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A grand escape: NY state park known as the Grand Canyon of the East

CR Rae
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Plaquemine Post South

In a time when so many places are closed, and we can’t get to our favorite places for vacation or a day out, many parks remain open, giving us an opportunity to get outdoors.

One of those parks that offers a great spring experience is Letchworth State Park in Castile, New York. Known as the Grand Canyon of the East, this park offers plenty of room to distance yourself from others, get exercise and fresh air — it’s an area to escape and relax.

Letchworth offers magnificent views of the Genesee River, which flows through a canyon surrounded by the towering walls. Three waterfalls add to the beautiful scenery. Forests surround the park, and visitors will find 66 miles of hiking trails. The park also offers trails for horseback riding and biking.

Winding park roads follow along the canyon and offer plenty of places to pull off to take in the scenic views. If you want to see the view from a higher vantage point, a hot air balloon ride is the way to do so.

Dozens of waterfalls are in the park. Three of the larger falls are easily accessible and are named Lower Falls, Middle Falls and Upper Falls. Middle and Upper Falls are the most accessible, close to the parking lot and a short walk along wide trails. Lower Falls is worth the short hike to view it.

Lower Falls is located right below Glen Iris Inn, the former home of businessman William Pryor Letchworth, who gifted the property to the state.

The park was established in 1907. Glen Iris sat on 1,000 acres. Over the years, Letchworth opened much of the property to visitors, including a museum. The museum continues to follow the history of Letchworth today.

Fishing, hunting, swimming and picnicking opportunities are abundant. Or just sit in a comfy chair enjoying the outdoors and watching nature go by.

If you are seeking spectacular views of fall foliage, the first two weeks of October is the prime time to visit. If winter is your thing, there is plenty to do — snow tubing, ice skating, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing or enjoying a horse-drawn carriage ride.

Camp or rent a cabin and explore the park, or venture out to see what the surrounding area has to offer — first making sure to confirm what’s open. Spend a day at Niagara Falls or wander the shop-lined streets of nearby Ellicottville, a small town that is home to Holiday Valley Ski Resort. The resort offers many summer fun things to do as well. Do a little “wineing” in New York’s Finger Lakes wine region, and don’t miss the Grape Discovery Center in Westfield (grapediscoverycenter.com), reopening once New York’s state of emergency has lifted.

Niagara Falls and the city of Salamanca offer casino resorts — Seneca Niagara and Seneca Allegany. The beautiful city of Buffalo is about 60 miles from the park and offers many things to do, from extensive gardens and sailboat rides to touring Navy ships, world-class restaurants, arts, sports and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino.

Whatever your definition of fun is, you might just find it at Letchworth State Park and the surrounding areas. Fun and beauty are right on your doorstep when camping or lodging at the Glen Iris Inn in the park.

For more information on the specifics for hunting, fishing, rafting, balloon rides, cabin rental, camping and park rules, visit parks.ny.gov/parks/letchworth or call 585-493-3600.

At this time visit the website to make sure the park continues to remain open and what activities are available. Whether you go now to enjoy time outdoors, take a beautiful drive or wait until a later time when everything is open again, the park won’t disappoint.

Letchworth is a “carry in, carry out” park. Whatever you bring into the park, including your picnic trash, you take out of the park. There are no garbage containers.