New York is home to many fantastic state parks, but few are as awe-inspiring as Letchworth State Park.
Letchworth State Park straddles the banks of the Genesee River along a canyon that is as much as 550 feet deep, garnering it the nickname the “Grand Canyon of the East”. While the park is said to be home to dozens of waterfalls, there are three large falls on the Genesee River that are the stars of the park. These are creatively named Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls.
The Genesee River starts in northern Pennsylvania and flows north through the park. This is important to know as, despite what you would assume, Upper Falls is actually the southernmost of the waterfalls.
As the river leaves the Letchworth State Park, it passes through the Mount Morris Dam, the largest concrete dam east of the Mississippi. North of the park, there are two more large waterfalls in downtown Rochester before the river flows into Lake Ontario.
While it’s possible to spend several days exploring the park, the three main Letchworth State Park waterfalls can be seen in just a few short hours. Upper Falls and Middle Falls are especially easy to see as they are located along wide trails and close to parking. However, it’s definitely worth the short hike to see Lower Falls, as well.
As stated above, Upper Falls is actually the southernmost of the three waterfalls in the park on the Genesee River. It is the second tallest of the three main waterfalls at approximately 70 feet in height. The water here falls in a horseshoe shape, which gives it a lot of beauty.
Probably the most unique feature of Uppers Falls is the bridge that stands more than 200 feet above the river. This active railroad bridge creates a unique scene for both viewing and photography, and its amazing to watch trains pass over the bridge.
Upper Falls is most easily reached by parking the Falls Area parking lot and heading upstream a short distance. It is also located along Trails #1 and #2 for those looking to do a little hiking while in the park.
Middle Falls is the tallest waterfall on the Genesee River the Letchworth State Park at 107 feet in height. It is also, in my opinion, the most impressive. In fact, I think it’s one of the most impressive waterfalls in New York.
Middle Falls is located just a few hundred yards downstream from Upper Falls, and Trail #1 runs directly past this waterfall. It is also adjacent to the Falls Area parking lot.
The concrete path next to the falls offers many great vantage points including looking directly over the crest of the falls.
Middle Falls is located just below Glen Iris Inn, the former home of William Pryor Letchworth, the man who donated much of the park’s land. While I haven’t personally stayed here, there’s no denying that it has an amazing location for those that love waterfalls.
A visit to Inspiration Point is one of the highlights of any visit to Letchworth State Park. From here, there are fantastic views of Middle Falls and Upper Falls. Without a doubt, this is one of the best overlooks in Upstate New York.
It is possible to drive within steps of Inspiration Point, but you can also follow Trail #1 from Upper Falls and Middle Falls to this vista.
Of the three main Letchworth State Park waterfalls, Lower Falls is the most difficult to reach. However, that’s not saying much since the other waterfalls are located adjacent to a parking area. All told, the hike to Lower Falls is probably under half a mile from the Lower Falls Parking Area, though it does require descending about 125 steps to get to stream level.
From the parking lot, head through the picnic area. Soon, you’ll see the stairs to your left leading down to the falls. There is a sign at the stairs that claims there’s a spot to view the falls from above, but there isn’t much to see here. If you can descend the steps, don’t bother trying to find the easy view.
At the bottom of the steps, heading to your right will take you to near the base of the falls. Heading to the left, and down a few more steps, will take you to the only bridge over the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park.
I recommend checking out both spots as they both give fantastic views of this waterfall.
I’ve seen some sources claiming that Lower Falls is over 50 feet in height, but I’d put it closer to half that. Still, it’s a stunning waterfall, and the chance to hike into the gorge shouldn’t be missed.
For those looking for a longer hike, Trail #1 can be used to access Lower Falls. It’s about a two-mile hike (one way) from Upper Falls to Lower Falls.
(Note that this waterfall shouldn’t be confused with Lower Falls in Rochester further upstream on the Genesee River.)
Other Letchworth State Park Waterfalls
It is said that there are more than 50 waterfalls in Letchworth State Park, but many are either seasonal or in deep gorges and very dangerous or even impossible to get a good look at.
One of these seasonal waterfalls, Inspiration Falls is located near Inspiration Point and is said, at 350 feet, to be the tallest waterfall in New York. However, this waterfall is rarely more than a trickle.
Two waterfalls that I had a chance to visit in the northern half of the park were Waterline Falls and Papermill Falls. Both of these waterfalls can be found off Trail #19 near the camping area.
Waterline Falls is located just a few hundred yards from the trailhead, and the falls are below a bridge over the road. While less than 20 feet in height, Waterline Falls is a beautiful cascading waterfall and worth taking the time to see if you are in the northern half of the park.
While at Waterline Falls, cross the stream and follow it under the bridge. Just around the corner, you’ll come to another small waterfall that has the remnants of a bridge just above it.
Papermill Falls is another hidden waterfall in the northern half of the park. Reaching this waterfall requires a bit more hiking, some along trails that are a bit overgrown, but the total hike is only about half a mile one way.
Papermill Falls can only be viewed from above, and extreme caution should be used here as the cliffs are steep. This waterfall falls in a single drop of about 20 feet, before making a 90-degree turn and splitting in two for another 20-foot drop.
While the view from above is nice, I really wish there was a way to access the base of the falls as it looks fantastic.
Where to Stay Near Letchworth State Park
Letchworth State Park is located in a fairly rural area, so lodging options are a bit limited. In addition to the aforementioned Glen Iris Inn, as well as the park’s campground, the closets lodging options are north of the park in Mount Morris. Here you’ll find a Country Inn and Suites and the Greenway Motel.
The closest area with a large number of hotels is about 30 miles away to the south of Rochester in and around where I-390 and I-90 meet.
Do you have a favorite Letchworth State Park waterfall that we didn’t include? Let us know in the comments below.