Letchworth State Park: Best Time to Visit, Waterfalls, and Trails
Today, we’re going to visit an incredible place in the state of New York. Letchworth State Park is not as well-known as other state parks, but this isn’t for any good reason. Because of its incredible views, it has been dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East”. It is also home to a number of incredible hiking trails and views. In 2017, it was rated as the number one best attraction in the entire state of New York. The Official Website of New York State touts it as “one of the most scenically magnificent areas in the eastern U.S.” Letchworth boasts a lot of incredible scenery and things to do. We’ll also go over how much it costs to get in and the best times to visit. Let’s start with the history of the park and go from there.
History of Letchworth State Park
Letchworth State Park is over 100 years old and carries a great legacy of outdoor recreation for New York State. State Governor Charles Evans Hughs signed the park into existence in the year 1907, but its history extends far prior to that.
This beautiful land was called “Sehgahunda” by the Seneca people, who were descendants of the original peoples native to the area. This was a hunting, fishing, and living area for these historic tribes. Some of these tribes had to witness their sacred earth turning into a western frontier for the white man. Early pioneers of the area took and destroyed the land for several years in the name of progress. Progress was the ultimate destruction of indigenous tribes, and the Seneca people were cast from their native lands following the American Revolutionary War. The excuse for banning these people from their native lands was that they were allied with the British.
Progress Takes its Toll
After settlers used the area for farms and communities along the Genessee River, it was developed in several ways. The pioneer era had ended by 1830 and greater development began across the settled lands. An urgency for the import and export of supplies brought canals and railroads to the area. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the lands that would become Letchworth State Park were victim to the toll it brought. Tourism, the civil war, and the high demand for wood and mills were all factors in the destruction of the area. By the end of the Civil War era, much of the ancient forests were gone and the waterfalls were employed and harnessed by mills.
A Savior Steps in
William Pryor Letchworth (born on May 26, 1823, died on December 1st, 1910) was an American businessman who believed in the idea that progress and preservation were for everyone. He deeply supported charity and charitable works, and he spent a great deal of time in his appointed position with the New York State Board of Charities. Letchworth was responsible for inspecting orphanages, homeless shelters, and juvenile detention centers. When he finished inspecting all of these places, he deemed them unfit for living for children under the age of two. This decision led to children under two being removed from any asylum, orphanage, or group home in the state.
By his retirement at age 46, Letchworth was a bit of a legend. He was renowned for his quality treatment of his employees, separating their value from their production power. Letchworth continued his research of facilities for poor people. children, and epileptics with his independent resources. He used his time to travel North America and Europe investigating the way we treat people in poverty, people with epilepsy, children in poverty, and people with other mental health issues. He published two books in support of this research and these ideals. When he returned to New York to retire, he purchased the lands that would become the heart of Letchworth State Park, having a vision of what they could be if they were restored to their former glory. This was the beginning of something wonderful.
Developing the Park
From its purchase in 1859 to its donation in 1906, Letchworth put all of his time and resources into the lands he purchased. He named the estate “Glen Iris”. He hired William Webster as his landscape architect and would go on to spend, allegedly, 500,000 dollars to improve the land. We looked at the conversion over time for that money with a statistic based on the value of the dollar in 1875. 500,000 dollars in 1875 would be nearly 14 million dollars in 2023.
The land that makes up the heart of Letchworth State Park is the 1,000-acre plot of land that Letchworth purchased and developed. In 1906, he donated the entirety of this estate to the state of New York. This donation came with a couple of important provisions. The first provision demanded that the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society be in charge of the land. This would ensure that it was protected and celebrated for years to come. The second provision allowed Letchworth a life tenancy on the lands. He would enjoy this tenancy for four more years before his death on December 1st, 1910.
Cost to Enter and Location
Letchworth State Park is located 35 miles south of Rochester, New York. There are five entrances to the park. Of these, three are open year-round and two are closed in the winter months. You can enter the park near Mount Morris, New York, as well as Castile, Portageville, the Parade Grounds, and Perry. The address of the park, according to the official park website, is:
1 Letchworth State Park
Castile, New York, 14427
The cost to enter is as follows:
- $10.00 per vehicle
- $35.00 per non-profit bus
- $75.00 per commercial bus
The park collects the fees in cash or check form. The collection period for the fee is seasonal and collected every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from May 7th to October 24th every year.
Best Times to Visit
The park is accessible all year round, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind when planning your visit. First, remember that summer is the busiest season for Letchworth, and for good reason. That means you’ll have a lot of company on trails and may experience trouble with finding parking or camping at some locations. This is also true of early fall weekends – New York is a state famous for its autumnal color-changing tree shows. The weather in New York during September and October is very nice, and a lot of people look for chances to get outside and into nature.
With all of this in mind, we recommend visiting weekday mornings in the summer and fall. For camping, late spring and late autumn are fantastic if you don’t mind crisp mornings and possible precipitation. The park has different wonders to showcase in all of its seasons, so we recommend multiple visits to absorb the full spectrum of experience at the park.
There is camping available within Letchworth State Park. Campsites are between 27 and 30 dollars per night with an added five-dollar out-of-state resident fee.
Cabins range from $132.00-$568.00 a week and a nightly rate is about 1/4 of the weekly rate for each cabin. There is an additional 7-dollar fee for out-of-state residents.
The Glen Iris Inn is an option for more all-inclusive and indoor stays, and rates can be found on the Glen Iris Inn Website.
There are also a couple of lodges and hideaways that you can rent on your visit. The Maplewood Lodge has a two-night minimum with a rate of $350.00 a night on the average night. The rate jumps to $523.00 a night with a three-night minimum stay over holiday weekends. Parker’s Hideaway charges $1,000 for a five-night stay during peak season with no availability for single-night stays. In non-peak season, it’s still $1,000 for the week but has a nightly rate of $300.00.
Letchworth State Park has a variety of trails for you to explore, from simple accessible boardwalks to moderate and difficult extended hikes. There are 30 or more hiking trails to explore, from the 11 simple and family-friendly trails to several trails that will challenge most hikers. We’ve included a small table of trails that come highly recommended by visitors to the park.
|Trail||Features||Length and Elevation Gain||Difficulty||Wheelchair Friendly?|
|Autism Nature Trail||Loop Trail with a lot of educational resources and beautiful forest views.||0.8 miles, 26 feet of elevation gain.||Easy||Yes|
|Lower Falls via Portage Bridge||Out and back trail with canyon, bridge and waterfall views||4.8 miles, 1,023 feet of elevation gain.||Challenging||No|
|Trout Pond Trail Loop||Loop trail with forest and lake views.||One mile, 52 feet of elevation gain.||Easy||No|
|Lee’s Landing Trail||Out and back trail with forest and river access.||1.4 miles, 108 feet of elevation gain.||Easy||No|
|Mt. Morris Dam Overlook||Out and back trail with a dam overlook.||0.1 miles, 13 feet of elevation gain.||Very Easy||Yes|
|Letchworth State Park Gorge Trail||Out and back trail with forests, canyon views, river views, waterfalls, historic sites, and wildlife viewing.||13.9 miles, 2,234 feet of elevation gain.||Very Challenging||No|
|Dam Overlook to Mt. Morris Trail||Out and back trail with forest, river, and dam views with wildlife viewing opportunities.||2.9 miles, 295 of elevation gain.||Easy||No|
|Portage Trail #6||Out and back trails with forest, river, and waterfall views with an overgrown feel and wildlife viewing opportunities. Historic bridge on the route.||1.6 miles, 272 feet of elevation gain.||Moderately Challenging||No|
Waterfalls at Letchworth
There are three massively popular waterfalls at Letchworth State Park, and up to 50 more throughout the park and gorge. Some of these falls only exist during certain seasons, while others are major stopping points that we deeply recommend seeing. We’re going to just cover the three major waterfalls, of which two are wheelchair accessible from the visitor center and museum. We advise that there are several other waterfalls to find and visit, including Horsetail Falls and Inspiration Falls.
Lower Letchworth Falls
Lower Letchworth Falls is the only of the three major waterfalls we mention that is not wheelchair accessible. However, it is a short trip to get to the viewing point – descending 125 steps and traversing just under half a mile. This waterfall is under 50 feet in height and is absolutely stunning. The viewpoint is at the base of the falls, so you get to look up to see it!
Middle Letchworth Falls
Middle Falls sits between the Lower and Upper Falls and is the tallest of the three major waterfalls in the park. It drops an incredible 107 feet on the river. This waterfall is closest to the historic Glen Irish Inn.
Upper Letchworth Falls
Upper Falls is the southernmost and second-tallest of the three major waterfalls. It plunges 70 feet in a horseshoe shape and has a large bridge towering over it. This is an active railroad bridge that stands over 200 feet above the river.