The “Grand Canyon of the East” is one of New York’s most unique destinations, providing a different experience next to neighboring mountain parks. Letchworth State Park is home to this formation, with 17 miles of the Genesee River coursing north below the gorge’s walls from Pennsylvania towards Rochester. Over 66 miles of trails run through here, and more than half are accessible during the winter. However, due to a closure of park road from the Perry to the Castile entrances, and a closure of southern-most Portageville entrance, some trails require different access than warmer months allow. Strap on the snowshoes to take advantage of what few get to experience once the snow settles in.

Middle Falls Ledge. | Credit: Ethan Gresko

Gorge Trail

This trail is one of the all-around winners, whether you’re choosing to do the 7-mile point to point (with 1300 feet of elevation gain), doubling it up as an out and back, or approaching a shorter section from a parking area. Drive past a few lookout points from the Castile entrance towards Upper Falls parking. Though this is not the trailhead, it is the closest parking lot. Wonderful views of the jagged icicles and cold churning waters of Middle Falls are soon visible. Follow packed trail steadily up a couple hundred feet over the next half mile to Inspiration Point, where you can view Middle Falls directly down the gorge. Careful to not be tempted to enter any closed side trails (Footbridge, Portage to Lower Falls) along the Gorge trail; hikers can risk injury in icy conditions along the cliffs. Further, you’ll have opportunities for Archery Field, Humphrey’s, Great Bend, and Snake Hill Overlooks.

CCC Cabin on the Highbanks Trail. | Credit: Ethan Gresko

Dishmill Creek

There are two types of snowshoe hikes at Letchworth: trails that travel along the gorge, and trails that travel towards it. Dishmill Creek to Big Bend (2.5 miles round trip) is the latter, and a rewarding one at that. Begin at Dygert road, which brings you roughly half a mile before crossing the FLT and coming to a small water crossing. After hopping over Dishmill Creek, if the trail isn’t broken either trust your instinct or break out the navigating gear, as blazes are difficult to find. At the end of trail 9 you’ll come across Civilian Conservation Corps cabins, closed for the winter but still a wonderful lunch location. Big Bend ( will begin just down the service road, with a steadily inclined snowmobile road leading you to the highest point in the park and breathtaking views.

Gardeau Lookout. | Credit: Ethan Gresko

Deer Run

Beginning from the trailhead at Swyers Road, it will be moments before hikers see the baby blue-blazed trail splitting at a fork. Both directions take hikers to the winter-closed Park road; going straight will lead you to the Gardeau lookout trailhead, and turning right will lead you south towards the Saint Helena descent. Deer Run is a calming snowshoe hike, with a low grade just over half a mile in either direction.

To St. Helena (1.25 mi.) 320 ft. elevation gain

Make sure to look both ways once on Park road, which is open to snowmobiles in the winter. A family friendly trail , following St. Helena will guide you along a slow descent, switch-backing for a few sections, towards the gorge. If breaking the trail, make sure to do so thoroughly on your way down (though this is not a steep descent) as it will make getting back to the trailhead that much easier. Views of the frozen Genesee, snowy gorge walls, and sheer icicles will welcome you past the intersection for the picnic area.

To Gardeau (.5 mi.) 460 ft. elevation gain

Follow a ravine about .2 miles in to the trail, where you will find the main Gardeau Trail closed. Bare right and meet up with the lookout road, which will take you to a vista of the Genesee running slowly through the valley.

Seneca Trail via River Road

The Seneca Trailhead requires access via Letchworth’s unpaved and low maintenance River Road, adding an extra total to the hike. Limited roadside parking is available at the fork with the Finger Lakes Trail branch access point. Either choose to take the FLT south to connect with Seneca, or walk a mile down the road and you’ll find the gate beginning the red blazes. Along this .75-mile route you’ll experience roughly 500 feet elevation difference along gorged-out creek beds and thick white and red pine forest. The trail almost walks along the river, ending as the tree line thins and three red blazes are marked. Unlike farther up or down the gorge, the walls are much lower here and the river closer, with ice cracking audible now that you’re out of the trees. The magnitude of the gorge will be apparent either way you look, just like the St. Helena lookout, making you feel that much smaller along the great Genesee. If your snowshoes have risers, use them for your finishing ascent!

Highbanks Trailhead. | Credit: Ethan Gresko


Like the Gorge Trail, the Highbanks Trail can be hikes as a 4.75-mile point-to-point or out-and-back. There’s a trailhead at the Mount Morris park entrance, but because the following section is along the road, I suggest driving to the end of the trail and starting your hike at Cabin Area C where the trail technically ends. The hike to come will feature a rolling trail, small foot bridges, groves of pine, and the Hogsback lookout. A hidden gem is 1 mile in; turn right before the trail bares left, and you’ll come across a restored CCC lean-to.

Finger Lakes Trail Branch. | Credit: Ethan Gresko

Finger Lakes Trail Branch

The yellow blazed length of the 24-mile Finder Lakes Trail Branch through the park can begin from the northern or southern ends. From Portageville, walk past scented conifers for a chance to hike underneath the Norfolk Southern Railroad bridge. Unfortunately, the trail is closed within a slide area about .5 miles in; luckily, it can also be hiked beginning from the Genesee Valley Greenway or the Mount Morris Dam & Recreation Area at the northern end of the park. Experience this as a backpacking trip with views along the eastern gorge wall and a lean to along the way.