the bear canister in between a couple of trees for the night. I have been seeing a ton of pictures of human/bear encounters on the “I Love Allegany State Park” Facebook page. I am not sure if the count of bears are up, if they are becoming more bold, or if technology and social media is just putting it in front of us more often. Either way, better to be safe.

I expected to be up at first light, however, between a couple of bathroom sleep interruptions and some heavy rain, everyone slept in a bit. The boys opted for Pop-Tarts over oatmeal. I fried up some summer sausage to go with my avocado and maple pecan keto bars. Jackson quickly asked for two helpings of sausage.

Fried summer sausage, our new go to.

We broke camp and headed toward our bikes. Jackson noticed a bunch of Eastern (red-spotted) newts out after the rain. On the trek out, I mentioned that we really have not seen much wildlife, only the newts and a rogue deer at one of the cabin loops we took a wrong turn into.

Eastern (red-spotted) newts all over the ground.

Our bikes were still securely locked to the tree. When going we reached the NCT/Eastern Meadows trail, we looked for the Lonkto Hallow horse trail and surveyed the connecting trail. We all agreed that even though a bit longer, we preferred to take the Bay State Rd. option. We stowed our packs next to a tree. I locked them up using the bike locks, however, people could unzip and take what they like or just cut the straps. I was gambling on the side of the general goodwill of outdoors people.

The mountain biking phase of our day started with a pretty steep climb that opened up to several miles of downhill fun. We barely had to peddle for 4.5 miles of the total 6.6 miles. Actually, we were moving so fast, that we could not keep up with our highest gears and were feathering the brakes most of the way.  It was a gravel road that was very smooth, save one section that had some bigger gravel pieces.

It was along this path that low and behold we saw a bear about 100 yards in front of us.  I was in front and yelled to the boys, “STOP, BEAR!”. The bear quickly scampered across the trail.  Jackson caught a quick glimpse and Charlie missed it.  It looked like a yearling, but we were cautious as we approached where it passed all yelling, “Hey bear!” to make our presence known just in case it happened to be out for an early morning stroll with its mama.

After leaving the gravel hills, the peddle turned to a flat paved road that lead right back to the car. The last phase of the trip was to recover our packs. The attendant at the gate was nice enough to not charge us to re-enter the park. We retrieved our packs and headed out of the park. We stopped for our customary coffee, bagels and iced drinks at the Tim Horton’s in Ellicottville.

The trifecta of hiking, camping and biking was a success. Spending this time with my boys was priceless and can not wait for our next adventure!

Trip Recap

Lessons Learned:

Always have a some fatherly advice handy for that time your kids actually ask!

 

Bring a bit more water. There was no readily available water source to purify.

 

Book Recommendation:

We are reading this book in lock step. I never read it when I was young, but really is a classic that every boy should read.

Favorite Gear Used:

Gear They Wished They Brought:

  • Cotton balls with Vaseline or some other cleaver fire starting mechanism.

Favorite Meal or Snack:

Maps, Routes and GPS Information

Route Statistics:

  • To Lean-To: 2.34 mi, 676′ elevation

  • From Lean-To: 3.60 mi, 545′ elevation

  • Mountain Bike: 6.63 mi, -843′ elevation

 

Caltopo Map: https://caltopo.com/m/85V3

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