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Old 01-14-2016, 06:20 PM   #1
DSettahr
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Letchworth Trail, Letchworth State Park 12/19 - 12/21/15


I spent 3 days backpacking the Letchworth Trail just prior to Christmas. The Letchworth Trail is a 26 mile long spur trail to the Finger Lakes Trail that runs the length of Letchworth State Park in Western NY. The trail is open to backpacking, and there are two backcountry shelters along the trail for overnight camping. A free permit is required to camp overnight on the trail; the permit can be obtained by contacting the Letchworth State Park office in advance of your trip at 585-493-3600. I was told by the office when I obtained the permit that any unoccupied car found overnight in or near the park without a permit displayed on the dashboard will trigger a search due to the frequency of incidents that the park has in and around the gorge, so getting the permit is super important.

I used printouts of the park maps for navigation, and I penciled in the shelter locations in advance using the Finger Lakes Trail interactive map as a guide, as the shelters aren't shown on the official park maps. I hiked the trail southbound from Mt. Morris to the Parade Grounds picnic area, where the trail currently ends. The first few miles of the trail along the southern end of the park, where it follows the Genesee Valley Greenway along the edge of the gorge above the spectacular waterfalls for which the park is known, are currently closed due to landslides, but a sign indicated that this stretch should be reopened in 2018.

I had decent weather on my hike. It was chilly, but not too chilly, and I did encounter some lake effect flurries, but these were never significant enough to hamper my progress. During the second night, the temperatures rose and the snow all melted, and by the third morning the ground had dried out. The trail was generally dry and in good shape, but there were a couple of spots (mostly near the northern end) where I was forced to traverse some epic puddles of mud and pools of standing water. I also found the trail to be well marked, very easy to follow, and clear of blowdown in all but a couple of spots. It is a trail that is definitely well cared for.

The area is also evidently popular for hunting, and as the season was nearing its end, I did encounter a number of hunters and heard gunshots infrequently throughout the day. Definitely a good place to wear blaze orange during hunting season. I did encounter a few day hikers, but no other backpackers. Judging from the entries in the log books at the shelters, the trail receives moderate levels of use.

With the exception of some climbs and descents here and there, the trail is also generally very flat. It's managed for mountain biking usage in addition to hiking, and I did the occasional tire track in muddy sections so it does get some bicycle use.

The trail is an interesting mix between the spectacular and the mundane. There are spectacular scenic vistas out over the gorge at both the northern and southern ends of the trail, often without any guardrails to keep you from going over the edge and plummeting 200+ feet (not a place to be with small children, to be sure).

In between the scenic views at the northern and southern ends, however, the trail tends to be monotonous more than anything else, as it sticks to higher ground well back from the gorge. The middle portion of the trail zigs and zags back and forth around various small gullies and ravines in search of gentle terrain to cross the streams that flow in and out of them. Some of the ravines are impressively deep and narrow, and there are a few nice small waterfalls as well. You soon sort of get a sense of "once you've seen one gully, you've seen them all," though. It can also be difficult to keep track of where exactly you are on the trail as the only geographic features you have to go by is the number of gullies you've crossed, and it is easy to lose count of these, and some of them don't show up very well on the topographic maps.

I did take a couple of side trips to check out two overlooks there are accessed via spur trails: Fiddler's Elbow and Owl's Fork Ravine. Both haven't really been maintained as overlooks, and while there might have been decent views from them once, the forest has certainly grown in and obscured those views. I suspect that both overlooks have no views at all in the summer with the leaves are out. Even with the leaves down, the view at the Fiddler's Elbow overlook was pretty lackluster. Owl's Fork Ravine at least had a nice view down into the ravine where I could see cascades a hundred feet below.

The Dishmill Creek area was also pleasant. There were some nice cascades on the creek and some beautiful stands of hemlock that the trail passed through. I wouldn't mind returning here on a day hike to explore this area further, as there is a network of trails that provide access throughout most of the Dishmill Creek drainage.

Despite the monotony, and despite the fact that all of the most spectacular views are easily accessible via day hikes and there is really no need to backpack to enjoy them, it's still a trail that is worth hiking from end to end. At 26 miles, it's not long enough for the entertainment of backpacking in Western NY to wear off, and I'm sure that those living in Western NY are appreciative of the opportunity to go backpacking and camp in the backcountry without having to drive all the way to the Adirondacks.

The trail also forms a loop with the Genesee Valley Greenway (which it intersects at both the northern and southern ends). This loop is approximately 40 miles in length. I'm not sure you'd want to hike the entire thing, as the GVG follows an old railroad grade, and there are some road sections of the GVG around sections were the trail is closed due to washouts, but on a hybrid or mountain bike it could make for an interesting trip. I believe that camping along the GVG is allowed with a permit from the Letchworth State Park office as well.
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Old 01-18-2016, 01:13 PM   #2
Jackson
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Great trip report and photos. Thanks for posting ! Although I have a serious case of acrophobia...I am petrified of heights.....I wouldn't have gotten as close as you go to the edge of the overlooks. Yikes. I stand far back and let that be that.
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Old 01-18-2016, 02:17 PM   #3
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Great trip report and photos. Thanks for posting ! Although I have a serious case of acrophobia...I am petrified of heights.....I wouldn't have gotten as close as you go to the edge of the overlooks. Yikes. I stand far back and let that be that.
Believe me, I was never any closer than 2-3 feet from the edge, and I usually had an arm clenched tightly around a tree as I was taking each of those photos.
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Old 01-21-2016, 11:06 PM   #4
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Looks like you had a nice hike. I live about an hour from the park and have spent many dayhikes on the LT. Several of the Access trails follow the ravines down into the gorge and you can explore the floodplain which can be an entirely different adventure. I always say that for a north-south trail you spend a lot of timing walking east and west. Great pictures.
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Old 01-21-2016, 11:58 PM   #5
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Looks like you had a nice hike. I live about an hour from the park and have spent many dayhikes on the LT. Several of the Access trails follow the ravines down into the gorge and you can explore the floodplain which can be an entirely different adventure. I always say that for a north-south trail you spend a lot of timing walking east and west. Great pictures.
Thanks. I figured there were probably some (safe) ways down into the bottom of the gorge, but as I had a deadline to keep and the days were somewhat short, I didn't spend too much time poking around off of the LT (apart from the side trips to the overlooks I mentioned). The park is definitely a great resource, though, and I imagine that the vast majority of people who visit it probably don't ever meander away from the developed areas on the western edge of the park. My hike was in the off season, but I suspect that solitude can usually be found on the LT even in the summer.
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Old 01-22-2016, 12:38 PM   #6
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A couple interesting Letch photo methinks;



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Old 01-22-2016, 01:09 PM   #7
DSettahr
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Nice photos. Those are from the "developed" side of the park, opposite the "undeveloped" side where the Letchworth Trail is.

A few years ago, I spent about a month working in the Letchworth Region for a temp job that involved travel across the state. I had the opportunity to visit Letchworth a number of times and take in the scenery:

https://picasaweb.google.com/dsettah...worthStatePark

https://picasaweb.google.com/dsettah...rthStatePark02

https://picasaweb.google.com/dsettah...rthStatePark03

https://picasaweb.google.com/dsettah...rthStatePark04
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Old 01-22-2016, 01:51 PM   #8
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DS, Nice images indeed! Been wanting to hike the gorge, on bucket list.
I meant to highlight the natural tragedy of the deer carcass on the edge of the waterfall.
And wonder the drama that befell that animal.
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Old 01-22-2016, 01:57 PM   #9
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DS, Nice images indeed! Been wanting to hike the gorge, on bucket list.
I meant to highlight the natural tragedy of the deer carcass on the edge of the waterfall.
And wonder the drama that befell that animal.
Ah, I see it now. I hadn't noticed it before.
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