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Best State Parks in the United States for a Thousand

Nov. 06, 2016
6 min read
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,

and 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 starts

...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? 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.

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.

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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'.

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.

And this.

And this.

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.

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.