Letchworth State Park, located in Western New York, is one of the best state parks in the US. And that’s not just my personal opinion, even though it’s practically in my backyard.
Letchworth was voted the best state park in the United States in 2015.
And in 2017, Letchworth was voted the best attraction in New York State.
So what’s the big deal? Is it all hype, or is there something truly spectacular about Letchworth State Park to make it worth a trip?
Letchworth is an outstanding park for many reasons, but foremost among those reasons is the jaw-dropping scenery it has to offer.
Most especially, the river gorge and waterfalls are unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else in the northeast of our great country.
The steep gorge running through the park has even earned Letchworth the nickname the Grand Canyon of the East.
This nickname is primarily earned by just one view, and that’s the dramatic gorge that can be viewed from the Archery Field Overlook near the Castile Entrance to the Park.
This overlook takes in the expanse of steep canyon shaped in a horseshoe bend of the Genesee River.
Also known as the Great Bend Overlook, this view is one that will leave you speechless and a little weak in the knees.
What to Expect at the Great Bend Overlook
The Great Bend Overlook is a must-see stopping-off point on your drive through Letchworth Park.
When we go to the park, as we do numerous times throughout year, all four seasons, the Great Bend Overlook is almost always the last stop on our way out of the park after a busy day of playing or picnicking.
It’s sort of a last goodbye to the beauty and grandeur of the park, a final glimpse of the spectacular scenery to leave us feeling awed and pensive.
If we bring out-of-town guests to Letchworth, it’s a must as a highlight to stop and admire.
The overlook is a pull-off next to the road with a few parking spaces next to the side of the steep gorge rim.
Stepping onto the sidewalk from your car, you can immediately see down several hundred yards (or 550 feet to be precise) to the riverbed below.
A low, slightly-above-knee-height stone wall is all the barrier between you and the sheer drop-off. If you’re a bit iffy on heights, this one may not be for you!
At the very least, stay back a step or two from the wall in case the sweaty feet and tingly palms threaten your equilibrium.
My favorite part of the view is watching the red-tailed hawks or turkey vultures that are inevitably gliding on the air currents in the canyon, circling well below eye height, down in the gorge.
It’s not every day you get to look down on birds soaring.
If you’re on the lookout for other wildlife, you may well spot squirrels and chipmunks scurrying around, or on a hot summer afternoon, you may come across a sleepy snake sunning on the rocks nearby.
Keep a lookout for poison ivy poking through the cracks in the rock wall, or climbing over the top. An itchy souvenir of your trip is not the kind you want to bring home.
If you’re after stunning photography of the Great Bend, a good time to stop by is sunrise. The view looks east over the river, so you can snap a shot with the sun coming up over the canyon.
Late afternoon and evening light also offers some interesting shots with shadows on the canyon walls and on the river below.
Great Bend Overlook with Kids
A visit to Letchworth is not complete without a chance to view the Great Bend. This goes for the kids in your group as well.
However, there are a number of things to bear in mind as you pull off on the roadside viewing point:
- There are no proper guard rails. The low stone wall is picturesque to be sure, but not much of a barrier between the sidewalk and hundreds of feet of sheer cliff dropping away to the riverbed.
If you have rambunctious little ones, be sure to keep them well away from the wall, hold a hand or otherwise restrain them from the precipice.
- There are no special activities for kids. While you can hike some trails around the area, view wildlife, or bring your own activities like balls, frisbees, etc., there aren’t any special attractions to occupy the younger set.
We don’t usually plan on spending long here.
- No restrooms are available. If you do plan to stop off here for a bit, make a first stop somewhere else with restrooms.
If you take these things into consideration, a quick stop at the Great Bend with your kids is sure to be an impressive and memorable view for them.
Not to mention a teaching moment to discuss the geologic formation of the area, as well as the birds and other wildlife that you may well spot from the location.
The educational opportunities at Letchworth are endless, if you’ve got your eye out for them!
Amenities and Activities
Unlike the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls areas, the Great Bend Overlook doesn’t offer a lot in terms of amenities or other activities.
No playground for kids, no restrooms, and no snack shop nearby.
There is plenty of space across the road to spread out a picnic under the trees in the Archery Field area, and many visitors to the park enjoy the serenity of this area as a place to lounge for a while.
If you do plan on a picnic here, bring your own blanket to spread out, or chairs to sit on, as there are no picnic tables available.
Bring a pre-prepared picnic, or your own portable grill, as there are no grills for public use as there are at other popular locations in the park.
The closest amenities are located just south down the Park Road at the visitor’s center. Or just a bit further down the road, you get to Trailside Lodge, Humphrey Nature Center, or Inspiration Point.
1. USA Today (link)