Letchworth State Park
Being voted the Best State Park in the United States certainly does bring with it a heightened level of expectation. But every now and then you discover a place that deserves all the hype.
Letchworth State Park is one such place.
Witnessing the sheer magnificence of the gorge can be transformative. Stand behind a rustic stone wall while gazing out on the expansive canyon as the Genesee River churns below, winding its way around the base of a mountainous stone bluff.
The view is both serene and captivating, meditative and awe-inspiring.
Waterfalls for days! With sufficient rainfall, there are over 50 waterfalls throughout the park, including “Inspiration Falls,” the tallest waterfall in New York State.
Frequently referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth is a smorgasbord of outdoor activities, from hiking, paddling, fishing, and camping to trails intentionally designed to engage the senses. But the fame and notoriety of this special place comes mostly from the grandeur of vertical cliffs juxtaposed against a beautiful river below and those stunning falls.
There are places to sit and simply take it all in, as well as trails leading you to some of the best vantage points in the park, while also offering wonderful hiking options for those inclined to get out and move a bit.
The water of the Genesee River flows north from Pennsylvania all the way up to Lake Ontario, and roughly 17 of the river’s 157 miles carve their way through the park.
Note: The best time to visit (meaning there are less crowds) is late May through early June or in September (between Labor Day and mid-October), or on week days during prime season which runs from late June through August.
The Upper Falls are the second tallest of the three main waterfalls, at approximately 70 feet. A couple hundred feet above the river you’ll see a historic iron train bridge (still used today) spanning the gap in dramatic fashion.
Just downstream from Upper Falls are Middle Falls (while the names are not overly creative, there is little point in adoring something so spectacular with a fancy name since the wonder comes from seeing them not from talking about them).
The tallest waterfall on the Genesee River, Middle Falls is conveniently located adjacent to the Falls Area parking lot, though Trail #1 runs directly past this waterfall for those seeking a more close-up encounter.
From Inspiration Point, you can see the Upper and Middle Falls offering spectacular views.
Glen Iris Inn
Also, nearby is the historic Glen Iris Inn (a great spot for an overnight stay or wonderful meal). To see the latest menu at Caroline's (the inn's restaurant) or make a dinner reservation, click here. And to learn more about the historic Glen Iris Inn or the other park accommodations (or to book your overnight stay), visit the inn's website.
The Lower Falls are only about a quarter mile from the Lower Falls Parking Area, but will require you to traverse over 100 stone steps. If you’re up for the stroll, be sure to visit the Stone Footbridge (the only bridge in the park that extends across the river) which offers beautiful views.
For those looking for a longer hike, Trail #1 can be used to access the Lower Falls. It’s about a two-mile hike (one way) from Upper Falls to Lower Falls.
With over 65 miles of hiking trails, including twenty-one numbered trails ranging from .5 miles to about 20 miles in length Letchworth State Park is made for hikers. Immerse yourself in nature, experience the restorative properties of being near flowing water, step sway from your daily routine and explore historic sites along the way.
For a unique experience, Adventure Calls Outfitters offers guided whitewater rafting excursions through a section of the park on the Genesee River.
One of the most unique ways to experience the park, and the surrounding landscape, is ballooning. While there are some events which provide such an opportunity, Balloons of Letchworth makes the bucket list experience available to you most days. Learn more here.
One of the best ways to experience the great outdoors and this truly remarkable setting is camping. Tent and trailer camping are popular at the park which has 270 electric sites.
For information regarding the 2022 camping season, visit Letchworth Camping.
Humphrey Nature Center
While exploring the park provides wonderful first-hand interactive learning experiences, the Humphrey Nature Center was created to offer further educational opportunities including special exhibits and programming that highlight the plants and animals, geology and ecology of the park.
Featuring an outdoor classroom, butterfly garden, bird observation station, and energy efficient facility, the center also has several trails that lead to various points of interest throughout the park including Trout Pond and Inspiration Point Overlook, as well as “patches of old growth forest.”
Autism Nature Trail (ANT)
Yes, the Autism Nature Trail (ANT) has been specially designed for individuals with ASD, but this trail is for everyone. With nearly a dozen different sensory stations, the trail offers an array of interactive experiences (created after several years of research) intended to engage all visitors, but in particular, "to address sensory needs for people with autism and other developmental disabilities.” A natural haven, ANT is a calming place for quiet exploration and a wonderland for curiosity, creativity, and reflection.
Responsible Outdoor Recreation
Letchworth is a “Take-In, Take-Out” park meaning visitors are asked to please aid in preserving the space by removing everything they bring into the park.
Good stewardship is really pretty simple, but can have a big impact on the environment, on wildlife, and on other people. Please be considerate of others, respect wildlife (wild is in the name for a reason), dispose of waste by taking with you what you bring in (“Take-In, Take-Out”), and leave what you find (please do not remove vegetation or wildlife from its natural setting).
Please help preserve these wonderful natural resources by being responsible stewards of the land and waterways you enjoy.
Many of the well known waterfall parks in the Finger Lakes, like Watkins Glen State Park, and lesser known but stunning spots like Stony Brook, are rather self-contained, but Letchworth is massive, spanning over 14,000 acres along 17 miles of the Genesee River. Located in two counties and reaching out into a handful of different communities, the park is located less than half-an-hour from Interstates 90 and 86 and is easily accessible with several main entrances that are open in season.
Backstory or Did You Know
History abounds in Letchworth.
Believe it or not, the park started out as a personal retreat for a wealthy businessman who recognized his own propensity for perhaps working a bit too much and realized the importance of finding some sense of balance and peacefulness. As a result, in 1859 William Pryor Letchworth built his mansion, Glen Iris, which today is a charming overnight accommodation and restaurant on about 1,000 acres of land which he later bequeathed go the state to serve as a park so that others might enjoy the benefits he did.
The William Pryor Letchworth Museum is home to archeological and natural history displays and a collection of items focused on local Native American and pioneer history.
One of the more popular sites in the park is the grave of Mary Jemison, also known as the “White Woman of the Genesee,” who at age 15 was captured by Shawnee Indians. You can learn about the role Mary played in local history which so inspired William Pryor Letchworth that he had her remains returned to the land near where she once lived.
Remnants of the early days of the Erie Railroad are also visible in the park thanks to the stunning and oft-photographed iron railroad bridge which was built in 1875 and replaced the original wooden bridge the railroad erected in 1852.
For additional historic information and links, visit here.
The park hosts a number of popular events each year. For details about specific events, please visit the official Letchworth website.
Download the Parks Explorer App for an interactive map and help navigating where you are in the park.
More to the Story
Letchworth's acclaim is largely due to its grand display of waterfalls and dramatic gorges, but the park offers visitors a number of wonderful amenities to enhance their experience which include biking, hiking, camping, equestrian trails, playgrounds, a swimming pool, nature center, and so much more.
Visit the park’s official website for more details: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/letchworth.
For images of Letchworth, as well as information on where to find the many other waterfalls in the park, visit NYFalls.