The 6 Best Hikes in Letchworth State Park

Autumn Colors at Letchworth State Park in New York
Matt Anderson / Getty Images

Western New York’s Letchworth State Park, about an hour’s drive southeast of Buffalo, is a glorious destination for day hiking when the weather’s good. The best time to go is between April and October, when the weather is warmer and there’s unlikely to be snow on the ground (although it’s always possible in April or October!). Divided in two by the Genesee River Gorge, the western side of the park is generally busier with hikers and day-trippers coming to see the famous Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls; the eastern side, on the other hand, is much less developed. With 66 miles of marked hiking trails through the park, we've rounded up some of the best.

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Gorge Trail

NY-436, Castile, NY 14427, USA

Aptly numbered Trail #1 on park maps, the moderate 7-mile Gorge Trail is the most popular within Letchworth State Park. It can get quite busy when the conditions are good, but it’s worth it for the gorge and waterfall views. Following the western side of the Genesee River, the trail passes the three main waterfalls in the park—the Lower, Upper, and Middle falls—and offers views of the Shadow and De-ge-wa-nus falls, both of which are about 15 feet high. There’s no need to stay in the park overnight for this hike, but if you want to, a number of campsites and cabins are available in most seasons; however, keep in mind that all but a few cabins close in winter.

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Hemlock Trail

One of Letchworth’s most scenic trails, the 2.5-mile Hemlock Trail is so named because of the many 100-plus-year-old hemlock trees you’ll see along the way. In addition, the hike features red pine trees and the peaceful Pine Pond. Part of the trail follows the Deh-ga-ya-soh Creek, which runs into the Genesee River by way of the 150-foot Deh-ga-ya-soh Falls. To turn this hike into a longer loop track, combine it with the Mary Jemison Trail.

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Mary Jemison Trail

The 2.5-mile Mary Jemison Trail is another good, somewhat short option that can be combined with other hikes (the Hemlock Trail and the Gorge Trail) if you’re up for something longer. Highlights are an old reservoir that houses beavers, 150-year-old trees, and an old stone dam. It’s less popular than the Gorge Trail or Hemlock Trail, but it still has the benefit of being on the busier western side of the park, if accessibility is important to you.

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Portage Trail

Originally constructed in the 1930s to portage canoes down the river—thereby avoiding the gorge's three big waterfalls—this half-mile trail features the park's only river crossing. Starting on the eastern side (which is free to enter, unlike the western side!), it follows the cliffs of the gorge up to the Lower Falls. Despite a bit of scrambling and some muddy terrain, this is an easy trail, with views of the falls that few visitors see.

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Genesee Valley Greenway Trail

This easy-to-moderate, 5.75-mile trail follows the former Genesee Valley Canal, constructed in 1836 and used until 1878. You can see remnants of the Pennsylvania Railroad that followed the canal, operational between the mid-19th century and the 1960s. As this trail follows the eastern side of the Genesee River, you can enjoy views of the park's most popular waterfalls from a less common angle, as well as a glimpse of the seasonal 300-foot Inspiration Falls. This trail is also open in the winter, but take care not to go off the path.

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Letchworth Trail

7200-7388 River Rd, Mt Morris, NY 14510-9441, USA

On the eastern side of the park, the 25-mile (one way) Letchworth Trail is part of the Finger Lakes Trail, which extends for more than 900 miles. This is a great option if you’re looking for an Appalachian Trail-like thru-hike in upstate New York, although you can just focus on the Letchworth section if you prefer. It’s not a busy trail, so unlike many of the shorter hikes at the park, you may have it to yourself for most of the way. A number of side paths lead to road access, with a couple taking hikers to spectacular viewpoints across the river gorge and to some of the park’s many waterfalls.

Aside from its length, this trail is better suited to more experienced hikers because of the steep cliff drop-offs that you’ll encounter from time to time. Navigating these takes care, so it’s probably not ideal if you’re hiking with kids or aren’t very sure-footed. Due to its length, you’ll need to spend at least one night on this trail, possibly more. There are a couple of shelters on the trail, which require permits from the NY State Parks Department to reserve. Alternatively, you could choose to camp along the way; sure to check with the park office for up-to-date rules and regulations for camping in the park.

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The 6 Best Hikes in Letchworth State Park