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October 9, 2011


Filed under: Fall,Parks,Travel — Judy @ 9:41 pm

With the promise of a great weekend weather-wise in the making, an adventure outing was called for. My sister and sister-in-law were rounded up, lunches were packed, and we were off to Letchworth State Park last Saturday. About an hour south of Rochester, this 17 mile long park is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East.”

Letchworth rim

Genesee River gorge at Big Bend area in Letchworth State Park

The park covers over 14,000 acres of land along both sides of the Genesee River. The walls of the gorge rise up to about 550 feet and expose shale, sandstone, and limestone layers mostly from the Devonian era.

Letchworth gorge

Genesee River gorge near the Big Bend area in Letchworth

The fall colors were not at peak, but you could get a sense of how spectacular they would become in the next week.

Red maple

There are three major waterfalls (the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls) of the Genesee River that cascade down the gorge, many smaller tributaries along the gorge walls, and many miles of hiking trails. Our family has been going to the Lower Falls area for many decades – for birthdays, reunions, parties, swimming, rafting, hiking, whatever – so we chose to make that our starting point.

Before we visited the falls, hunger called and we picnicked under the canopy of hugely tall trees. The natural beauty of this area hasn’t seemed to change at all in the time that I can remember coming here.


Tall trees dwarf my sister at the Lower Falls picnic area

The sunlight there was wonderful streaming through the trees and offered many opportunities for camera practice.

Backlit slope

After finishing our lunch we sauntered off (no, it wasn’t hard-core hiking this time – we just wanted to absorb the beauty of the day) down the Gorge Trail to visit the Lower Falls. Approaching the falls area, we spied the little peninsula carved out of the bedrock in the middle of the river with the sun highlighting the topmost tree. How does that tree survive up there without very much soil to cover its roots? And how did it get there in the first place?

Tabletop tree

Tabletop tree near the Lower Falls

The only place to cross the Genesee River in the Portage Canyon (the area of the major falls) is here and we descended 127 stone steps to reach the stone bridge. Looking downstream from the bridge, you can see how low the river is at this time of year. Can you imagine how the water rushes in the spring or how much rushing water it would take to carve out those walls at the time of the glaciers?

Genesee River

Genesee River in fall looking downstream from Lower Falls

Looking upstream, one catches a glimpse of the Lower Falls. Even though the river is low, the view is beautiful.

Lower Falls

View of Lower Falls from stone bridge

Zooming in – awww! isn’t that gorgeous!

Lower Falls

Closer view of Lower Falls

Behind my sister who is really enjoying the view, is a good picture of the shale on the gorge wall.


My sister Cathy and shale detail on the gorge wall

Crossing over the bridge to the other side of the Genesee River, we walked on a lovely trail through the woods (Trail 6A on the map) appropriately called the Footbridge Trail. Pausing to take a picture of my adventure buddies,

Adventure buddies

Sister Cathy and sister-in-law Barb

we moved on up the hill past an interesting outcropping of shale with rounded moraine deposits from the glaciers,

Shale outcropping

before the trail took us up past this sweet little stream in the woods.

Trail 6A

On the Footbridge Trail

Before heading back to Rochester, we parked at the Glen Iris Inn, former home of William Pryor Letchworth and now operated as a restaurant. It was a favorite place of my Mom’s where she would meet her own mother and her sisters for a lunch. The inn overlooks the Middle Falls and has a view of the great Portage railroad bridge.

Middle Falls

Middle Falls in Letchworth Park

There is much fascinating history associated with this particular area. The Seneca called the land around the Portage canyon “Sehgahunda”, the “Vale of the Three Falls.” The gravesite of Mary Jemison (“White Woman of the Genesee”) is also located here. I highly recommend visiting this park, for its beauty and its history!

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