Best Hikes in Letchworth State Park: Western New York’s Letchworth State Park, about an hour’s drive southeast of Buffalo, is a great destination for day hiking when the weather’s nice. The best time to go is between April and October when the weather is warm and there is not likely to be snow on the ground (although it is always possible in April or October!).
Divided in two by the Genesee River Gorge, the western part of the park is generally busy with hikers and day-trippers coming to see the famous Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls; On the other hand, the eastern part is much less developed. With 66 miles of hiking trails through the park, we’ve rounded up some of the best.
The 6 Best Hikes in Letchworth State Park
The aptly numbered Trail #1 on park maps, the moderate 7-mile Gorge Trail is the most popular within Letchworth State Park. It can get quite busy when conditions are good, but it is well worth it for the views of the valleys and waterfalls. Following the western bank of the Genesee River, the trail passes three main waterfalls in the park – Lower, Upper, and Middle Falls – and offers views of Shadow and De-Gay-Va-Nus Falls, both of which are about 15 feet. the high.
There’s no need to stay in the park overnight for this hike, but if you want, there are several campsites and cabins available most seasons; However, keep in mind that all except a few cabins are closed in winter.
One of Letchworth’s prettiest trails, the 2.5-mile Hemlock Trail is named because of the more than 100-year-old hemlock trees you’ll see along the way. In addition, the hike features red pine trees and peaceful pine ponds. Part of the trail follows Deh-Ga-Ya-Soh Creek, which drains into the Genesee River through the 150-foot Deh-Ga-Ya-Soh Falls. To convert this hike into a long loop track, combine it with the Mary Jameson Trail.
Mary Jemison Trail
The 2.5-mile Mary Jameson Trail is another nice, somewhat shorter option that can be combined with other hikes (the Hemlock Trail and Gorge Trail) if you’re up for some longer. The main attraction is an old reservoir with beavers, 150 years old trees and an old stone dam. It is less popular than the Gorge Trail or Hemlock Trail, but it still has the advantage of being on the busy western side of the park, if accessibility is important to you.
Originally built in the 1930s to port canoes down the river—by avoiding the gorge’s three large waterfalls—this half-mile trail crosses the park’s only river. Starting on the eastern side (which is free to enter, unlike the western side!), it follows the cliffs of the gorge to the lower waterfall. Despite a little scrambling and some muddy terrain, it is an easy trail with some visitors having a view of the falls.
Genesee Valley Greenway Trail
This easy-to-moderate, 5.75-mile trail follows the former Genesee Valley Canal, which was built in 1836 and used until 1878. You can see the remains of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which was operational between the 19th century and the 1960s after the canal. As this trail follows the eastern side of the Genesee River, you can enjoy views of the park’s most popular waterfalls from a less modest angle, as well as catch a glimpse of the seasonal 300-foot Inspiration Falls. This road remains open even in winters, but be careful not to deviate from the path.
On the eastern side of the park, the 25-mile (one-way) Letchworth Trail is part of the Finger Lakes Trail, which spans more than 900 miles. This is a great option if you’re looking for an Appalachian Trail-like thru-hike in upstate New York, although you can focus on the Letchworth section if you prefer. It’s not a busy trail, so unlike many of the short walks in the park, you can keep it to yourself in most ways. Several side paths lead to road access, with one pair taking hikers to spectacular views of the riverbank and the park’s many waterfalls.
Apart from its length, this trail is better suited for more experienced hikers as you will encounter steep cliff drop-offs from time to time. Navigating these takes care, so it’s probably not ideal if you’re hiking with kids or aren’t very sure. Because of its length, you will need to spend at least one night on this trail, possibly more. There are some shelters on the trail, which require a permit from the NY State Parks Department to reserve. Alternatively, you can choose to camp along the way; Be sure to check with the park office for up-to-date rules and regulations for camping in the park.