Western New York summers are jam-packed with festivals, concerts, picnics, outings and parties. To take advantage of our glorious weather, we schedule every possible moment with something fun. ¶ But even though we never expect it to happen, by this point in the summer we realize that it is possible to over-schedule fun, to be burned out by a constant round of music, food, entertainment and company. ¶ That’s when you just need to get away. ¶ For those times when you need peace, quiet and solitude, here are seven places in Western New York where you’ll be able to relax and decompress.
1. Three Sisters Islands
Goat Island in Niagara Falls State Park
These three picturesque islands in the turbulent rapids above the brink of the Horseshoe Falls are named Asenath, Angeline and Celinda Eliza after the three daughters of Gen. Parkhurst Whitney, an American commander during the War of 1812. Although much of Goat Island is verdant and relatively peaceful, the three islands – along with Little Brother island, Solon – are particularly enjoyable. Go early in the morning, when the mist hangs low over the water and the only sounds are bird song and the rushing of the rapids. Park in one of the 20 spots on the access road, where parking is free for 20 minutes, and walk out over the old stone bridge that links the islands. Enjoy the varied glimpses of the water, the native plantings and dappled sun along the way. At the farthest island, relax, gaze out into the rapids and enjoy the sight and sound of churning water and picturesque spray.
2. Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica
767 Ridge Road, Lackawanna
You don’t have to be Catholic – in fact, you don’t even have to be religious – to be inspired by the soaring basilica. Venerable Nelson H. Baker, the saintly priest who oversaw construction of the basilica from 1921 to 1925, once said, “There are a thousand angels in the Basilica,” but he may have undercounted by 1,000, give or take. His plan, according to the basilica’s literature, was to place an angel – carved in marble, painted, cast – in every sight line. The Great Dome of the basilica soars 120 feet and is ringed with an image of the assumption and coronation of Mary, mother of Jesus. The majestic main altar is flanked by four swirled columns of red marble, and the side altars twinkle with tiered racks of candles. Just sit in silence in the pews or join other tourists in quiet, respectful sightseeing. Formal guided tours are held at 1 and 2 p.m. on most Sundays, except holidays. Wait by the “tour begins here” sign in the front foyer. To arrange a tour at another time, call 828-7517 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Basilica is open daily from 7 a.m. until 8:30 p.m.
3. Delaware Park’s Japanese Garden
Behind 25 Nottingham Court:
Located on the bank of Mirror Lake behind the History Museum at 25 Nottingham Court, the Japanese Garden is an urban gem. Follow the signs down the sloping path flanked by sun-dappled blooming hostas, spiderwort and other perennials. A few carefully placed benches on the banks of the lake look out on three small landscaped islands dotted with Japanese garden lanterns. A set of rustic stone steps imported from Japan looks as if it has been there for a century. The garden, modeled after a famous garden in Buffalo’s Japanese sister city, Kanazawa, offers a cherry blossom show in the spring and a maple leaf display in the fall, but is quiet and peaceful at any time of year, with the traffic noise from the nearby Scajaquada Expressway reduced to a dull hum. Call the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy at 838-1249, Ext. 10, to make arrangements for a guided tour.
4. Forest Lawn
1411 Delaware Ave.
There are plenty of places to find peace in the historic, rolling 269-acre Forest Lawn cemetery, but President Joseph P. Dispenza has a few favorites. Pick up a paper map at each cemetery entrance, then find section 21, behind the chapel. There a simple wood gazebo sits in the meadow. Dispenza said, “It’s raised up off the ground, covered, with a circular bench, and depending on how you sit, you can have an absolutely beautiful view looking into the meadow, and the taller trees, or you can sit on the other side and see Dedication Hill, or the chapel.” A second peaceful spot is a gleaming white fiberglass “statue of the spirit” in the center of a combined section, 33½ and 35. Created by artist John Field, the statue, an abstract depiction of an angel lifting a human form, has as its name a Kahlil Gibran quote, “And when the Earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.” “It’s on an open nontreed hilltop,” said Dispenza. “You get the benefit there of the unadulterated sky, not dappled light like you see under a tree but wide open. And it’s right across the street from Mayor Sedita.” A few benches on the perimeter give the best view of this monumental sculpture.
5. Center of Renewal at Stella Niagara
4421 Lower River Road at Pletcher Road, Youngstown
The Center of Renewal retreat and conference center offers space for and assistance with organizing spiritual retreats and business seminars, as well as overnight stays, starting at just $35 per night during the week. But if you don’t have time for all that, call the center at 754-7376 or email email@example.com to reserve a $5 day pass. At the center, pick up a campus map and wander the nature trails and labyrinth on the 134-acre property, which is dotted with inspirational statuary and provides views of the lower Niagara. Don’t miss the Peace Memorial and River Chapel in the river meadow. “We have a lot of families that come for reunions or groups for private retreats,” said Nancy P. Askins, the center’s executive director. People who come to the center “have a values-based perspective to their lives, or are seeking spiritual guidance or just a place for peace and solitude,” she said.
6. Lake Erie Seaway Trail Visitor Center
4968 Lake Shore Road, Hamburg
The Lake Erie Seaway Trail Center, located in the former Wanakah Water Co. building, offers an impressive view of the lake, the City of Buffalo skyline, the Canadian shore and the Lackawanna wind turbines. The center is scheduled to be open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, and from 7 to 9:30 p.m. for sunset viewing. The building contains a classroom that can be rented for meetings. For the month of August, a display on plastics in the waterways will be presented, with extended hours, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Saturday. But even if the center is closed, visitors can enjoy the deck next to it and the rocky 700-foot-long beach below, which is accessible by stairs. To rent the Sunset Room for $25 an evening, send an email to LESTC2012@gmail.com.
7. Glen Park
278 Glen Ave., Williamsville
Although parking is easier in the lot behind the park, off Glen Avenue, the best way to feel the impact of this suburban oasis is to enter from Main Street between Mill and East Spring streets. Linger on the bridge overlooking Ellicott Creek, then take the path alongside the rapids, which is intensively and beautifully planted on both sides. The path descends sharply and as soon as your ears are below the level of Main Street, natural sounds overwhelm the noise of traffic. A bench on the right near the bottom of the falls is a perfect spot to stop and watch the rushing water. Mallards are common in the ponds and pools at the bottom of the slope, and herons visit the creek below the falls.