Letchworth State Park follows the Genesee River through a deep gorge for about 17 miles. The gorge is almost 600 feet deep in parts, which led to it being known as the “Grand Canyon of East.” The true Grand Canyon is several thousand feet deeper and way bigger, but that’s not to say Letchworth isn’t impressive in its own right. The river plunges over three large waterfalls within a few miles; the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls. The park also has more than 65 miles of hiking trails. In 2015, Letchworth won the USA TODAY Readers’ Choice Award for Best State Park in the United States!
The park is located in Western New York, about 60 miles southeast of Buffalo. It is just over an hour’s drive from my house, so I have been there many times. It’s the most scenic place in the area (aside from maybe Niagara Falls).
I like to go there in the fall to photograph the waterfalls framed by colorful trees. I have hiked the 14-mile Gorge Trail to help me prepare for a couple of my trips out west. I have hiked a few other trails in the park, but spend most of my time near the picturesque waterfalls.
The Middle Falls is the biggest of the park’s major waterfalls at 107 feet high and 285 feet wide. That also makes it difficult to get a nice photo of it at close range. Maybe that’s why I prefer the other two waterfalls. The Middle Falls is also located very close to the Glen Iris Inn, meaning it is always pretty crowded. A bonus for the Middle Falls is that it often has rainbows through its spray. My photo is from Inspiration Point, which is far from the waterfall.
The Upper Falls is 70 feet tall and 300 feet wide. It is horseshoe-shaped and very steep. An old railroad bridge stands more than 200 feet above the crest of the waterfall just upstream of it. This waterfall is just past the start of the Gorge Trail.
The Lower Falls is my favorite of the trio. Reaching the Lower Falls isn’t too difficult, but it definitely takes the most effort of the three large waterfalls. A trail leads away from a parking lot and into the woods. Then the trail parallels a fence that runs along the rim of the gorge until it terminates at a stairway that takes you down toward the Lower Falls. There are 127 steps, but there are some wide landings and benches along the way for those that need to rest. There is a fork at the bottom of the stairs. The path to the right takes you to the lower falls. It briefly leads you through the woods to a wet, grassy area beside the brink of the falls. The waterfall is 70 feet tall and about 300 feet wide (just like the Upper Falls).
The other pathway (to the left from the stairs) leads through the forest to an area farther from the falls. There is a wide open area high above the river. Once you pass through there you can continue down some more steps adjacent to the rim. Finally, you end at a stone bridge that crosses the Genesee River. I like the view of the waterfall from the bridge, but a zoom lens is usually needed for a decent photo. The river’s frothy water swirls and curves its way through the dark gorge as it makes its way to the bridge. The view is best in autumn when the leaves have changed color.
Since the Lower Falls is my favorite of the waterfalls at Letchworth State Park I decided that would be where I wanted to pop the question. I liked the idea of proposing at Letchworth. First off, I felt like I totally had the power on this decision. As far as I knew, she had no idea I was about to propose and it’s really up to the guy as far as how and where he asks. Some people propose in front of a big group of friends and family or at a restaurant, but I knew that wasn’t for me. I wanted it to be outside somewhere, just me and her. Somewhere scenic and a little romantic was ideal to me.
It was September 24, 2011 when we made the drive to Letchworth with our trusty dog, Noelle, in the back of the car along for the ride. I struggled to keep a straight face and stay focused the whole drive. I was very nervous about proposing, although I was confident my girlfriend would say yes. I was also super excited.
Once we arrived in the park we headed straight to the Lower Falls parking lot. My plan was to propose on the stone bridge spanning the Genesee River with the Lower Falls in view. I couldn’t wait any longer so I decided we had to go straight there.
We walked down the many stone steps to the viewing area of the Lower Falls. We then continued the rest of the way to my planned destination, the stone bridge above the Genesee. There was one problem; it was a beautiful Saturday in September so there were a lot of other people around. I wanted it to be private. After lingering on the bridge for a little while and taking some photos of the waterfall I gave up on my plan.
We headed back up to the woods nearest the Lower Falls. The three of us followed a narrow trail toward the crest of the waterfall. We were in a relatively open area close to the falls when I decided it was time.
I casually loosened my shoe laces (without Ashley noticing) before we stopped walking. Then I said I had to tie my sneaker. I got down on one knee and tied my laces and then nervously pulled the ring box out of my pocket. Right before I was able to get Ashley’s attention Noelle pulled her into the woods in front of us.
I called out to them, and soon they were both back with me. I was still down on one knee and held the open box up to her and for some strange reason only said “well?”
Ashley was in shock. She said yes (although as she likes to remind me, I didn’t technically ask her to marry me then). She looked at the ring, put it on and said she loved it. She was so happy and was just glowing with joy. A nice woman took our picture on the trail. That’s still one of my favorite photos of us.
Phone service was terrible in Letchworth at that time, so she wanted to leave right away and call everyone she knew. I wanted to see the other waterfalls, but that wasn’t going to happen. It was hard enough just getting her to agree to have a quick burger for lunch before leaving.