Posted by: kerryl29 | August 16, 2016

Letchworth State Park: A First Look

Visiting Letchworth State Park had been a priority of mine in planning this May photo trip, and on the seventh full day of the excursion, I’d finally get my first look at the place.  The drive there from the area near Elmira, New York, where I’d been staying while visiting the Finger Lakes region, took about an hour and 15 minutes, and I arrived at the northern entrance to the park a bit before 9 AM.  While it had been raining lightly in Elmira, it was partly cloudy at Letchworth.

Most of the action at Letchworth is in the far southern part of the park, but the main southern entrance was closed during my visit, due to construction.  So I entered at the northern end, near the town of Mt. Morris, New York, and made my way, nearly 20 miles, along the park road to the southern section of the park.

Before really getting going, just inside the northern gate, this dogwood tree in full bloom caught my attention and I pulled off the side of the road to make an image or two.

Dogwood Isolate, Letchworth State Park, New York

Dogwood Isolate, Letchworth State Park, New York

It was Sunday, so I knew that the park would be fairly crowded, particularly as morning lapsed into early afternoon.  I spent most of the day dodging the crowds and dealing with the sun playing footsie with clouds.  But I stayed in the park all day (except for a brief break to check into my motel in Geneseo, New York) until after sunset.  This gave me plenty of opportunity to scout locations.

The Genesee River cuts a deep gorge on its northward journey toward Lake Ontario, and that creates the basis for  Letchworth.  The river bed itself is inaccessible to the public within the park boundaries, and most of the park features are high up on the west rim of the canyon.  There are numerous overlooks, and three huge waterfalls on the river within the park.  There are also a number of smaller waterfalls on Genesee River tributaries located inside the bark boundaries.

On this morning, as I arrived in the southern quarter or so of the park, I stopped at a number of different overlooks, for scouting purposes.  Eventually I arrived at the Wolf Creek picnic area.  Here, Wolf Creek–a Genesee tributary–meanders under a stone bridge and through a wooded area, and then descends, in an abrupt, long cascade, into the river.

Wolf Creek, Letchworth State Park, New York

Wolf Creek, Letchworth State Park, New York

Not all of Wolf Creek Cascade is visible from this spot.  In fact, most of it–several hundred feet worth of drop–is out of sight.  But enough of it can be seen from the picnic area to make it worth a photograph.  In both cases–the creek and the cascade–I waited for the sun to disappear behind a cloud.

Wolf Creek Cascade, Letchworth State Park, New York

Wolf Creek Cascade, Letchworth State Park, New York

My next stop, down the road only a mile or two from Wolf Creek, was Inspiration Point, one of the park’s best known and most spectacular overlooks.  From this spot, both Middle Falls and Upper Falls–both large, wide waterfalls–can be seen.

Middle Falls from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle Falls from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

A high railroad bridge, spanning the gorge just above Upper Falls, can also be viewed.  While both waterfalls can be seen from up close, the best overlook view of the two is from Inspiration Point.

Middle and Upper Falls from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

Middle and Upper Falls from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

I also took the time to photograph some of the trees in the gorge.

Wooded Bluff from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

Wooded Bluff from Inspiration Point, Letchworth State Park, New York

Then I walked across the road to check out Stone House, an attractive structure that can be rented as an overnight accommodation.  I found it highly photogenic, and–while fighting off a swarm of gnats, nabbed a couple of shots.

Stone House, Letchworth State Park, New York

Stone House, Letchworth State Park, New York

Continuing down the road, I stopped next to check out Lower Falls.  I wandered all the way down to the shooting position about 500 feet downstream of the falls–a hike that required the descent of a stone staircase with more than 100 steps.  At this point, the sun was out brightly on what had become an extremely hot day.  The waterfall itself, and the surrounding gorge, were half in mixed light.  But there’s a foot bridge that crosses the gorge downstream from Lower Falls, about 30 feet above river level.  Below the bridge was an area of the canyon entirely in shade, due to a bend in the river.  While I would have to wait to shoot the falls until later in the day, I did take the time produce one image of the river below the bridge where the bend was creating a huge, slow moving eddy.  By placing a six-stop neutral density filter on my lens, I was able to nab the shot you see below, which I subsequently converted to black and white.

Genesee Swirl Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee Swirl Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

After stopping to scout several additional overlooks, I made my way to the end of the road–a large parking area providing direct access to Middle Falls and, by a relatively short, paved trail, Upper Falls.  The Middle Falls area was crowded, the spray from the falls positively tremendous, and the light awful, so I simply took note of  a number of possible shooting spots along the way, with the expectation of returning the following morning.  Then I made my way to the Upper Falls area.

Upper Falls, at a height of approximately 70-feet, spans the wide river.  As had been the case at Middle Falls, there was a lot of foot traffic on the trail near Upper Falls.  And the sun was out strong, though by now it was past mid-afternoon.  Still, I decided to wait it out, as I had scouted just about every location I’d intended to visit that day.

Gradually, some clouds started to role in, and the crowds began to thin as the day wore on.  Just above the Upper Falls viewing platform, a small tributary to the river flows in the form of a small waterfall.  When the sun went behind a cloud bank, I climbed down into the tiny creek bed and produced a couple of images of Shadow Cascade.

Shadow Cascade, Letchworth State Park, New York

Shadow Cascade, Letchworth State Park, New York

Shadow Cascade Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Shadow Cascade Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Then I climbed back and wandered back to the Upper Falls viewing area and began to make some images of Upper Falls.

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

The sun popped back out again, briefly, and due to its angle relative to my perspective and position in the sky, created a brilliant double rainbow out of the waterfall’s copious spray.  I did something I almost literally never do:  I produced an image while hand holding the camera.  I simply couldn’t get my tripod in a position where I could photograph the rainbow the way I wanted; I had to lean over the stone wall that buttressed the overlook to produce the below image.  Given how bright it was, I was able to shoot at 1/1000 of a second and easily could still obtain a sharp shot.

Double Rainbow, Genesee River, Letchworth State Park, New York

Double Rainbow, Genesee River, Letchworth State Park, New York

I then gradually moved back down river, shooting several other perspectives of Upper Falls, when the sun moved behind clouds.

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls Black & White, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Upper Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

I also took the time to produce some long lens semi-abstracts of the rapids in the Genesee River below Upper Falls.

Genesee River Rapids, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Rapids, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Rapids, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Rapids, Letchworth State Park, New York

By the time I wrapped up at Upper Falls, it was late afternoon.  I decided to head to the motel I was staying at–about 30 minutes away–and then come back to the park for the evening shoot.  I figured the crowds would be all but gone and the light would be good.  I was right.  It was around 6 PM when I got back to the park and I stopped, first, at one of the overlooks–the Tea Table Overlook–that I had scouted that morning.

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

The gorge was bathed in pleasing light and, while the river wasn’t visible from this spot, the pattern of its curving passage was.

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

Genesee River Ridges from Tea Table Overlook, Letchworth State Park, New York

From here, I drove the relatively short distance back to the Lower Falls parking lot, and retraced the hike back to the viewing area that I had made hours before.  The falls and accompanying canyon were now both in full shadow, so I took time to produce a few images of Lower Falls, while the river reflected the sunlit sky.

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls at Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Lower Falls at Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

By the time I had climbed back out of the canyon to the parking area, sunset was only a few minutes away.  Because of the way the park is laid out, there are no west-facing overlooks.  Figuring the photographic day was over I was preparing to head out and check into my hotel, about 20 minutes away from the park’s northern entrance (which was at least 20 additional minutes away itself from the Lower Falls parking area), but on the way, I passed the park’s Archery Field–across the road from one of the numerous overlooks I had scouted in the morning.  In addition to the overlook, I had taken a look at the broad, open field and had found the large, mature, isolated maple trees located there, still in the leafing out stage, of interest.  Now, as I returned to the archery field as dusk began to set in, I stopped, rediscovered a favorite composition that had been teased out during the morning’s scouting visit, and grabbed my gear for one last set of images on this day.

Archery Field Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Archery Field Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Archery Field Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

Archery Field Sunset, Letchworth State Park, New York

And with that, another long day of photography came to an end.  The next day would begin at a very, very early hour as I planned to photograph sunrise over the gorge.

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Responses

  1. Your photos are beautiful. It is a very beautiful park. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Another great day of shooting! My favorite is the color version of the top of Upper Falls (just before the rainbow photo).

    • Thanks, Ellen. Those relatively tight shots of Upper Falls represent the kind of compositions that really caught my eye when I was perched near the crest of the falls.

  3. […] had a full day in the park to scout had been a big help in planning for the succeeding day:  I knew where I […]

  4. nice post… do you mind if I asked where you stayed? Going up in Oct.

    • Thanks!

      I stayed at a Quality Inn in Geneseo; I don’t recommend it–not because there was anything wrong with the hotel (there wasn’t–it was fine), but because of the distance to the park. From where I was staying it was a 15-20 minute drive from the north entrance, which wasn’t bad, but the north entrance is a long, long way from the vast majority of areas of interest. It was another 20 minutes from the entrance to the cluster of photo locations in the gorge.

      To be closest to the action, camp at one of the campgrounds (assuming there’s space available) or stay at the Glen Iris Inn, both in the park. I wasn’t in a position to camp and I honestly wasn’t aware of the Glen Iris Inn when I was planning the trip. The Inn’s location can’t be beat, however.

      A better option than Geneseo for a spot north of the park is to stay at the Country Inn and Suites in Mt. Morris–it’s only a minute or so from the north entrance. Ideally the best location outside the park would be down near the south entrance in Portageville (assuming it’s re-opened–that entrance was closed off this spring), but there’s almost nothing down there in the way of accommodations, just a couple of B&Bs of uncertain reputation.

      Hope that’s of some help.

  5. […] started by utilizing a foreground of wildflowers, at a spot I discovered during my first day in the […]


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