Exploring Panama Rocks

Have you ever gone to a place and then wondered what took you so long to visit there. That recently happened to me. What made it worse was that the place really isn’t that far from home. Panama Rocks is the impressive and surprising place I’m talking about. It’s located in the tiny village of Panama, New York, about an hour and a half southwest of Buffalo. Panama is home to less than 500 residents and supposedly was named after Panama Rocks.

We made the drive down to Panama over Memorial Day weekend. My in-laws joined me, Ashley, and our kids. In fact, it was Ashley’s mom who had seen an article about Panama Rocks being a great place for families to visit in the Buffalo News. I knew the name “Panama Rocks” sounded familiar, but I really didn’t know anything about it. Now, having visited there, I wish I would have gone there long ago. I’ll happily return every summer.

A few minutes after we arrived it began to rain. This was disappointing considering it was beautiful out when we left our home in Hamburg. We ducked under a giant tree between a small building that housed the bathrooms and the entry booth where we would have to pay and check in. It was about noon, so we discussed going out for lunch somewhere and then returning afterwards in hopes that the rain would end. The owner sat on a covered porch outside the office and said the rain should move on quickly based on the radar he looked at on his phone. I knew we would be in the woods the whole time, so I figured we’d have decent cover from the rain anyway. We agreed to brave the rain and headed into the office.

We paid our entry fees inside. It was $8 for adults and our kids were free (age 5 and under are free). We also signed in, which I think was also a waiver of some sort. A woman inside also told us about the route, the rocks, and gave us some safety information. She told us the route is about a mile in length. You can wander off trail and are free to climb and explore any of the rock formations. She stressed staying close to our children and not letting them run. We were given a small map of the trail that pointed out the more popular rock formations, caves, and crevices.

Once the talk was over we headed through a gate and started down the trail toward the scenic rocks. The rain conveniently stopped as we began our hike. We followed the trail to the left, which is what was recommended. That meant we descended along the trail as it curved its way down to the base of most of the rock formations. It also meant we would eventually have to climb back uphill to finish the hike, but that wasn’t something we would have to worry about for a little while.

The trail was not especially difficult, but there was some elevation change and much of the path crossed over tree roots. In fact, you have to walk on roots a whole lot, so you have to really focus on each step you take in order to avoid tripping or spraining an ankle. As a result, the trail at Panama Rocks is definitely not wheelchair accessible.

I was worried that Noah and Charlotte would trip over the roots, but they were careful and did great. Either Ashley or I always held Charlotte’s hand because she’s younger and a bit clumsy. The trail was wet due to the rain, but the tree roots that covered the trail actually made it easier to get some solid traction.

After descending on man-made steps that were cut into the ground the trail leveled out a bit as it curved through the woods. The forest was incredibly green throughout the entire hike. I know that may not sound surprising, but I’m talking about an especially vibrant green. There were ferns on the ground, moss on the rocks, and a thick canopy of trees overhead. So, we were essentially surrounded by green at all times.

This is when the fun really started. We started to see some giant rocks and boulders. Sometimes they were oddly shaped, other times they were stacked on top of each other. They were very intriguing and seemed pretty out of place for the region. There were a lot of places where you could climb on the rocks. I climbed pretty high up one time and made it to the top of the obstacle, which actually brought me back to the top half of the trail. Noah and Ashley’s mom found an easier, more gradual place to climb and I helped them up to the top. Finding our way back down to the other half of the family was a little more difficult. We eventually found a spot that I led Noah and my mother-in-law down. I’d take a few steps and then brace my back foot against something then help them down to where I was and continued like that several more times before we successfully made it down.

At a section called “Fat Man’s Misery” Noah and I squeezed through a very narrow slot between rocks. We also looked into a couple of shallow caves together. Admittedly, some of the spots were a little spooky. Noah came prepared for the dark areas; he brought his night vision goggles. He wore them for about half of the hike and embraced the role of cave and crevice explorer with me.

Noah and I noticed that cold air blew out from some of the small crevices and openings in the rock formations. He even shivered in front of one for a photo. That could be why one of the formations is named “Ice Cave Crevice.” There’s also a spot named “Counterfeiters Den” because a gang of counterfeiters allegedly minted and hid money in the caves in the mid-1800’s.

Charlotte initially seemed to enjoy herself, but she eventually grew tired and got sick of walking on roots for so long. For just about the entire hike someone held Charlotte’s hand. She tends to fall a lot, so it definitely helped having someone steady her. I know I caught her on her way down once or twice.

The rocks, roots, and leaves were wet from the brief rainstorm, which made travel a little more difficult and dirty. If you feel like climbing you obviously have to use your hands and mine got downright filthy. That wasn’t a big deal, though. Frankly, I kind of wish I would’ve done more climbing. I didn’t want to be away from everyone else for too long though, and we were getting hungry for lunch so we didn’t want to take too long there. I’d like to go back next year to hike and climb more. If Ashley and Charlotte aren’t ready to return, I’m pretty sure Noah would at least like to do some more exploring with me.

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