GPS/Locations: Click here for waterfall and viewing locations.
Directions: There are numerous entrances into the park. Click the following links to obtain Google driving directions from your location to that particular entrance.
Parking: There is no shortage of parking at Letchworth State Park. Most of the sections of the park have ample parking spaces, and in some areas, roadside parking is acceptable. For the Upper and Middle Falls, including the Glen Iris Inn, 3 large parking lots at the south end of the park in Portageville cater to hundreds of cars and offer easy access to the waterfalls, gift shops, picnic facilities and restaurants.
GPS locations, viewing areas, height information, descriptions, and comprehensive map of all the waterfalls located in the park.
Descriptions of the camping and lodging options available in the park. From the luxurious and historic Glen Iris Inn to the roughing-it campsites around the park.
Gallery and information on this historic section of the park. An abandoned milling community eventually became a Civilian Convervation Corp camp, and now one of the most interesting sections of the park.
Number of falls: 3 popular falls (Lower, Middle and Upper Genesee Falls), several larger drops into the canyon and numerous smaller cascades throughout the park. Letchworth features the state’s highest plunging waterfall: Inspiration Falls, which is seasonal, and only flows during heavy rain.
Size/Types: See our Letchworth waterfall location/information page.
Best time to visit: All year. Letchworth gets crowded during summer and fall weekends. The gorge scenery is spectacular in fall, and a great time to visit is during the fall Arts & Crafts Festival.
Flow: Fluctuates. Some tributaries dry up during summer months. Some waterfalls are only flowing during or shortly after high rainfall. The Genesee River may back up behind the dam and flood some falls. You can always count on the three main waterfalls to be flowing, and they are well worth the visit.
Waterway: The Genesee River (and tributaries). The Genesee originates In Ulysses, PA and empties into Lake Ontario to the north at Rochester.
Time: Letchworth can take from 4 hours (to drive through stopping at the major points) to multiple days to see everything.
Seasons/Hours: Park open all year. 6 am to 11 pm. Some entrances and trails will close for winter. Water levels in the early spring may flood some gorge trails.
Admission: $8 vehicle fee at Mt. Morris, Perry, Portageville and Castile entrances. Free at other entrances. In the winter and early spring, the collection stations may not be manned and entry is free. The vehicle entrance fee does not cover swimming.
Handicap accessibility: Yes. Most trails are not, but viewing and picnic areas are.
Pets: Allowed on leash. Proof of inoculation required. Prohibited in park buildings, pools, and cabin areas. For the safety of your pet and other hikers, do not bring pets on the gorge trail. Use some common sense.
Camping: Letchworth is one of the best camping parks in the northeast. The park features 270 campsites and 82 cabins located in various communities in the park. Make a camping reservation here.
Swimming: Swimming is available in the Olympic pool at the Highbanks recreation area. There is a $2 fee for swimming. In recent years the Lower Falls area pool has been closed. Do not swim in the Genesee River.
Accommodations: Restrooms; bed and breakfast at the historic Glen Iris Inn; 2 pools; benches; picnic facilities; trails; museum; conference center; snack bars; gift shops; playgrounds; nature and history tours; lectures; river rafting; hot air ballooning; horseback riding; fishing; hunting; x-country skiing; snowshoeing.
This park is a Carry-in Carry-out park; be sure to bring trash bags for your refuse.
Letchworth State Park
1 Letchworth State Park
Castile, NY 14427
Visitor Center: (585) 493-3600
NYS Park Police: (585) 658-4692
The Glen Iris Inn: (585) 493-2622
Campground: (585) 237-3303
Adventure Calls Outfitters River Rafting
Phone: (585) 343-4700
Balloons Over Letchworth
Phone: (585) 493-3340
Wolcott Farms Horseback Riding Phone: (585) 493-3340
Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park spans more than 14,000 acres, containing spectacular vistas, more than 30 waterfalls, a major dam, campsites, historic buildings, museums and plenty of things to do. Over 50 miles of hiking trails spread throughout the park offer visitors a new experience every time they visit. With so many activities it is easily the centerpiece of Western New York recreation and the stunning gorge and magical cascades create a visual treat for all.
Bisected by the Genesee River, the park offers both something for the leisurely visitor and the adventurous. The river gorge cuts through the valley yielding three major waterfalls within and multiple cascades emptying into the ravine as well as plenty of scenic magnificence and white-water thrills. Not only does the park offer excellent access to three of the major falls of the Genesee, with sheer cliffs up to 550 feet high and a watershed miles across; there are plenty of opportunities to find a spectacular seasonal ribbon falls, such as Inspiration Falls, the highest in the state.
The State Parks department does an excellent job maintaining this park, providing well-groomed trails, first-class accommodations, exciting activities and interesting educational opportunities. There is always something going on at Letchworth, but at the same time, there are plenty of opportunities to be on your own and enjoy nature. Check out the Park Event Calendar to get a heads-up on what activities are coming up.
Markings: Park signs and colored blazes.
Distance: The park has tens of miles of trails, more than can be hiked in a single day. To walk to the 3 main falls, you are looking at about a 1.8 mile trek from the Upper Falls to the Lower Falls.
Description: There are two types of trails in Letchworth State Park. The majority of the trails are wide, lined with stone or sufficiently cleared. Steps are generally stonework and well-kept. Some trails are even paved. The less beaten pathways are narrow, lined with dirt, rocks and branches. Many trails traverse down into the gorge and you must know the water levels and weather forecast (ask any park ranger or police, or in the visitor center) before hiking down into the gorge.
The trails in Letchworth State Park are so numerous, it is recommended that you invest in a detailed trail guide, which can be found at the visitor center. You may also obtain a Finger Lakes Trail map from the Finger Lakes Trail Conference. Trails range from a half-mile (the Portage Trail 6) to 24 miles in length (The Finger Lakes Trail -FLT).
Although one would expect the more mainstream trails to be safer than the lesser used ones, as a matter-of-fact even the most well-kept trails should be used with caution. In 2006, a portion of the gorge trail at the crest of Middle Falls fell over the edge due to erosion. This is a well-kept, paved area, often used as an overlook to the Middle Falls. Luckily no one was hurt. If bringing small children, keep in mind that a lot of these trails are strenuous, involving slippery surfaces, steep slopes, and many stone steps not ideal for children.
View Letchworth State Park in a larger map
The Seneca Indians called the area Sehgahunda, meaning the “Vale of Three Falls,” forming several villages within what are now the park boundaries. Many of the trails in the park today are based on actual Seneca trails, which were used for river access.
During the French & Indian War in 1758 the teenage Mary Jemison of a Pennsylvania colony was taken captive by Shawnee Indians. She was accepted and raised in the Seneca ways and was called by her new family Dehgewanus, “Two Falling Voices.” Years later, she journeyed to Sehgahunda, losing her Delaware Indian husband to illness along the way. She took up residence with a related clan in the Gardeau Flats area. Over time the area shifted from Seneca Nation to frontier settlements. Mary Jemison, the “Old White Woman of the Genesee,” witnessed the sale and misuse of Sehgahunda land and the demise of the native inhabitants. She was eventually moved to a reservation in Buffalo where she passed. Now she is buried near the Glen Iris Inn and Middle Falls. A granite marker and statue mark the location.
Staring in the early 1800′s, the area was developing rapidly, gaining railroad access and canals. Tourism boomed as word spread of the grand vistas of the Portage Gorge. Along with progress came environmental destruction. The land was stripped of trees and industrialization lined the falls with mills and factories. The Portage Wooden High Bridge (the tallest and longest wooden railroad bridge of its kind) whisked tourists over the Upper Falls offering one of the few spectacular views of the gorge left.
One of those tourists was William Pryor Letchworth, a successful iron tycoon from Buffalo, who was seeking an escape from the drudgery of business in the big city. Impressed by the remaining natural beauty of the Portage Gorge area and eager to preserve it as a paradise, he began purchasing land around the Middle Falls and built a small mansion, which he dubbed the Glen Iris. As it became available, he purchased adjacent land, began restoring the natural beauty and shared it with visitors. His efforts helped to transform the area into the tranquil, yet accessible natural area it is today.
Mr. Letchworth also concentrated on preserving the native heritage of his estate. He collected artifacts, documents and worked with surviving Native Americans to preserve and present the area’s history for visitors. To facilitate this he established the Council Grounds and Letchworth Museum. He also recognized Mary Jemison’s importance to the area and arranged to have her remains moved from her threatened reservation gravesite to rest in peace, close to home at the Glen Iris Estate.
Mr. Letchworth was more than a nature lover. He was a philanthropist at heart. He spent the latter portion of his life traveling across the county and into Europe establishing and supporting children’s charities. Although he wanted to donate the Glen Iris to an orphanage upon his death, industry was eyeing the Portage Gorge for hydroelectric power. The Genesee River Company had plans to dam the gorge just above the Upper Falls. Mr. Letchworth feared that what he dedicated his life to preserving would be in jeopardy. In a deal struck with the state of NY in 1906, the Glen Iris Estate would become a state park, and be afforded the protections against private development. It officially became Letchworth State Park in 1907. Mr. Letchworth died 3 years later.
Stick around after dark to see the Middle Falls lit up. Sure, it’s not as big or colorful as Niagara Falls’ Illumination, but it’s well worth the wait and makes for excellent photo opportunities.
Trail 7 from the Parade Grounds entrance towards High Falls offers spectacular views of the falls and a peaceful, less crowded environment than the other side of the gorge.
A popular place for weddings, the Glen Iris caters to the formal affair, but it is not uncommon to see couples in less formal, but highly romantic ceremonies in other locations in the park, such as the Tea-Table overlook and Inspiration Point.
Although Lower Falls seems to have not changed in a long time, pioneer sketches show it breaking right at Cathedral Rock. That means it has eroded over 1,000 feet upstream in about 150 years.
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