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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Letchworth State Park, Finger Lakes, New York

Upper Falls waterfall and train bridge Letchworth State Park
Upper Falls - Letchworth State Park 

Dear New York, 

How were you hiding all these big and showy state parks?  I have lived in the Northeast most of my life (minus those two years in Utah) and as you know dear reader, I am madly in love with the outdoors.  Whether it's scuba diving or horseback riding, hiking or mountain biking, or just an evening under the stars.  I'm happiest when I 'm outside. 

In my 31 years I have traveled a lot, especially around the U.S.  And when I moved back east from Utah, I made it my mission to tackle more mountains, more peaks, and spend more time outside.  To experience the outdoors in new places and in new ways. 

But even after being back east for 2.5 years and tackling different challenges, these New York State Parks are still a complete surprise.  It's amazing what is hiding just a few state lines away).  These parks in the Finger Lakes were gems no one down here in New England really talked about.  

This wasn't just a casual run of the mill  State Park.  To me, this was dramatic and oh so beautiful with rugged cliffs and waterfalls, miles of trails and so many recreation opportunities.  I couldn't help but think, this place is kind of National Park worthy. 



Gorge Trail and Genesee River Letchworth State Park
The Gorge at Letchworth State Park
Letchworth State Park is not a name I ever heard here in New England.  I did a quick google image search and subsequently heard from a friend who has a house in New York that Letchworth should be on my list.  On the other side of the spectrum, someone on Instagram who grew up in the Finger Lakes had heard the name but had never been to this park.   pictures were convincing and I after a little bit more research, I realized people are talking about this state park.

In 2015, Letchworth won the USA TODAY Readers' Choice Award for Best State Park in the United States. Letchworth came out on top of the 19 other state parks nominated for the contest, chosen from more than 6,000 parks across the nation,  In 2017, the park was voted the best attraction in New York State.  



Middle Falls Letchworth State Park
Hiking trail/walking path by Middle Falls 

Let this be a lesson that us New Englanders should really wander outside of our six states we refer to as home or our backyard.  That New York, especially upstate, is one hell of outdoor lovers playground and to think a bit outside the box (or outside of New Hampshire).  So if you haven't heard of the park, if you just need that final reason to visit, or if just want to marvel at some awesome pictures of upstate New York, read on.

Upper Falls waterfall and train bridge Letchworth State Park
A different viewpoint of Upper Falls 
In Letchworth, there are 66 miles of trails, trails where you can hike, horseback ride, bike, kayak, white water raft, take a hot air balloon ride, camp, picnic, snowmobile, snowtube and cross country ski.  There are pavilions and picnic shelters, history and nature centers.  You can spend the night in the park at the historic Glen Iris Inn or just stop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Swimming pool?  Oddly enough, this state park has that too.


Genesee River and Gorge in Letchworth State Park
View from Inspiration Point

And the views? Letchworth is known as the Grand Canyon of the East (for a good reason).  As you follow the gorge trail, you can see the Genesee River run through the 550 foot gorge over three major waterfalls. It was another one of those drives through New York with nothing around but small towns and farms until BAM, you are walking along waterfalls.

Upper Falls waterfall and train bridge Letchworth State Park
Upper Falls - Letchworth State Park

Need to Know
  • The park is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., daily and year-round.
  • There are four park entrances (some seasonal), we went in through the Portageville Entrance which is close to Upper Falls
  • Park admission costs $8 per vehicle
  • The park is approx. 1 hour from Buffalo and Rochester (2 hours from Seneca Lake/Sampson State Park, our home base)
  • Cell phone service is spotty/nonexistent 
  • There were plenty of bathrooms, water fountains, soda machines, and snack shops in the park - but there are no garbage cans - pack it out
  • You can get breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the Glen Iris Inn in the park
  • This is a great spot to see fall foliage 
  • Dogs are allowed on all trails (on leash) 
Letchworth State Park Signage
Signage at Letchworth State Park 
History:  The park was a gift from philanthropist William Pryor Letchworth, who over a span of 50 years built the Glen Iris estate in the southern end of the park.  

Camping:  Tent and trailer campsites (260) as well as winterized cabins (80) are available. Group camping facilities are also available. Nightly campsite fees start at $25. Cabins range from $35 to $115. To reserve a campsite or cabin, call 1-800-456-2267 or go to www.reserveamerica.com. Make your reservations early as they do book quick. 


Gorge Trail and Genesee River Letchworth State Park
Section of the Gorge Trail

Hiking/Trail:  We traveled along trail #1, the "Gorge Trail".  This popular trail travels parallel to the main park road, covering 7 miles one way, and passes many scenic overlooks including Inspiration Point.  Because it follows the road, you can easily drop off cars and make this a cool one way hike, or bail out on the road.  We hiked "out and back" from the upper falls parking lot to the lower falls parking lot.  I forgot to turn on Strava but I think the distance was about 5 to 6 miles round trip. Here is a guide of roughly the same hike (we started at the very top of upper falls).  The trail has some nice flat wide sections and also has steeper sections with stairs (a rolling type of trail).  I would mark the trail as moderate (east in some sections with challenging stairs or pitches in other sections). 

Middle Falls Letchworth State Park
Impressive Middle Falls 

Sights 
Upper Falls:  70' horseshoe shape below the Erie Railroad High Bridge
Middle Falls:  107' impressive waterfall, can walk right by it
Lower Falls:  70', smaller fall with a bridge to cross the river 
Inspiration Point: Viewpoint down the gorge 
Genesee River: A tributary of Lake Ontario flowing northward through the Twin Tiers of Pennsylvania and New York, provided the original power for the Rochester area's 19th century mills and still provides hydroelectric power for downtown Rochester.
Mount Morris Dam: The 313-foot-tall dam controls the flow of the Genesee River and provides flood protection for the Genesee Valley, including Monroe County. The dam, completed in 1952, is the largest concrete gravity dam east of the Mississippi River. 


Letchworth State Park Trail Map
Lower Trail Map

Letchworth State Park Trail Map
Lower Trail Map


Rafting: 
 The Genesee is a Class II-III whitewater river and guided rafting or kayaking trips span nearly six miles and last about 2 1/2hours on the water (four hours from start to finish.) Rafting fees start at $35 per person.  To raft (reservations required) call Adventure Calls Outfitters at (888) 270-2410. 

Hot air balloon ride:  Soar over the park at dawn or dusk. Rides last 45 to 60 minutes and cost $249 per person. Reservations are required, call Balloons Over Letchworth at (585) 493-3340.

Genesee River Gorge Trail Letchworth State Park New York
Genesee River in the gorge
Genesee River Gorge Trail Letchworth State Park New York
The Genesee River
Upper Falls waterfall and train bridge Letchworth State Park
Upper Falls and the railroad bridge 

Genesee River Gorge Trail Letchworth State Park New York
550' canyon walls

Letchworth State Park


When Adam and I started to plan our summer adventures, we excitedly discussed all of our favorite places we wanted to take each other.  He happily discussed some of his memories around Norwalk and the islands and I rambled away some of my favorite summer memories like Block Island and such.  We are both in our 30's and have a list of sweet memories, of places and things tied to different points and people in our lives.  

It was in the middle of this planning that it dawned on me that maybe it was a better idea to make new memories in new places together.  Sure, we can still visit those sweet spots that we have grown to love, but there is something special about creating new memories in new places.  And a spot to make new memories?  A few days in the Finger Lakes were exactly what I had in mind, putting new "pins" tied to sweet new memories on my travel map. 

Letchworth is not close but by all means, it's worth the drive.  It's about six hours from the mid shoreline of Connecticut and was still two hours past our campground on Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes.  By visiting in the middle of our Finger Lakes trip we were able to break up the drive a bit, making this four hour RT trek completely worth it.  It's nice to feel like a world away as you walk along canyon walls, past thundering waterfalls right here in Upstate New York.  If I go back, I would love to schedule a rafting trip in the Genesee or come back in the fall to see the foliage.  

I hope you spend time on google, researching new places to explore, doing the things you love with someone you love.  If you do, you might get so stumble on a gem as great as Letchworth State Park. 

Happy Hiking and tune back in for the rest of my Finger Lakes recap 

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