Situated along western Lake Ontario’s shore and inland, this region includes Letchworth State Park, also widely known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” as well as a 90-mile trail on a former canal towpath, an ecologically-important lake marsh, and some spectacular lakeshore sunsets.
Covering Genesee, Orleans, Monroe, Livingston and Wyoming counties, this region includes seven state parks and two boat launches, one on Lake Ontario and the other on Conesus Lake.
Letchworth State Park is the region’s 14,350-acre masterpiece, featuring a wild 17-mile gorge carved by the Genesee River tumbling over waterfalls and meandering through the heart of the park, providing spectacular views at every turn.
Maps for hiking trails and a variety of other useful information on State Parks, including those in the Genesee Regoin and elsewhere, are now available on the NYS Parks Explorer app. The free app, which is available for use on Android and iOS devices, is easy to download, user friendly and allows patrons to have park information readily available.
Trail maps are also available on each individual park website page at parks.ny.gov and at the main office of each park. Be sure to download maps ahead of time or carry a paper copy as a back up
To learn more about NYS Parks trails CLICK HERE.
As with all hikes, there are a few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Check the weather forecast before you go, and dress appropriately. Wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera to capture what you see. Be aware of your surroundings and mindful of hikes on steep terrain or those that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of an emergency is never a bad idea.
For longer trips, hiking poles are also useful and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.
Hikers should plan their route in advance, know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, even in spring as the days grow longer, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.
Parks facilities are carry-in, carry-out, so don’t leave trash behind. Follow Leave No Trace principles to keep trails clean for everyone.
Additionally, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard. Spring can be a risky time as the tick nymphs are emerging. Nymphs are tiny and difficult to spot.
Lastly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, remember to practice safe social distancing, particularly in parking lots and at trailheads, and use face coverings when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained, even if you have been vaccinated. To learn more about important COVID safety guidelines, CLICK HERE.
Livingston County/Wyoming County
Letchworth State Park, 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile (585) 493-3600: Carved by the immense forces of ice and water during the last Ice Age, this sprawling park resides in both Livingston and Wyoming counties. Within Wyoming County lies much of the original 1,000 acres that was a gift from William Pryor Letchworth in 1907 that can be seen from the seven-mile Gorge Trail. This trail travels past his beloved Upper, Middle and Lower Falls.
(Clockwise from bottom left) Middle Falls, Gorge Trail view from Inspiration Point, Gorge Trail View of Great Bend Gorge, Lower Falls, Upper Falls.
The Gorge Trail has many spectacular views of Sehgahunda (The Vale of Three Falls). The Portage Canyon represents a recent detour by the Genesee River since the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago from its ancient pre-glacial valley south of Portageville. The Gorge trail also passes a 100,000 year-old interglacial valley known as Lee’s Landing. At the Great Bend Gorge, the trail overlooks a section of gorge that is about 550 feet deep and a quarter-mile wide.
At the north end of the park, find the five-mile Highbanks Trail (listed as Trail #20 on the park map), which offers its own breathtaking views of the gorge. Highlights include great views of the Mt. Morris Dan, the largest concrete dam east of the Mississippi River which was built in the early 1950s to protect the city of Rochester from flooding. This trail also affords views of the unique ridge feature known as the Hogsback, and of numerous stream crossings. This trail is a one-way out and back.
This section of the park includes the Highbanks Tent and Trailer Campground, the C-Cabin loop, and the G.W. Harvey Swimming Pool.
Genesee Valley Greenway State Park, 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile, (585) 493-3614: This unique linear park is a 90-mile multi-use trail with one end in Monroe County and the other in Cattaraugus County. The route mainly follows the old towpath of the Genesee Valley Canal, which was in operation from 1840 until the late 1870s, and remnants of the old canal can still be seen. Come to stroll, hike or bike any part of of this trail.
The Greenway Trail affords beautiful scenic views and historic sights, including a well preserved canal lock in Scottsville (Monroe County), crossing the Genesee River along a footbridge in Mount Morris (Livingston County), observing a beautiful oxbow feature in Portageville (Wyoming County), secluded woods walking in Belfast (Allegany County), and gorgeous mountain views in Hinsdale (Cattaraugus County). Be sure to check out the communities found long the route of the Greenway for some great local fare.
(Clockwise from bottom left) The trail passes an oxbow pond in Portageville, crosses the Genesee River in Mount Morris, and enters forest in Belfast.
Find a trail map here.
Hamlin Beach State Park, 1 Hamlin Beach Blvd. West, Hamlin (585) 964-2462: Located on Lake Ontario with a sandy swimming beach, this park also has several miles of hiking trails.
One of the most unique is the Yanty Marsh Trail, which features a boardwalk within a freshwater marsh rich in wildlife and plants, including cattails, pickerelweed, willow and milkweeds; some 200 species of birds, and frogs, snapping turtles, snakes, muskrats, beavers, mink, fox, racoon and deer.
The flat, accessible trail of one mile is also linked to the park’s history during the Great Depression when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps to put unemployed men back to work on projects that included creation of Hamlin Beach State Park. Relics of the CCC still are visible throughout the park. This includes and old farm pound once used by the CCC men for ice skating located just off the trail. When a 1998 storm severely damaged the marsh, opening it up to the damaging effects of erosion, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stepped in to assure the marsh wasn’t washed away forever. With control measures implemented, the marsh now fulfils its ecological role, to filtering toxins from run off into the lake, storing oxygen from our atmosphere, as wells as providing a home to many species of plants and animals.
The Devil’s Nose Trail along the lakeshore bluff offers beautiful views and a colorful history. Much folklore has been spun about Devil’s Nose and the suspected shipwrecks caused by the unique land feature. The name “Devil’s Nose” dates to 1802 but the origin of the name remains a mystery. At one time the nose was 150 feet tall and reached northward into the lake a quarter mile. A red lantern once marked the tip of the nose as a warning to passing vessels. Today the nose has all but collapsed but the shallow reef and large costal bluff remains. Although the reports of shipwrecks on the nose remain unproven, it is known that during the age of prohibition smugglers used the Nose’s coves and passages to smuggle goods and hide from authorities. After being closed for years due to overuse and erosion, the trail was refurbished and reopened in 2018. Patrons can access the trail through Area 5. A wonderful spot to watch summer sunsets, but please stay on the trail, as the banks are steep and fragile.
Find a trail map here.
Darien Lakes State Park, 10475 Harlow Road, Darien Center (585) 547-9242: The hilly woodlands of this park contain nearly nine miles of hiking trails, as well as a sandy swimming beach to sunbathe or swim once a hike is done.
The two-mile Conservation Trail has a new lean-to ready for use, while as the southern end of the trail there is a picturesque waterfall. The trail goes by woodlands, fields and streams, offering views of a variety of wildflowers, trees, birds, insects and other interesting critters.
Find a trail map here.
Cover shot – Great Bend Gorge at Letchworth State Park. All photos courtesy of NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.
Learn more about hiking trails in other parts of the state in the continuing “Get Out and Explore…” series, including the Finger Lakes, Thousand Islands, Saratoga/ Capital, Central New York, Palisades, and Taconic regions.