Letchworth State Park is often called the Grand Canyon of the East, thanks to its 17-mile gorge carved by the Genesee River. The canyon walls sometimes reach 600 feet high and are home to three large waterfalls as well as more than 50 smaller ones. Located in western New York, day-trippers to Buffalo and Rochester can check out some of the park’s gorgeous waterfalls on a quick trip.
If you have more time to explore, the park has more than 60 miles of hiking trails and white water rafting along the Genesee River is a popular warm-weather activity. Here’s everything you need to know about this gem of a state park.
Things to Do
- Waterfalls: Letchworth’s waterfalls are the main attraction, and it’s possible to see three of the largest and most impressive waterfalls—Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls—in a single day. The upper waterfall is 70 feet high and a 200 feet high railway bridge over it creates a dramatic sight. Middle Falls is just below Upper Falls, so you can see both at the same time by parking in the nearest parking area. However, to reach the Lower Falls, you have to descend more than 100 steps, making it inaccessible for travelers with limited mobility. If you can walk up to them, they are well worth the effort. There are over 50 other waterfalls in the park, although some are seasonal and quite small.
- Rafting: White-water rafting trips through the park, along the Genesee River, run between April and October. Tours depart from the South Poolhouse within the park. You’ll descend 5.5 miles of river and rapids, and when the weather is nice you can go swimming. However, sometimes the water level is too low for rafting in the middle of summer, so you can paddle an inflatable kayak instead.
- Cross-Country Skiing: Between November and March there is snow throughout the park, making it an ideal destination for cross-country skiing as well as snow-shoeing and snowmobiling. Some cabins are available throughout the winter. The waterfalls and gorges are especially attractive in winter, when the waters partially freeze, offering different landscapes.
- Hot-Air Ballooning: Taking a hot air balloon ride over the park is a great way to see it. Balloons release from the middle waterfall, giving you spectacular views of the waterfall, river, and valley.
- Bird and Wildlife Watching: Some of the birds and animals to see in Letchworth include black squirrels, otters, raccoons, otters, deer, bald eagles, black-capped chickadees, great blue herons, pine warblers, turkey vultures, and yellow-billed cuckoos Huh. , Within the park is a designated Bird Conservation Area, which is listed as a National Audubon Society Important Bird Area. The Humphrey Nature Center within the park can be visited to learn more about Letchworth’s geology, wildlife, and botany.
Best Hikes & Trails
There are 66 miles of marked hiking trails through the park. These are all best hiked between April and October and will often be snow-bound in the winter. Some of the best longer-distance trails include:
- Gorge Trail: This moderate route follows the western bank of the Genesee River for more than 7 miles and passes three main waterfalls. It offers spectacular views of the river and the gorge. Since the route follows the road through the park for a few routes, you won’t have to complete the full hike unless you want to. This is the most popular hike within the park, so the trail can get quite busy.
- Highbanks Trail: Another popular hike in the park, the Highbanks Trail is an 8.5-mile moderate hike. You can see views of the large Mount Morris Dam on the Genesee River as well as the seasonal Craspy Clay Falls. This trail runs through the northwestern part of the park.
- Genesee Valley Greenway Trail: This easy-to-moderate 6-mile hiking trail follows the former Genesee Valley Canal, built-in 1836, and you can see the remains of the Pennsylvania Railroad that followed the canal. Since this trail follows the eastern side of the Genesee River, hikers can view the most popular waterfalls as well as the seasonal 300-foot Inspiration Falls from a less normal angle, which many park visitors don’t see.
Where to Camp
You can camp at Letchworth State Park in either a tent or an RV or cabin. Bookings must be made in advance and this is a popular summer spot, so book early. Pets (ie dogs) are allowed on some sites, but not all. While most camping areas are only open between May and September/October/November, the park offers a limited number of cabins for visitors wishing to enjoy winter activities, such as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
Where to Stay Nearby
If you’re looking for non-camping accommodations within the park, the restored Glen Iris Inn overlooks Middle Falls. It can also host functions such as weddings.
For living near the park, but not within it, a range of different types of accommodation is available in nearby cities such as Castile, Mount Morris, Genesio, and Dansville. All are a short drive from Letchworth.
Alternatively, a wide range of accommodations to suit all budgets is available in the nearest major cities, Buffalo and Rochester. They are about an hour’s drive from Letchworth so you can easily stay there and walk to the park for a day.
How to Get There
Letchworth is next to the small town of Castile in western New York. The nearest cities are Buffalo (in the northwest) and Rochester (in the northeast). It is also easily accessible from Ithaca, Binghamton, and Syracuse, but is a long drive from New York City. One can reach there only by car. Below are some driving times and routes:
- From Buffalo: 59 miles, 1 hour, US-20A E.
- From Rochester: 43 miles, 40 minutes, via I-390 S.
- From Ithaca: 108 miles, 2 hours, via I-86 W and I-390 N.
- From Binghamton: 140 miles, 2 hours, via NY-17 W and I-86 W.
- From Syracuse: 114 miles, 1 hour 45 minutes, via I-90 W.
- From Albany: 252 miles, 4 hours, via I-90 W.
- From New York: 315 miles, 5 hours, I-80 W. Through
The park has three main entrances: Portageville to the south, Castile to the west, and Perry to the northwest. You will be able to drive to other points but you must buy your pass at these points.
A road runs through the western side of the park to the main campsites, lodges, and information centers, meaning that many of the main attractions are accessible to wheelchair users or travelers with limited mobility. Parking lots near two of the three main waterfalls (Upper and Middle Falls) make them easily accessible.
Tips for Your Visit
- You can take your dog to the park, but it must be supervised at all times, either on a leash or within 6 feet of you.
- The vehicle entrance fee to the park is $10 and can be paid by cash or check only.
- Although swimming in a river or near a waterfall can be tempting, it is not allowed and can be dangerous. If you want to swim, there are swimming pools at the north and south ends of the park.
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