Leisure and Adventure in One: The Letchworth State Park
Are you looking forward to magnificent views and untouched nature? Then you can’t go wrong with Letchworth State Park. Going to this park to camp is like stepping into a wonderful dream! It has been dubbed as the “Grand Canyon of the East” and the best park in New York by USA Today.
The park secured the top spot in USA Today’s competition last 2015 against 6,000 parks across the USA. With all the rankings and great reviews this park garnered, I didn’t have second thoughts in choosing this park for my college reunion.
The park is also considered by many as the greatest park in the Eastern USA. The Letchworth State Park spans 17 miles, has three major waterfalls and small cascades situated between cliffs and plunges as high as 600 feet, courtesy of the Genesee River, The entire park is covered with lush forests all over.
Moreover, the park boasts a total of 66 miles of hiking trails for visitors. Not only are there hiking trails in the area, but you’ll also never run short of various trails for horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Are you impressed yet? Wait until you see the whitewater rafting and kayaking area of the park.
Did I also mention they have awesome winter-specific activities like skiing, snowmobiling, and snow tubing? Oh, the hot air balloon rides the park offer allows one to have an aerial view of the park. It's so thrilling, and it has got to be one of the best experiences of my life! You see, those are the reasons why going to the park is like stepping into a dream. You won’t want to wake up anymore.
Going to The Letchworth State Park
The most convenient expressway to Letchworth is I-390, which runs south from the Rochester airport and passes near Mount Morris as it travels through the preglacial Genesee Valley. If you're going to the north end of the park, take the Mount Morris exit (Exit 7). If you're going to the south end, you can take Exit 7 and drive through or around the park, or take Exit 4 or 5 in Dansville and follow State Route 436 west to Portageville.
The major east-west expressway routes are the New York State Thruway (I-90), about 20 miles (30 km) north of Mount Morris, and I-86 (the Southern Tier Expressway), about the same distance south of Portageville; both connect up with I-390 or any number of state routes that are more direct.
Best Time To Visit
I must say that it’s best to visit the park during the fall season. The park quickly gets crowded during summer and fall while it’s dull and frozen during winter and spring. Though the park’s a bit crowded in the autumn season, the whole landscape of the park is truly a wonder to behold, making the stay worth it. The waterfalls turn dry during summer, but it’s restored to its full glory during fall.
The park is open all year round, but some trails are closed during winter. In the early spring, water from the river overflows through the gorges and waterfalls, causing floods.
Also, you might want to cook if you’re staying overnight or for a couple of days in the park. Do not attempt to cook overly fancy food because we all know the limitation of cookwares and water in campgrounds. You might want to try our easy and healthy grilled salmon with veggies recipe. I swear you’ll enjoy it!
The Letchworth State Park
The Letchworth State Park is truly a one-stop place for all outdoor activities. The nature trails, campsites, scenic views, and waterfalls await campers and hikers looking for some adventure. For those looking for extreme sports, the skiing trail and whitewater rafting will give them some challenge. For families wanting to chill with the kids, there’s the playground, swimming pool, museum, gift shops, and biking grounds.
Aside from being a major campground location, the Letchworth State Park’s conference center at the southwest part can also be a venue for organizational retreats, trainings, and reunions. I’ve been to the conference center and its adjacent lodging house. I must say it’s quite nice and has that “homey” feeling because of its spaciousness and simple interiors, though it’s not for camping purposes.
The Maplewood Lodge at the middle area of the park can be rented and are furnished with essential appliances and a fireplace that’s designed mainly for family vacations. If you don’t want to set camp, you can just rent a room at the lodge. For true-blue campers, there are 278 campsites for tents and trailers dotted all over the park where you can set your tent safely. 82 private cabins can also be booked for accommodations.
Above is a map of the park, showing the main paid entrances of the park – Mount Morris, Castille, Perry, and Portageville. During the winter season, some of these entrances are not manned, thus entrance fee is free. You can also see in the map the location of the waterfalls and multi-use trails in the park.
Lastly, the park follows a Carry-in Carry-out rule – you take care of your own trash. Bring trash bags!
Things To Do At The Letchworth State Park
The park has 66 well-marked trails for hiking amateurs and professionals. Most of the trails are wide, stoned, and some are even paved. My beginner friend enjoyed the trails because it’s cleared and well-structured that it’ll be hard to get bruised by twigs or trip over a stone. There are also off-the-beaten trails which are narrow and rugged – a challenge to real hikers.
A friendly tip: Always ask officers/park staff for the water levels and conditions of the trails before traversing. Some trails lead into the gorge, so it’s necessary to know the current situation of the gorge to avoid accidents.
The most popular trail at the park is the Gorge Trail. The Gorge Trail runs for 7 miles and crosses a bunch of scenic views overlooking the falls. You’ll pass by the Upper Falls, Middle Falls, Shadow Falls, De-ge-wa-nus Falls, and the railroad bridge which descends into the Upper Falls.
The bridge crosses the slow- flowing De-ge-wa-nus Creek which is an exciting part of the trail. My most unforgettable experience on this trail was when I finally traversed the bridge, and I saw the Shadow Falls on my left and the De-ge-wa-nus Falls on my right. I swear, being sandwiched by two rushing falls is a spectacular experience!
Other well-known trails include the Mary Jemison Trail (named after the native Indian who once lived in the state park), Hemlock Trail, Trout Pond, Birch Trail, and the Portage Trail. The Hemlock Trail is also a pretty scenic one while the Mary Jemison, Trout Pond, Birch, and Portage trails are short and easy trails.
You can also bike or ride a horse to navigate the trails.
Since there are numerous trails in the park, I suggest you procure a copy of a detailed trail guide at the visitor center. If you’re bringing your kids with you to hike, please watch over them because some roads are slippery, rocky, and steep.
Ride a Hot Air Balloon
The Park is praised as one of the five most romantic spots in the state. What better way to date your lover than to ride a hot air balloon?
My friend booked an air balloon flight in balloonsoverletchworth.com for the five of us. The balloonsoverletchworth.com company was the only company operating at Letchworth at that time. We launched from inside the gorge, next to the Glen Iris Inn located south of the park. The ride lasted for an hour – mind you, that’s one hour that I will treasure forever.
The view is just glorious! You’ll see the turbulent waters of the Middle and Upper Falls crashing the rocks down the river. The trails are also gorgeous from above, as well as the historic train trestle. The whole park seems like another universe, you know. The beauty and vastness of the area is incomparable to the adjacent lands.
Below is a video clip of tourists who availed the hot air balloon ride. Seeing them makes want to head to Letchworth to try the ride again!
When the weather turns chilly, the park offers winter activities to heat visitors up. In the winter time, the trails are filled with snowmobilers. Some of the elevated trails also become a venue for skiing and snow tubing. On the campground, you’ll see people snowshoeing their way to their campsites and cabins. You just have to bring your own gears and equipment because when my family went there once, no rental gears were available.
White Water Rafting
Rafting through the Grand Canyon of the East’s river is another exciting thing to do at the park. Rafting in the park comes with a fee and a guide. To get to the rafting area, go south of the park and follow the "rafting" or "Lower Falls Restaurant" signs and register at the office inside the South Pool House.
The river isn’t violent at all, making it safe for families, first-timers, and older group of people to raft. Upon registering at the office, you’ll be given river apparels, a paddle, and some safety rules from the guide. After this, you’ll be welcomed by 5 miles of rapid waters to tread. The spectacular scenery along the river will amuse every kid and older person in the raft. If you’re lucky, you might even see some raccoons and otters inhabiting the river banks.
Leisure and adventure in one - the perfect description for the Letchworth State Park. It’ll be the third time that I’ll say this : You can never go wrong with camping in Letchworth State Park. It’s perfect for family outings, business training, and all sorts of getaways. I bet it’s also an excellent place to do some soul searching.
What you need to do now is check your calendar, and pick a date on when you plan to head to the park. I’m sure you’ll love it there! Cheers!