Fall is my favorite time of year. I love the beautiful colors, the crisp air, finally getting to wear sweaters and boots…. don’t get me wrong, I love summer too, but it can get HOT in Ohio and at some point, I’m just ready for a break. But for some reason, this year, fall was taking its good old time arriving in Northeast Ohio. And I felt like I was never going to get my fall fix. When this happens, you head north! Western New York is a fairly close northern destination from Cleveland and is just so beautiful, its worth the trip. So G and I decided to stop daydreaming about fall and head north to experience it. Our first stop on this little adventure was Letchworth State Park. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East”, Letchworth State Park is pretty impressive. Letchworth State Park is so impressive, in fact, that it won as the best state park in the U.S. in the Reader’s Choice Awards in 2015; so how I never knew about it until this year is still a mystery to me. Situated in western New York, Letchworth State Park is a little over a 4 hour drive from Cleveland which made it an easy weekend getaway for us.
We also planned several other excursions during that trip, so unfortunately we only had one day here and it was a rainy one at that! You could easily spend much more time here though if you want to take advantage of their 66 miles of hiking trails. But since we only had one day here, we decided to stick to the major sites and take in the beautiful fall foliage.
One day is enough if you’re not planning on any hikes outside of the major sites, but if you have more time to spend here, there is a lot of park to explore beyond the most popular trails and they also offer a lot of other adventure activities, like white water rafting, kayaking and even hot air ballooning! Sadly the weather wasn’t the greatest that day so all of those activities were unavailable to us. But now that we know how close it is, we might just make a return trip and try them out.
Letchworth State Park has three main waterfalls: Upper, Middle and Lower Falls. They are the most crowded but if you arrive early, you should have no problem being able to enjoy them without the crowds. I always try to time our trip with sunrise in order to get that beautiful light for photos, which didn’t happen on this trip since it was so rainy at that point, but we actually had the park to ourselves for about an hour. Can’t be mad about that! Our first stop was Inspiration Point. From here you can see Middle Falls from a distance.
If you want to get closer, which trust me you do, you can either hike the Gorge Trail to the viewpoint or drive to the Glen Iris Inn. The lookout is just below and is the best place to see Middle Falls. Its huge! We arrived after western New York had received a LOT of rainfall, so the falls were raging and were really wild! Even though, I have seen photos of it otherwise and I think it would be impressive regardless.
From there, you can hike to Upper Falls; its a pretty easy trek with some stair climbing involved. You can view the Upper Falls from several different view points and hike up to the bridge, however the bridge itself is not accessible. Its still a beautiful view from the top. This basically just out and back, so once you get to the top, just head back towards Middle Falls.
Before heading back to the car to seek out Lower Falls, you can head across the street to the Museum. Its free and pretty interesting with some artifacts and history from the man who donated this land, William Letchworth. If you enjoy history, its pretty cool.
After that, you can drive(or hike via the Gorge Trail) to the next destination, Lower Falls. To get close to the falls, you will have to descend quite a few stairs, which will lead you to the viewing platform as well as a bridge and the continuation of the trail.
The hike leading to the steps is pretty easy and mostly flat, with a few small sets of steps here and there. The gorge is fenced off for safety so its not really scenic, but for us, walking in the fall foliage was pretty perfect. But once you start to descend the stairs, you can start to hear the roar of Lower Falls. Be careful, this area is made mostly of shale and is pretty slippery when wet. It was really muddy when we were there too, which made it a little difficult to walk through, so keep this in mind as you might want to wear waterproof boots or shoes.
You can cross the bridge and see the falls from a farther view as well as check out more of the gorge with the Genessee River raging through. From there, you can continue on the trail or head back from where you came.
After all that rain, we decided we needed a break and headed to the Humphrey Nature Center. This center is fairly new and is pretty awesome, especially if you have kids. While it will only take about 15 mins or so to get through it, you can chat with a volunteer and learn more about the park or check out any events they may have going on. Or, like we did, use it as an escape from the weather for a little bit!
After checking out the three main waterfalls and the nature center, we decided to see what other wonders Letchworth State Park had in store. We headed to Wolf Creek, where there are several beautiful waterfalls, not as major as the three main players of course, however still very beautiful.
We found the park pretty easy to navigate, as there are signs throughout most of the park. We continued on the main road and decided to take a quick tour of the overlooks situated throughout. Parking is sometimes limited in some of these overlooks and some of them you will have to park across the road, so just be careful and drive slowly as you arrive at these points.
While we opted to take in some of the easier sites this trip, mainly in part due to all of the rain, there are quite a few trails that can be explored and even other waterfalls that are a bit more hidden and challenging to find. You could easily spend a few days at Letchworth; whether you choose to camp, stay in a cabin or a nearby town, there is plenty to do and see and lots of outdoor activities to enjoy, making it a great little getaway when visiting western New York.
Check out their website for maps, events and availability of outdoor activities.
If you’re planning to hike, bring food and water. We packed a picnic and didn’t eat the food from the park, but the options are fairly limited if you don’t bring your own food. You can eat at Glen Iris Inn, which is located at Middle Falls, across from the museum, or at several other small establishments throughout the park, some of which are only open seasonally. You can find the list of concessions available here.
Letchworth State Park is fairly easy to navigate, with only several roads and signage for most attractions throughout the park.