Letchworth State Park didn't earn its nickname, “Grand Canyon of the East,” for no reason.
This state park, spanning 14,350 acres, is one of the most beautiful places in the Northeast region of the United States.
Hiking, sightseeing, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting are just a few of the dozens of exciting outdoor activities to enjoy in this state park that became the 2015 top pick of the USA Today Reader’s Choice Award.
While its southern end was once part of the Glen Iris estate from philanthropist William Pryor Letchworth.
Later on, he gifted his property to become the state park it is today.
This state park is known for its natural beauty that blooms vibrantly during autumn and fall.
Adding more beauty to the park is the Genesee River, which passes through numerous waterfalls.
Letchworth State Park becomes a haven for outdoor enthusiasts during summer as its scenic trails and landscape become their playground.
It becomes a winter wonderland for people who love to ski and snowshoe during the cold months.
If you’re wondering what exciting things awaits you in this charming state park, here are the 15 best things to do in Letchworth State Park, New York:
Check Out Middle Falls of the Genesee River
One of the first natural attractions you’ll come across is the Letchworth State Park in the Middle Falls of the Genesee River.
It’s one of the three major waterfalls you’ll find inside the park.
It is commonly referred to as the smaller version of the great Niagara Falls in Canada.
Middle Falls, which has a height of 107-feet, has numerous vantage points easily accessed through its walkways.
The network of walkways around Middle Falls gives you the best chance to take gorgeous photos of it from different vantage points down through its gorge.
Browse through the National Warplane Museum
The National Warplane Museum, situated 7-miles north of the Letchworth State Park, is the nearest historical site you can visit in the area.
The museum features an astounding collection of World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War aircraft.
Whether you’re a history buff or a casual tourist, you should check out this museum.
In addition, the museum also hosts the annual Geneseo Air Show that features vintage warplanes and modern jet fighters from the United States Air Force.
Founded in 1994, the museum aims to restore, preserve, and display the country’s vintage military aircraft and wares from various war eras.
It’s a great place to learn and be amazed, especially with your loved ones, and appreciate how aviation technology innovate through the years.
Reach the Lower Falls of the Genesee River
Lower Falls is one of the three waterfalls found inside the Letchworth State Park.
However, it is unique from the two other waterfalls in the park for various reasons.
One, it’s the shortest among the three waterfalls, and second, visitors need to hike to reach the waterfalls compared to the other two, which are virtually adjacent to the parking area.
Nonetheless, hiking through its path is somewhat enjoyable and scenic.
After the tiring hike, you’ll be rewarded with its natural beauty and charm, making it a nice place to take photos.
If you explore the falls deeper, you can head to its gorge to have a nicer view and another vantage point.
Set Up Camp at Letchworth State Park’s Various Campgrounds
If you’re planning to spend a few days or the entire weekend in this park, it would be more adventurous to camp there with your friends or family.
With that in mind, there are various campgrounds to choose from, depending on which one suits you best.
The top campground you can stay at is the Letchworth campground situated east of Perry Entrance and Trail 18 Kisil Point Trailhead.
Meanwhile, the Ridge Campground is nestled east of the state park, along Mt. Morris Nunda Road.
Both campgrounds are the nearest or even within the state park, making it more convenient.
All campgrounds have recreational vehicle or RV sites, and necessary amenities that make a good-quality campground.
In the end, it’s up to you which of these campgrounds you find the coziest, but both are equally good in their own ways.
Visit the Humphrey Nature Center and Autism Nature Trail
The Humphrey Nature Center is near the Castile Entrance of the Letchworth State Park.
It’s a nice place to visit if you want to learn more about the park through its interactive exhibits, hiking trails, and various outdoor activities you can join.
The Autism Nature Trail was recently added to the nature center, offering a wonderful opportunity for everyone who wants to experience the outdoors.
Most of the amenities and equipment used in the trail are ADA compliant, perfect for kids to enjoy safely.
If you’re visiting this place on your own, you would still enjoy its features and activities along the trail.
Appreciate the Beauty of the Upper Falls
The Upper Falls is one of the three waterfalls found inside the Letchworth State Park situated on the southernmost part of the park.
The Genesee River also flows through it from the north, and it’s a lot nearer to Middle Falls than to the Short Falls.
Upper Falls is probably the most picturesque among the three falls you’ll visit in Letchworth.
It has a photographic backdrop of a gorgeous fall, while above it is a perfectly arched railroad bridge that adds drama to its already stunning scenery.
The railroad bridge was constructed in the 1800s was formerly known as the highest wooden railroad bridge at its time.
It stands 234-feet above Upper Falls, and it spans 850 feet across the falls’ gorge, but in 1875, the bridge burned down due to unknown circumstances.
But it was later on rebuilt using iron and steel.
Today, the bridge remains one of the focal points of the Upper Falls, adding an amazing contrast to its natural beauty.
When you get there, take advantage of the beautiful backdrop and snap photos as many as you can.
Stop by at the Visitor Center
Outdoor adventurers should always stop by a visitor center before proceeding inside a park.
With that in mind, you should head first to the Letchworth State Park’s visitor center near the south end of the park, near Castile and Portageville entrances.
Stopping by this visitor center is one of the best places to get acquainted with the things that await you inside the park.
The visitor center’s staff provides you with maps, guides, and some helpful tips to have an enjoyable experience during your visit to the park.
So, before heading inside the Letchworth State Park, stop by the visitor center.
Tour through the Mount Morris Dam
At the northern tip of Letchworth State Park, you’ll come across a fully-functioning dam, the Mount Morris Dam, offering you another perspective of the area’s natural beauty.
This engineering feat by the United States Army Corps of Engineers is one of the favorite attractions you should not miss visiting in Letchworth.
The 313-feet tall dam was built in the 1940s as flood control.
You can drop by and take a great look at this man-made marvel, and of course, don’t forget to take photos.
If you’re fortunate enough, you can join guided tours offered seasonally in the area.
The guided tour takes you to a one-and-a-half-mile trail through the dam, while along the way, you can take nice photos and learn some valuable historical information about the dam.
Step Inside the William Pryor Letchworth Museum
Letchworth’s massive collection of Iroquois and Seneca geological specimens and artifacts are found in a museum dedicated to him inside the state park.
This museum situated next to the Glen Iris Inn is an astonishing place to visit if you want to see rare items from Letchworth’s collection of natural history and archeological artifacts from around the world.
The museum was originally constructed as his personal library in 1913 but was later converted into a museum that also houses artifacts and memorabilia from the pioneers and Native Americans.
In addition, you’ll also come across a mastodon skull dug in Pike, a local village near Letchworth.
If you’re up for more historical information about Letchworth and other relevant backstories of the park, you should not miss visiting the William Pryor Letchworth Museum.
Stretch Your Muscles at the Letchworth Gorge Trail Parking
The Letchworth Gorge Trail Park is the top hiking area in the Letchworth State Park.
It spans seven miles through the scenic Gorge Trail also known as Trail No.1.
The entire trail traverses through the parallel area to the main park road and passes through numerous scenic overlooks, including the famous Inspiration Point.
The trail also takes hikers through the Middle and Upper Falls.
If you’re a hardcore hiker, you can further explore the trail that takes you more than 23 kilometers out and back, reaching Portageville, New York.
Aside from hiking, the Letchworth Gorge Trail Park is also a popular place for fishing and cross-country skiing.
This is the perfect trail to hike if you want to explore Letchworth State Park’s southern portion.
Watch the Sunrise at the Great Bend Overlook
One of the main reasons many people flock to Letchworth State Park is its amazing overlooks that give you a dramatic view of its natural beauty.
The best time to visit the Great Bend Overlook is during sunrise, where you’ll be in awe of its stunning scenery that comes from the sunrays and the magnificent forest and Genesee River below.
Staring at the Great Bend Overlook is like staring at a masterpiece.
If you want to find the best place in Letchworth State Park for a photoshoot, this is the best place to go.
Many professional photographers and nature viewers flock to this area to take photos of the spectacular scenery.
Have Fun at the Highbanks Recreation Area
The Highbanks Recreation Area is nestled at the north end of Letchworth State Park.
It’s the most developed area on the park’s northern end where you can enjoy various activities with your loved ones.
The focal point of the Highbanks Recreation Area is its Olympic-sized swimming pool which is a popular place to swim, especially during summer.
In addition, many visitors going to Letchworth State Park set up their camps at this place.
There, people usually do various activities such as biking and hiking along the adjacent trails of the park.
If you want to have a picnic and take a break from exploring Letchworth State Park, head to the Highbanks Recreation Area.
Ride a Hot Air Balloon in Letchworth
If you want to take your experience in Letchworth State Park to the next level, you should take a hot air balloon ride to give you a picturesque view of the area above the sky.
Balloons Over Letchworth offers hot air balloon rides for visitors’ in Letchworth State Park.
Their tours depart from the parking area of Upper Falls and take you through various locations, including the famous Upper Falls.
The ride also traverses along the Genesee River, giving you a whole new vantage point of the attractions in Letchworth State Park.
Feel the Thrill in Genesee River’s Whitewater Rafting
If you’re seeking a thrilling activity during your visit to Letchworth State Park, you should try whitewater rafting which is very popular among visitors.
The entire whitewater rafting ride typically lasts three hours down the Genesee River.
If you’re kind of scared of the ride, the rapids along Genesee River are calmer than others, which gives you enough thrill but is safe enough, especially for beginners.
If you want to try whitewater rafting, check out Adventure Calls Outfitters, which offers whitewater rafting adventures through the Genesee River.
Their office is situated along Lower Falls Rd, Castile, New York.
Enjoy Birdwatching at Letchworth State Park
Aside from being the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park is also an important habitat for many bird species in the northeast.
It is a designated Bird Conservation Area (BCA), which means it is a protected area in the region for wildlife.
It’s also an excellent place for birdwatching.
You’ll spot various species of birds throughout the year while some migrate seasonally.
The birds that are easy to spot are Ruffed Grouse, Turkey Vulture, Wild Turkey, Merganser, Pileated Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco, and Red-breasted Nuthatch.
Meanwhile, migrating bird species vary from season to season.
So, there’s a sense of excitement for birdwatchers to spot rare birds resting in one of the park's wetlands.
So, when you’re visiting Letchworth State Park, always bring a pair of binoculars because you’ll likely do birdwatching as you explore its terrain.
Letchworth State Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and people who want to immerse in the beauty of mother nature.
There are so many meaningful and exciting things for everyone in Letchworth State Park.
As you venture deep into Letchworth State Park, you might end up discovering a hidden gem.
So, visit Letchworth State Park and see for yourself its natural beauty.