Letchworth State Park
ADDRESS1 Letchworth State Park, Castile, NY 14427, USA
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 reach up to 600 feet high in some places and there are three major waterfalls as well as more than 50 smaller ones. Located in Western New York, day-trippers from Buffalo and Rochester can check out some of the park’s gorgeous waterfalls on a quick visit. If you have more time to explore, there are more than 60 miles of hiking trails in the park and white-water rafting along the Genesee River is a popular warmer-weather activity. Here’s everything you need to know about this gem of a state park.
Things to Do
- Waterfalls: The waterfalls of Letchworth are the main highlight, and it’s possible to see the three largest and most impressive falls—the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls—in a single day. The Upper Falls are 70 feet high and a 200-foot-high railway bridge above it creates a dramatic scene. The Middle Falls are just below the Upper Falls, so you can see both at the same time by parking at the nearest parking area. To reach the Lower Falls, however, you’ll have to descend more than 100 steps, making it inaccessible for travelers with limited mobility. If you can walk to them, they’re worth the effort. There are more than 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. Trips leave from the South Poolhouse within the park. You’ll paddle down 5.5 miles of river and rapids, and when the weather’s good you can go for a swim. However, sometimes the water level is too low for rafting in mid-summer, in which case you can paddle an inflatable kayak instead.
- Cross-Country Skiing: Between November and March there is snow throughout the park, making it an ideal place for cross-country skiing as well as snow-shoeing and snowmobiling. Some cabins remain available throughout the winter. The waterfalls and gorge are especially attractive in the winter, when the water partially freezes, offering starkly different landscapes.
- Hot-Air Ballooning: Riding a hot air balloon over the park is a great way to see it. Balloons launch from the Middle Falls so you’ll get spectacular views of the waterfalls, river, and canyon.
- Bird and Wildlife Viewing: Some birds and animals to look out for in Letchworth include black squirrels, beavers, raccoons, otters, deer, bald eagles, black-capped chickadees, great blue herons, pine warblers, turkey vultures, and yellow-billed cuckoos. There is a designated Bird Conservation Area within the park, which has been listed as a National Audubon Society Important Bird Area. The Humphrey Nature Center within the park can be visited to learn more about the geology, wildlife, and botany of Letchworth.
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 trail follows the western side of the Genesee River for more than 7 miles and passes the three main waterfalls. It offers great views of the river and gorge. As the trail follows the road through the park for some of the route, you don’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 Craspey Clay Falls. This trail passes through the north-western part of the park.
- Genesee Valley Greenway Trail: This easy-to-moderate 6-mile hiking trail follows the former Genesee Valley Canal, constructed in 1836, and you can see remnants of the Pennsylvania Railroad that followed the canal. As this trail follows the eastern side of the Genesee River, hikers can see views of the most popular waterfalls from a less common angle, as well as of the seasonal 300-foot Inspiration Falls, which many park visitors don’t see.
Where to Camp
You can camp in Letchworth State Park, either in a tent or RV or in a cabin. Bookings must be made in advance and this is a popular summer spot, so book early. Pets (i.e. dogs) are allowed at some sites but not all. While most camping areas are only open between May and September/October/November, a limited number of cabins are available year-round for visitors wanting to enjoy winter activities in the park, like cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
Where to Stay Nearby
If you’re looking for non-camping accommodation within the park, the restored Glen Iris Inn overlooks Middle Falls. It can also host functions such as weddings.
To stay near the park but not within it, a range of accommodation of various types is available in nearby towns such as Castile, Mt. Morris, Geneseo, and Dansville. All are a short drive from Letchworth.
Alternatively, a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets is available in the nearest large cities, Buffalo and Rochester. They are about an hour’s drive from Letchworth so you can easily stay there and visit the park for a day.
How to Get There
Letchworth is beside the small town of Castile in Western New York. The nearest cities are Buffalo (to the northwest) and Rochester (to the northeast). It’s also easily accessible from Ithaca, Binghamton, and Syracuse, but a long drive from New York City. It can only be reached by car. Below are some driving times and routes:
- From Buffalo: 59 miles, 1 hour, via 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, via I-80 W.
There are three main entrances to the park: at Portageville in the south, Castile in the west, and at Perry in the northwest. You will be able to drive in at other points but you should purchase your passes at these points.
A road runs through the western side of the park and 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 beside two of the three main waterfalls (the Upper and Middle Falls) make them easily accessible.
Tips for Your Visit
- You can take your dog into 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 only be paid in cash or by check.
- While it might be tempting to swim in the river or near the falls, this isn’t allowed and can be dangerous. If you want to swim, there are swimming pools at the northern and southern ends of the park.