Exploring Thunder Rocks in Allegany State Park

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Thunder Rocks is a natural phenomenon found at Allegany State Park in New York state. The thunder rocks form from water flowing over limestone bedrock. Some look like giant mushrooms. Others resemble animal shapes.

Whether you’re 4 or 74, Thunder Rocks is a fun spot to explore for the whole family. The area is fairly flat, so while you’ll need to watch your footing, this is not a strenuous hike by any means.

In addition to the hiking trails, endless camping, and beautiful lakes, Thunder Rocks is a great attraction to see in Allegany State Park.

Where is Thunder Rocks?

You can find this rock city in western New York, over in the corner of Allegany State Park.

Allegany is located in Cattaraugus County, near the town of Salamanca. 

Entrance Fees

While there is no specific entrance fee for the Thunder Rocks area, there are entrance fees for Allegany State Park during certain times of the year.

Fees for vehicle entry for the 2022 season, according to the New York parks service, are as follows:

Vehicle Use Fee: $7
Non-profit Bus Fee: $35
Commercial Bus Fee: $75
5/28 – 6/19: Weekends & holidays only
6/25 – 9/5: Daily
9/10 – 10/10: Weekends & holidays only

All fees are collected from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm on the days noted above.

If you’re planning to visit multiple New York state parks in one calendar year, consider purchasing an Empire Pass. $80 covers all vehicle admission fees for all the state parks for the calendar year.

Getting to Thunder Rocks in Allegany State Park

Allegany State Park is fairly large, and the Thunder Rocks area is located off on the eastern side of the park. To reach the area, you’ll have to drive on narrow dirt roads from either of the main areas of the park.

From the Red House area, the drive is about 15 minutes and 6.5 miles

From the Quaker area, you’ll have to drive about 12.5 miles over 25 minutes.

There is plenty of parking at the end of Thunder Rocks Road, which is dirt. There aren’t any marked parking spaces here, but there is room for 20+ cars here.

It is best to plan to visit Thunder Rocks when there is minimal to no snow on the ground. The dirt roads leading to this area of the park are not maintained in the winter, and there can be quite a lot of snowfall in this area.

A wide dirt path approaches the large Thunder Rocks formations in Allegany State Park in fall

How to Explore Thunder Rocks

There aren’t really designated hiking trails through the rock city. Once you enter the area, you are free to wander through the formations. 

Although in some rock cities, you can explore and climb the rock formations, that is not permitted here. There are multiple reasons for this restriction. These include the risk of serious injury from a slip and fall, as well as damage to the fragile plant life that grows on the rock surfaces.

Be sure to wander through the nooks and crannies formed by the rocks. If you look closely, you may be able to pick out fossil formations or make up names of your own for the formations.

You probably won’t hike more than a mile exploring, but you can spend as much time as you’d like enjoying the area.

Geologic History

Although many of the similar areas in New York and neighboring states are thought to have been formed by glacial erosion thousands of years ago, that is not the case with Thunder Rocks. 

Thunder Rocks and Allegany State Park are located in an area designated the Salamanca Re-Entrant. This means that it is part of a small area here that was spared by the glaciers.

With that being said, Thunder Rocks were formed instead by the groundwater and sediment interaction. 

If you’re interested in either the geological or the mythological histories of the area, be sure to stop at the info boards near the entrance of the trail. We won’t give away all of the information and secrets here. You’ll just have to explore and find out for yourself!

A small pathway through large rock formations of Thunder Rocks

If you like Thunder Rocks, Check out these spots, too!

There are plenty of areas within just a couple of hours of driving (or less!) where you are able to explore these large rock cities. These rock cities can be explored in an hour or a few, whatever you’d like!

Rock City Park: About 30 minutes to the east, Rock City Park can be found along the New York and Pennsylvania border. There is a $5 entrance fee for adults and $3 for children from ages 6-12.

Panama Rocks: Reach Panama Rocks by driving about 1 hour west towards Erie, PA. Entrance fees at this rock park range from $6.50 to $8.50. Purchase online ahead of time and save on the admission.

Little Rock City: Different from Rock City Park, this free-to-explore area also in Cattaraugus County was spared by glacier activity just like Thunder Rocks.

Bilger’s Rocks: About 2 hours directly to the south, Bilger’s Rocks is located near the town of Clearfield, PA. There is no entrance fee, but donations are appreciated for park maintenance. 

colorful leaves in Thunder Rocks area

Thunder Rocks is one example of the unique geological phenomenons found throughout the state of New York. They form from the erosion of sandstone rock during periods of intense rainfall. The park itself, located just south of the Allegheny River, offers visitors the chance to explore its natural beauty.

Thunder Rocks are definitely worth checking out if you ever happen to visit the area. They’re easy to spot and offer a beautiful way to explore the surrounding landscape.

Pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to explore!