Hiking along the Genesee: Letchworth State Park – East Side

This is one of the hiking ideas that Genesee RiverWatch has compiled along and around the Genesee River.


Full route = 6.0 miles round-trip, easy to moderate hiking

Letchworth is a real jewel in the crown of New York State and, indeed, the United States!  A trip there is well worthwhile at any time of year.  However, like all parks, the easy-to-get-to parts are often crowded, and you will have to wear your mask much of the time.  On the other hand, the east side of the river within the park is almost deserted and offers unique hiking and viewing pleasures.

Words of caution:  (1) During the winter, park staff may not plow all the roads and will close them to vehicle traffic.  Be sure to obey all road closures.  (2) On the east side of the river there are very few park walls between you and a disastrous fall into the gorge.  Be sensible and leave yourself a wide margin of safety, especially in the winter when snow and ice can make the edges treacherous.  (3) Finally, beyond the Middle Falls overlook, you will see signs and orange fencing warning you not to go further.  The closed area is a large landslide that can be best seen from the Glen Iris Inn across the river.  It is very dangerous and should not be entered!

Driving Directions

From NY Thruway Exit 46, take Interstate 390 south to the Mt. Morris exit.  Head west on Rt. 408 through Mt. Morris to Nunda.  Take Rt. 436 west out of Nunda, 4.6 miles to Parade Ground Road.  (If you go under the railroad overpass you have gone too far.)  Follow Parade Ground Road to the Parade Ground parking area.  In the winter Parade Ground Road will be blocked to vehicle traffic beyond this point.  The total distance from Exit 46 is 45.4 miles.

Hiking Directions

The Letchworth State Park (South Section) map will give you a good overview of the hiking directions below.

Hike downhill along Parade Ground Road about 0.2 miles to where the Genesee Valley Greenway/Finger Lakes Trail crosses the road.

Turn left and walk around the vehicle gate following the level footpath.  Continue for about 0.7 miles taking in the views of the gorge.  The Greenway Trail follows the towpath of the Genesee Valley Canal (1840-1878) which became the Genesee Valley Canal Railroad in 1882 and, eventually, part of the Pennsylvania Railroad until it was abandoned in 1963.  To your left are the remains of the canal bed, old railroad ties and stones used as part of both canal and railroad structures.

From the Middle Falls overlook, return to Parade Ground Road on the same trail.  Cross the road, pass through the yellow vehicle barriers, and continue along the trail.  Follow the line of the canal/railroad through the forest for 1.75 miles to a set of yellow gates and the unpaved River Road.  At this point you will leave the level line of the canal and the hike will become somewhat more difficult as it follows roads up and down hills.

Turn left (north) and follow River Road for about 0.3 miles to a gate on the left that blocks vehicle access to an old logging/park road leading down toward the river.  (Letchworth Trail 8A)  Walk downhill 0.4 miles to the unpaved extension of Parade Ground Road.

If you turn to the right, the dirt road will end across the river from Great Bend Overlook and the Archery Field.  Several interesting trails branch off this road.  Keep these in mind for the summer months.

For today’s hike, turn to the left and hike 1.75 miles along the road back to the trail/road intersection below the parking lot where you started.  On the way you will pass a trail leading to Lower Falls on the east side (closed in the winter).  Further along you will walk by a photogenic pond with a bird blind built on the far side.  Shortly after this there is an overlook with a great view of Lower Falls and the hills beyond.

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