NORTHEAST ROAD TRIP DAY 4
While folding up our bed in the minivan, we make note that it seems to be a good travel day since it’s gloomy and gray. Rain is in the forecast on and off for the five hour drive into New York.
On the fly last night, we decided to throw in a detour to Letchworth State Park, one of the prettiest state parks in the United States. Or at least that’s what I heard, but only time will tell.
It’s about an hour deviation from our original route that was taking us directly to the Southern Finger Lakes region.
Luckily, it only sprinkles on us as we come back from taking our showers and finish packing up at our site at Sara’s Campground.
It’s time to hit the highway!
Driving from Erie, Pennsylvania to Letchworth State Park
Since the Portageville entrance is under construction, Google Maps guides us to the Castile Entrance on the west side of the park. The route adjusts and instead of heading further up the Lake Erie coastline, we are directed straight east clipping the Allegheny National Forest.
About an hour into the drive, we cross over the Chautauqua Lake. A bridge takes us over the water and we see the lake cottages along the shore. It’s lightly raining so the lake is quiet and calm and no boats are zipping around.
The highway is forested on both sides with bright yellow flowers in the median. We get off the highway to fill up on gas and take a bathroom break.
As I’m walking out of the gas station, I notice an entire wall of cigarette cartons with a huge sign that says $24 a carton. They are a brand I’ve never heard of and I don’t smoke, but I know that is cheap for any cigarettes nowadays!
A middle-aged man is wiping our windows of the van when I walk outside. He finishes pumping our gas and waves us off. It’s not often we run into a full service gas station these days. As we get back on the road, Dave tells me he made small talk with the guy and mentioned the cheap cigarettes.
“It’s cheap because you’re on an Indian Reservation. There’s a casino down the street too.”
It all makes sense now.
New York Amish Country
We soon realize we left the reservation and entered Amish Country as we begin noticing horse and buggy signs. Then we pass three separate buggies sauntering toward us on the side of the road.
“I’m so glad the exit we were going to take is closed.” I say as we meander over rolling hills past intensely green grass and small working farms. It reminds me of when we went biking in Indiana’s Amish Country which ranks high on our Midwest travel list.
And on to the Grand Canyon of the East
Letchworth State Park has won a number of accolades, including the #1 attraction in New York and best state park in the United States. Located 35 miles southwest of Rochester, it covers over 14,000 acres with the Genesee River carving out a magnificent gorge.
The park has four main entrances, Portageville is the furthest south and the entrance closest to the falls, but we are rerouted to the Castile entrance because of construction. We stop at the Visitor Center for a map and a restroom break.
NOTE: Letchworth is a garbage free area so it has a carry in, carry out policy.
Hiking in Letchworth State Park
Standing in one place with your mouth hanging wide open while hearing the roar of the waterfall and watching it carve the deep crevice right before your very eyes is obviously the best thing to do in Letchworth State Park.
After that of course, there’s hiking! There are 66 miles of trails within Letchworth State Park, but the 7-mile gorge hike is the most popular and has the best views. On the west side of the park, it follows along the rim past the treasures of the park, the three tumbling waterfalls: Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls.
Since we are short on time we park near the Upper Falls and walk to the Middle Falls and back. The Upper Falls are 70 feet high and framed by an active railroad trestle.
The view of the gorge from the other direction is just as impressive. I cannot even imagine this park during peak fall season! Also, hot air balloon rides are a common thing to do over the park so I now have a ride on my USA bucket list.
Next, we head over to the Middle Falls which are many people’s favorite. I can see why! The wide curtain-like waterfall plunges 107-feet down to a clear pool. It is absolutely jaw-dropping beautiful.
On the way to the Lower Falls, we stop at the Inspiration Point Overlook where we are rewarded with a breathtaking view of both the Upper and Middle Falls.
The Lower Falls, the last of the three major waterfalls, has a little hike involved with it in order to see views from the top and bottom. It is short, probably about a 1/2 mile total, but includes some stairs. But the perspective is worth it. We feel like we get in the 600-foot gorge a little as the high walls envelop us.
From here, we head north up the length of the park stopping at most of the overlooks to the Mt. Morris Dam before exiting the park.
Up Next on the Northeast Road Trip
And now to our final destination of the day, the Finger Lakes region. We first drive down a section of Keuka Lake before arriving at Watkins Glen State Park campground, where we will be staying for the next three nights.
If you haven’t been to Letchworth State Park, I highly recommend it. It IS one of the most spectacular state parks in the U.S.
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