Camp CHQ! Chautauqua Gorge Family Camping and Mountain Bike Adventure

Chautauqua County provides countless camping and hiking opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Kevin Cullen shares with us a recent camping trip he and his family took at the scenic Chautauqua Gorge, just outside of Mayville, NY.

By Kevin Cullen
Adventure Sports Development
SUP Erie Adventures

Cruising through the rolling Central Chautauqua countryside I couldn’t believe the amount of blossoming trees that lined the two lane roads in early May 2023. Our car was packed with camping gear for a family weekend in the woods at Chautauqua Gorge State State Forest. Mountain bikes hung off the hitch and we were extremely excited to check out the new multi-use trails there with the addition of a loop and re-route of that portion of the Fred J. Cusimano West Overland Trail.

Chautauqua Gorge State Forest is 538-acres and just a 10-to-15-minute drive west of Mayville, NY on the northern shore of Chautauqua Lake. Soon after the blacktop turns to dirt road we arrived at the dispersed camping sites. We had been here twice before to hike and had our eye on some very nice camp spots adjacent to a small brook.

Our 4 and 2-year-old children played in the small stream looking for salamanders and crayfish while my wife Christian and I set up camp. We slung a few hammocks, set up our four-person tent, pumped up an air mattress, pulled out a few camp chairs, and kicked our feet up. Barefoot on the pebbles and stones our kids explored the tiny pools and waterfalls while Christian and I gathered nearby dead and down wood for a small fire later on.

The kids were eager to get on the bikes after seeing their peers from a neighboring site riding bikes up and down the small hill on the dirt road. Our 4-year-old had recently become very interested in mountain biking and just graduated to a new bike with hand lever brakes, knobby tires and seven gears. Fun was had by all as we rode up and down many times.

As the sun was getting lower we built and lit a pyramid of hardwood charcoal then cracked a Southern Tier beverage. The sweet smell of wood smoke always whets the appetite and when the charcoal turned red, we placed some foil wrapped sweet potatoes on the coals, steaks on the grill and heated a packet of instant wild rice in a small pan on the grate. We cook over charcoal a lot at home so are familiar with its flavor benefits but must say charcoal cooked food tasted even better in the woods.

We lit the campfire and enjoyed the classic roasted marshmallow as the sky turned to cotton candy behind the trees. After the kids went down for the night Christian and I immensely enjoyed our time together by the fire listening to old tunes until it was time to crawl into the sleeping bags.

The next morning we awoke early and heated a pot of water over the fire for some backcountry coffee and oatmeal. I snuck away to take a bike lap on the newly established loop trail to see if our 4-year-old son could handle it with his rapidly developing mountain bike skills. Smooth, fast, and with rolling little hills the trail seemed perfect so when I returned back to camp we suited him up in his gear and put our 2-year-old daughter in her little bike seat on mom’s bike. Riding that trail as a family was a peak experience for all of us as we all had smiles from ear to ear.

Following the ride we all hiked down to check out the creek in the gorge which was stunning and worth the trot down and back up the hill. We then packed up camp, loaded the bikes on the rack, and now our only challenge was to choose from the many delicious food options just a short drive down the road back to Mayville on the Northern shore of Chautauqua Lake.

About Kevin Cullen: Kevin is owner-operator of Adventure Sports Development, Sup Erie Adventures, and Hideaway Bay Resort. He is a professional stand-up paddle board athlete from Buffalo, NY that rides for Pau Hana Surf Supply, Kialoa, and Kokatat. He specializes in stand-up whitewater paddling, expedition paddling, SUP Surfing, and is an avid rock and ice climber. Kevin is also a certified International Kiteboarding Organization instructor. You can find Kevin and his family on the North Shore of Maui in the winter teaching kite-boarding, surfing, and SUP for Action Sports Maui. In the summer, you can find them in Chautauqua County, doing what they love on the shores of Lake Erie.

(All images by Kevin Cullen)