About 35 miles southwest of Rochester is a natural wonder that has been restored, preserved, and enhanced by human effort. Letchworth, A New York State Park, comprises 14,000 acres that spread into both Wyoming and Livingston Counties. Straddling the mighty Genessee River and boasting more than 30 waterfalls with names like Abutment Falls, Bubbling Tiers Falls, and Cinderella Cascade, this 17 mile gorge has been dubbed the Grand Canyon of the East.
Be prepared to pay a vehicle fee when you enter through one of the park entrances located in Mt. Morris, Perry, Castile, and Portageville.
WHAT TO SEE
While the main attraction at Letchworth State Park is the gorge with its sheer cliffs that rise up to 550 feet above the river, the more than 50 miles of well groomed hiking trails are popular, as well. Many of the trails are based on the Native American paths first forged by the Senecas who once had three villages within the boundaries of the current park.
Letchworth State Park’s trails will lead you through forests and meadows to historic buildings and museums. I recently returned to Letchworth after an absence of a good 35 years. While I was tempted to look up at the falls and the trees, my eyes were often drawn to the stone paths and bridges that lead my way. I learned that they were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work-relief program during the Great Depression. Unemployed men were provided with vocational training that would give them marketable skills in the future while preserving and developing natural resources.
If your budget isn't too limited, consider a balloon ride over the falls or a white water rafting trip on the river.
William Pryor Letchworth, a 19th century tycoon, preservationist, and philanthropist from Buffalo, began buying up acreage in the late 1800s. His dream was to preserve and restore the land that had suffered environmental damage from the effects of industrialization. He built a small Victorian mansion, the Glen Iris, by Middle Falls and set to work on his restoration and protection of the magnificent natural treasure he had come to love. Letchworth gave the extensive acreage to the State of the New York in 1907 and died three years later.
There is almost too much beauty and wonder to take in during a day-trip, so I recommend making plans to stay the night and enjoy the park for a couple of days.
The Glen Iris became an Inn in 1914 and still boasts private rooms and suites with “gorge-ous” view of the falls. There are other luxurious lodges in the park that had once been guest houses on Letchworth’s estate, and they now accommodate groups of 2-6 guests.
When I was young, we would visit Letchworth with several other families, staying in the rental cabins that made use of community laundry, restrooms, and showers. Cabins of varying sizes (1-3 rooms) are still available to rent year round for a reasonable fee. Campsites that provide electric hookups and community showers, laundry, and restrooms, are available mid-May through mid-October.
For more information, go to New York State Park's Letchworth website.