We live just 20 minutes from Letchworth State Park, a spectacular park that was voted the best state park in the country by USA Today in 2015.
Even living so close to this park known as the “Grand Canyon of the East”, it has lost none of its appeal and we regularly head over there to explore new corners.
With five kids in tow, our focus is usually on finding those spots in the park and related activities that will appeal to our young family members.
Viewing the Middle and Upper Falls is a given, but there are only so many times that the kids will stand for walking the same “boring” circuit.
So venturing out to discover what else Letchworth has to offer for kids, we’ve discovered a few hidden gems that many park-goers never find.
Humphrey Nature Center and the Autism Nature Trail
One of the best places in Letchworth State Park to take kids is the Humphrey Nature Center. This was finished in 2016 and still has that new building smell. It’s open year-round and offers displays, activities, and even weekly events and classes for kids.
It’s a great place to introduce your kids to the local wildlife of the area, learn about the geologic history of our region, or learn some plant identification tips.
Just out the back door from the Humphrey Nature Center is the Autism Nature Trail. By far my kids’ current favorite place to go at Letchworth, this nature trail has a bunch of sensory activities and explorations for young hikers.
The trail is gravel, making it stroller friendly, unlike many of the other hiking trails at Letchworth Park, especially the ones near the waterfalls.
You could easily spend most of an afternoon poking through this trail at child speed, and even then they still may not be ready to leave.
Fish or Hike at the Trout Pond
Just around the corner from the Humphrey Nature Center is the Trout Pond. Definitely off the beaten track, you may even have trouble finding it! But the Trout Pond area is our (the parents!) favorite place to head on a sunny afternoon.
There are numerous child-friendly trails surrounding the trout pond. Long enough for a fun, comfortable walk, but not so long that the smallest ones get tired out. The trails here are more or less level, and are navigable by a jogging stroller, unlike many of the trails nearer to the waterfall areas.
The little ones love to try to spot the trail markings painted on the trees and try to figure out which way to go when coming to a trail intersection. It’s a great place to introduce trail hiking to young hikers!
Try out the Playgrounds
There are many playgrounds at Letchworth Park, so spend some time stopping by at one or more, and your kids will not want to leave! The playground at the Middle Falls area is a nice wooden structure with a mini-climbing wall, slides, a bridge, and more.
The Lower Falls area also has an older-style playground with slides, swings, tunnels, etc.
The playground near the Trailside Lodge is a newer one, and a particular favorite of my kids.
The new rec center near the Lower Falls, while not technically a playground, also appeals to kids, so that’s worth checking out too.
Over on the other side of the river at the Parade Grounds, there’s another playground with all the usual attractions.
White Water Rafting (summer)
If your kids are a little bit bigger, you can try white water rafting with Adventure Calls Outfitters. For $50 per person, you can take an exciting 2.5-hour raft trip down the Genesee River.
If the water levels are low, the raft trip becomes an inflatable kayak trip, but either way, it’s sure to be a fun way to cool off on a hot summer day.
Snow tubing (winter)
If you’re around Letchworth in the wintertime on a nice snowy day, take the kids sledding or tubing at the Trailside Lodge (next to the Humphrey Nature Center).
The large tubing hill is thrilling enough for the bigger kids, and even doable for the littles if you hold them on your lap (you know you want to!) for the ride down.
Tubes were provided back in my day, but now it’s a bring your own tube/sled operation, and a manage your own risk type of deal (no park staff supervising).
Hot Air Balloon Rides
There are a couple of options for a hot air balloon ride over Letchworth, but the most notable one is Balloons Over Letchworth.
You can book a ride in advance, which will give you a 45-60 minute ride aloft over the falls. Allow 3-4 hours for the entire experience.
If your kids are little and you don’t want to take them up in an open basket, you can even settle for watching the balloons launch and land. This normally happens near sunrise or sunset, so plan accordingly.
At times you might find that the balloon company has set up a tethered balloon for short 10-minute rides, in which case the kids will love watching the balloon go up and down, or even going for a ride themselves.
Either way, spotting a bright, beautiful balloon is sure to impress the kids.
Spot a Train on the Trestle
The new trestle bridge near the Portageville entrance is an impressive structure, but even more thrilling is watching a train slowly chug across. If you happen to be near the Middle Falls and hear that iconic whistle, hurry over to watch the train cross the trestle above the Upper Falls.
Visit the Museum
Just across the parking lot from the Glen Iris is the William Pryor Letchworth Museum. A great place to learn about the natural history and early American history of the region, it’s definitely an interesting and educational place to take the kids.
Among the interesting pieces to see here are a fossil mastodon head exhumed in the neighboring village of Pike, along with a collection of Indian relics from the local area.
The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm, seven days a week, from May 1 through October. The suggested donation is $1.00/adult and $.50/child, $3 per family.
Hike to the Lower Falls
Perhaps slightly less accessible than the Upper and Middle Falls is the Lower Falls. Drive down the long, winding road to the Lower Falls picnic area.
Park the car there, then have a picnic why don’t you? Then hike the trail down to see the Lower Falls. There are a ton of steps on the way down, but don’t stop to worry about climbing them on the way back up.
Along the trail, you can admire the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s in all those stone steps, as well as the stone bridge, stone walls, and other trail work. Just look out for poison ivy.
Try Bird Watching
Letchworth is a great place to check off some birds on your kids’ birding list. In the gorge, you can spot red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and maybe even a bald eagle or two.
Along the many forested trails, you can see or hear woodpeckers, cardinals, goldfinches, robins, and many, many more.