Experience the ‘Grand Canyon of the East’ — Letchworth State Park

The following blog post was written by Jenika Shannon, 2018 MBA candidate

Have you ever experienced the silence of serenity? Or witnessed the perfection and power of nature? Have you ever felt so small that your worries melted away? Have you ever wandered into a pine-scented forest and heard nothing but the sound of your own footsteps? Silence – broken only by the surrender of fallen branches beneath your bodyweight.

Letchworth State Park, better known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is about an hour’s drive south of Rochester. The gorge was forged hundreds of thousands of years ago when glaciers as tall as cumulus clouds moved through the region. Three waterfalls were formed by three distinct glacial migrations. The Genesee River now runs through the gorge, adding the fascinating behavior of flowing water to the already magnanimous beauty of the gorge’s layered rock stratigraphy.

If you want to see the park, you will have to visit! Here is a picture of me at the Dam Overlook, instead.

If you want to see the park, you will have to visit! In the meantime, here is a picture of me at the Dam Overlook.

The trees that flank the highway on the way to the park create a sea of greens that any nature lover will adore (I began to question if green is actually my favorite color). The rolling hills of upstate New York produce an awe-inspiring view of the outstretched road ahead – but nothing can prepare you for the spectacle that awaits you at the park.

Exit the highway into a little antiquated town called Mount Morris, and all of a sudden, you feel as if you have been transported into a period of malt shakes and juke boxes. About half a mile down the road, a large brown road sign points left towards the park. The incline begins instantly, and at this point you will be glad that you have the car to do the hiking for you. Pay the $10 (per vehicle) entry fee and continue the vehicular climb into the 17-mile long park. It takes about 10 minutes to reach the parking lot for the main hiking trail – that is if you can resist stopping at the numerous lookout points sprinkled along the winding, one-lane road that snakes around the chasm. Names like “Gorge Overlook” and “Lee’s Landing” paint pictures in your head that beg to be reaffirmed with just a quick stop. Yes, the various lookouts yield majestic vistas, more vibrant and idyllic than your mind’s eye can imagine, but do not spend all of your time on the side of the road. The real treasures lie along a 7-mile hike!

Park your car and notice the faces of those around you – excitement glows on the smiles of those who parked alongside you; delight and pure bliss mark the sweaty countenances of those who have gone before you.

Enter the trail and find a stone wall that runs alongside the Genesee River. Take 126 stairs down to the riverbank and catch a gorgeous view of Lower Falls – the shortest of the falls on the trail. Ascend the stairs and begin the hike to the first plateau, which gifts you with an aerial view of Lower Falls.

The hiking trail is littered with dozens of species of trees and slightly beaten paths. Do not be afraid to go off trail. Exploring a less traveled path may lead you to a stone archway beneath a bridge. A scene so magical, you would not be surprised if a troll approached you with a riddle.

Once back on the main trail, the pattern continues: hike, plateau, incredible view, until you reach the apex. A tricky descent into the forest will lead you to a mesmerizing scene known as Middle Falls. The simultaneously soothing and terrifying sound of thousands of gallons of water plummeting to the base of the waterfall masks most noises, so no children will hear the expletives you murmur upon the discovery of this site.

Take it all in. Breathe the crisp air. Just stare in enthrallment. And, if you are smarter than me and do not waste much time on the tempting lookouts mentioned before, you will have time to finish the last mile of the hike to Upper Falls.

There are 66 miles of hiking trails in Letchworth State Park (of which I hiked 5), covering a range of lengths and difficulties. The park boasts two restaurants, a swimming pool, playgrounds, campsites, a hotel, museum, and anything else you might need to have a fun-filled summer day. In fact, the magic of the park is accessible year round, as there are snow activities available in the wintertime!

I am already planning my next trip to Letchworth State Park. There is just something so addicting about the place. It truly is a gem in the crown that is Rochester.

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