Upper Falls of the Genesee River (Letchworth)

Letchworth State Park / Castile / Portageville, New York, USA

About Upper Falls of the Genesee River (Letchworth)

Hiking Distance: almost roadside; wheelchair
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2007-06-18
Date last visited: 2013-10-15

Waterfall Latitude: 42.57874
Waterfall Longitude: -78.04902

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

The Upper Falls of the Genesee River was one of three major waterfalls on the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park. This waterfall was actually just a short distance upstream of the Middle Falls, and I guess we could’ve combined the two waterfall entries on this website. Instead, we felt like we had enough to say about this particular waterfall to warrant its own page.

As you can see from the photographs on this page, the distinguishing feature of this 40ft waterfall was the Portage High Bridge, which was really a railroad bridge. The bridge was said to have originally opened in 1852 as the highest wooden railroad bridge at the time at 234ft above the Upper Falls of the Genesee River spanning 850ft across the gorge. Of course the current bridge that we saw was made of iron as the original wooden one was said to have burned down in 1875 under “suspicious circumstances.” This rebuilt railroad bridge was definitely active and still in use as it was said to link Buffalo and Hornell courtesy of the Erie Railroad Company.

The walk from the car park that served both the Upper and Middle Falls was merely a couple of minutes uphill along a concrete path flanked by a lawn on one side and a concrete barricade on the other. There was a coin-op binocular here to perhaps get a closer look at the bridge as well as some possible bird life that might fly by here. The views of the falls (such as what you see at the top of this page) could be had all along the concrete walkway (even as far away as the car park itself), and the paved walkway continued to climb up along the gorge walls going by the Upper Falls probably up to the base of the Portage High Bridge where there was another car park up there.

It turned out that this waterfall (as well as the Middle Falls) could also be seen from a much different perspective. That alternate view was at the Inspiration Point (see directions below), which not only allowed us to see both waterfalls, but we were also able to appreciate the grandeur and depth of the Grand Canyon of the Genesee River, which we could see how it earned its moniker of the “Grand Canyon of the East”.

Since the falls flowed on the Genesee River, which was the major river system responsible for carving out this canyon, it was pretty obvious that the falls also flowed year-round. In fact, the photos you see from both the Summer and Autumn that we’re featuring on this page further attested to its consistent appearance.

By the way, I’ve seen some conflicting figures in the literature reporting the height of this waterfall to be 71ft. However, I think that might be a generous figure given our field observations.


Since we were coming from Ithaca we’ll describe the directions from there. So we took the I-86 to the I-390, and then headed west on state highway 436 from Dansville towards Portageville. Passing through Portageville, on SH436, we then connected with state highway 19A, where we then turned right onto a signed road on the right (barely 1/4-mile later) and followed it for barely 1/2-mile to the car park.

On the way to Portageville, I recalled taking a road that became unpaved on the other side of the river (possibly causing a flat on our rental car) thanks to bad directions by the GPS, which told us to turn right on some road before we got to Portageville. The key thing was to keep going through Portageville as signs for the falls become obvious from there. Ignore the GPS if it says otherwise (as we should’ve done).

Six years after our Summer visit in 2007, we entered the park through the year-round Castile Entrance. We originally drove from Buffalo where we took the I-190 east to the I-90 south. Not long after getting onto the I-90, we exited Hwy 400, where we then drove about 12.8 miles towards the town of East Aurora. Next, turned left to go onto the US Hwy 20A for about 24 miles towards the town of Warsaw. We then turned right onto Hwy 19 and took that road south for 5 miles until we forked to the left to go onto Hwy 19A. We then followed Hwy 19A for 7.5 miles to the turnoff for the Castile Entrance to Letchworth State Park (Denton Corners Rd) on the left.

The Castile Entrance was roughly 2 miles east on Denton Corners Rd where it became Park Rd just beyond the payment kiosk. It costed us a vehicle fee of $8 cash (exact change appreciated) to enter, but unbeknownst to us, it turned out that this fee was a general New York State Parks fee, and it even worked for our visit to Watkins Glen State Park later in the day without having to pay again!

About 0.6 miles past the Castile Entrance (or 2.6 miles from Hwy 19A), we then turned right and followed the Park Rd for another 1.3 miles where we then turned left to take the spur loop towards the main car park for the Upper and Middle Falls. Note that about 0.5 miles west of the right turn onto Park Road from the Castile Entrance or 0.5 miles east of where the Upper and Middle Falls loop rejoined Park Rd was where the turnoff for Inspiration Point was.

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Left to right sweep from a return trip in the Autumn of 2013

Checking out both the Upper and Middle Falls of the Genesee River as well as the impressive gorge decorated with Autumn colors from Inspiration Point

Quick look at the falls in motion (just the falls and not including the bridge) in early Summer 2007

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Tagged with: letchworth, state park, livingston, wyoming county, castile, portageville, western new york, new york, finger lakes, waterfall

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