Grand Canyon of The East: Letchworth State Park, NY

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

Isn't it funny how we naturally associate certain landscapes with states? When I think of New York my mind immediately goes to bustling cities, busy people, and skyscrapers.

If someone were to ask me to describe the state in a few words, 'nature' would not have even crossed my mind until a few years ago. But I've learned that couldn't be further from the truth- in some areas, at least!

My dad owns a small hunting cabin in northwest Pennsylvania tucked in the Allegheny National Forest, a stone's throw from the New York border. My family has made a tradition of visiting each year at least once. As I've gotten older and become more interested in exploring the outdoors, I have been able to find a few cool places within driving distance, thanks to Google. I'm so happy Letchworth State Park made the list because it really is something special! And for all you Ohioans out there, it's probably closer than you'd think!

Planning Your Road Trip

Distance from Buffalo, New York: 58.3 miles southeast /1 hour and 10 minute drive

Distance from New York City, New York: 315.2 miles northwest / 5 hours and 6 minute drive

And for all my Ohio people out there:

Distance from Cleveland, Ohio: 218.8 miles northeast / 3 hours and 46 minute drive

That's a shorter drive than those living in the eastern side of New York State! Crazy!

Letchworth State Park stretches over 14,300 acres and known as the 'Grand Canyon of The East.' I can definitely vouch for the incredible views! The 550 foot twisting canyon is home to three gorgeous waterfalls as the Genesee River rushes through the park! Views of these waterfalls can be easily accessed by a short walk from parking lots located near each fall or via hiking trails- if you're wanting more of a challenge. Letchworth offers various activities for any outdoor enthusiast including bike, ski, snowmobile, and bridle trails as well as rafting and camping.

For those who may want to see the sites without getting dirty or breaking a sweat there is a cute little riverside restaurant, inn, and gift shop called Glen Iris Inn which is the perfect place for an outdoor lunch. There are other areas to rent for your stay, a historic museum, picnic areas, gift shops, and more!

Colton at the viewing point of Middle Falls after our short walk from the Glen Iris Inn parking lot.

Entering The Park

There is a $10 entrance fee

We have always started our stay by parking near the Glen Inn. This is reached by entering the park via the Portageville Entrance off of Route 19A. This specific entrance as well as Parade Ground Entrance are closed during winters, but there are multiple entry points that are open all year long: Castile, Mt. Morris, and Perry Entrance. Each entrance is named by a nearby town just outside of the park.

There are multiple bathrooms scattered throughout the park, one being by the parking lot near Glen Inn. A short walk from Glen Inn will provide visitors with a great vantage point of Middle Falls. The walk is pretty even, but if you want to get as close to Middle Falls as possible, there is a short set of stone stairs to descend. It's not very challenging, just something to keep in mind.

The picture above is Colton in that very spot! We love that you can get this close to Middle Falls. Not only is it an impressive waterfall- when the Genesee River is really full, sometimes you can feel mist hitting your skin as you get closer! The short walk to this spot is something we do every time we visit!

Hiking Recommendations

Ahhhh we've reached my favorite section of the blog post! This park has a lot of different trails available to visitors- for those who want a leisurely walk to others craving a more challenging trek, Letchworth has trails ranging from 1 to over 20 miles!

While I know my most recent visit here was not my last, I'm only going to make mention of trails I have done myself.

Gorge Trail

This is the most popular trail in the park for a lot of reasons! For starters, it features all of the park's waterfalls. Gorge Trail is paved, mostly flat, and a lot of the path is shaded by trees. The trail runs alongside the main park road, so there are frequent areas to park for vantage points if you didn't want to hike the trail in its entirety. Because of it's popularity, keep in mind that it is also heavily trafficked.

The only negative I could say about this trail is that it is so easily accessible and close to the road that I don't get the feeling that I'm actually in nature throughout the hike.

Length: 14 miles

Trail Type: Out & Back

Elevation Gain: 2,106 feet

Rating: Moderate

Here is the link to this specific trail on AllTrails, if you want to check it out for yourself:

The Gorge Trail also runs alongside another popular area in the park known as Big Bend (pictured below). This area is named for the obvious curve in the canyon, which is gorgeous! Big Bend also has a corresponding 2.5 mile trail open for hiking, biking, skiing, snowmobile, and horseback riding. Colton and I have never hiked this trail, but like most trails- it's on our list!

Genesee Greenway

Length: 5.34 miles

Trail Type: Out & Back

Rating: Moderate

This trail is the one we took during our latest visit. Hiking it provided a different way to experience the park because we only saw a handful of people on the trail the entire time, which was a nice change! I prefer trails that make us feel isolated in the wilderness, anyway- it helps me really clear my head.

Genesee Greenway trailhead starts just outside of the of the park off of Rt. 436. The trail begins on a path through the woods but opens up under Norfolk & Southern Railroad near Upper Falls. We really enjoyed this trail because it offers different vantage points of Upper and Middle Falls visitors just can't get by parking off of the main road. Plus, hiking under a railroad bridge is a pretty unique experience!

This trail kind of morphs into the 24 mile trail known as Finger Lakes Trail, so once we stopped walking alongside of the river and being able to hear the rushing water of the falls, we turned back. I highly recommend this trail because the views alone are worth the trek! It was so amazing to be able to simply veer off the main trail and reach the canyon's edge through the woods. The viewing points are obvious, too, you don't have to just walk through the woods listening for the falls grow louder, that would be unsafe.

Below are some of the images I snapped of the viewing points off of Genesee Greenway Trail!

Check out the rainbow I was able to capture just down the river from Middle Falls!

Letchworth is just beautiful! I love how you can see the railroad, a little bit of Upper Falls, AND Middle Falls all in one photograph! This park is simply a must-see. A quick Google search will show you why I can't wait to visit one day when the leaves are changing color, too!

"Travel far enough, you meet yourself" -David Mitchell

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