The Grand Canyon of the East is synonymous with Letchworth State Park and The Genesee River which flows through the it. It is a truly magnificent place. The canyon is primarily situated in New York State and, in 2017 it was voted the best attraction in all the state and it’s not hard to see why.
The impressive Genesee River flows through the park and acts as the focal point for so many activities. As the best amenity attraction in the state and beyond, so many New Yorkers choose to head out here for long weekends all year round on private recreational getaways as well as professional retreats.
But a tourist or outsider to New York State may not be familiar with Letchworth State Park or even heard of The Grand Canyon of the East. In that case this article will be of help to you as we step you through what Letchworth has to offer you.
About Letchworth State Park
Letchworth has it all, lush green forests, towering high gorges and stunning cascading waterfalls…lots of them. It park lies approximately midway along the overall course of the river, starting in the town of Portageville.
The park itself is 17 miles long with the Genesee River flowing northwards through it’s center. It’s a river which ziz-zags it’s way through the park and it’s sides, which rise to 600 ft in places, are the reason it is called The Grand Canyon of the East.
Just for context The Grand Canyon in Arizona averages a depth of 1 mile and 7800 ft at it’s deepest. The gorges of the Genesee are therefore ‘small’ by comparison, however, do not let that deter you from visiting Letchworth. You will truly fall in love with this natural landscape.
I mentioned waterfalls a moment ago, there are 3 main waterfalls in the southern regions of the Letchworth in an area called Portage Canyon. The falls are simply called the upper, middle and lower cascades and are the major attraction in the park and it’s here you will find the highest waterfall in the state, Inspiration Falls. The upper and middle falls are certainly the most popular areas in the park and can get really busy during peak times.
Letchworth State Park as we know it, takes it’s name from the 19th century industrialist and philanthropist, William Letchworth. He was a successful business man. However, seeking respite from his busy working schedule spent a lot of time in a former Seneca territory in western New York. He fell in love with the area to such an extent that in so in 1859 he purchased his first tract of land near Portage Falls as well as a former inn. Over the years he developed both the estate grounds and the Inn, naming it Glen Iris.
In 1906, a few short years before his death, Letchworth gifted the entire estate (1,000 acres) to New York for use as a public park. In a way he was protecting the land and beauty of the region by ensuring it did not fall into the hands of developers. The house, at first the park HQ, reverted back to it’s original purpose as an inn and lodge. To this day it still offers a fine dining experience as well as accommodation in the middle falls area.More about the latter in a moment.
The land around here was, for a long time, part of the territory considered home to the Seneca people. They, ultimately, were forced out of the area during the American War of Independence having sided with the vanquished British forces. Letchworth’s legacy is forever intertwined with that of the Seneca and the Native American heritage of the area. He did several things to preserve their history and heritage by creating a new Seneca council house and, furthermore, building a museum to display and store the Seneca artifacts for future generations
Where is The Grand Canyon of The East?
|Address||1 Letchworth State Park|
Castile, NY 14427
The Grand Canyon of the East and Letchworth State Park is located in the western part of New York state, crossing between the counties of Livingston and Wyoming, just off of Route 19A. It’s approximately 35 miles southwest of Rochester and 315 miles from New York which is about a 5 hour journey. If you’re not following GPS, take interstate 80 or interstate 86 (NY Route 17).
Though the address and coordinates above are for the entrance at Castile, there are also entrances in the towns of Mount Morris, Perry and Portageville. Having a few choices of entrance is of great benefit in terms of accessibility to different areas within easy distance of your vehicle.
Just a note; Ausable Chasm is NOT part of Letchworth State Park. While Ausable Chasm is also in New York State, and given the moniker “the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks”. Don’t confuse it with Letchworth State Park.
Fees and Rates
It is customary to pay a entrance fee for all vehicles in New York State parks. For better understanding of the exact rates please visit the official NY State Park website.
- Please note the Park is CASH ONLY – Credit Cards are NOT Accepted.
- Cost: You can expect to pay $10* per vehicle.
- Hours: The park road is open daily, year around, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
- Camping: Expect to spend $24-$26/night.
- Cabins: Daily rate is 1/4 the weekly charge.
- Cabins: Weekly charge varies $132-$512.
- Museum: Operates on a donation basis.
Further reading: Some of the Best Party Beaches in the USA are in Florida.
At 17 miles long and with over 66 miles of hiking trails, Letchworth is a outdoor lover’s dream. The Park offers so much for so many types of people. To leave is only to start planning your return visit.
Let’s run through some of the many activities available in the park.
The park has over 60 miles of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty and something to suit all fitness levels. In total there are 28 trails from which to choose and the hikes range from half a mile to 21 miles. You can download a park map here and the routes are marked on the maps.
Please note that Portage Trail #6 is closed to the public as it is still an active railroad bridge.
Letchworth Museum and Seneca Council House
Letchworth Museum – I have mentioned Letchworth already and the fact that he setup a museum in the park. The Letchworth museum houses a fascinating collection of archaeological and historical artifacts relating to Seneca Indians and pioneers as well as natural history displays. The museum is located in the Middle Falls Area of the park near the Glen Iris Inn.
It is up 7 days a week between May & October. While the museum is ‘free’ a donation is normal. The suggested amounts for entry are $1 for adults, $0.50 for children and $3 for families.
Seneca Council House and Grounds – A must is to go and see the Seneca council house as well as Mary Jamison cabin, statue and grave-site. It is located behind the museum on a cliff overlooking the Genesee River.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
What a sensational way to see the park in on it’s splendor. Taking a balloon ride over the gorges of the Genesee river, it’s three water falls is certainly one of the better activities at the park. Booking is required for this excursion. Be sure to pack your camera. This could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a balloon ride and what better place to do it. Glide in colorful style over the park. Click here for more information.
White Water Rafting
If you’re looking for a thrill, rafting down the grand canyon of the east will certainly get that adrenaline flowing as fast as the rapids of the Genesee. This experience is ideal for first-timers, scout groups and even families with children.
The rafting experience is operated by Adventure Calls Outfitters and is located in the Lower Falls area of the park. Arriving at the South Poolhouse you can hire your wet-suit and pay your fees. During the summer months the water levels can be quite low and so, inflatable sit-on kayaks are used instead. The type of vessel you use will be determined on the day you visit based on rainfall and water levels.
Winter Sports – Skiing, Snowmobiling & Snow Tubing.
As the park is open all year round you can also use the hiking trails for cross country skiing, snowmobiling and tubing during the winter months. And, if you’re feeling festive in December you can even take a ride on a horse drawn sleigh. No reindeer around here and I don’t think the dear will oblige but, maybe they might put a red nose on the horse?
Hunting for Big Game at Letchworth State Park is permissiable by permit only. You can find all the necessary application forms here. Legal weapons for hunting in Letchworth are Bow, Crossbow, Shotgun, Muzzleloader and Handgun. You cannot use a rifle with hunting for game within the park.
Strange to mention hunting and then follow it along with bird conservation!! Letchworth has been designated as a Bird Conservation Area and with dense green vegetation it is a haven for all sorts of species of bird. You can expect to see Bald Eagles, more than 20 species of wood Warblers, Turkey vultures and Yellow Billed Cuckoos.
If you’re out in the park to drink in the natural beauty of the area, be sure you do not disturb rocks, vegetation or other natural objects and avoid making talking out loud or making loud noises.
This recreation center or ‘Rec Center’ is a fantastic new addition to the park and it’s amenities. I represents a great area for people of all ages to gather and have some fun and friendly competition. Funded by NY Parks capital initiative and costing $2 million, the Recreation area opened in the summer of 2020 mid COVID.
In the rec center you will play table games, badminton, pickle ball and there’s also a fitness loop. Honestly, you’ll love hanging out here.
You can partake in so many other activities here and there is something for everyone, adults and kids.
- Horse riding
- Live Music Events – check the Park calendar of events
- Swimming – there are designated pools for swimming but please note there is no swimming permitted in the Genesee River
- Note for photographers – you cannot fly a drone without a permit. Please apply for a permit from 10 days in advance of your trip. Contact the Park Office at 585-493-3600
Camping and Accommodation Around The Grand Canyon of the East
There are various accommodations options in Letchworth if you’re planning on spending a few days or a weekend here. Let’s run through your choices.
There’s a tent and trailer park available at Letchworth where there are 270 electric sites. Understandably rates vary at the site for tent versus RV/trailer sites.
You can expect to pay $24-$26. There’s a weekend and holiday supplementary charge of $4 and an additional nightly charge of $5 for Out of State Residents. So, if you’re pitching a tent at the weekend and you’re from out of state, expect to pay $33 per night.
You can also avail of some very cozy cabins which are ideal for winter getaways in Letchworth when there is a blanket of snow all around. Light a fire and stay warm
Advance booking is necessary. You can do so by calling the reservations number 1-800-456-2267 or by visiting the website Reserveamerica.com. This is the only place online where you can book. You can also find further information on this link.
There are 10 pavilions available as accommodation at Letchworth. They can accommodate from 80 to 184 people and costs vary from $50 to $100. Once again you can book this through the Reserve America website.
Located in a secluded area in the southwest of the park, the Conference Center is more than capable of catering for the needs of larger group retreats and gatherings. It has a very comfortable accommodation options such as a country lodge and standard ensuite bedrooms and a kitchen.
Glen Iris Inn
Overlooking the Middle Falls, this Inn is really the historic center of the park from William Letchworth’s day. It was converted back into a Inn after his passing but in recent years its 16 guestrooms underwent a facelift. There are 4 luxury guestrooms and 12 standard rooms. The Cherry Suite is the best room at Glen Iris though all rooms are appointed in a style consistent with that of the late 19th Century/early 20th Century.
Glen Irish tend to close for the winter season every year and normally reopens around Easter time of the following. Other options which remain open during the winter months are Stone House, Chalet House and Caroline’s Cottage.
You can book your stay at Glen Iris at their official website.
Conclusion About The Grand Canyon of the East
I hope you enjoyed our article about the magnificent Grand Canyon of the East and Letchworth State Park. You will really enjoy yourself here not matter what your reason for visit. Having visited the area in high season, I can only imagine how stunning the leaves, trees and whole landscape must be in the fall. Please share your fall photographs with us if you have been there.