About Lower Falls of the Genesee River (Letchworth)
The Lower Falls of the Genesee River was the last of the three major waterfalls on the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park in Western New York. Although it lacked the height of the other falls we saw in the park, we liked that it had width and character set amidst a rugged gorge backdrop. In fact, I think of the three main Letchworth waterfalls, this one more prominently exhibited the geology of the area given the neighboring cliffs around it.
Julie and I actually visited this waterfall twice. Once during the Summer (as you see in the picture above) and once in the Autumn. Even though our Autumn visit didn’t quite have the voluminous flow that its Summer counterpart had (which you can see from the narrower appearance in our Autumn photographs further down this page), the vibrant Autumn colors decorating the falls and the surrounding gorge definitely supported the claim that this area was indeed the Grand Canyon of the East.
Unlike the other two main Letchworth waterfalls, this one required us to engage in a little more exercise. From the car park for the Lower Falls (see directions below), we walked across a wide picnic area sheltered amongst many trees as well as some structures for what appeared to be restrooms as well as accommodations and even what appeared to be a restaurant (which appeared to be seasonal given how they were closed during our October visit). There was even some picnic tables as well as a large slide that our two year-old daughter enjoyed.
Next, the walking path reached a fork where we had a choice to go down or continue to go straight ahead towards the “easier view.” Just a couple minutes further on the upper path took us to a somewhat partial view of the Lower Falls of the Genesee River that left much to be desired. The trail from here looked like it kept going further upstream, but we knew quickly that the way to experience this waterfall was via the lower path.
So back at the fork, we had to descend 127 steps (and ascending them on the way back up) before reaching the lower reaches of the gorge and following a trail that took us closer to the falls. In order to get the various views you see on this page, I recalled having to follow some faint use trails (almost more like scrambling). It got a little bit misty and muddy in spots as I got closer to the waterfall so I had to be careful not to get too close to the slippery edges to avoid falling into the river.
On the way back out, I took a brief out-and-back detour to get deeper into the gorge and try to view the falls from further away from within the gorge itself. There was a bridge offering unusual views up the river towards the falls, and given the foliage flanking the river, the scene here was definitely more colorful and dramatic with the Fall colors, which I was able to capture in our more recent October 2013 visit.
In any case, adding up this out-and-back walking as well as taking in the falls and the short detour, it took roughly a little over a half-mile round trip of hiking and less than 45 minutes away from the car. I recalled it seemed longer than that given the heat and humidity from our first visit here in early Summer, but it felt much more benign during the crisp Autumn morning of our October visit some six years later.
From the seasonal Portageville Entrance, we took the park road for about 2.5 miles towards a fork. We kept right at the fork and continued downhill towards the Lower Falls car park about 1.2 miles later.
From the year-round Castile Entrance, we followed the park road towards the fork about 0.9 miles later. Then, we turned left to go onto the Lower Falls Road to go the remaining 1.2 miles to its car park.
For overall context, we managed to drive to this falls from Ithaca on our first visit and Buffalo on our second visit. In terms of their geographical context, Ithaca was about 156 miles (under 3 hours drive) east of Buffalo, 167 miles (3 hours drive) west of Albany, or 233 miles (4.5 hours drive) northwest of New York City.
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