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New York State Parks
Letchworth State Park is sometimes referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the East". It is easily one of the most magnificent areas in the eastern United States. The Genesee River roars through a gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs (as high as 600 feet in some places) surrounded by lush forests. The three major waterfalls — called the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls — are located in Portage Canyon, the southern section of the park.
The only trail bridging the Genesee River across the Portage Canyon crosses a stone bridge just below the Lower Falls. The Middle Falls is the highest, and the Upper Falls has an active railroad trestle crossing immediately above it. The original trestle was wooden. Construction started on July 1, 1852 and opened August 16, 1852. At the time, it was the longest and tallest wooden bridge in the world.
In the early morning hours of Wednesday, May 5, 1875, the great wooden railroad bridge was destroyed in a tremendous fire. The bridge was a total loss, leaving only the concrete bridge abutments. Immediately after the fire, officials of the Erie Railroad Company moved quickly to replace the wooden Portage Bridge with an iron and steel design. Construction began June 8, 1875 and opened for traffic July 31, 1875. The bridge is 820 feet long and 240 feet high. The bridge is still in use today.
There are perhaps as many as fifty waterfalls found on the tributaries that flow into the river. One such waterfall is known as Inspiration Falls. At 300+ feet, it is technically the highest waterfall in New York State. However, it is a seasonal waterfall that is usually just a stain on the cliffs except after snow melt or after a very heavy rain storm. Taughannock Falls is still recognized as the highest waterfall in the state at 215 feet. Most visitors to the park only see the three main falls and fail to explore the others.
Hikers can choose among 66 miles of hiking trails at Letchworth State Park. There are trails available for horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Letchworth offers nature, history and performing arts programs, guided walks and tours, a summer lecture series, whitewater rafting, kayaking, hot air ballooning and a pool for swimming. Go to the NY State Parks website for more information on this state park.
Winter activities include ice skating, snow tubing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and horse-drawn sleigh rides. Campers can take advantage of tent and trailer campsites as well as winterized cabins. Group camping facilities are also available. The park is open year round 6am to 11pm. The camping area is open from mid May to mid October, however some cabins are available year round. In 2007, Letchworth was named one of the top 100 campgrounds in the nation.
The park is named after William Pryor Letchworth, who bequeathed his 1,000 acre estate that forms the heart of the park to New York State in 1906. Letchworth State Park was born in 1907. Now the park is roughly 17 miles long, covering 14,350 acres of land along both sides of the Genesee River.
The Mount Morris Dam can be found on the northern section of the park. Construction on the dam began in 1948 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The dam was completed in 1954. The Mt. Morris Dam is the largest flood control device of its kind east of the Mississippi River. It is 1,028 feet in length and 230 feet from the riverbed. The dam proved its worth during the Flood of 1972, saving thousands of acres of farmland from flooding as well as billions of dollars in flood damage.
The Finger Lakes Trail Conference main offices are located near the Mount Morris Dam Visitor Center. The Finger Lakes Trail Systems includes over 900 miles of premium hiking trails in New York State. This trail system includes the wild and secluded Letchworth Trail that travels along the eastern side of the park with amazing views of the gorge and waterfalls. The mail Finger Lakes Trail travels 562 miles from the New York/Pennsylvania border at Allegany State Park to the Long Path in the Catskills. The North Country National Scenic Trail coincides with the Finger Lakes Trail for nearly 380 miles. The trail passes just to the south of the park.
Middle Falls from the Gorge Trail
View of Middle & Upper Falls from Inspiration Point
Genesee River Gorge at Letchworth State Park
- Along the Genesee River, 35 miles south of Rochester. Exit 7 Interstate 390.
There are two main entrances to the western side of the park (entry fee). One is off NY 19A north of Portageville and the other is just north of Mount Morris, after the Genesee River Bridge off NY 36. Both of these entrances to the park require a fee to enter the park.
For those looking to explore the eastern side of the park (no entry fee), there are numerous access points off NY 436 and River Road. There is also access along Mount Morris Dam Road.
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