Upper Falls of the Genesee River (Letchworth)

Letchworth State Park / Castile / Portageville, New York, USA

About Upper Falls of the Genesee River (Letchworth)

Hiking Distance: almost roadside; wheelchair
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2007-06-18
Date last visited: 2013-10-15

Waterfall Latitude: 42.57874
Waterfall Longitude: -78.04902

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

The Upper Falls of the Genesee River was one of three major waterfalls on the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park.

This waterfall was actually just a short distance upstream of the Middle Falls.

Letchworth_SP_13_056_10152013 - Upper Falls of the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park
Upper Falls of the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park

I guess we could’ve combined the two waterfall entries on this website.

Instead, we felt like we had enough to say about this particular waterfall to warrant its own page.

The Portage High Bridge

As you can see from the photographs on this page, the distinguishing feature of this 40ft waterfall was the Portage High Bridge, which was really a railroad bridge.

The bridge was said to have originally opened in 1852 as the highest wooden railroad bridge at the time at 234ft above the Upper Falls of the Genesee River while spanning 850ft across the gorge.

Of course the current bridge that we saw was made of iron as the original wooden one was said to have burned down in 1875 under “suspicious circumstances.”

This rebuilt railroad bridge was definitely active and still in use as it was said to link Buffalo and Hornell courtesy of the Erie Railroad Company.

Accessing the High Falls of the Genesee River

Letchworth_009_06182007 - Upper Falls of the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park as seen in early Summer back in 2007
Upper Falls of the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park as seen in early Summer back in 2007

The walk from the car park that served both the Upper and Middle Falls was merely a couple of minutes uphill along a concrete path flanked by a lawn on one side and a concrete barricade on the other.

There was a coin-op binocular here to perhaps get a closer look at the bridge as well as some possible bird life that might fly by here.

The views of the falls (such as what you see at the top of this page) could be had all along the concrete walkway (even as far away as the car park itself).

The paved walkway continued to climb up along the gorge walls going by the Upper Falls, and it probably went up to the base of the Portage High Bridge where there was another car park up there.

View of High and Middle Falls from Inspiration Point

It turned out that this waterfall (as well as the Middle Falls) could also be seen from a much different perspective.

That alternate view was at the Inspiration Point (see directions below).

Letchworth_SP_13_170_10152013 - This was the view of the Upper and Middle Falls with the Portage High Bridge way up above both falls as seen from Inspiration Point
This was the view of the Upper and Middle Falls with the Portage High Bridge way up above both falls as seen from Inspiration Point

It not only allowed us to see both waterfalls, but we were also able to appreciate the grandeur and depth of the Grand Canyon of the Genesee River.

Indeed, from this vantage point, we could totally see how it earned its moniker of the “Grand Canyon of the East”.

More about Upper Falls

Since the falls flowed on the Genesee River, which was the major river system responsible for carving out this canyon, it was pretty obvious that the falls also flowed year-round.

In fact, the photos you see from both the Summer and Autumn that we’re featuring on this page further attested to its consistent appearance.

By the way, I’ve seen some conflicting figures in the literature reporting the height of this waterfall to be 71ft.

However, I think that might be a generous figure given our field observations.


The Upper Falls of the Genesee River resides in Letchworth State Park near Mt Morris in Livingston County and Wyoming County, New York. It is administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Letchworth_SP_13_053_10152013 - View of the Upper Falls of the Genesee River from the car park and start of the walk upstream
Letchworth_SP_13_054_10152013 - The coin-op binoculars with the Upper Falls, Portage High Bridge, and the paved walkway flanking the river
Letchworth_SP_13_065_10152013 - A closer look at the Upper Falls and the Portage High Bridge in the Autumn of 2013
Letchworth_SP_13_074_10152013 - As we went further upstream and higher up the sloped walkway, it seemed like the Upper Falls was starting to angle away from us and look thinner
Letchworth_SP_13_075_10152013 - This was probably as far up the walkway as we went to view the Upper Falls before going back down to the car park
Letchworth_SP_13_086_10152013 - Julie and Tahia returning to the car park after having had our fill of the Upper Falls
Letchworth_020_06182007 - Full contextual view of the falls and the portage bridge as seen from our Summer visit in 2007
Letchworth_040_06182007 - Closer look at the Upper Falls with the Portage High Bridge in early Summer 2007
Letchworth_014_06182007 - Just focused on the Upper Falls of the Genesee River

Since we were coming from Ithaca we’ll describe the directions from there. So we took the I-86 to the I-390, and then headed west on state highway 436 from Dansville towards Portageville. Passing through Portageville, on SH436, we then connected with state highway 19A, where we then turned right onto a signed road on the right (barely 1/4-mile later) and followed it for barely 1/2-mile to the car park.

On the way to Portageville, I recalled taking a road that became unpaved on the other side of the river (possibly causing a flat on our rental car) thanks to bad directions by the GPS, which told us to turn right on some road before we got to Portageville. The key thing was to keep going through Portageville as signs for the falls become obvious from there. Ignore the GPS if it says otherwise (as we should’ve done).

Six years after our Summer visit in 2007, we entered the park through the year-round Castile Entrance. We originally drove from Buffalo where we took the I-190 east to the I-90 south. Not long after getting onto the I-90, we exited Hwy 400, where we then drove about 12.8 miles towards the town of East Aurora. Next, turned left to go onto the US Hwy 20A for about 24 miles towards the town of Warsaw. We then turned right onto Hwy 19 and took that road south for 5 miles until we forked to the left to go onto Hwy 19A. We then followed Hwy 19A for 7.5 miles to the turnoff for the Castile Entrance to Letchworth State Park (Denton Corners Rd) on the left.

The Castile Entrance was roughly 2 miles east on Denton Corners Rd where it became Park Rd just beyond the payment kiosk. It costed us a vehicle fee of $8 cash (exact change appreciated) to enter, but unbeknownst to us, it turned out that this fee was a general New York State Parks fee, and it even worked for our visit to Watkins Glen State Park later in the day without having to pay again!

About 0.6 miles past the Castile Entrance (or 2.6 miles from Hwy 19A), we then turned right and followed the Park Rd for another 1.3 miles where we then turned left to take the spur loop towards the main car park for the Upper and Middle Falls. Note that about 0.5 miles west of the right turn onto Park Road from the Castile Entrance or 0.5 miles east of where the Upper and Middle Falls loop rejoined Park Rd was where the turnoff for Inspiration Point was.

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Left to right sweep from a return trip in the Autumn of 2013

Checking out both the Upper and Middle Falls of the Genesee River as well as the impressive gorge decorated with Autumn colors from Inspiration Point

Quick look at the falls in motion (just the falls and not including the bridge) in early Summer 2007

Tagged with: letchworth, state park, livingston, wyoming county, castile, portageville, western new york, new york, finger lakes, waterfall

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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