Letchworth State Park: Exploring the Grand Canyon of the East

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I thought the Grand Canyon was in Arizona. It is. However, New York proudly claims to harbor the “Grand Canyon of the East.” So, Julie and I had to see it for ourselves. We will cover everything you need to know about Letchworth State Park so you can explore the “Grand Canyon of the East.”

I thought the Grand Canyon was in Arizona. It is. However, New York proudly claims to harbor the “Grand Canyon of the East.” So, Julie and I had to see it for ourselves. We will cover everything you need to know about Letchworth State Park so you can explore the “Grand Canyon of the East.”

Letchworth State Park

View of Letchworth State Park gorge from above
View of Genesee River Gorge

Is Letchworth as big as the Grand Canyon?

Julie and I have visited both the Grand Canyon and Letchworth State Park. I assure you that Letchworth is smaller than the Grand Canyon. However, the Genesee River has carved out a massive and beautiful gorge well worth your time.

The Grand Canyon is over a mile deep, while the deepest part of the Genesee River Gorge is 600 feet, with nearly vertical cliffs.

Letchworth State Park Waterfalls

View of Middle Falls and Upper Falls
Middle Falls, Upper Falls & Genesee Arch Bridge

The park contains dozens of waterfalls, but three major waterfalls get all the focus. Yes, they deserve the attention. All three are absolute beauties!

Upper Falls and Lower Falls are each 70 feet tall. Middle Falls is 107 feet tall.  

These three waterfalls will give you goosebumps and bring a smile like seeing your favorite celebrity in person. We were left speechless by their beauty and power.

Wolf Creek Falls, beautiful in its own right, is worth your time. It sits north of the Castile entrance and south of the Tea Table Overlook. Wolf Creek Falls consists of four cascading waterfalls, plunging 225 feet to the gorge below.

Inspiration Falls, a 350-foot seasonal waterfall, according to legend, only flows during heavy rain or after snow melts. 

Where is Letchworth State Park?

Spanning more than 14,000 acres, Letchworth State Park sits in both Livingston County and Wyoming County in western New York. It is a stone’s throw from the Finger Lakes Region

After exploring the park, you can enjoy a glass of wine with a view of sprawling vineyards against a tranquil lake. Where do we sign up for a day of waterfalls and wine?

If you are looking for more adventure while in the Finger Lakes, visit Watkins Glen State Park for a day of hiking along gushing waterfalls and gorgeous shale cliffs. These are two of the best state parks anywhere in the country.

You can use this interactive map to obtain directions to Letchworth State Park.

Hours of Operation

The park is open daily from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm. However, the Humphrey Nature Center is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The nature center is closed on Thanksgiving Day.

Entrance Fees

Letchworth State Park charges a vehicle entrance fee of $10.

Pro Tip: There is no charge for those who arrive at the park before 9:00 am. You can also beat the crowds and the summer heat by going early.

Entrances

Letchworth State Park has more entrances than you can count on one hand. While having so many access points is nice, it leaves you to ponder which entry is best for you.  

There is no need to panic. The park is about 17 miles long, so you can quickly drive from one end to another in a snap. We will give you a little guidance, though.

South Entrances

There are three clustered entrances in the south. Castile, located on the park’s southwest side, is the main entrance. 

The Portageville entrance is a bit further southwest of Castile.  

Not far from both of these entrances, on the southeast side of the park, you will find the Parade Grounds Entrance.  

Note that the entrances for Portageville and Parade Grounds are closed in winter.

Nearby points of interest for the southern entrances:

  • Main Visitor Center
  • Autism Nature Trail
  • Trout Pond
  • Humphrey Nature Center
  • Lower Falls
  • Lower Falls Restaurant
  • Middle Falls
  • Glen Iris Inn
  • William Pryor Letchworth Museum
  • Upper Falls
  • Genesee Arch Bridge

North Entrances

You will find two entrances in the north. The Mt. Morris Entrance is on the park’s northwest side, while the Mt. Morris Dam Area Entrance is on the northeast side.

Nearby points of interest for the northern entrances:

  • William B. Hoyt II Visitor Center
  • Mt. Morris Dam Overlook Area
  • Mt. Morris Dam & Recreation Area
  • Swimming Pool

The Perry Entrance is somewhat isolated but more toward the northwest portion of the park.

Nearby points of interest for the Perry Entrance:

  • Tent and RV Camping

Final Thoughts on Entrances

To simplify everything, follow these guidelines:

  • Use a northern entrance for swimming and the Mt. Morris Dam.
  • Take the Perry Entrance for tent and RV camping.
  • For everything else, use a southern entrance.
  • If in doubt, take the Castile Entrance.

The most popular area is the south. Accordingly, you will find bigger crowds in this part of the park.

Parking

Letchworth State Park has various parking lots throughout the park. All the major attractions have a parking lot within reasonable walking distance.

Where are the trash cans?

You will not find trash cans in the park. Letchworth State Park is a carry-in, carry-out park. What does this mean? Anything you bring into the park, you must take out of the park with you, including trash. The idea is to keep the park clean and to prevent animals from relying on our garbage as a food source.

Things to Do

Letchworth State Park has something for everyone, whether you want to relax and enjoy the scenery or do something active.

Hiking

Stone bridge near Lower Falls
Stone bridge near Lower Falls

Hiking trails cover 66 miles within the park. Some courses are available for biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.

Gorge Trail, the most-popular hike, takes you to Lower Falls, Middle Falls, and Upper Falls. The entire trail is 7 miles each way.  

Does a 14-mile hike sound like a bit much? You are in luck. There are parking lots close to the waterfalls.  

You can drive to the lots and take a short walk to each waterfall. Another option is to hike part of the trail to a waterfall and then drive to the other waterfalls.

The scenery along the Gorge Trail is breathtaking. In between waterfalls, the wooded trail provides shade and serenity. We spotted squirrels, chipmunks, and birds on our hike.  

There are a few challenging sections of stairs on your journey. Views of the peaceful forest and the powerful waterfalls make it all worthwhile.  

Justifiably, many people focus on the waterfalls. Do not overlook the forested trails. They have been plucked straight from the pages of a fairytale.

Letchworth State Park offers quite a few hiking trails. Most of the hikes range from 0.5 miles to 2.5 miles.  

We inquired about recommended hikes other than the Gorge Trail. Rangers suggested two trails:

  • Mary Jemison
  • Hemlock

Both of these scenic trails are 2.5 miles in length. The hikes are relatively easy, peaceful, and provide a fantastic forest view. These nature walks take you along shaded paths, where you will likely find birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.

Other Popular Hiking Trails
  • Lee’s Landing is an easy 1.0-mile trail that treks down an old wood launch previously used to transport lumber to Rochester. You will make a moderate climb on your way back up. The hike starts near the Footbridge Nature Shop past Cabin Area B.
  • Portage Trail, a 0.5-mile trail, was initially made in the 1930s to portage canoes to avoid the three big waterfalls. The course is rated easy and provides a few overlooks along the way.
  • Footbridge Trail is a 0.5-mile trail that crosses the Genesee River, delivering excellent views of Lower Falls.
  • Genesee Valley Greenway Trail (GVG) is an easy-to-moderate 5.75-mile hike that takes you along paths previously followed by the Genesee Valley Canal and the Pennsylvania Railroad. It is notable for more than following a historic route. The GVG delivers spectacular views of a few waterfalls, including the seasonal Inspiration Falls.
  • Big Bend Trail is a 2.5-mile trail that leads you to The Knob, the park’s highest point. The course starts in Cabin Area E on the park’s east side. Formerly a logging road, it is the only multi-use trail fully accessible by car or truck.
  • Letchworth Trail, at 24.0 miles, is a backpacking excursion rather than a day hike. You will trek along the gorge’s eastern rim, gaining various memorable views. It is one of the best hiking experiences for hiking enthusiasts in all of New York.

Camping

Tent and RV Camping

Highbanks Campground, near the Perry Entrance, has 269 campsites, all tent and RV compatible. The sites can accommodate two sleeping units. You can have one RV with one tent or just two tents.  

Note that your RV or trailer must be at most 50 feet long. All sites are back in and have 30 or 50-amp connections.

You may reserve campsites up to 9 months in advance. To obtain more information or to make reservations, go to Reserve America.

Cabins

There are five cabin areas dispersed throughout the park. Amenities, availability, occupancy, and rental costs vary by Cabin Area.

You may reserve cabins up to 9 months in advance. To obtain more information or to make reservations, go to Reserve America.

Rafting

Are you looking for adventure? You can raft down the Genesee River, soaking up water and beautiful scenery.  

Whitewater rafting trips are available through Adventure Calls Outfitters in spring, summer, and fall. With class one and two rapids, it is an activity the whole family can enjoy. For more information and to make reservations, go to Adventure Calls

Balloons Over Letchworth

Are you looking for an unforgettable experience? You can take a hot air balloon ride over Letchworth State Park at sunrise or sunset for a magical view. Balloon flights operate year-round as long as weather conditions are safe. You can obtain more information and make reservations at Balloons Over Letchworth.

Glen Iris Inn

Cranberry almond bread pudding with vanilla sauce at Glen Iris Inn
Bread pudding at Glen Iris Inn

This is a charming, quaint inn with a beautiful view of the grounds overlooking Middle Falls. After viewing the waterfalls, you can relax with a delicious meal.  

Julie and I split a club sandwich and bread pudding. The club sandwich was fresh and tasty with crisp produce.  

Julie is a bread pudding fanatic. Glen Iris Inn’s unique take on the dessert is a cranberry almond bread pudding with vanilla sauce. These flavors blend nicely and will have your tastebuds dancing.  

‘Ohana and Tambu Lounge in Disney World serve the best bread pudding we have ever had. We will award Glen Iris Inn with the second-place red ribbon. 

Glen Iris Inn is open daily through late October. They offer fine dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant recommends that you make reservations to secure a table.

Humphrey Nature Center

The nature center provides interactive exhibits to learn more about the plants, animals, geology, and river ecology of Letchworth State Park. You can watch a video highlighting the valley’s beauty through all four seasons.

Museum

The William Pryor Letchworth Museum allows you to explore the park’s history. You can see historical exhibits and artifacts, including arrowheads and a mastodon skull.

Autism Nature Trail

Letchworth State Park offers something extraordinary. The Autism Nature Trail (The ANT) is created for visitors on the autism spectrum with various abilities, making the experience enjoyable for all ages and abilities.  

It is a 1.0-mile loop with eight stations ranging from quiet engagement to active exploration. You can find more information about The ANT here.

Swimming

You are not permitted to swim in the Genesee River. However, the park has an Olympic-sized swimming pool in the Highbanks Recreation Area near Mt. Morris Dam. Harvey Pool is open from late June to Labor Day.

The Highbanks Recreation Area provides a large parking area, group pavilions, and picnic tables. You can access trails for hiking and biking from this area as well.

Picnicking

Surrounded by natural beauty, pausing for a picnic lunch is a perfect way to enjoy the scenery. Many visitors recommend Wolf Creek as one of the best picnic areas in the park. There are plenty of picnic tables under the shade trees where you can hear the peaceful sounds of the creek.

Photography

There are many opportunities for great pictures in Letchworth State Park. Each of the three waterfalls has plenty of spots along the trail where you can capture nature’s beauty and raw power.

One of the most popular spots is called Inspiration Point. The prime location is accessible by hiking the Gorge Trail or parking near the nature center and taking a short walk. Inspiration Point provides a mystical view of Middle Falls with the iconic Genesee Arch Bridge spanning Upper Falls on the distant horizon.

Other popular overlooks for photographs include:

  • Archery Field – located just south of the Castille entrance, yields an open perspective of the gorge.
  • Great Bend – excellent view of one of the deepest parts of the gorge as the Genesee River flows around a massive knob-like hill.
  • Tea Table – part of Wolf Creek Falls is visible from this vantage point.

Birdwatching

Do you enjoy birdwatching? Many birds inhabit the New York state park.  

Bald eagles and red-tailed hawks have been spotted here. Wild turkeys may be seen in the fields. Blue herons hang out in the wetlands. Canada geese flock below Mt. Morris Dam in winter. Several species of ducks can be observed on the Genesee River.

Many bird species have been spotted in the park’s grasslands and lush forests, including black-billed cuckoo, eastern wood-pewee, Baltimore oriole, killdeer, eastern meadowlark, sharp-shinned hawk, northern goshawk, red-headed woodpecker, blue-winged warbler, willow flycatcher and northern harrier. 

Bring your binoculars for a close view of our flying friends. Julie and I love birdwatching but, admittedly, are novices. To help us identify birds, we use the birds of North America field guide

We love this book. It is so handy to carry in our daypack. It covers all bird species with quality images.

Wildlife Watching

If you prefer to search for animals rather than birds, do not worry. Letchworth State Park has plenty of animal inhabitants. Visitors routinely spot squirrels and chipmunks along the wooded trails.

Commonly observed mammals include white-tailed deer, red foxes, coyotes, cottontail rabbits, woodchucks, and beavers.

Winter Activities

Is it worth visiting in winter? Absolutely! The park offers cold-weather activities like sledding, snow tubing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. 

There is something special about visiting the beautiful park covered in a white blanket of snow. As a bonus, you will find smaller crowds this time of year.

Note the Portageville and Parade Grounds entrances are closed in winter. Hikers should expect possible trail closures. We recommend that you visit the park site before your visit to verify any closures.

Weather

Letchworth State Park and the surrounding area are usually cold and temperate. The region has short, hot summers and long, cold winters. Rainfall regularly occurs several days each month.

Located near Lakes Erie and Ontario, Letchworth can get “Lake Effect Snow.” Cold air blowing across the lakes results in significant snowfalls in the region, potentially up to a few feet of snow. Although outstanding for photography, conditions can be dangerous and may lead to road and park closures.

When is the Best Time to Visit?

Letchworth State Park is gorgeous no matter when you visit, each season offering its nuance on natural beauty enhancements. 

Spring and fall are the most comfortable seasons. Spring ushers in beautiful blooms, while fall delivers fiery vistas from colorful foliage. You gain better odds of spotting Inspiration Falls in spring and fall.

Summers are hot and draw larger crowds, but offer the most activities, including a summer lecture series. If you aim to swim, Harvey Pool is open during the summer.

Although winter weather brings cold temperatures and possible closures, you will be awestruck by the snowy coat of paint across the landscape. The park’s winter activities are also a blast.

How Much Time Do You Need to Visit Letchworth State Park?

The amount of time you will need in the park depends on your goals. You can easily see the three major waterfalls in a few hours. 

If you plan to include an adventure activity like whitewater rafting or a hot air balloon ride, you will likely need a full day. With 66 miles of trails, you will want two days in the park if you love hiking.

An afternoon should suffice for winter visitors planning to sled, snow tube, or try their hand at cross-country skiing or snowmobiling.

Backpackers and campers can find plenty of beautiful scenery and activities to stay busy for a week.

Things To Do Near Letchworth State Park

There are plenty of things to do within two hours of the park. You can easily see two Great Lakes, Erie and Ontario. Rochester and Buffalo are nearby if you would like to explore a city rather than hiking trails.

For those who desire to chase more waterfalls, you can find plenty of them in the Finger Lakes Region and Watkins Glen State Park. Keuka Lake, one of the eleven Finger Lakes, offers fantastic wineries and breweries. You can quickly get to Taughannock Falls State Park and Stony Brook State Park, two other excellent New York state parks.

Wrap Up: Letchworth State Park

While Letchworth State Park may not be home to the actual Grand Canyon, the Genesee River Gorge certainly is grand. The park offers alluring waterfalls and enchanting forests. Letchworth State Park and the “Grand Canyon of the East” are worth exploring whether you want to relax and appreciate the view or seek thrilling adventure.

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About the author

We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.

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