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What are the Best Hikes in Letchworth State Park?
Letchworth State Park, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is a stunning natural wonder located in western New York. Spanning over 14,000 acres, the park is home to several unique features that make it a must-visit destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts. In this quick guide we’ll detail 4 of the best hiking trails you can find at Letchworth State Park and what you need to know to have a great day on the trail.
Letchworth follows the Genesee River for roughly 17 miles and features about 66 miles of hiking trails throughout. There are 4 entrances located in the towns of Perry, Castile, Mount Morris, and Portageville. Letchworth State Park is located only 65 miles southeast of Buffalo and 35 miles southwest of Rochester, making it a popular location for summer day trips amongst western New Yorkers.
The park was named after William Pryor Letchworth, an industrialist and philanthropist who gifted the land to New York State in 1906 to help preserve its natural beauty for future generations. Today, Letchworth State Park is a major destination in WNY known for its three major waterfalls – Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls – and the winding Genesee River gorge, which is up to 600 feet deep in some places. In addition to its natural beauty, the park is also home to several historic structures, including the Council Grounds, a former Seneca Indian village.
Letchworth State Park offers over 60 miles of hiking trails catering to hikers of all levels. The trails are in general well-marked and offer a variety of experiences, from easy walks to challenging uphill hikes. We highly recommend checking out the Gorge Trail for anyone that’s visiting for the first time. Other notable trails located within Letchworth include the Highbanks Trail, the Finger Lakes Trail, and the Big Bend Trail. You can find detailed trail maps and trail information at any park kiosk/information center or online through their website.
Please note, the park charges a day-use fee to enter between May 7th and October 24th. When enjoying these trails you should be aware of your surroundings and stay on marked trails at all times, especially when hiking near the gorge.
The 4 Best Hiking Trails in Letchworth State Park
Length: 7 miles one-way
The Gorge Trail is a must-visit for hikers, offering breathtaking views of the Genesee River gorge and all three waterfalls as it follows along the western side of the river. The trail provides access to the famous Inspiration Point, which has incredible views of Middle Falls. At the southern end of the trail, you’ll find a staircase that walks along Upper Falls, and at the northern end another staircase and bridge which leads across to another close-up viewing area of Lower Falls. The trail is relatively easy in most areas and a great hike for all skill levels, with a few steep sections and staircases that are not necessary for you to enjoy the best parts. You can also connect onto a number of shorter side trails off of the Gorge Trail, including Lee’s Landing Trail which is usually less traveled and leads down to the Genesee River.
There are multiple access points to the trail including Middle Falls, Lower Falls, Inspiration Point, and elsewhere along Park Rd. You can easily mix and match sections of the Gorge Trail to your liking, as there are plenty of parking areas near all of the biggest attractions that allow you access to the trail. The accessible nature of the Gorge Trail combined with its close proximity to the waterfalls and natural attractions of Letchworth make it the most popular trail in the park and an essential hike for any first-time visitors.
Length: 4.7 miles one-way
Another great hiking trail in Letchworth is the Highbanks Trail. Located in the northern section of the park, this trail also follows along the gorge and intersects with scenic vistas such as the Mount Morris Dam Overlook and Hogsback Overlook. The trail runs between the park entrance and the campground entrance road, at which point you can cross the road and continue hiking for roughly a mile more along the Chipmunk Trail into the Highbanks Campground area.
You’ll find this trail less traveled than the Gorge Trail most times of the year, making it a great option if you’re seeking a more secluded hike while still getting great views of the Genesee River gorge. While generally the trail is flat and well kept, hikers should be prepared for a few hilly areas.
Finger Lakes Trail – Letchworth Branch
Length: 24 miles one-way
Typically the least traveled of the trails we’ve covered, the Finger Lakes Trail Letchworth Branch Trail runs along the full extent of the eastern side of the Genesee River Gorge. In general, the trail is flat with some steep sections and switchbacks. You’ll find a number of shorter spur trails along the way which provide views of the gorge and surrounding geological formations. There are also several lean-to shelters along the trail, however backcountry camping is limited to permit only. You should contact the park rangers if you are interested in camping along the FLT in Letchworth.
We wouldn’t consider the views as picturesque on this trail when compared to the trails on the western side of the gorge, however you do not need to pay for park access to hike this trail. You can access the northern end of the Letchworth Branch of the FLT via the Mount Morris Dam Recreation Area or via a number of shorter access trails along River Rd in Mount Morris. The southern end of the trail connects right into Portageville, and can be continued south towards Pennsylvania or east towards the Catskill Mountains. If you’d like detailed maps or more information on the Finger Lakes Trail, we’d recommend checking out the FLTC website or visiting their office in Mount Morris.
Big Bend Trail
Length: 2.5 mile loop trail
Another fun trail on the eastern side of the Genesee River gorge, the Big Bend Trail is a less commonly hiked loop trail that offers great views of the gorge. You’ll find the trailhead for Big Bend Trail at the end of E Park Rd. You’ll hike uphill for a short while, and then the rest of the trail is spent traversing a forested plateau overlooking the Genesee River. We’d recommend this hike for most skill levels, however the trails can be slightly overgrown here so be aware.
Overall, Letchworth State Park is a must-visit destination in western New York, offering breathtaking views and exciting trails. With over 60 miles of hiking trails catering to hikers of all levels, visitors to the park are sure to have a great experience. Thanks for reading our guide on the best hiking trails located within Letchworth State Park.