Panama Rocks is a hidden gem for outdoor and history lovers alike, tucked away in the hills of Chautauqua County, New York. Off the beaten path from the typical wine trail or lake-focused trips to the region, Panama Rocks is a wonderful natural rock park to explore for the whole family.
Who owns Panama Rocks?
The rock park is privately owned and has been for over 100 years. Established in 1885, the land has had multiple owners, but the intent has been the same: to share these magnificent formations with anyone who wishes to see them.
The landscape has not drastically changed over the years. The current owners, the Westons, have done a significant amount of restoration, aiming to maintain the natural and historic beauty of the area.
Where is Panama Rocks located?
This rock park is located in Chautauqua County, New York, on the westernmost point of the state. Erie, PA is about 45 minutes away. Buffalo can be reached by car in about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Cleveland and Pittsburgh are also 2 and 2.5 hours away, respectively.
The closest town with many necessities and amenities is Jamestown, less than 30 minutes away by car. Jamestown, NY has some appeal all it’s own, but more on that later!
How much does it cost to enter?
There is a fee to enter and explore these hidden rock formations. Adults should expect to play $8 per ticket. Entrance fees for children ages 6-12 are $6, and children 5 and under are free.
Just an extra note: using a card will add about $.25 to each ticket fee, so bring cash to make the transactions easier! The park is entirely funded through these admission fees.
When can you visit Panama Rocks?
Panama Rocks is a seasonal attraction, so unfortunately they do close the area in the winter. The area does get a significant amount of snowfall each year, so exploring the rock formations and cliffs could be dangerous with ice.
The typical season runs from early May to the end of October. Exploring hours are usually 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
What is there to do there?
A one mile hiking trail is the highlight of Panama Rocks. The trail is a loop, and you can find a map that highlights 16 different notable rock formations. These formations have fun names that give away a little of their appeal.
While the trail circles around the rock formations, visitors are permitted to explore off trail. Take care to avoid any growth and mossy areas on the rocks, but check out the caves and crevices at your own pace.
Also on the property are picnic shelters and tables to enjoy lunch or a post hike snack. There are also two arenas where you can partake in axe throwing, but they must be reserved in advance. They can accommodate two groups of up to six people each for this activity.
Tell me a little bit more about the history of the rock park.
The rock formations found here are said to be some of the oldest glacier cut formations in the world, dating back millions of years.
The freezing and thawing of the ice and glaciers is said to be the primary reason for all of the nooks and crannies in the Panama Rocks formations.
There have been various ancient inhabitants and visitors in the caves and crevices throughout history. Those include native tribes sheltering from the elements, looters stashing their treasures, and other suspicious activities.
Much more history can be found throughout the park, scattered on informational signs along the way.
Special Events: Panama Rocks Nature Festival
The Wild America Nature Festival is a huge draw, bringing in nature artisans, musicians, and demonstrators to the park for a three day weekend full of exploration and education. Some of the crafters featured in the festival have won both national and international awards.
Also featured in the festival is a cook off featuring local dishes from well known local restaurants. Enjoy everything from a savory bite to a snack satisfying any sweet tooth.
If education is your goal while visiting the festival, you’re in luck. During the weekend, short informational classes and workshops are led by very knowledgeable teachers in every subject from local animals to gardening and plants to meditation.
The grounds do get busy during the festival, especially on the two weekend days, and the parking lot is very small. Plan to arrive early or prepare for a walk from your car, as you will find yourself parking quite a way from the entrance.
Other things to do near Panama Rocks and in Chautauqua County
Though Chautauqua County is the westernmost, and probably a commonly overlooked area of the state of New York, there are quite a few reasons to visit this beautiful area.
Just a short 10 mile drive from Panama Rocks, the Chautauqua Institution is a large 750-acre establishment focused on the arts and religious pursuits.
National Comedy Center
Just about 15 miles or 25 minutes by car from Panama Rocks in the town of Jamestown, NY, comedy lovers will find a great surprise.
Jamestown was the birthplace of Lucille Ball, and the town has created a name for itself by memorializing her contributions to comedy.
The National Comedy Center, originally a museum dedicated to Lucy, now includes exhibits for cartoonists, producers and other actors.
The center has been recognized in both USA Today and TIME, among others, as a fantastic place to visit. Entrance costs $25.50 for adults and is open from Thursday to Monday each week.
Lucille Ball Desi Arnez Museum
Just a few blocks from the National Comedy Center is a museum dedicated to one of the most notably famous women in comedy, Lucille Ball and her co-star and husband Desi Arnez.
Though their marriage was not always the smoothest, the two together created one of the most memorable and well known television sitcoms to date.
Here at the museum, you will find memorabilia from both their lives as well as the I Love Lucy set. The museum exhibits are also open from Thursday through Monday.
Admission for adults is $16 per ticket, and fees for children are dependent on their age. A combo ticket can also be purchased, allowing you entry into both this museum and the National Comedy Center, for $30.
As a quick stop on your way through Jamestown and back to the interstate, stop at the Lakeview Cemetery. Here, you will find Lucille Ball’s final resting place.
Red hearts painted on the road inside will lead you to her grave, where you can pay your respect to the first lady of comedy. Jamestown sure does love Lucille, if you hadn’t already guessed.
Where to eat near Panama Rocks
Chautauqua County has plenty of spots to stop and grab a delicious bite to eat, no matter what kind of food you are in the mood for. Options range from family friendly home cooked meals to modern brewpub offerings.
For those looking for an adult beverage following hiking and exploring the rocks, there are two great options.
The Empty Pint, Southern Tier Brewing Company’s original brewpub, is less than a 15 minute drive away. Sandwiches and hickory smoked options fill their menu. Weather permitting, enjoy their outdoor green space with your brew.
Ellicottville Brewing Company also has a Chautauqua location set right across the street from the shores of the Lake. Their menu has a variety of options and also has weather permitting outdoor seating with views of Lake Chautauqua.
Head in exactly the opposite direction for the same amount of time and you may find yourself in Clymer, NY at Dutch Village Restaurant. Here, you will find a menu of home cooked Amish meals, and you certainly will not leave hungry.
If heading back to Jamestown, there are also a few great options. Landmark Restaurant serves up a great variety of dishes. Check out Forte if you are looking for an Asian fusion scene or head to The Pub for a Cheers! vibe and bar menu.
Where to stay near Panama Rocks
Camping near Panama Rocks
With the rural setting off the beaten path in Chautauqua County, camping options near Panama Rocks are plentiful.
If you prefer to camp at well known campgrounds, two KOAs are located within a 30 minute drive. Both are located on a lake, one being Westfield Lake Erie KOA and the other the Chautauqua Lake KOA.
For budget friendly camping, check out Lake Erie State Park, with tent and RV sites for $24-$32 per night.
Hotels near Panama Rocks
For those looking for more of the comforts offered through hotels, there are plenty of options within a 30 minute drive.
A Comfort Inn & Suites sits directly off of the interstate at Findley Lake, NY. (Drive time: 30 minutes)
Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn are located just off the interstate exit at Jamestown. (Drive time: 25 minutes)
If you are looking for a beautiful, independent facility in the summer months, look to the Athenaeum Hotel on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution. (Drive time: 20 minutes)
For another lakeview option, Check out the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, located in Jamestown. Beautiful outdoor facilities make this a great base for Chautauqua County activities in the summer (20 minutes)
Do you enjoy these rock city formations?
There are a few great spots to explore similar areas of giant rocks. Bilger’s Rocks, down in Clearfield County, PA is very similar in exploring the trails through the rocks.
Thunder Rocks is a spot in nearby Allegany State Park that is a little smaller in area but still boasts giant boulders.
Wrap Up: Why should you plan to visit Panama Rocks Scenic Park?
The appeal of the 60 feet tall rock formations is not difficult to see. Panama Rocks is a great day trip or stop along a longer road trip. The rock city is fun to explore for all ages and the hiking trail is one that most could handle.
Add this park to your list of places to visit in Western New York!