Sixty miles southeast of Buffalo sits Letchworth State Park and all its lush forests, towering waterfalls and rushing Genesee River. The “Grand Canyon of the East,” as it’s called, offers more than 14,000 acres of scenic wilderness to enjoy. If you’re ready to take full advantage of summer’s sunny skies and warm temperatures, Letchworth is the place to be. Learn about some of the best things to do and see in this breathtaking natural playground.
Marvel at Majestic Waterfalls
Letchworth State Park waterfalls are some of New York’s best natural landmarks. In total, 27 waterfalls of various sizes and flows can be found within the park. However, most guests make the trip to catch a glimpse at three of the park’s most renowned wonders: the Lower, Middle and Upper Genesee Falls. Found along the Genesee River, the trio swiftly cascade water from heights of up to 70 (Lower and Upper) and 107 feet. That’s not Letchworth’s tallest waterfall, though. That title belongs to Inspiration Falls, which plunges 350 feet into the middle of a dense forest. However, this unique attraction’s cascades can only be seen during or after periods of heavy rain.
Rest Up at Glen Iris Inn
Tucked away in the woods overlooking Middle Falls is Glen Iris Inn, William P. Letchworth’s former personal estate. The historic property welcomes guests to stay in one of its 15 re-designed Victorian-style guest rooms, have a cocktail on the front veranda overlooking Middle Falls, or catch a meal at Caroline’s. Glen Iris Inn offers 11 standard rooms and four luxury suites for guests to choose from, all air-conditioned and beautifully decorated. Five full houses inside the park can also be booked through the Inn.
This summer, the restaurant is expanding outside into Letchworth’s wooded overlook of Middle Falls. The new Caroline’s Courtyard, located next to Glen Iris Inn, offers guests an unforgettable al fresco breakfast, lunch, and dinner experience in the heart of the State Park. Caroline’s Courtyard features plenty of uncovered and umbrella-shaded seating among the trees.
“Visitors have just loved Caroline’s Courtyard so far,” says Denise Coffey, the Glen Iris Inn general manager. “We’re really pleased with the response so far and couldn’t be happier to see new and returning faces join us this summer for al fresco dining throughout the day.”
Glen Iris Inn and its beautiful landscape also serve as a wedding venue. According to Denise, wedding season is already in full swing, and she expects 2024 to be another busy year.
Venture Through Miles of Trails
Letchworth is one of the best local escapes for adventure-seekers, primarily due to its picturesque forests and gorge trails. There are 66 miles of trails to explore throughout the park in the summer, whether by hiking, biking, or horseback riding. The hiking trails are popular with family members of all ages and have difficulties ranging from beginner to moderate. The park even offers an accessible one-mile looped Autism Nature Trail. The ANT is fully ADA-compliant and is suitable for guests in wheelchairs so that everyone can enjoy the natural wonders around them safely.
Gander Up at the Genesee Arch Bridge
Also known as Portage Bridge, the 963-foot-long Genesee Arch Bridge stretches above the Upper Falls along the Genesee River. This railroad bridge is the third crossing over the Genesee River Gorge in Letchworth State Park, with the first wooden trestle iteration constructed in the mid-1800s and the iron replacement erected in 1875. In 2017, the new steel Genesee Arch Bridge was built to carry the still-active Southern Tier Line of Norfolk Southern Railway. Guests are welcome to admire the bridge from vantage points around the park, but access to the bridge is strictly prohibited.
Take Flight in a Hot Air Balloon
While Letchworth offers plenty of gorgeous views from observation points around the park, there’s no better way to take in the sights than from above. Balloons Over Letchworth provides visitors with once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon ride experiences. The company operates within Letchworth, launching balloons near Middle Falls and the Genesee Arch Bridge. These rides take guests high up above the park for a truly breathtaking view of the entire natural scenery and beauty below.
Take on the River with White Water Rafting Tours
One of the most exciting ways to experience Letchworth and the Genesee River is on a white water rafting tour. Adventure Calls Outfitters guides thrill-seekers of all ages and skills through the river’s Class I and Class II rapids. The rapids are best in spring when the waters are higher. When the river waters lower in summer months, guests can still venture out into the gorge on inflatable sit-on-top kayaks.
Uncover History at the William Pryor Letchworth Museum
The William Pryor Letchworth Museum, built in 1912, is home to a collection of Genesee Valley history. Most of the artifacts and specimens found inside were curated by William Pryor Letchworth himself. The items and natural history displays speak to the lives of the Native American tribes and the pioneers who developed the land. There are also sections dedicated to Letchworth’s legacy, the park’s history and geological findings that have been located on the property.
Cool Off at the Pool
While swimming isn’t allowed in the mighty Genesee River, Letchworth does have an Olympic-size swimming pool for guests. Visitors can venture to the Highbanks Recreation Area within the park and pay a small fee to take a dip in the waterhole and diving pools. There are also plenty of pavilions, picnic tables, and playgrounds in this part of the park since it’s also where campgrounds are located.
Stop By Humphrey Nature Center
Since 2016, Humphrey Nature Center has been the epicenter for environmental education at Letchworth. Guests can learn about geology, wildlife, and botany through interactive exhibits year-round. The center houses several indoor displays, an outdoor classroom, a butterfly garden, bird observation and interactive sustainability installations.