Want waterfalls, rainbows and “gorge-ous” fall foliage? Head to Letchworth State Park in western New York State. It’s home to the spectacular Genesee River Gorge, also called the “Grand Canyon of the East.” You can visit any time of the year, but the park sparkles in autumn when the trees explode with color. Letchworth State Park is one of NYS’s most popular attractions, so you’ll need to plan in advance to avoid the crowds. Here’s what you need to know about Letchworth State Park lodging, trail info and how to get the best waterfall views.
Fall Splendor at Letchworth State Park
I visited Letchworth Park numerous times and each time I found its beauty captivating, but fall is magical there. The park is considered one of the most magnificent areas in the eastern U.S. Each fall, visitors come to view the dramatic 600-foot cliffs and waterfalls in their foliage glory.
Letchworth State Park – No. 1 State Park in the United States
Letchworth was named the USA TODAY Readers’ Choice Award for Best State Park in the United States, beating out 19 other state parks nominated for the contest, chosen from more than 6,000 parks across the nation. In 2021 the news organization touted the park as a top state park alternative to our national parks. And US News included it in its list of Best Places to Visit in New York State for 2023. Its popularity comes from its scenic beauty, outstanding recreational opportunities and a wide variety of lodging. All of this praise means the park draws crowds. That’s why it’s important to plan your trip well in advance. Read on to learn more.
How to See the Fall Colors at Letchworth State Park
Letchworth is very popular any time of year, but the fall, especially October, is its peak season. Make your reservations well in advance if you want to stay overnight. If coming just for a day trip, arrive early to secure a parking spot near the most popular overlooks. Visit mid-week if possible and try to avoid Columbus Day weekend when crowds are at their peak.
The major attractions of the park are three beautiful waterfalls called the Upper Falls, Middle Falls and Lower Falls. They can be viewed from a hiking trail that follows the rim of the canyon for seven miles. The canyon’s cliffs are very high and surrounded by the lush forest that turns into a breathtakingly colorful carpet in autumn.
Less popular but beautiful, the Lower Falls trail takes you closer to the canyon walls. Photo credit: Yvonne Jasinski
Many of the viewpoints are accessible from parking lots and can be reached without extensive walking. The Lower Falls Trail is the least crowded of the three. It takes you down stone steps into the canyon with an overlook that puts you directly across from the Lower Falls. Be careful with children as there is no barrier, and the mud is slippery from the mist. Check the park website to see if any access points are closed due to weather issues or routine maintenance.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Autumn leaves in the region usually peak during the third and fourth week of October. For up-to-the-minute color information, check out the New York State Fall Foliage Report.
Letchworth State Park Directions
Buffalo and Rochester in Western New York State, have mid-sized airports with plenty of flights daily from all the major domestic hubs. From there, you will need to rent a car.
Visiting by car
Letchworth is located in the far western portion of New York’s Finger Lakes region. Here are driving times from major cities: Rochester, NY – 45 minutes, Buffalo, NY – 1 hour, Niagara Falls, NY – 1.5 hours, Toronto, Canada – 3 hours, New York City, NY – 5 hours. The park is easy to reach by major highways, only 30 minutes from NYS Route 90 and NYS Route 86. If traveling from the East, you can take secondary roads through the Finger Lakes Region, stopping in towns like Watkins Glen. The views are also spectacular there, and you can stop for a wine tasting!
The park has six main entrances. The Portageville and Castile entrances provide the best access to the Upper Falls, Middle Falls and Lower Falls as well as the most popular gorge views, the Glen Iris Inn and the highest concentration of lodges, cabins and concessions. For the main entrance, take New York State Route 36 West (northwest) from Mount Morris and across the river (or eastbound from Leicester, a couple of miles to the north) and turn onto the Park Road. Click here for detailed directions to each entrance.
The Main Visitor Center at Letchworth State Park is located near the south end of the Park, near Inspiration Point – 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile, NY 14846. All of the amenities, including the main park road, are on the west side of the river; the east side has several trails and a couple of campgrounds but is mostly wild and undeveloped. There is no bridge connecting the two sides for the car traffic.
Fees at Letchworth State Park
From Memorial Day to Columbus Day, the entrance gates charge an entrance fee. The park is open daily 6 a.m.–11 p.m. The per-vehicle entrance fee is $10, payable at the four entrances on the west side of the river. The fee is only collected between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Lodging at Letchworth State Park
There are many ways to stay at the park, but plan your trip well in advance to secure a spot.
There are 270 campsites available at Letchworth State Park. Typically, a minimum stay is two nights. One-day reservations are possible but cannot be made sooner than three days before arrival. Camping fees are $27-$30/night. The out-of-state resident fee for camping per night is an additional $5.
The park offers 82 cabins with differing levels of comfort in five locations. They are equipped with an electric stove and oven, refrigerator, beds, tables and chairs, picnic table and grill. The cabin selection varies with the season. Linens, pillows, and cooking and eating utensils are not provided. Rates per week are $132-$568. The daily rate is 1/4 of the weekly charge. Surcharges for non-NYS residents are $7/daily.
Glen Iris Inn
The Inn overlooks the magnificent Middle Falls. You can take a short walk to see rainbows made by the mist and lights at night. Rooms are small but authentic. Caroline’s Dining Room at the Inn serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The grounds surrounding the Inn are gorgeous, with green lawn and a variety of flowers. Breakfast on the veranda was delicious. More details, including rate information, can be found here.
What to Do at Letchworth State Park
Among New York State Parks, Letchworth is the most famous for its major waterfalls and whitewater rafting. Hikers can choose among 66 miles of hiking trails. Trails are also available for horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Letchworth offers nature, history and performing arts programs, guided walks and tours, summer lecture series, kayaking, two pools for swimming and even hot air ballooning. Whitewater rafting is provided by Adventure Calls Outfitters, and Balloons Over Letchworth offers hot air balloon rides. Playgrounds and picnic areas are scattered throughout the park.
Highbanks Recreation Area
The rec area offers a swimming pool, which is open during summer months. There are a diving pool and bathhouse adjacent and ample parking. Other than that, there are a couple of shelters, an information center, some picnic tables and easy access to the Highbanks camping area.
Humphrey Nature Center
Humphrey Nature Center has a recently renovated museum, interactive exhibits and many displays showcasing the plants, wildlife and geology of the park. The area outside the center is also equally impressive with a butterfly garden and bird observation station.
William Pryor Letchworth Museum
The William Pryor Letchworth Museum houses a collection relating to the Indian and pioneer history of the Genesee Valley as well as archeological and natural history displays. It is located in the Middle Falls area of the park near the Glen Iris Inn.
Visiting with dogs
Dogs must show proof of rabies vaccination if to staff if asked. There are no additional pet fees. Dogs must be leashed (six foot) and cleaned up after. A maximum of two pets is allowed in campsite areas 100, 200, 700 and 800, Cabin Area C and day use areas of the park.
The phone reception is very spotty in the park. If you plan on meeting someone there, do not rely on your phones. Be specific where and when you want to meet.
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