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Letchworth State Park New York: Waterfalls, Hiking & Photography

Letchworth State Park New York: Waterfalls, Hiking & Photography

Letchworth State Park in Western New York is home to over 60 miles of hiking trails, postcard-perfect waterfalls, epic gorge overlooks and stunning photography locations.

We’ve personally spent a lot of time at Letchworth enjoying scenic hikes, soaking up gorgeous fall colors and patiently shooting photography at various times of day.

But with so many fantastic things to do at Letchworth State Park, where do you begin?

Great question!

Our comprehensive guide to Letchworth State Park will cover everything you need to know including:

  • Directions to the park
  • Explanation of each entrance, fees and parking info
  • 15 best things to do at Letchworth
  • List of Letchworth hiking trails
  • 3 Letchworth state park waterfalls not to miss
  • Top photography spots
  • Weather in Letchworth with focus on fall and winter
  • Best time to visit
  • Places to eat and hotels near Letchworth

Now, let’s get planning your visit to Letchworth State Park!

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Table of Contents show

Letchworth State Park Factfile

  • State Park: Letchworth
  • Region: Genesee River
  • State: New York
  • Address: 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile, NY 14427
  • Telephone: (585) 493-3600
  • Campgrounds: 257
  • Cabins: 81
  • Area: 14,427 acres
  • Things to do: Hiking, Waterfalls, Photography
  • Major Waterfall: Middle Falls
  • Open: All year
  • Annual visitors: ~ 800,000

Why Visit Letchworth State Park?

Dubbed ‘the Grand Canyon of the East,’ Letchworth was voted the most stunning US State Park in 2015. Woah, nice accolades. But can this be backed up with natural beauty?

You bet they can! Picture this…

Over thousands of years, the Genesee River relentlessly carves through shale, silt and sandstone rock, eroding deeper and deeper, eventually forming sheer gorge walls as high as 600ft.

In its path of slow destruction, the Genesee created three significant waterfalls in close proximity, unimaginatively named Upper, Middle and Lower falls.

But perhaps the greatest topographical achievement is a spectacular U-shaped 270 degree meander, similar to Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, but on a much larger scale now covered in trees instead of sand.

This NY State Park is a treasure trove filled with natures finest ingredients. Watch our Letchworth State Park YouTube video to see its best highlights.

Fast running water in the Genesee River
Fast running water in the Genesee River

Where Is Letchworth State Park?

Letchworth State Park is located on the Western edge of the New York Finger Lakes region. The park itself is shaped similarly to the famous lakes, just like a finger, as it follows the Genesee River for 17 meandering miles into both Livingston and Wyoming counties.

There are 6 main entrances for Letchworth State Park. Four of these entrances are west of the Genesee and 2 entrances are east of the Genesee River. Unless you have a few days in the area, We would recommend you visit in the west entrances as all of the best highlights are west of the River.

Below you will find the name of each entrance to the park long with attractions you can find at each.

West entrances for Letchworth State Park

Both the Portageville and Castile entrances provide access to Letchworth State Park’s popular attractions including the three main waterfalls, scenic viewpoints, the historic Glen Iris Inn and most of the food options in the park.

  • Mount Morris Entrance – Mt. Morris Dam Overlook, Visitor Center, Dam Overlook Cafe, Harvey Swimming Pool, Highbanks Pool Snackbar
  • Perry Entrance – Highbanks tent and trailer camping, Highbanks Camp Store, Maplewood Lodge
  • Castile Entrance – 3 waterfalls, Autism Nature Trail, Footbridge Nature Shoppe, Glen Iris Inn, Humphrey Nature Center, Main Visitor Center, Letchworth Gift Shop, Lower Falls Restaurant, Scenic Overlooks, Upper Falls Snack Bar
  • Portageville Entrance – Same access to attractions at Castile Entrance

East entrances for Letchworth State Park

  • Mt. Morris Dam & Recreation Area Entrance – Mt. Morris Dam and Visitor Center
  • Parade Grounds Entrance – Camping, Genesee Valley Greenway, Parade Grounds, Viewpoints of Middle and Lower Falls

Map Of Letchworth State Park Entrances

We created the map below to showcase each individual Letchworth State Park west entrance so you can have a good visual about how you will be entering the park.

Most visitors arrive from the North coming from Rochester or Buffalo, but most of the major highlights at Letchworth are in the south end of the park.

Map of entrances to letchworth state park new york
Map of popular entrances for Letchworth State Park

Bear in mind, if you enter Letchworth at the North entrance and drive the entire way through the state park it will be slow going. Slow speed limits mean it will take longer to reach the waterfalls compared to driving around the edge of the park on faster roads and entering via Castile or Portageville to the South.

But it is far more scenic in the park.

Therefore, if you’re pressed for time (such as arriving in time for sunrise) drive around and enter at Castile OR if you have plenty of time, enter at North and enjoy the scenery.

We tend to enter via Castile for sunrise, spend the day hiking, drive through the park and leave via North.

Letchworth State Park Directions

Distances and directions from nearby cities to closest Letchworth State Park entrances include:

  • Rochester NY to North entrance – 43 miles (45m) on I-390 S
  • Syracuse NY to North entrance – 115 miles (1h 48m) on I-90 W / I-390 S
  • Buffalo NY to Castile entrance – 58 miles (1h 10m) on NY-400 S / NY-78 S
  • Toronto Canada to Castile entrance – 250km (2h 50m) on QEW / NY-400 / NY-78
  • New York, NY to Portageville entrance – 319 miles (5h 15m) on I-80 / I-380 / I-81 / I-86 / I-390

If you are flying into the Finger Lakes region to road trip the awesome state parks and stunning scenery, search for flights using Skyscanner and find airport hire cars with Rental Cars. We use and always recommend both platforms.

Here are the closest airports to Letchworth State Park for you to fly into:

  • Rochester International, NY – 40 miles (42m)
  • Syracuse International, NY – 115 miles (1h 50m)
  • Buffalo Niagara International, NY – 60 miles (1h 15m)
  • Newark, NJ – 312 miles (4h 50m)

Further Reading: Complete guide on how to find and book cheap flights

Is Letchworth State Park Open?

Letchworth State Park is open year round from 6:00am – 11:00pm. However, you can expect disruptions to access roads in and around Letchworth during the Winter season following heavy snowfall around the Finger Lakes region.

Similarly to nearby Taughannock Falls State Park, Letchworth State Park remains open all year to visitors. Robert H Treman, Buttermilk Falls and Watkins Glen all have gorge trails that close to the public from Fall through Spring.

There are many attractions within Letchworth and each season brings new outdoor activities.

Waterfall in New York lit up at night with purple and blue sky
Middle Falls lit up at night

Parking And Entrance Fees At Letchworth State Park

Entrance to Letchworth State Park is $10 per vehicle and $75 for commercial buses. Entrance fees are collected from the end of May until the end of October only between 9:00am and 5:00pm.

Entry to Letchworth is free if you visit between November and mid-may any time of day. Entrance is also free if you enter the park any day of the year before 9:00am and after 5:00pm.

Letchworth State Park is 17 miles long in total. You will usually find ample parking at various designated parking areas along the main road.

But if you visit during a holiday weekend in summer, you may have trouble finding parking at the main attractions.

New York State Empire Pass

If you are a frequent visitor to any NYS park, you should consider purchasing an Empire Pass. This wallet-sized pass grants you unlimited day use vehicle entry to NYS Parks, including forests, beaches, trails and so much more.

Empire passes are available for the season, multi-year or for lifetime. Just present your pass on the entrance stations and it will waive the fee for day use entry.

Another benefit to the Empire Pass is that the pass can be used within an entire household. This pass is not assigned to a specific vehicle so it can be used by parents, grandparents or anyone in the family.

Price for the Empire Pass:

  • 2022 Season Empire Pass – $80
  • 3-Year Empire Pass – $205
  • 5-Year Empire Pass – $320
  • Lifetime Empire Pass – $750

For more information or to purchase an Empire pass, click here.

Man sitting the edge of a footbridge near Lower Falls
Mark siting on the popular footbridge in Letchworth State Park

15 Things To Do At Letchworth State Park

Not only is Letchworth State Park well known for hiking and photography, but there is something here for everyone. Below we have listed all of the popular things to do at Letchworth with some unique options.

You can easily visit Lower, Middle and Upper Falls at Letchworth along the Gorge Trail. Later in this guide, we will show you exactly what to expect and how to get to each waterfall.

2. Go Camping

With over 300 cabins and campsites to choose from, Letchworth makes for a popular camping location. However, sites are quickly reserved especially in the summer months so it’s best to reserve early to guarantee a space.

3. Hit The 28 Hiking Trails Available At Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park has 28 varying length hiking trails. There are hiking trails on both the east and west side of the park so you fill find a trail no matter which way you enter. Later in this post, we will discuss the 8 most popular trails and highlights of each one.

Brown trail sign pointing down to Lower Falls
Sign pointing down to Lower Falls

4. Photograph The Historic Genesee Arch Bridge

The Genesee Arch Bridge (or Portage Bridge) is a famous steel railroad bridge near Upper Falls in Letchworth State Park. Since the original bridge was built in 1875, the Genesee Arch bridge has been replaced two times.

At the time of its original construction, this bridge made headlines as the longest and tallest wooden bridge in the world. The bridge stands 234 ft above Upper Falls and 850 ft across the gorge. This railroad bridge is easily one of the most photographed locations in Letchworth State Park.

5. Humphrey Nature Center

The Humphrey Nature Center can be found near the Castile Entrance. This is a great place to visit if you want to learn more about Letchworth through interactive exhibits, discover hiking trails and find new outdoor activities. Take the kids to experience programs focusing on geology, wildlife and botany. The Humphrey Nature Center is open daily from 10:00am – 5:00pm.

6. Autism Nature Trail (ANT)

This is one-mile looped trail is a relatively new experience at Letchworth. There are eight stations built for different levels of ability and specifically those with ASD. The main goal for the ANT is to help everyone visit, enjoy and explore nature.

7. Visit A Nature Center

Visitor Centers are always a great way to start your visit to a State or National Park. The Visitor Centers in Letchworth are located near the south end entrances at Castile and Portageville. Staff at the Visitor Centers can help you explore the park with maps, guides, tips and anything you may need.

Mount Morris Dam over the Genesee River
The Mount Morris Dam

8. See The Mount Morris Dam

The Northern section of Letchworth State Park is home to the Mount Morris Dam. This is a fully functional dam created by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and one of our favorite attractions in the park.

You can also book guided tour through the 1.5 mile dam where you can learn how this dam has provided flood protection for 67 miles of the Genesee River Valley since the 1940s. Book a Mount Morris Dam tour here.

9. Swim At The Harvey Swimming Pool

The Harvey Swimming Pool can be found at the Highbanks Recreation Area in the northern section of Letchworth State Park. This Olympic-sized swimming pool is a very popular place to swim in the summer. The Highbanks Recreaction Area is also a good place to camp, bike, hike and picnic.

10. Go Back In History At The William Pryor Letchworth Museum

The William Pryor Letchworth Museum is home to a collection of Indigenous and pioneer artifacts from the Genesee Valley as well as archeological and natural history displays. The museum is located near the Glen Iris Inn by Middle Falls and is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm everyday May through October.

11. Watch The Birds

There are many bird conservation areas in Letchworth State Park and this makes it a perfect location for birdwatching. The Mount Morris Dam attracts over 2,000 Canada Geese in the winter. You can also find Great Blue Heron rookeries, several species of Neotropical migratory songbirds and many more. So don’t forget the binoculars!

12. Watch A Stunning Letchworth State Park Sunrise Or Sunset

Letchworth State Park is one of our favorite places in upstate New York for watching sunsets and sunrises. There are several great locations scattered throughout the park where you can watch a stunning sunset or sunrise with your loved one. We will discuss this in detail later in our post.

Genesee River view with bright fall colors
Genesee River running through Letchworth State Park

13. Fly High Over Letchworth State Park In A Hot Air Balloon

If you want to see the gorgeous sights of Letchworth State Park from the sky, you should consider a hot air balloon ride. Balloons Over Letchworth provides tours from the parking lot of Upper Falls and the ride will continue as you traverse along the Genesee River. The shared basket price is $365 per person and a private flight is $1400 per couple.

14. Catch Some Speed White Water Rafting

Adventure Calls Outfitters offers white water rafting adventures through the Genesee River. If you are a thrill seeker, this is a great activity for you! You may also have the chance to see some beavers, deer, eagles, hawks, raccoons, and river otters as you zoom down the water. Price is typically $50 per person.

15. Visit The National Warplane Museum

This is one for the history lovers. While this museum is not directly in Letchworth State Park, it is located about 7 miles north near the town of Geneseo, NY. Founded in 1944, this museum features aircrafts from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War as well as honors the men and women who have served.

The National Warplane Museum also hosts the annual Geneseo Air Show which showcases modern fighter jets and vintage warplanes from the United States Air Force.

Hiking Trails At Letchworth State Park, NY

Hiking trails at letchworth state park in new york bridge and beautiful fall colors on the ground
Footbridge covered in bright red leaves

Letchworth State Park has over 60 miles of hiking trails for visitors to explore. But the Gorge paths are by far the most heavily trafficked. You can expect extremely crowded trails in summer, especially on the weekends.

There are 28 hiking trails in Letchworth State Park with each trail ranging from half a mile to over 20 miles. These hiking trails have easy to moderate difficulty with some of the moderate trails having steep slopes.

If you are looking for solitude and a peaceful hiking experience, enter the park via one of the two east entrances. Here, you will find a 20 mile stretch of the Letchworth Trail which connects a 900+ mile Finger Lakes Trail System. But the good news is you won’t see as many hikers if you opt for the east side.

But stick to the Genesee’s west bank and you will find over a dozen trails of varying length between busy waterfalls and the area north of Letchworth. These are the more popular trails, but certainly worth a visit.

Keep in mind, there are no hiking trail signs along the roads. Be sure to drive slowly and keep your eyes peeled for the trail you want.

You can usually find the popular hiking trails just by the crowds alone. But if you are hiking a lesser known trail, look for small signs in front of the forest clearings stating trail numbers.

At Letchworth, dogs are allowed on hiking trails as long as they are leashed. Many dog walkers use the quieter forest trails north of the waterfalls.

8 Best Hiking Trails At Letchworth State Park

If you are a first time visitor to Letchworth, we would recommend you start with the best hikes listed below. However, if you are a returning visitor, we would suggest you try some of the lesser known trails.

Orange leaves lining a hiking trail
Hiking trail at Letchworth State Park during the fall

1. Gorge Trail (#1)

The Gorge Trail at Letchworth runs parallel to Park road. This popular hike links Upper, Middle and Lower waterfalls as well as passes many scenic viewpoints including Inspiration Point. The entire Gorge trail is about 14.0 miles (7.0 miles one way), but most people only hike a small section of this trail.

There are certain sections with steep banks and steps to be aware of but on the whole, the Gorge Trail is flat and easy. If this is your first time at Letchworth, this is the hike you want to experience.

Easiest way to get to the Gorge Trail:

Drive to the Glen Iris Inn (yellow building) and park at Upper Middle Falls parking lot. You can follow the trail left about 1.5 miles to Lower Falls or head right for about 0.5 mile to Upper Falls where you will see the famous railroad bridge. If you have the time, be sure to hike both ways to see all the gorgeous Letchworth waterfalls.

2. Mary Jemison Trail (#2)

The Mary Jemison Trail is dedicated to the famous ‘White Woman of the Genesee.’ This is an easy 2.5 mile hike in the woods with two access points, one at Council Grounds and the other at the railroad bridge parking area.

3. Hemlock Trail (#2A)

The Hemlock Trail is just shy of 3.0 miles featuring century old hemlock trees. This trails veers off the Mary Jemison Trail near Council Grounds and then passes Trout Pond as well as Trailside Lodge as it continues to the Castile Entrance. You will also pass the 50-foot Deh-ga-ya-soh Falls and some ravines.

4. Lee’s Landing (#5)

This easy 1.0 mile trail follows an old wood launch which was used to transport lumber to the city of Rochester. Keep in mind this is an easy way down, but will be a moderate climb back up. Lee’s Landing trail begins off the Gorge trail near the Footbridge Nature Shop just past cabin area B.

5. Portage Trail (#6)

This short half a mile trail was originally made in the 1930s to helps portage canoes travel down the river by avoiding the park’s three big waterfalls. The Portage trail is an easy trail that follows the gorge edge and several small overlooks. This trail terminates in the woods by the stone footbridge which connects the east and west of the park.

Empty hiking trail with leaves on the ground
Peaceful hiking trail with leaves scattered on the ground

6. Footbridge Trail (#6A)

Together with the Portage trail, the Footbridge Trail connects the wilder eastern side of the park to more popular western side. This is the only trail that crosses the Genesee River and is great for views of Lower Falls. After crossing the river, the trail transitions to a dirt road. The 0.5 mile Footbridge Trail can be accessed from the north via stone steps.

7. Genesee Valley Greenway Trail (#7)

The Genesee Valley Green Way (GVG) trail is a fairly easy 5.75 mile trail with a few moderate ups and downs. This hike follows the path of the former Genesee Valley Canal which existed from 1836 to 1878, followed by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The GVG also briefly connects with the Letchworth Trail.

8. Finger Lakes Trail (FLT)

This 24.0 mile trail is a great backpacking or a long day hike option. This trail follows the eastern rim of the gorge and passes through many of Letchworth’s best sites. The Letchworth Trail is marked with yellow blazes.

Full List Of The 28 Letchworth Hiking Trails

Each hiking trail in Letchworth corresponds with a specific number #1 – 23, except for the Letchworth Trail. We have listed all 28 trails in order as well as including length and difficulty.

  • (1) Gorge Trail – Moderate, 7.0 miles
  • (2) Mary Jemison – Easy, 2.5 miles
  • (2A) Hemlock – Moderate, 2.5 miles
  • (3) Trout – Easy, 0.75 miles
  • (4) Birch – Easy, 0.75 miles
  • (5) Lee’s Landing – Easy, 1.0 mile
  • (6) Portage – Easy, 0.5 miles
  • (6A) Footbridge – Moderate, 0.5 miles
  • (7) Genesee Valley Greenway – Easy, 5.75 miles
  • (8) River Road – Easy, 2.75 miles
  • (8A) Bluejay – Easy, 0.5 miles
  • (9) Dishmill Creek – Moderate, 3.0 miles
  • (10) Big Bend – Easy, 2.5 miles
  • (10A) Trillium – Easy, 0.5 miles
  • (11) Deer Run – Easy, 1.5 miles
  • (12) Seneca – Moderate, 0.75 miles
  • (13) St. Helena – Moderate, 1.25 miles
  • (14) Gardeau – Moderate, 0.5 miles
  • (15) Smokey Hollow – Easy, 2.25 miles
  • (16) Bear Hollow – Easy, 2.0 miles
  • (17) Big Flats – Easy, 1.25 miles
  • (18) Kisil Point – Easy, 1.75 miles
  • (19) Gibsonville – Easy, 0.5 miles
  • (19A) Chipmunk – Easy, 0.5 miles
  • (20) Highbanks – Easy 4.75 miles
  • (21) Powerline – Easy, 0.75 miles
  • (22) Sycamore – Moderate, 0.75 miles
  • (23) Wildlife Loop – Easy, 1.0 mile
  • (FLT) Finger Lakes Trail – Easy, 24 miles

See a complete map of hiking trails here.

Our Typical Letchworth Hiking Route

We usually park at the Lower Falls trailhead (where it is typically less busy), walk down to Lower Falls, then continue past Inspiration Point, Middle Falls and Upper Falls before returning back along the same trail to the car.

Our hike ends up around 4-5 miles return trip.

Looking for a new hiking App? Read our guide to the best hiking apps for beginners and pros. Use our link to get 20% off a Gaia GPS hiking subscription.

Letchworth State Park Waterfalls

Hiking trails leading to waterfalls and gorges with sunstar
Close up viewpoint of Middle Falls

Letchworth is home to not one, not two but three noteworthy waterfalls. Whoever named them Lower, Middle and Upper falls must have been feeling entirely uninspired but at least they are easy to remember!

Each of the falls have distinguishing features making them unmissable on a day trip to Letchworth.

Let’s take a look at each of the major Letchworth State Park waterfalls:

1. Letchworth Lower Falls

Lower Falls at Letchworth State Park Western New York in Fall with beautiful foliage
Lower Falls surrounded by vibrant autumnal colors

Lower Falls is Letchworth’s smallest, quaintest, quietest and arguably prettiest waterfall.

To reach Lower Falls, park at any of the lots along Park Road between Inspiration Point and Lower Falls Trailhead. Walk along the Gorge Trail until you reach a brown sign pointing down a set of 127 stairs to reach Lower Falls and a stone footbridge.

Take the next path down to the gorgeous stone bridge for awesome up-gorge views of the waterfall.

Letchworth State Park NY stone bridge crossing the Genesee River and Lower Falls waterfall in the background fall foliage colors photography
Lower Falls footbridge

Cross the bridge and follow the cliff-hugging path as it turns left before arriving at an obvious overlook point. Don’t try to climb the mound, it might not end well!

Instead, enjoy the gorgeous view looking up-river at the ornate bridge and waterfall combination. This is the perfect photography location for Lower Falls.

Cross back over the bridge and walk along the wooded path following the Genesse toward Lower Falls. You will find photography opportunities difficult to come by. There are a number of small rocky outcrops to get shots between trees but be careful with footing.

Crowds will be much thinner here when compared to Middle and Upper falls.

2. Letchworth Middle Falls

Letchworth State Park middle falls from small observation platform in front of waterfall
Middle Falls during a warm summer day

Standing at 107 ft tall and over 250 ft wide, Middle Falls is Letchworth State Park’s powerful centerpiece.

Middle Falls resembles a much smaller version of Niagara Falls with huge volumes of water crashing over its relatively short drop. This is the most popular cataract waterfall of the three in the park.

Park at either Glen Iris Inn parking lot or Middle or Upper Falls parking lot for easiest access to Middle Falls.

You can get up close and personal with Middle Falls. Either stand in a rounded stone observation point right in front of the waterfall or stand almost in touching distance on its right hand side. The likelihood of getting wet (from water vapor) in both places is very high!

However, the most iconic and beautiful view of Middle Falls is from Inspiration Point, which we’ll cover in photography locations.

Rainbow in a gorge with high walls and river in new york
Hidden rainbow at Middle Falls

Middle Falls has a colorful surprise if you visit on a sunny day around lunchtime or mid afternoon.

Standing right by the side of the waterfall, turn to look into the canyon and through clouds of water vapor you should be able to see a bright rainbow shining deep inside the gorge.

Photography can be difficult close to Middle Falls because of the relentless vapor cloud. Either be patient and wait for a rare clearing (wind changing direction for example) or take a drying cloth to wipe your lens or filter.

For the ultimate Letchworth State Park experience, take a look into Balloons over Letchworth with whom you can ride a hot air balloon right over Middle Falls.

3. Letchworth Upper Falls

Letchworth State Park Upper Falls in autumn with stunning fall foliage blue sky and awesome waterfall
Upper Falls with railroad bridge in the background

Letchworth Upper Falls curves like a narrow horseshoe and is framed by its outstanding man made feature – a steel arched railroad bridge. Upper Falls and the railroad bridge can be seen in the distance behind Middle Falls from Inspiration Point.

Park at either Middle or Upper Falls for front-on views or a smaller lot close to the bridge (at bridge height) for side-on views. Parking at the bridge will mean you have to take steps down to see the waterfall but the elevated steps also offer excellent elevated views into Upper Falls.

Letchworth State Park upper falls train crossing train bridge beautiful red colors in fall
Upper Falls with freight train crossing the Genesee River

At the bottom of the steps you can get a lovely shot of the waterfall with the railroad bridge and if you strike it lucky, a freight train will pass over the Genesee River.

Remember to freeze the train in motion you’ll need a fast shutter speed – which is the opposite of what you will have been doing with a slow shutter to capture silky waterfalls! That being said a train could look artistic with a slow shutter speed.

Visiting in peak Fall season with naturally vibrant colors and tones creates a stunning image. If you visit in Summer, all trees and vegetation are lush green. Personally, we prefer Fall!

Further Reading: Complete guide to the stunning and best waterfalls in New York

Best Photography Locations In Letchworth State Park

Letchworth is an incredibly photogenic New York State Park. It is easy to see why it won most stunning State Park for a reason.

During the pandemic when we were hunkered down in upstate NY, we used Letchworth State Park as one of our regular haunts. We had not one, but several sunrise and astro photography shoots to ourselves!

The best photography locations in Letchworth State Park are:

  • Lower Falls
  • Middle Falls
  • Upper Falls
  • Great Bend
  • Inspiration Point

As we just discussed Letchworth State Park’s three waterfalls in detail, we are just going to cover the two additional photography locations in this next section.

Sunrise photography great bend overlook letchworth state park new york
Great Bend Overlook early in the morning just before sunrise

1. Great Bend: Letchworth State Park Sunrise Photography

In our opinion the most spectacular time of day to be at Letchworth State Park is between civil twilight and sunrise. If you plan to shoot a sunrise, ignore the waterfalls and instead set up between Great Bend Overlook at Archery Field Overlook.

Enter via Castile entrance, turn left on Park Road and around 50 meters ahead there is a place you can park on the road side. Look to your right and you will see the most incredible part of Letchworth, a horseshoe shaped bend in the Genesee River with towering cliffs and a gargantuan center ‘island’ dotted with thousands of colorful trees.

The sun will rise directly behind the island and if you’re extra lucky, there will be mist and clouds down in the horseshoe shaped gorge creating a mesmerizing scene.

We’ve personally woken up early and arrived at the park before civil twilight 4 times. Three were cloudy (despite weather forecasts saying otherwise) but one was clear and beautiful.

Middle and Upper Falls with beautiful gorge in fall spectacular colors new york
Inspiration Point with Middle Falls and the Genesee Arch Bridge

2. Inspiration Point Overlook: Letchworth Waterfalls, Sunset & Astro Photography

After the sunrise location described above, Inspiration Point is our second favorite location at Letchworth.

Views from the overlook are sublime, looking straight down the deep Genesee gorge flanked by colorful trees until it reaches Middle Falls and Upper Falls and the railroad bridge!

One of the major photography problems here is the sky. It always seems to be washed out grey and never bright blue with big fluffy cotton-wool clouds when we visit!

Letchworth’s most outstanding features are East and Southeast facing, which can make shooting at sunset challenging.

You have 2 options…

Inspiration Point but the sun will be way off to the right of Middle and Upper Falls or cross to the East side of the Genesee and find a good spot looking directly at the sun with Middle Falls or the gorge as foreground.

Are you into astrophotography?

Well, you’re in luck – the waterfalls are directly Southwest of Inspiration Point.

So, if you visit in fall when the Milky Way becomes visible to the Southwest and time it right for a clear night with little to no Moon. You can create some exceptional photographs.

Sony camera positioned near Middle Falls at Letchworth State Park
Sony camera pointed towards Middle Falls

Letchworth State Park Beginner Photography Tips

Drone Photography In Letchworth

Let’s get the cat out of the bag first… can you fly a drone in Letchworth State Park?

Yes, but you cannot fly a drone in Letchworth State Park unless you contact the park ahead of time (at least 10 days) and get clearance.

For more information, visit the NY State Parks website.

Photography Equipment

  1. Tripod – You will want a tripod with extendable center column to get some height. In order to achieve the silky waterfall effect, you will need to keep your camera stable to shoot a long exposure.
  2. ND Filter – If you are shooting during the daylight, don’t forget a fixed or variable ND filter to minimize the light.
  3. Cleaning Kit – Waterfalls may spray a lot of water droplets so it essential to keep your camera as dry as possible. You may also need to remove any water vapor from the lenses and filters.
  4. Wide Angle Lens – Sunrise at Great Bend is amazing, but you will definitely need a wide angle lens in order to capture the entire horseshoe bend. A 24mm almost gets it all in, but not quite. We used our 16mm. Alternatively, you could capture 3 or 4 vertical images moving left to right and them stitch them as a pano in Lightroom later.
  5. Telephoto Lens – A telephoto lens is perfect for Inspiration Point so you can compress both Middle and Upper Falls. Middle Falls lights up at dusk which makes for a great photo if you can get the right composition and weather conditions.

Photography Tips In Letchworth

  1. Arrive early – In fact, arrive at the start if civil twilight. This way you can choose your spot before others turn up. Be sure to enjoy the stunning deep blue hues before sunrise and set your gear up slowly.
  2. Shutter Speed – Aim for shutter speed of between 0.6 to 2.0 second when shooting waterfalls. Try each interval and look through your viewfinder on playback to see which setting you prefer.

Further Reading: Read our photography gift guide which consists of the cameras, lenses, tripods, filters and all other equipment we personally use and recommend.

Letchworth State Park NY Weather

Letchworth State Park is typically cold and temperate, with short hot summers followed by long cold winters, but the park experiences several days of rainfall each month, even during the driest months of the year.

Here are typical average temperatures you can expect when visiting Letchworth:

  • January – high 32 f / low 16 f
  • February – high 34 f / low 16 f
  • March – high 43 f / low 23 f
  • April – high 55 f / low 34 f
  • May – high 68 f / low 46 f
  • June – high 77 f / low 55 f
  • July – high 81 f / low 59 f
  • August – high 79 f / low 57 f
  • September – high 73 f / low 50 f
  • October – high 61 f / low 41 f
  • November – high 48 f / low 32 f
  • December – high 37 f / low 23 f

Source: NOAA

Letchworth State Park is located in western New York close to Rochester, Buffalo, Lake Eerie and Lake Ontario. This region benefits from extremes in all four seasons of the year, which means hot summers, perfect temperatures in spring and fall, and very cold winters.

Lake Effect Snow At Letchworth State Park In Winter

Winter in particular feels the extreme around Letchworth and western New York because of a localized weather event known as “Lake Effect Snow”.

Freezing cold air moves southeast from Canada and passes over the warmer waters of Lake Ontario, which leads to evaporation and eventually enormous snow dumps once it reaches western New York.

This means at any given time, Letchworth can receive a few feet of snow in a short period of time. This can impact on visiting with road closures, but it can also make for spectacular winter photography.

December, January and February are the snowiest months of the year at Letchworth, but don’t be surprised if you experience snow during a visit in November or March.

Best time to visit new york is fall for colorful foliage river running through gorge
Genesse River view from a scenic overlook

Best Time To Visit Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park is stunning any time of the day and year. But there are certain times we believe this park truly shines.

Let’s take a look at what you can expect in each season and the best time of day to visit.

Best Time Of Year At Letchworth

Spring

Spring is the best time to visit Letchworth State Park for heavily running waterfalls as snow melts and runs into the Genesse River. In late spring, vibrant green colors begin to blossom and and temperatures are cooler which is perfect for hiking.

Summer

Summer is extremely busy, hot and humid during the day at Letchworth. Hiking trails will be crowded and parking can be problematic. However, this is the best time of year for camping, sunrise and astro photography around the park.

Winter

Winter can be stunning at Letchworth with minimal crowds and snowfall blanketing many of Letchworth’s quintessential attractions. Snowmobiling, cross country skiing and other winter activities are very popular at Letchworth in December, January and February.

Important: In winter the south entrance (Portageville) has a road closure as far as Upper and Middle Falls. You should enter via Castile. Restrooms are available at Inspiration Point, Middle Falls, Trailside Lodge, Highbanks and the Dam Overlook.

Letchworth State Park Fall Foliage

Fall is the most picturesque time of year to visit Letchworth State Park with vibrant and spectacular fall foliage lighting up the banks of the Genesee River.

You will find the entire park transforms into an oasis of browns, reds, pinks, yellows and oranges. But perhaps the most special spots for fall foliage photos are Upper Falls and Inspiration Point.

Autumn is our favorite time of year to visit Letchworth, not only for the leaves but also thanks to comfortable hiking temperatures and fewer people when compared to summer.

Best Time Of Day At Letchworth

Sunrise is by far the best time of day for photography at Letchworth State Park, plus you will find fewer crowds on hiking trails. Keep in mind, it is free to enter before 9am.

Between 10am and 4pm the park is naturally going to be busier, particularly in Summer, on weekends and holidays.

Visiting Letchworth later in the early evening is a great idea. The crowds will thin and softer light creates better natural images, particularly around and right after sunset.

At night, you will find several photographers with tripods lining up to take long exposures of the waterfalls. This is especially true in summer when the nights are warmer.

Glen Iris Inn at Letchworth State Park
The historic Glen Iris Inn

Places To Eat Near Letchworth State Park

There are a few food options located directly in Letchworth. All food concessions in the park are run by ‘The Basics.’ But there are also a few food options located a little bit out of the park in the surrounding towns of Mount Morris, Castile and Perry.

Food South End Of Letchworth:

  • Glen Iris Inn – Breakfast, lunch and dinner | Menu
  • Letchworth Gift Shop – Coffee, drinks and snacks
  • Lower Falls Restaurant & Lodge – Daily specials, ice cream, wood, ice and camping supplies
  • Upper Falls Snack Bar – Ice cream, drinks, grilled and fried food
  • Footbridge Nature Shoppe – Drinks and snacks

Food North End Of Letchworth:

  • Dam Overlook Cafe & Gifts – Coffee bar, snacks and ice cream
  • Highbanks Camp Store – Coffee, ice cream, groceries, wood, ice and camping supplies
  • Highbanks Pool Snack Bar – Food and drinks

Where To Eat Outside Of Letchworth:

  • Brian’s USA Diner (Mount Morris) – American diner with breakfast, burgers & classics | Menu
  • Questa Lasagna (Mount Morris) – Fresh authentic Italian cuisine | Menu
  • Hole In The Wall Restaurant (Perry) – Sandwiches, wood-fires pizzas, salads and pasta | Menu
  • Lumber Yard Restaurant (Perry) – American brunch, lunch & dinner | Menu
  • Charcoal Corral (Perry) – Pasta, pizza and BBQ | Menu

Travel-Tip: If you don’t mind a little driving, we would recommend you eat at the Dinosaur BBQ. This restaurant is about 45 minutes and 40 miles from the Castile entrance located in downtown Rochester. Kristen grew up on Dinosaur BBQ and it has since become one of Mark’s favorite restaurants since moving to the US. Reservations are highly recommended.

Photography tips where are those morgans stunning stone path with railroad bridge and waterfall in new york
Perspective of Upper Falls from the Gorge Trail

Hotels Near Letchworth State Park

One of Letchworth’s downsides is a lack of easy access hotel options and nearby amenities. If you don’t want to camp or stay inside the park at the Glen Iris Inn or lodges, you’ll need to find a hotel in a small town close to the park.

Mount Morris and Geneseo are the best options for those who like to have amenities at hand. However, there is a fantastic isolated B&B option much closer to Letchworth’s major highlights.

Below are the top rated hotels near Letchworth State Park. You also might find our guide on how to find the best hotel deals helpful.

Letchworth Farm (Nunda)

Located just 6 miles (10 minutes drive) from Letchworth’s Portageville entrance in Nunda. Letchworth Farm has an exceptionally high guest rating of 9.5. Breakfast is included and the grounds look amazing. Horse stables and equestrian theme throughout.

Check availability and prices for Letchworth Farm here.

Country Inn & Suites by Radisson (Mt. Morris)

Ideally located just 30 seconds drive from Letchworth’s North (Main) entrance, Country Inn & Suites offers an indoor pool and small gym, plus included breakfast. It is the highest guest rated hotel in Mt Morris at 8.4.

Check availability and prices for the Country Inn & Suites by Radisson here.

Temple Hill Bed & Breakfast (Geneseo)

Geneseo has a handful of highly rated hotels (see them all here), but the Temple Hill Bed and Breakfast is top rated with consistently happy travelers and high ratings.

Rated 9.7 by previous guests, this historic Inn serves breakfast with access to an outdoor swimming pool if you are visiting during the summer months. Letchworth’s main entrance is located 6.6 miles from the Temple Hill Bed and Breakfast.

Check availability and prices for the Temple Hill Bed and Breakfast here.

Small waterfall at Letchworth State Park with fall leaves
Small waterfall at Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park Camping

If hotels don’t fit your budget or you would prefer to be outdoors surrounded by nature, there are 81 cabins and 257 campsites at Letchworth State Park for you to consider.

For cabins and campgrounds, reservations can be made anywhere from 1 day to 9 months in advance.

Click here to book campgrounds or cabins at Letchworth.

Amenities include a comfort station, convenience store, convenience store, laundry, picnic tables, showers, swimming, volleyball and a water fill-up station.

Campgrounds

All campground loops at Letchworth are open from May until October. The 257 campsites are available in numbered loops, #100-800.

Letchworth campsites costs $27-30 per night. There is also a $5 out of state resident fee for camping.

The Perry entrance is the best way to enter for Highbanks tent and trailer camping.

Rustic Cabins

The 81 Rustic Cabins at Letchworth are available in alphabetical sections, A-E. Each section is open slightly different times of the year:

  • A Cabins: May – Nov
  • B Cabins: May – Oct
  • C Cabins: May – Nov
  • D Cabins: May – Sep
  • E Cabins: May – Sep

Letchworth Cabins cost $132 – 568 per week or 1/4 the weekly charge for a nightly rate.

The Castile entrance is the best way to enter for the A and B cabins. The Parade Grounds entrance is the best way to enter for the D and E cabins, but is closed in the winter. The Perry entrance is the best way to enter for C cabins.

Glen Iris Inn

The Glen Iris Inn was acquired by William P. Letchworth in 1859. This historic inn has been renovated many times, but currently has a total of 15 air conditioned guest rooms with 11 standard rooms and 4 luxury suites. Rooms at the Glen Iris Inn range anywhere from $145-305 per night.

Additional accommodation options include the Pinewood Lodge, Pinewood Lofts, Caroline’s Cottage, the Stone House and the Chalet House.

Click here for more info about the Glen Iris Inn.

Maplewood Lodge

The Maplewood Lodge is a historic lodge at Letchworth located near the Highbanks tent and trailer camping area by the Perry entrance. This lodge fits 8 people with 3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, kitchen, dining room and living room.

Prices for the Maplewood Lodge include $350 per night with a 2 night minimum and $523 per holiday weekend with a 3 night minimum.

Click here for more info about the Maplewood Lodge.

Parker’s Hideaway

Parker’s Hideaway is another historic lodge at Letchworth located near the Highbanks tent and trailer camping area by the Perry entrance. This lodge fits 6 people with 2 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, kitchen, dining room and living room.

The cost for the Parker’s Hideaway includes peak and non-peak (end of Jun to end of August) pricing. Peak season includes a 5 night minimum, non-peak season includes a two night minimum and holidays include a three night minimum.

  • Peak time – $1000 per 5 day week (Fri – Wed)
  • Non Peark time – $1000 per 3 day week (Fri – Wed) or $300 per night

Click here for more info about Parker’s Hideaway.

Man and woman sitting on stone steps near Upper falls at Letchworth State Park
Mark and Kristen sitting on the stone steps near Upper Falls

Letchworth State Park FAQ’s

Let’s take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Letchworth State Park.

How Much Does It Cost To Get Into Letchworth State Park?

A $10 entrance fee is required at Letchworth State Park from May to October from the hours between 9:00am and 5:00pm. However, entry fees are waived to Letchworth with the Empire Pass.

What Is Letchworth State Park Known For?

Letchworth State Park is also known as ‘Grand Canyon of the East’ with many outdoor activities including hiking, waterfalls, bird watching and photography.

Is Letchworth State Park Worth Visiting?

Yes, Letchworth State Park is worth visiting. Not only has Letchworth been voted most stunning State Park in the US, but it offers something for everyone while packing a big punch.

Can I Drive Through Letchworth State Park?

Yes, you can easily drive through Letchworth State Park. The park spans 17 miles of mostly paved roads. Many of the scenic overlooks are only a short distance from the road, but keep in mind most attractions are on the west side of the park.

How Can I See Waterfalls At Letchworth?

The easiest way to see the waterfalls at Letchworth State Park is to drive to the Glen Iris Inn and park at Middle Falls parking lot which is nearby. You can then follow the Gorge Trail left for 1.5 miles to Lower Falls or head about 0.5 miles right to Upper Falls.

What Entrance Is Best For Letchworth?

The Portageville and Castile entrances in the southwest are the best entrances for Letchworth State Park. You will have immediate access to popular attractions including the three waterfalls, scenic viewpoints, the historic Glen Iris Inn and most of the food options on the park.

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We hope this guide helped with planning your visit to Letchworth State Park in western New York!

Have you been to Letchworth? Which is your favorite State Park around the Finger Lakes?

Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit by scrolling down to the comments box below.

Happy Hiking,

Mark and Kristen

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Tammi

Thursday 30th of September 2021

Beautiful photos and advice, thank you so much! Visiting soon and just hope I don't miss the fall foliage.

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Thursday 30th of September 2021

Thank you, Tammi - We have everything crossed you'll hit Letchworth right at peak foliage! If you have clear weather and can make sunrise on the bend, it is worth making the extra effort :)

Marie B

Sunday 11th of July 2021

Thank you fir this helpful information. Planning on taken my twin grandsons next week and this came just in the best time .

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Monday 12th of July 2021

Glad you found it just in time, Marie! Have a great time at the park with your grandkids :)

Go Wander Wild

Thursday 3rd of June 2021

I loved reading about your experience in Letchworth State Park New York. Your descriptions really made it come alive for me. Happy travels!

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Friday 4th of June 2021

Thank you - Letchworth is one of our favorites, hope you get a chance to visit sometime soon. Happy travels to you too!

Lee Schomer

Thursday 13th of May 2021

Hi Mark & Kristen. We've never been to this park before so we'll definately be using this guide for our hiking plans. We'll be staying in Mount Morris and wondered if you have any advice as to restaurants & food. Looks like several of the restaurants close on Mondays and Tuesdays. We plan to hike as much as possible and decent food is always a great perk!

And thanks for putting all this information together!

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Friday 14th of May 2021

Hi Lee, yes good food is always welcome! We never ate in Mt Morris but if Questa Lasagna is closed during your stay, there's a highly thought of diner a few miles up the road called Brian's USA Diner. Geneseo is a nearby college town and should have more available. If you don't mind a drive and would prefer pizza, go past Geneseo to Avon and Pizza Land. Or you could always eat at the Glen Iris Inn near the waterfalls inside Letchworth, it's more expensive but looks great and convenient after hiking. Have a great trip and don't miss the sunrise near Great Bend Overlook if you have clear weather!

Gwyn Bauder

Saturday 6th of March 2021

Is there any pamphlet or guide that can be sent?

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Saturday 6th of March 2021

Hi Gwyn, thank you for getting in touch but unfortunately we do not have this blog post in paper format. We recommend keeping this page open on your phone when you visit. Have a great trip!