You won’t find this hike depicted on the guide map given out to visitors to Allegany State Park at the entrance stations or the Administration Building. You also won’t find it depicted on the Allegany Visitor Map produced by Cattaraugus County. That is because it is a combination of horseback riding trails, pipeline easements, and undesignated trails, all of which can be hiked except in winter when portions of those are designated snowmobile trails (because hiking is not allowed on the groomed snowmobile trails in winter.)
This hike can be done as a loop (7.5 miles) or as an out and back by climbing Mt Irvine from the south (the portion with the most elevation gain and lost) or climbing Mt Irvine from the west (the portion with the least amount of elevation gain and loss).
You can see the combination of trails that make up this loop on the map that was included in the 2010 Draft Master Plan for the mark, entitled “Existing Summer Trail System.
Below is a portion of that map showing the entire loop overlaid with a white highlight:
Topographical map of Thunder Rocks to Mt. Irvine Loop:
Topo Map of Thunder Rocks to Mt. Irvine Loop
Google Terrain Map of the Thunder Rocks to Mount Irvine loop trail:
Terrain View Mt Irvine Loop
DETAILED TRAIL DESCRIPTION
Leave the Thunder Rocks parking area headed north on the horse trail. There is a green pipe gate across the trail to prevent vehicles from driving down the trail.
The trail comes to a “Y”. The trail to the left is designated horse trail No. 2. The trail to the right is designated horse trail No. 6 and it begins on a gas pipeline easement. You can hike the Mt. Irvine loop in either direction. These directions will go in a counter clockwise direction to take advantage of the steep climb up Mt. Irvine from its base. Thus, bear right at the “Y” onto horse trail No. 6. If you would rather come down the steep side of Mt. Irvine and then finish the hike with a longer but less steep climb back to Thunder Rocks, then start with Trail No. 2 by bearing left at the “Y”.
The trail turns right off of the pipeline easement onto a narrow trail through the woods. You will see a brown disk on a tree with a horseback riding symbol nailed to a tree about 30 yards down the trail as depicted in this photo. You now begin a 2 mile descent to Rice Brook. Along the way you’ll cross a few intermittent streams. The trail heads in a general northeasterly direction for the next .7 miles.
Start of Horse Trail No. 6 Near Beginning of Hike
The trail crosses an intermittent stream that is a feeder stream for Rice Brook, then turns northerly and follows the feeder stream to Rice Brook, a distance of about .6 miles
The trail reaches a low that is along the banks of Rice Brook, although you can’t easily see Rice Brook from this location because of the vegetation. There is, however, a nice view of an unnamed mountain to the north of the small clearing (the clearing appears to be a former campsite or rest area for horseback riders.) This unnamed mountain is the ridge jutting south on the west side of Mt Irvine as shown in the following terrain map.
View of Unnamed Mountain from Rice BrookTerrain View of Unnamed Mountain West of Mt Irvine
You reach the banks of Rice Brook, a small creek that can be easily crossed. You want to turn left (north) to cross Rice Brook. You can see a wide trail across the Rice Brook. If you went straight ahead instead then you would be hiking on Rice Brook Road which eventually intersects with Parkside Drive on the eastern edge of the park alongside Rt. 219.
Shortly after crossing Rice Brook you will come to a wide pipeline easement that descends down the unnamed mountain to your left (from the west) and ascends up Mt. Irvine to your right (heading east). This pipeline easement is easily seen on the aerial photo of the trail. The picture below is taken from the shoulder of Mt Irvine looking back down the pipeline easement (looking west).
View of Pipeline Easement from Shoulder of Mt. Irvine
At just over 2.2 miles to your left (north) you will see what appears to be a trail leading off into the woods up Mt. Irvine. That is not the trail you want. Just 10 or 20 yards past that apparent trail is the actual trail which is much more pronounced and has flagging attached to trees to mark its location. Turn into the woods from the pipeline easement onto this trail.
You reach a false summit of Mt. Irvine. You still have .5 miles and 200 feet of elevation gain to reach the summit of Mt. Irvine.
You will pass a large hole in the ground surrounded by a wire fence. It appears to be either a bear den or an old well hole.
You will come upon four footings for the old Mt. Irvine Fire Tower. The footings have flagging on the protruding iron bars as depicted in the picture below.
Mt. Irvine Fire Tower Footer
About 200 yards further on the trail, and 30 to 40 feet into the woods on your right, is a USGS Survey Marker, as depicted in the picture below. Look for a 4 foot protruding iron pipe. The marker is just a few feet from that pipe.
Mt. Irvine Survey Disk
You start the descent down Mt. Irvine, heading north for .1 mile.
You reach an intersection with a trail coming from your right (east). You want to turn left (west). The trail to the east is an old forest road that leads to Parkside drive along the eastern boarder of the Park. It can be used to climb Mt. Irvine from the east for a much less strenuous and much shorter climb. The trail generally heads in a northwest direction along a wide path for the next 1.6 miles.
You will pass an abandoned well pipe that is on your left. Drop a small stick down the open pipe and listen as it clatters against the sides of the pipe until you hear a swooshing sound when it reaches the bottom. It sounds like a long way down.
You will see a service road coming in from your right (from the north) and a large rusted storage drum (about 8 feet in diameter) on your left just about 10 feet down the slope.
Large Storage Drum Along Trail
You will come to the intersection with horse trail No. 2 that will take you back to Thunder Rocks. You want to turn left (south) onto this trail. It will follow a forest road for 1.1 miles, generally descending, until it reaches the pipeline easement (a continuation of the pipeline easement you climbed from the base of Mt. Irvine beginning at the 2.0 mile mark.) Going straight would take you to the Horse Camp off of ASP 2. Note that the USGS topographic map shows a parallel trail just to the west of the horse trail. We attempted to use that trail but it appears to have been abandoned long ago. The remnants of that trail can been seen, but small trees have grown in the middle of it and there is some significant blow down across it. We did find a few old yellow blazes that once marked it.
You reach a low point on this portion of the trail and it turns right. Begin a short climb to the intersection with the pipeline easement.
This is the intersection with the pipeline easement. Turn right (west) and ascend .1 mile to the top of the small rise.
Horse trail No. 2 turns left (south). Before turning down that trail, walk a few more yards west to get a nice view of a mountain side in the central portion of the park.
View From Pipeline and Horse Trail No. 2
Horse Trail No. 2 Looking South from Pipeline
Horse trail No. 2 crosses another pipeline easement – this is the same pipeline easement you followed for a short distance at the beginning of the hike. You could turn left (south) on to it for a slighter shorter return trip to the trail head. These directions assume, however, that you stay on Horse Trail No. 6. Be forewarned, however, that there are some very muddy sections between this point and the trail head on horse trail No. 2. 6.
This is the intersection of Horse Trail No. 2 and Horse Trail No. 6. Continue south to the Thunder Rocks parking area.