Best State Parks in the United States for a Thousand

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This is a guest post from my dad, Grandpa Points. He and my mom are in their 60’s, are (mostly) retired,DSCN4512and are ticking off “bucket list” destinations quicker than they ever thought possible thanks to miles, points, and travel deals. They have an intense love of this country, of its National Parks and treasures, and have no problem with a clean budget hotel room and an economy airline seat on a budget airline as long as it gets them where they want to be. A photographer by trade, his adventures are usually captured not just in his mind, but in his camera.  He shares his thoughts and travels here from time to time, and I’m excited to share another one of their big adventures.

Imagine if you will, that Grandpa Points is appearing on the TV game show Jeopardy. Alex Trebec, the show’s host, says ” Grandpa Points, you have control of the board and you get the pick”. I respond, “Alex, I’ll take State Parks for a thousand.” Alex says, “Okay, and the answer is, according to a 2015 USA Today Reader’s Poll, this is the best state park in America”.

The da,da,da,da music startsdscn5268

…but I buzz in long before the time runs out. I practically yell out the question to the answer, ” What is Letchworth State Park?” Alex says, ” That is correct and we add a thousand dollars to your column”.

Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park? I had never heard of it either until about a month before our recent trip to the northeast. I had requested a New York State Travel Guide, and when it arrived in my old fashioned mail box, so did my introduction to this state park.


A stunning photo grabbed my attention and piqued my curiosity. I quickly looked for more information and the park’s location. I saw that the park was about 80 miles south of Niagara Falls which was already one of our intended destinations. I decided that Letchworth State Park was something we needed to see and was a worthwhile addendum to our plans even if it meant extending our hardest and longest driving day to an even harder and longer day.

The Letchworth Park is located in the rural heart of western central New York. The land nearby is rolling farmland cut between dense hardwood forests.

Letchworth State Park Fall Foliage

The county that the park is in proudly claims that there are more cows than people within its borders. On the mid October day we visited, there were no cows and only a smattering of human visitors sharing the experience with us. It was quiet, spacious, and drop dead beautiful. The roads through the park curve and climb and fall at an artistic pace. They just flow through and under the broad canopied trees taking you comfortably but aesthetically to the park’s grandeur.

Letchworth State Park Fall Foliage

The park is well groomed, inviting and clean. It actually had the feel and ambiance of a resort rather than public land. The park has many environmentally appropriate natural stone walls, pathways, steps and bridges that further give the 14,000 acres of parkland a photogenic touch.

The park is about 17 miles long by 2 miles wide and is pretty much cut in half from top to bottom by the Genesee River and its Gorge. The gorge is about 600 feet deep and is the reason the park is affectionately called ‘The Grand Canyon of the East’.

Letchworth State Park Fall Foliage


There is a good system of hiker friendly hiking trails in the park with most being between 0.5 miles and 2.5 miles in length. There are multiple camping sites here with the necessary amenities to make the ‘roughing it’ experience more comfortable. There are several cafes, snack bars, gift shops, and a camp store. Lodging and quality dining is available at the historic Glen Iris Inn with accommodations ranging from small quaint rooms to cabins capable of sleeping up to ten.

Activities in the park, in addition to the involuntary and automatic psychological battery recharging, include hiking, biking, whitewater rafting, bird watching and hot air ballooning. Hot air balloon fests are held in this park and in the peak of the tourist season hot air rides at sunrise and sunset are readily available for hire.

So, what was it that drew me to this park? Well, it was this.

Letchworth State Park Fall Foliage

And this.

Letchworth State Park Fall Foliage

And this.

Letchworth State Park Fall Foliage

A series of three cascading waterfalls relentlessly adding depth to the gorge is what drew me. Hillsides ablaze with color is what attracted me. The intoxicating visual excitement and the soul cleansing experience of just being in nature, with nature, is what lured me. I am a simple person and this is (more than) enough for me.

Letchworth State Park Fall Foliage

I am so glad we added this visit to our itinerary as it was as good and rewarding as I had hoped for. This state park is a jewel with a rich history, a superb present, and an exciting future. We regrettably only had a few hours to savor the wonders of Letchworth State Park, but all our senses were on high alert while we were there. We were seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and absorbing as fast as our senior citizen selves could. Letchworth State Park was a highlight in a trip full of highlights and indeed seems worthy of being called one of the best state parks in the United States. It is that good, and it will bring a smile to your face.


Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

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  1. This is why I enjoy your site. We are planning a trip to Niagara Falls and I never would have gone to this state park. Now it’s on my list and preferably during the fall, your pictures are fantastic.

    • A couple other great places to visit are Ithac and Watkins Glen. If you like water falls Ithaca is the place to go. There is a waterfall that is higher than Niagara Falls. Watkins Glen has an amazing gorge hike

      • The New York State Travel Guide had a great feature on New York’s waterfalls that led us to Letchworth. Time ran out this time on further explorations, but….maybe, tomorrow. Ithaca and Watkins Glen have now been officially entered into our “should do” file. Thanks for the info and for being a Mommypoints follower.

  2. Your parents and I would get along great. We love our National and State Parks. We have been to 26 National Parks and countless state parks. I do love Letchworth but for something different for all you readers who are further west , you have to check out Custer State Park in South Dakota. This is a really special place too. It is number 5 on our list of the best parks in the United States. To read my review of this jem check

    • We agree about Custer State Park. We visited it about 5 years ago on our Mt. Rushmore/ Badlands/Devils Tower/ Yellowstone excursion. I have said many times that South Dakota must have some influential congressmen because their state looks like it gets a disproportionate amount of federal funding. The roads are good, the parks are great, the air is clean….Thanks so much for sharing your story and your comments. Maybe our paths will cross some day.

  3. Valley of Fire State Park, about a hour from the Vegas Strip, is one of the most stunningly beautiful parks in the country with its fabulous red rocks which rival Sedona, Arizona. I would place it above Hoover Dam on my do-not-miss list for Vegas visitors.

    • There are a number of great side trips available out of Vegas. We first visited Valley of Fire on an appropriate 115 degree day a few summers ago. We liked it so much that we have gone back on 2 other occasions. As you said, it is a stunningly beautiful area. It was the Valley of Fire State Park that introduced us to petroglyphs. Thanks for adding your thoughts and insights.

  4. I’m so glad you got to see this gem of my home state! The rafting is a great adventure if you have a whole morning or afternoon. I took my sister (who lives in Texas) last fall. Amazing scenery.

    • We had always heard that New York is so much more than Manhattan and now we know why. We like visiting The City but we really enjoyed seeing the rural elements and natural beauty the rest of the state has to offer. We thoroughly enjoyed your state. Thanks for writing in.

  5. As always I love your guest articles and the pictures are truly stunning. This San Diego gal yearns to visit the northeast in the fall to see the beautiful colors. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Thanks so much for the generous compliment. Our trip was fantastic and we hope you find something to enjoy with our coming report on the fall foliage. The trees and color were truly inspirational and their reputation as a must see destination is well justified. We are always glad to hear from you.

  6. Great post. I am a SUNY Geneseo graduate which is right up the road from Letchworth State Park. I went back there with my wife one summer and we whitewater rafted the river. More of a “float” but amazing nonetheless. The Country Inn Suites is an excellent option right outside of the park. I know you are a Ryder Cup fan so bring your clubs next time there are numerous courses nearby that cost next to nothing. I remember paying 6 dollars to play a local 9 hole course in the early 2000s.

    • Thanks for the encouraging comment. If I lived close, I would be a frequent visitor. Golf in that area would be a thrill just based on the pleasant environment and great scenery. And a next to nothing green fee is always an enticement. Thanks for writing in about your experiences and your local knowledge.

    • We always love hearing your positive input. You are too kind. We hope to be able to continue to occasionally retell some of our experiences on this site when we see or do something that might make for a positive contribution to Mommypoint readers. Thanks again.

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