There are many trails in Letchworth State Park. The easiest ones are those leading to the three major waterfalls. There is also a park drive with many pull offs at specific views and historical points. You could see all of the major attractions by driving and getting in and out of your car. You can also see most of the viewpoints in the south end of the park by walking the 7 mile Gorge Trail which is what we decide to do today.
To do that we’ll have to drive from the campground in the north end about 10 miles to the beginning of the Rim Trail at the Railroad bridge beyond the Upper Falls. Problem for today is that the beginning of the rim trail is closed for the next 3 years while they replace the railroad tressel. So in order to do as much of the trail as we can, we’re going to park at the upper falls parking lot and walk back up the Gorge as far as we can go and then turn around and start hiking south.
It’s about 7am (hear that Bill) and we’re driving up the park road when David says “Balloon”. We pull over at the next overlook and search around. We don’t see it and then just as we are about to leave, I hear the burner. I move along the overlook until I spot it coming up from the gorge into the trees and beyond into the sky.
Looks like wonderful fun and what views they must have. It would be very fine with all this lucious green but I bet the concessionaire in the park who arranges these trips is swamped in the fall when this gorge is ablaze of color.
We watch them for quite a while and just as we are turning to leave again, I see this tiny shred of pink below the tree line. A second balloon comes up from a side canyon. Now there are two.
Up and up they go together and they drift off down the canyon and out of sight. How lucky were we to have caught a glimpse of them and found a pull off where we could see them.
We drive on to the parking lot closest to the upper falls which we will have to hike to from the south and beyond to turn around and begin our Gorge Walk. From the parking lot we take the very wide heavily used path. The park has wisely covered it with wood chips to keep down erosion.
We are not the only people out on the path this morning.
Common Mergansers are fishing in the water and then drying themselves on the rocks along the river below the upper falls.
In our first view of the upper falls we can’t see its full horseshoe. The rail bridge above it dominates the scene.
The bridge is an icon in this area standing behind the falls but it seems like a harsh juxtaposition of the natural world and the manufacturing world to me. Must be a gorgeous sight for train passengers looking down on these falls. Although I’m pretty sure nothing but freight trains use this tressel now. To me, it seems a bit like looking at the Canadian side of Niagara falls though the tressel dwarfs these falls more than the sky scrapers of Canada do the Niagara falls.
The upper falls is 70 feet high and a deep horseshoe shape. The bridge is 800 feet tall and 235 feet long. There has been quite a recent controversy surrounding the bridge but not about whether it is appropriately placed or diminishes the beauty of the falls.
The original bridge in this spot was wooden and built in 1852. The current bridge was built in 1875 after a fire destroyed the original wooden bridge. This steel frame bridge, which towers over the river gorge and its waterfalls, has become a beloved feature of the park and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. But a 2008 inspection revealed structural deficiencies, and it was determined that the current bridge should either be rehabilitated or replaced.
The huge uproar was about the historic nature of the current bridge. In the end the railroad is replacing it and tearing it down which I’m actually surprised they are allowed to do if it is on The National Register. There will still be a bridge here, just not this historic one.
In December of 2015, the park closed all the trails in the area as well as the Portageville entrance to the south end of the park. The work is expected to take 3 years and it was well in evidence during our hike. The noise as we walked above the falls drowned out the music of the falls.
Here is a shot of the falls with most of the bridge cropped out out. The mist on the left is the spray from the falls. I can imagine how it might look when water is at its normal rate and covers the entire horseshoe.
This is the best look I could get at the top of the falls and the river beyond. As we head up the stairs, the view is blocked by the vegetation.
We’re on our way up to see how close to the actual trail head we can get before the trail is closed. Nearly all the stone stairs in the park have these warnings signs. Advice from the park’s lawyers no doubt.
Love this sweet bridge over a cascade into the Genesee River as we climb. The stone work in this park is wonderful and everywhere. All from the river.
If you’ve noticed, in the two pictures above the stairs are stone and the railings are iron and stone. But as we get higher the walk becomes more like a hike with wooden railings and wood/dirt steps.
And here we are, the end of the line. Of course while we are there at the top discussing the ways people might get around this sketchy barrier, a hiker comes out from there and says “they have another gate just a little ways up, they are working up there”. Duh, what was your first clue? The melodious sounds of machinery? I wonder which part of stop/closed/ no tresspassing he didn’t understand. He clearly spoke excellent English.
So now we begin the real “almost 7 mile” hike. When we pass the upper falls, there is indeed a freight train going over the bridge. There has also been controversy over people who walk out on the bridge also in voiolation of all the warning signs. I know the view must be amazing but still…. I am told the new bridge will make that impossible.
We retrace our steps and come to the top of the Middle Falls. It is just before this pointthat we see the mergansers are still in the river.
Middle Falls is the largest of the three major falls at 107 feet tall and 285 feet wide. We first saw it yesterday when we stopped by William P. Letchworth’s former home, Glen Iris which overlooks the falls. Some view from your front porch.
Actually there is a book in the VC gift shop that gives directions to 25 waterfalls in the park. If the water levels were higher I would definitely have bought it and spent all my days hiking to them. But as it is, I’m afraid many of them would be a mere shadow of themselves if not dry.
Given the water in the river, this amount of water over the middle falls is very impressive.
We stop for a picture from the viewing platform.
And then it’s on our way and good bye for now to the Middle Falls.
Although the Gorge Trail follows the park road for some of its way, it goes through thick woods as well. It’s wonderfully cool here.
We climb up and hike down many stone steps. at one point there is a viewing platform that has begun to erode off the hill. The far side and rails are gone. It is very cursorily blocked off with orange mesh which has fallen down and the area looks very dangerous for small children or others of similar intellectual caution. So I try to prop up the mesh if only to give the appearance of blocking the entrance. It’s not a permanent fix so I hope someone in maintenance comes along soon.
Back into the woods and then when we come to more stone wall, we know we must be nearing an overlook.
We have come to Inspiration Point. A look up the river toward the middle and upper falls makes clear its name.
Back into the woods where we catch glimpses of the river looking very far away and low. We were told it is classified as class 2 rapids. Now that’s not huge of course but right now I doubt there are any rapids.
The Genesee looks small against its huge cliffs.
The trail is usually wide for a while past the overlooks and then it narrows down into a foot path.
We both love the closely held feeling of a vast dark hemlock forest. It doesn’t hurt that it’s kind of spooky too.
Walking along step after step quietly in these woods with no one around and no sound but the birds can easily put me into a trance like state. It is a spiritual place for me as is the red rock desert when I’m there.
Time to stop for lunch. We find a rock picnic table made just right for two by the CCC. I share my side with David for this picture.
There are 50 miles of elbow room at this table not too far off which would probably seat at least 12. The rocks and the table tops are all from the river. Look at the size of this top piece.
We aren’t at the end of this hike of course but this seems enough for one post. The Gorge Hike continues on past Archery Field, the Great Bend, the beautiful Wolf Creek and the removed town of St.Helen’s. That’s for another post.