At the North end of Letchworth State Park, near the village of Mt. Morris, you can see the Mt. Morris Dam spanning the width of the Genesee River.
If you’re curious about the dam, its construction, history, and purpose, it is open to the public for tours.
Plan on spending a couple of hours at the Mt. Morris Dam Recreation Area to have time to fit in a tour and ample time to hit the playground and explore the area a bit, including hiking trails and more.
Lest there be any confusion, the Mt. Morris Recreation Area is not within the Letchworth State Park boundary.
If you are in Letchworth State Park, you can see the Mt. Morris Dam from the dam overlook area, and across the river you will see the Mt. Morris Recreation Area.
If you just want a peek at the Mt. Morris Dam, you can do so from within the park, or you can exit the park at the Mt. Morris entrance, cross the river in the town of Mt. Morris, and drive a few miles south to the Mt. Morris Recreation Area, where you can have an even better view of the dam.
If you’re looking for a tour, this can only be done from the Mt. Morris Recreation area, not from within Letchworth park.
Make Reservations for a Tour of the Mt. Morris Dam
If you want a tour of the dam, you need to reserve your spot ahead of time online.
While there is no cost for the tour itself, the Recreation.gov site charges a non-refundable reservation service fee of $1 per ticket.
There is no entrance fee to the Mt. Morris Recreation Area, and it is open year-round.
Tours are available twice a day during the summer season. Tour times are 11 AM and 2 PM daily, with space for 25 visitors on each tour.
You can reserve your tour up to 7 days in advance. If you’re a walk-in visitor without a reservation, you may be permitted on a tour if space allows.
What to Expect on the Tour
Make sure to get to the visitor’s center at least 15 minutes before your scheduled tour, to have time to sign in (bring a photo ID) and peruse the exhibits in the lobby area.
These exhibits chronicle the history and construction of the dam, as well as local wildlife and geographical features.
A guide from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that maintains the Mt. Morris Dam, will greet you and go over expectations and a few background details.
The tour of the dam is called a walking tour, as it involves about a half-mile walk down a fairly steep grade to get from the visitor’s center to the level of the dam along the rim of the river gorge.
Following the guide, the kids got a big kick out of getting to walk past a no-trespassing sign!
The walk follows a paved road used for maintenance access, so it’s not a super strenuous walk, but it’s not a wheelchair or stroller-accessible tour.
At the side of the dam, the guide provides more detailed information about the process of construction and the dates that it was built (from 1948-1952).
Walking out onto the flat surface of the dam, you get great views of the river bed to the south, upriver, and to the north, downriver, as the Genesee is a south-to-north flowing river.
If you’re a bit so-so on heights, there’s plenty of room to stand well back from the edge while viewing the scenery.
You may be surprised by the lack of water behind the dam. We learned that this is a dry dam; in other words, it does not stop the flow of water under normal circumstances and does not hold a reservoir of water behind it.
From the surface of the dam, the guide takes you into the tower located partway across the dam, where you can access the stairways and tunnels in the interior.
An elevator large enough to hold the entire tour group of 25 individuals takes you slowly down about 7 stories to the main operations tunnel.
The tour guide leads you through several twists and turns of the tunnel, explaining numerous features of the dam, its equipment, and its operations.
It’s a consistent 50-55 degrees F in the tunnel year round, so it’s a nice cool down on a hot summer day!
In the warm weather, condensation collects inside the tunnels, making them damp and “weepy.” If it’s wet inside there, don’t think it’s because there’s a leak in the dam itself!
One stop on the tour takes you out through a side door close to the base on the down-river side.
Here you can view the dam looking up from near the base (not quite all the way down), and it’s quite impressive, looming all those stories above you.
Back near the elevator door before heading back up, the tour guide takes a moment to turn out the lights for you to experience the complete pitch blackness of the inside of the dam.
I thought the littlest ones might be unsettled by this experience, but thankfully no one was.
We also learned here that there’s a cell relay unit inside the dam, so you have good cell phone service even inside all that concrete.
Pictures are not allowed inside the dam, but at least you can answer a phone call if you need to.
Back up on the top of the dam, the guide gives plenty of time to answer any last questions, take pictures of the view and leisurely make your way back up the roadway to the visitor’s center.
Our guide was super knowledgeable, friendly, and great at interacting with the kids, drawing out their knowledge and interest.
Everyone really enjoyed the tour, except maybe the toddler in the backpack, who didn’t like all the stopping and standing around.
The Mt. Morris Dam Recreation Area includes much more than just the dam site and tour. There’s no entrance fee, and lots of space to hike, picnic, and spend a pleasant morning or afternoon.
A great playground with structures suitable for both younger ages and toddler ages is a good incentive and reward after the tour if you have reluctant participants.
A covered picnic pavilion is a great place for a party, and was in fact being used for a birthday party the afternoon we were there.
It provides great views of the dam and the river gorge, and you can see Letchworth State Park on the other side of the river.
Numerous trails heading out from the visitor’s center are a great place to hike, bike, or, in the winter season, cross-country ski or snowshoe.
If you’re looking for a free alternative to Letchworth with some spectacular views, it will be worth your while to check out this recreation area.