Do you think that you have to venture way out west to Arizona to see a giant “grand canyon?” Well, think again! Letchworth State Park in western New York may not be quite as massive as the namesake Grand Canyon, but it is absolutely worth visiting. There are so many fun things to do in Letchworth State Park!
Letchworth is a great place to enjoy the outdoors. The park spans over 2 counties, with over 14,000 acres of land that includes waterfalls, gorges, and trails for hiking, biking, and exploring.
There are also historical sites in the park that can be visited during your trip.
This post will talk about all of the best things to do in Letchworth State Park!
Where is Letchworth State Park Located?
Letchworth State Park is located in Western New York, about 40 miles south of Rochester and 60 miles east of Buffalo.
This state park is not far from the popular Finger Lakes region of New York. What a great road trip idea!
There are multiple entrances to the park for easy access to at least part of the park no matter which direction you are coming from.
The park has 5 entrances: Mt. Morris is the northernmost, Perry to the northwest, Castile to the southwest, Portageville at the southernmost point, and Parade Grounds to the southeast.
The first three entrances mentioned are open all year-round. Portageville and Parade Grounds, the two southernmost entrances, are closed during the winter months.
What are the best things to do in Letchworth State Park?
This list covers most of the corners of the park! These recommendations are tailored towards months when there isn’t much, if any, of that fluffy white stuff on the ground, typically around April through November.
The park is open year-round, but many points of interest close during the winter due to safety and maintenance concerns.
1. Begin the Day with a Sunrise at One of the Amazing Overlooks
Many of the best views in Letchworth are from the west rim, looking toward the east. This makes the park an absolutely fantastic spot to catch a sunrise over the gorge. There are plenty of spots spread over the west rim to choose from, too!
If you’re entering from the north, near the Mt. Morris Dam or Hogsback Overlook may be great options for you to consider.
To the south, Great Bend and Archery Field Overlooks are very popular among both amateur and professional nature photographers. Arrive a little early to make sure you have a spot to get those beautiful shots.
2. Chase Magnificent Waterfalls
Letchworth is most well-known for its three main waterfalls located at the southern end of the park. They’ve been really creatively named Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls.
Looking at a map, though, the layout seems backward. Upper Falls is the southernmost waterfall. This is because the Genesee River actually flows north. After leaving Letchworth, the Genesee travels through Rochester, eventually ending in Lake Ontario.
Driving between these three waterfalls is 100% possible, but you will have to take a short hike to access the Lower Falls. Upper and Middle Falls are only separated by a short walk and are very close to a large parking area.
Alternatively, hike between these three falls on the Gorge Trail. This is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park, for good reason! The views are magnificent.
3. Scour the Park for Lesser Known Waterfalls
There are so many waterfalls scattered throughout the park that there is a good chance you’ll stumble on a couple more while exploring. Some are more seasonal, hitting peak flow in the spring, while others can be seen all year round.
While exploring Upper Falls, don’t skip the walk to the top of this one. As you’re headed up the Gorge Trail to the top, don’t forget to look to your right, away from the large Upper Falls. You’ll be able to see the smaller, yet still beautiful tributary falls flowing into the Genesee River just below.
Some of our other favorites include Waterline Falls, seen on Trail 19, those near Wolf Creek Picnic Area, or viewed from a distance at the Tea Table Overlook.
This is certainly not an all-inclusive list. Get out there and explore, and you just might find a hidden gem of your own!
4. Visit the Glen Iris Inn
The Glen Iris Inn is one of the most historic structures in the entire park. It was originally the estate home of William Pryor Letchworth. He built this estate as a getaway from the typical grind of his business endeavors.
A few years prior to his death, he gifted this 1,000-acre estate to the state of New York to share with the public as a park to protect and conserve.
His original home was converted into a small hotel for park visitors to spend the night. Even if you’re not able to secure a room for an overnight, the restaurant inside is open for all three of the day’s meals.
Book your stay plenty of time in advance directly with the Glen Iris Inn.
Bonus: The Glen Iris Inn is located right next to the Middle Falls. You’ll undoubtedly have beautiful views here!
5. Check out the William Pryor Letchworth Museum
History lovers will love this stop! This building, located right next to the Glen Iris Inn, was historically a library for Mr. Letchworth.
These days, it houses historical artifacts from native people of the Seneca and Iroquois, as well as other natural and historical displays found both locally and around the world.
The museum is typically open during the day from May to October.
Both the beautifully crafted stone structure and its contents are full of history and charm.
6. Take a Hike
With over 60 miles of trails in Letchworth spread over more than 20 separate trail options, the hiking options are quite varied, from easy to more difficult, short trails or long hikes that take most of the day.
While we’ve already mentioned the Gorge Trail, there are plenty of other options out there! Be sure to take a side trip on the Footbridge Trail, the only way across the gorge in the whole park, or the Highbanks Trail at the northern end. You may be lucky enough to find a little space to yourself on this one.
Here are some tips for things to keep in mind when planning your hike:
- Select an appropriate trail based on your own fitness level, how much time you have, etc. There are plenty of trail options in the park!
- Bring water and snacks along with a lunch to enjoy at a beautiful overlook along the trail.
- Some of these trails can be extremely muddy, especially after rain storms. I had mud nearly up to my knees at the Lower Falls viewing area. Plan waterproof footwear or just avoid the muddiest trails.
- Make sure you have multiple layers – it can get chilly in various parts of the gorge!
- Check weather conditions ahead of time and plan accordingly. Some trails might only be accessible during certain times of the year, based on things like snow levels or water levels.
7. Visit the Humphrey Nature Center and Autism Nature Trail (ANT)
Just 5 minutes from the Castile entrance, the Humphrey Nature Center is a great spot to make a pit stop in all seasons.
The small, interactive display inside the nature center is a fun way to get out of the rain for a bit or escape from the heat in summer.
Start your visit to the nature center by going through their exhibits and picking up a trail map. Then, head outside to the Trailhead Pavilion, where the Autism Nature Trail begins.
A new addition to the park in September of 2021, the Autism Nature Trail provides opportunities for those of all abilities to experience the outdoors. Over one mile on this crushed stone ADA-compliant trail, there are various stations to help all ages become more familiar with the outdoors.
Even if you don’t have a child to accompany you on this trail, don’t be afraid to stop and explore. The creativity and variety of activities along the trail are completely one-of-a-kind. The very easy walk through the woods is also a nice way to get in some fresh air and stretch your legs.
8. Take in the View from Inspiration Point
This is a point not to be missed! Take in a beautiful birds-eye view of the Upper and Middle Falls, the Railroad Bridge, and the stunning gorge. It doesn’t get much better than this one!
Although this will probably be a quick stop on your journey through the park, there are some interpretive signs scattered throughout the area to wander through and read, learning about the history and makeup of the area on the way through.
This is also one of the better spots to stop and try to catch a sunset in Letchworth. While this park is more known for its sunrises than sunsets, this is one spot where you can get a little bit of a view.
The sun does not set directly behind the bridge or falls, but you will most likely be able to catch some of the beautiful colors in the backdrop sky.
9. Have a Picnic Lunch by Wolf Creek
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better picnic area, that’s for sure! There’s plenty of space and tables, but the best part is the location.
You’ll find a small parking area for Wolf Creek off of Park Road. There are picnic tables scattered in the shade next to the creek. Listen to the sounds of the waterfall cascading down the gorge in the background as you fill your stomach.
While you’re here, cross the bridge over Wolf Creek and walk along the trail to the other side of the hill, to get a different glimpse of the waterfall.
This beautiful outdoor space is not to be missed!
10. Make a Pit Stop at Other Beautiful Overlooks Like Great Bend and Hogsback
While these spots are also possibilities at other times of the day, such as sunrise, they’re great stops that should be made on your way driving Park Road.
Great Bend is a nice stop as you drive along the road and can’t help but be amazed by how massive this gorge truly is!
Hogsback Overlook is also fantastic, and this one really showcases the differences in water levels at different times of the year. Sometimes, the water levels are so low that it is hard to see the river from this viewpoint. At other times, you won’t even be able to see the entire ridge in the horseshoe. It’ll be underwater!
These are quick stops along Park Road, but they’re all beautiful and unique. If you see a spot to pull off for what looks like a parking area with a view, do it! Every. Single. Time!
11. Stop at the Mt. Morris Dam
At the northern end of the park, you’ll find this functioning dam, an engineering feat in itself. To this day, it helps protect from flooding through the Genesee Valley.
It’s 313 feet tall and was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the 1940s and 1950s. Another reason to be impressed? It’s the largest concrete gravity dam east of the Mississippi!
You can stop here and enjoy the view from the lookout point at any time of the day.
Seasonally, from spring through fall, guided tours with access to the top of the dam can be taken. Tours are led by park staff and last about 45 minutes. Plan on walking 1/2 mile over steep terrain to reach the dam.
This is a great way to learn more about the history of the area, as well as be involved more up close and personal with the dam site. Book 7 days in advance via recreation.gov to ensure your space on a tour.
12. Get to the Other Side of the Gorge
There is one trail sitting on the other side of the gorge, the Finger Lakes Trail. It stretches for 24 miles within the park and even further on each side.
While there aren’t quite as many views on the east side, but during earlier times of the year, you can see views of Upper and Middle Falls.
Near the Parade Grounds entrance, you can both hike and enjoy a picnic lunch at the picnic grounds.
Whether you’d just like to hike a couple of miles or hike the whole length of the trail.
This trail and the access points at both the north and south ends adds a different perspective of Letchworth State Park.
13. Whitewater Rafting
Looking for an activity that is sure to get some adrenaline pumping? Take a ride on a raft down the Genesee River. You’ll pass through Class I and II rapids through the deep gorge.
Trips typically last 2-3 hours floating down the river. Everything is weather-dependent.
Whitewater rafting is a great activity to do as part of a group! With the rapids being a little milder, this is a great activity even for families.
Book in advance through Adventure Calls Outfitters. The rafting season typically lasts from April through October.
14. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride over the Falls
Probably the most extravagant activity to partake in while visiting Letchworth is to take a Hot Air Balloon ride and see the bird’s eye views over the area.
Tours depart from the Upper Falls parking area. These should absolutely be booked in advance, but they’re very weather-dependent. Conditions such as too much wind can be unsafe.
This is not a cheap activity. Private tours just for couples may not be attainable, but small group tours can be reserved, as well, which are a little more reasonable.
Balloons Over Letchworth has some beautiful photos, which makes this adventure look like a dream. The most interesting part? You never know where you’re going to land at the end. It’s all in where the wind takes you!
15. Bird Watching and Wildlife Viewing
Letchworth State Park is a designated Bird Conservation Area (BCA). This simple fact makes it a great spot for avid bird watchers and newbies alike.
Different species of birds can be viewed throughout the year, but they change seasonally with migration and climate. Plenty of species mate and nest within the borders of the park in the spring, too.
The various habitats throughout the park including wetlands and hemlock forests provide homes for so many other species of animals. Keep your eyes peeled for deer, turkeys, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibian species.
16. Go for a Swim at the Highbanks Recreation Area
Probably the most developed area at the north end of the park, the Highbanks Recreation Area is home to large picnic areas and group pavilions.
The star of the show in the summer, though, is the large Olympic-sized swimming pool to be enjoyed when the weather is warm. It’ll cost you $1-$2 per day to swim in the pool.
This is a popular area for summer campers, especially, because there is no swimming permitted in the gorge. The fast-moving and unpredictable waters can be dangerous.
There are also a few more things to do in the Highbanks Recreation Area. The area is home to a lot of different trails for hiking and biking. Use the large parking area as your home base.
As a side note, this area is also home to the Park Police Headquarters.
17. Stay the Night and Camp at Letchworth
This state park is home to a wide variety of camping opportunities, including cabins, RV, camper, and tent sites.
Some of the cabins are very rustic, while others have many more amenities. Several are ADA-accessible.
Some are very close to many of the attractions, while others are a little more secluded. There are options to suit just about any need here.
Have a campfire, roast some s’mores, and try to enjoy some stars while you’re here.
Nothing is more relaxing than a night away from everything in the great outdoors. Plan for minimal to no phone service while visiting, and just prepare to completely unplug.
Is Letchworth State Park worth visiting?
Letchworth is affectionately known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” and has been voted the best state park in the United States by USA Today in their 10 Best Series in 2015.
2 years later, this park was named the best attraction in the entire state of New York. If these aren’t reasons enough, we’ll give you plenty more here.
You’ll never get bored here! There are waterfalls, hiking trails, history, and adventure activities – Letchworth has something exciting for any visitor! All of this makes Letchworth an absolute must-visit destination in the state of New York.
Hopefully, this list has proved that there are plenty of great things to do in Letchworth State Park, which certainly makes it worth visiting.
What should you pack for your trip to Letchworth?
You shouldn’t need anything too out of the ordinary from what you would normally pack for an outdoorsy adventure. Here are a few things we’d recommend that you absolutely make sure that you have.
- Waterproof Hiking Shoes- those trails can be extremely muddy.
- Camera Lens Cloth– clean the mist from the waterfalls off of your lens.
- Lunch & Snacks- once you enter, you won’t want to leave until the day is over!
- Park Map- Free at entrances, visitor’s centers, and through the mail.
Letchworth State Park: Where to Stay
While there are lots of campsites and rustic cabins throughout Letchworth, those who wish to have more creature comforts can definitely find great hotels or home rentals outside the park.
Stay at the Country Inn & Suites in Mount Morris, where you can’t get much closer to the park without being in it. This hotel is less than 2 miles from the Mount Morris Dam and has pet-friendly rooms, too! Just let them know when booking if you plan to bring your pup along.
The Temple Hill Bed & Breakfast is a little further away, about 15 minutes north of the park’s north entrance, but guests love the homey feel and the delicious breakfast. For those looking for a more personalized and cozy stay should consider spending the night at Temple Hill.
If you’re bringing your family or small group, the Gate House is perfect for you. This small country home has 3 bedrooms, an outdoor fire pit, and a game room in the basement for entertainment if there is a rainy day.
Plus, this house couldn’t get much closer to the Perry Entrance of the park!
FAQs: What to Know Before You Go
Honestly, you can’t go wrong planning a trip to this state park. Here are some answers to things you may have been wondering about. Hopefully, this makes your trip preparation easier.
How long do you need at Letchworth State Park?
While you can visit the park, drive the main road, and see the most popular points of interest here in one day, it’s best to plan more time. There are over 60 miles of trails to hike alone!
If you have only a day or two to spend at the park, plan to arrive early in the morning, stay all day, and return after dark.
Otherwise, camp, hike, and explore for as long as you can and enjoy the beauty of Letchworth.
How much does it cost to get into Letchworth State Park?
For regular passenger vehicles, current entrance fees are $10 per day. Fees are charged typically from early May to late October from 9 am to 5 pm daily. Entrance fees are not charged when visiting Letchworth in the winter.
Yearly Empire passes are also available for purchase and enable you to access any state park in New York for one flat fee for a year. These passes cost $80.
Our hack for visiting Letchworth? Plan to arrive in the park to catch a sunrise during your visit. You’ll be entering early enough that the fee will not be charged, and you will not have to pay for the day if you do not leave the park.
You’ll also avoid many of the midday crowds by getting to the most popular sites so early in the morning, just after sunrise.
What is the best way to find information while inside the park?
The NYS Parks Explorer App is fantastic. Download it ahead of time, and you can find information on each park in the NYS system. For each park, there are maps and downloads available, too. Download these ahead of time and be prepared to adventure.
GPS navigation assistance is also available in some parts of the parks. Just about everything you may need to know can be found in this app.
What’s the best entrance to Letchworth State Park?
Of the five entrances to the park, each is useful for visiting certain points in the park. Be prepared for more traffic and congestion at the southern entrance near the waterfalls.
- Mt. Morris (north): Mt. Morris Dam, Highbanks Recreation Area
- Perry (north-west): Highbanks Tent & Trailer Camp
- Castile (southwest): Great Bend & Archery Overlooks
- Portageville (south): Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls, Inspiration Point
- Parade Grounds (southeast): Finger Lakes Trail, East Rim
Where are the best views at Letchworth State Park?
It’s honestly hard to choose the best views, as so many options are scattered throughout the park’s 14,000+ acres.
If you’re looking for a classic view of the falls, try visiting Inspiration Point in the southern portion of the park.
The northwest side of the park has a great view from Hogsback Overlook, especially earlier in the year when the leaves are not yet fully on the trees.
There are also equally impressive views from Great Bend and Archery Field Overlooks to the south.
How many waterfalls are in Letchworth State Park?
There is certainly no shortage of waterfalls in the park. Most are a little more difficult to find, except for the three main falls at the park’s south end.
In addition to the big 3 waterfalls, be sure to explore some of the others around the park, including those on Wolf Creek, Waterline Falls, and others.
There are thought to be over 50 waterfalls in this park including tributaries into the Genesee River, so explore at your own pace!
Are there things to do at Letchworth State Park when it’s cold?
Yes. While hiking isn’t as much of an option on some of the trails when things are covered with snow or ice, there are still plenty of things to do when visiting Letchworth in winter. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling are all popular activities.
Some accommodations and trails close at various times through the winter, so check conditions and closures ahead of time to ensure your best trip. You may not be able to check up on weather or other conditions when in the park.
Are there other spots near Letchworth State Park also worth exploring?
For more beautiful waterfalls in the area, head southeast just over 20 miles to Stony Brook State Park. There are only a few hiking trails here, but there is a lot of bang for your buck on these ones. Camping, picnicking, and plenty of areas for sports are scattered throughout the 568-acre park.
75 miles to the east, you’ll find Watkins Glen State Park, where more beautiful scenery is all around you. It’s close to lots of the Finger Lakes region attractions, so hike beautiful trails and sip a delicious glass of wine all in one day.
For even more great hiking and outdoor activities in the state of New York, you’ll find no shortage near Lake Placid in the Adirondacks. Hike Mount Marcy or one of the other 45 “high peaks.” Explore to your heart’s content.
Letchworth State Park is the perfect escape. If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, this park has it all! You can go camping or explore some of the best hiking trails in New York. There are plenty of opportunities to learn about history too through interpretive exhibits and historical sites.
Even if you don’t have time to stay overnight, stop by one day during your next trip up north to visit this beautiful state park! There are so many great things to do in Letchworth State Park. Have you been able to cross off visiting Letchworth State Park from your bucket list yet? If you haven’t, we highly recommend it!