When the weather is nice, Letchworth State Park in western New York, about an hour’s drive southeast of Buffalo, is a wonderful place to go day hiking. The best time to visit is between April and October when the weather is milder and snow is less frequent (but it is always possible in April or October!). The park is divided in two by the Genesee River Gorge, with the western side being busier with hikers and day-trippers coming to see the famous Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls, while the eastern side is much less developed. We’ve picked up some of the best of the park’s 66 kilometers of marked hiking routes.
1. Gorge Trail
The gentle 7-mile Gorge Trail is the most popular inside Letchworth State Park and is appropriately labeled Trail #1 on park maps. When the weather is nice, it can get fairly crowded, but it’s worth coming for the gorge and waterfall views. The walk follows the western bank of the Genesee River and passes by the park’s three main waterfalls—the Lower, Upper, and Middle falls—as well as the Shadow and De-ge-wa-nus falls, which are both around 15 feet high. There’s no need to remain in the park overnight for this trip, but if you do, there are several campsites and cottages available throughout the year; however, all but a few cabins close in the winter.
2. Hemlock Trail
The 2.5-mile Hemlock Trail is one of Letchworth’s most gorgeous routes, thanks to the many 100-year-old hemlock trees you’ll witness along the way. The hike also includes red pine trees and the serene Pine Pond. The Deh-ga-ya-soh Creek, which flows into the Genesee River via the 150-foot Deh-ga-ya-soh Falls, is followed for part of the trail. Combine this trip with the Mary Jemison Trail to make a longer loop track.
3. Mary Jemison Trail
Another good, relatively short alternative is the 2.5-mile Mary Jemison Trail, which may be paired with other treks (the Hemlock Trail and the Gorge Trail) if you’re looking for something longer. A historic reservoir with beavers, 150-year-old trees, and an old stone dam are among the highlights. It’s not as well-known as the Gorge or Hemlock Trails, but it does have the advantage of being on the park’s busier western side, which is helpful if accessibility is a priority.
4. Portage Trail
This half-mile walk features the park’s lone river bridge, which was built in the 1930s to transport canoes down the river and escape the gorge’s three large waterfalls. Starting on the eastern side (which, unlike the western side, is free to enter! ), it follows the gorge’s cliffs up to the Lower Falls. This is a simple walk with views of the falls that few visitors see, despite some scrambling and muddy terrain.
5. Genesee Valley Greenway Trail
The historic Genesee Valley Canal, built-in 1836 and utilized until 1878, is followed by this easy-to-moderate 5.75-mile trail. Remains of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which ran beside the canal from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1960s, can be seen. This walk follows the Genesee River’s eastern bank, giving you a unique perspective on the park’s most prominent waterfalls, as well as a, peek of the seasonal 300-foot Inspiration Falls. This pathway is open all year, but be careful not to wander off the path.
6. Letchworth Trail
The 25-mile (one way) Letchworth Trail on the park’s eastern border is part of the Finger Lakes Trail, which spans more than 900 miles. If you’re searching for an Appalachian Trail-style thru-hike in upstate New York, this is a terrific option, though you can focus on the Letchworth section if you prefer. It’s not a popular trail, so you might have it to yourself for the majority of the trip, unlike many of the park’s shorter treks. A couple of side pathways lead to fantastic views across the river gorge and some of the park’s many waterfalls, while others lead to road access.
Aside from its length, this trail is best suited to more experienced hikers due to the high cliff drop-offs you’ll face on occasion. Because navigating these requires caution, it’s probably not a good idea if you’re hiking with children or aren’t particularly sure-footed. Because of its length, you’ll need to spend at least one night, if not more, on this trail. On the path, there are a couple of shelters that require NY State Parks Department licenses to reserve. Alternatively, you might camp along the road; make sure to check with the park office for the most up-to-date camping restrictions and regulations.