Living just twenty minutes from Letchworth State Park, it’s a frequent outing location for our family of seven.
If the kids hear we’re heading to Letchworth, the destination they most often ask to head for is the Humphrey Nature Center and the adjacent Autism Trail.
In an outstanding state park offering tons of interesting and sensational things to do for the whole family, the Humphrey Nature Center is easily one of the most popular and compelling spots for kids.
If you’re headed for Letchworth State Park, make sure to leave a big chunk of your time for the Humphrey Nature Center. Your kids will thank you! At least mine do!
The Humphrey Nature Center is a relatively new addition to the historical legacy of Letchworth State Park. Completed in 2017 at the cost of $6.75 million, it is a gem added to the already lavish offerings of the park.
The nature center’s funding was partly provided ($3.55 million) by the NY Parks 2020 Plan to reinvigorate state parks.
The balance was provided through the efforts of Peter Humphrey, chairman of the Genesee Regional Parks Commission. His fundraising work secured the remaining $3.2 million with grants and private donations.
The Humphrey Nature Center is located closest to the Castile Entrance to Letchworth Park.
It shares a parking lot with the Trailside Lodge, so if you’re following signage in the Park, look for signs for either the Trailside Lodge or the Humphrey Nature Center.
From the Castile Entrance, turn right on Park Road at the Archery Field Overlook. Follow Park Road south until you see signs for the Humphrey Nature Center on the right.
You’ll have to take a left turn at a “T” and follow the road around to the righthand corner of the parking lot. The Trailside Lodge is located at the opposite corner of the same parking lot.
The Humphrey Nature Center is open, free of charge (after paying your vehicle entrance fee), year-round.
From May 1 to October 31, the building is open daily from 10 AM – 5 PM.
From November 1 to April 31, the building is open Thursday – Monday 10 AM – 5 PM (closed Tuesday and Wednesday).
The hands-on and interactive exhibits at the Humphrey Nature Center highlight numerous aspects of science and nature in the local area.
Here you can learn about the layers of rock that are visible in the Letchworth gorge and how they were formed and exposed.
A visually easy-to-understand display wall demonstrates the type of rock making up the layers of the gorge rock wall.
You can learn about the geologic timeline of the region, including the last ice age and its effects on the landforms and geologic anomalies to be seen in the area.
One of the more memorable exhibits for our kids is an interactive video where you spin a knob to watch a portion of riverbank being washed away in the process of weathering and erosion.
Or you can spin the knob backwards to watch it reverse or “fall” back into place.
Another popular exhibit offers the chance to see if you are as strong as water. The kids love to press on the scale to see if they can exert as much force as one cubic foot of water. So far none of them have!
The exhibits also offer information about the role of the river on local flora and fauna and the overall health of the ecosystem.
Plants and Animals
Numerous taxidermy animals are on display at the Humphrey Nature Center, including a white-tailed deer, a beaver, a bobcat, and other small mammals.
Information related to each animal and its place in the local ecosystem are also on display.
A few of the times we’ve been there live animals have been on display.
Most recently it was a snake in a glass case which startled a few of the kids when the tongue flickered in and out! But it turned out to be the highlight for one of our kids.
Another display demonstrates different kinds of tree bark to identify by texture and color.
And you can learn about the plants that are to be found in different types of environments: river edge, deep forest, meadows, etc.
A tree log slide at one end of the display area is super popular among the younger set, and offers an excuse to run and move a bit in the midst of taking in information.
The display also offers peeks at more educational tidbits on local wildlife in the area such as bears and deer in a very kid-friendly way.
Also learn about the local plants and which ones are invasive species. You might be surprised which common plants are not native to the region!
Outdoor Learning Areas
An outdoor classroom offers an educational space for group learning perfect for school groups or the frequent programs that are held in the Humphrey Nature Center.
You can find a listing of the upcoming programs on offer at the nature center here.
A butterfly garden offers plants that attract butterflies and humming birds, and in the spring and summer seasons you can spot beautiful insects and birds adorning the space.
The Bird Observation Station is viewable from the large glass doors at the back of the Humphrey Nature Center and from various benches outdoors.
Numerous bird feeders attract a variety of local bird species.
The bird viewing is always a hit with our kids, as there never fails to be birds of some kind on the feeders, easy for little ones to spot, and sometimes we get to see less common birds that they haven’t seen before.
The Autism Trail is the most obvious trail to hit up, as it is so closely connected to the Humphrey Nature Center. This is a great choice for small kids, as they will love the interactive nature of the stops along the trail.
For adults and older kids, a bit more of a strenuous hike might be in order, in which case you can take a trail out from the Humphrey Nature Center towards the Trout Pond and catch one of the loops over in that direction.
Or you can take the slightly longer hike over to Inspiration Point for some great views of the Upper and Middle Falls.
You can also hike out to some portions of old growth forest in the vicinity to experience some untouched natural history.