It’s November now, and in Western New York that means the snow can fall at any time. That’s reason enough for any outdoor enthusiast to get out and enjoy every remaining minute of this beautiful fall season. So last weekend we set out to do exactly that by making the drive down to Letchworth State Park.
Letchworth State Park, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is located almost 60 miles south of Rochester and was voted the best state park in the country by readers of the USA Today and 10Best in 2015. The park features three waterfalls surrounded by lush forests and offers 66 miles of hiking trails and plenty of other recreational activities.
We got a late start, leaving Rochester in the early afternoon, and hoped to hike a portion of the Gorge Trail, which offers some of the best views of the park’s waterfalls and scenic gorge. We set out from the parking lot at the Portageville Entrance and planned to hike four miles out to the Great Bend overlook and back, for a total distance of about 8 miles.
The Gorge Trail follows Park Road for much of the section we hiked, with easy access to and parking areas near most of the scenic overviews along the trail. While this is great because it allows folks of all fitness levels and physical abilities to take in the magnificent scenery, it was quite a different experience than the type of scenic hiking we are accustomed to.
When climbing a high peak, for instance, you might spend several hours in the deep woods before summiting and after your hard work you are (sometimes) rewarded with an absolutely breathtaking view. I imagine stopping at these overlooks amongst park-goers in their street clothes, fresh out of their warm vehicles, is similar to climbing a mountain that also has summit access by car or chairlift. Your journey wasn’t the same, and you may have had to work a little harder, but the shared appreciation for mother nature’s beauty is undeniable.
Do you have a favorite state park? Share your experiences in the comments below!
For my first edition of “Throwback Thursday” I’d like to share an exciting first – my first Adirondack High Peak! For those who might be unfamiliar, the High Peaks are the 46 peaks in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate NY which were originally believed to be higher than 4,000 feet in elevation.
My partner is an avid hiker and mountaineer and had climbed at least a dozen high peaks prior to our relationship, so he could not wait to share this experience with me. We planned our first Adirondack adventure together for Memorial Day weekend 2013 and set out to do Algonquin Peak, which offers spectacular views and is achievable in a day hike. Algonquin Peak is the second highest mountain in the Adirondacks (and New York state). We took a long weekend, booked a hotel in nearby Lake Placid, and set off!
We figured that since our trip was to take place the last weekend in May, that we would be in the clear weather-wise. Unfortunately for us, the mountains had other plans. It rained for a week-straight leading up to our trip, which translated into a ton of snow accumulation in the colder high elevations. Three feet of snow accumulation, as a matter of fact. Not to be deterred after traveling several hours and booking our hotel stay, we set out to see if we could still summit a mountain. Snow be damned!
We set out for Algonquin Peak from the Adirondack Loj, following a popular trail that leads to the summit. The trail was incredibly wet and muddy, and it didn’t take long before we encountered snow. After a short time we came upon Marcy Dam, where we took shelter from the cold rain/snow mix in a nearby lean-to. A little cinnamon whiskey helped warm us up! Before long, a forest ranger came by and asked us where we were heading. When we told her our plans to hike to the summit of Algonquin, she informed us that the trails were covered with a few feet of snowfall beyond where we were, and that summiting would require snowshoes or skis. We had neither. At this point, it was in our best interest to turn around and head back, accepting defeat.
Even though I did not get to summit a peak on my first Adirondack hike, it was a great experience to see the wild beauty of the mountain trails (for the few miles I did get to hike, anyway). I also learned how quickly conditions can change in the high peaks, and that preparedness is essential to a successful hike – though who would have thought to bring snowshoes a few days away from June?!
Luckily, we are not the type to give up that easily and my almost-summit experience made me want to climb a high peak more than ever. So we scheduled our second attempt a little over a year later, in mid-June 2014. This date happened to put us in the heart of black fly season (ugh!), but certainly we had to eliminate the risk of another snow-fueled turnaround. We stayed at the same hotel in Lake Placid and made our way back to the Adirondack Loj to tackle Algonquin Peak – for real this time! The conditions were more favorable: a little overcast/cloudy and threatening rain. Because of the clouds, we weren’t sure if there would be much of a view at the summit. That didn’t matter, because nothing was going to stop us this time!
We lucked out and made our way up to the summit at a relatively easy pace. I even passed an old high school classmate who was on his way down from Wright Peak – how weird is that?! It’s not the last time I’d see an old familiar face out in the high peaks, strangely enough. The biggest obstacle we encountered that day was running out of bug spray before reaching the summit – I did mention it was black fly season, correct? The bugs were insane. Luckily, there was one other small group of hikers at the summit who generously let us use some of theirs, and they took a few pictures for us as well.
Summiting my first high peak is an experience that’s hard to describe. I think overwhelming comes close. Perhaps this experience was a little more dramatic, given our failed attempt one year earlier. One thing was certain, though: I WAS HOOKED. This cool experience was about to become an obsession. I’ve climbed 7 more high peaks in 14 months since this day, and though I don’t really define myself as an aspiring 46er yet (that’s someone who climbs all 46 high peaks), I am aching to bag as many peaks as possible!
Have you ever been unable to summit due to difficult weather or trail conditions? Share your experiences in the comments below!
My name is Alli and I’ve come to believe that the best way to explore our world is by foot. For this reason I can usually be found hiking, running, frolicking or falling clumsily somewhere in Western or Upstate New York. After growing up in a suburb of Syracuse, I made my way to Western NY for college and have since settled in Rochester. Throughout the past few years I’ve fallen in love with all of the incredible outdoor spaces this area has to offer – even choosing to purchase a house in part because of its proximity to a particular park. In this blog I plan to share my adventures and the challenges faced, lessons learned and reflections from along the way. I hope you enjoy reading, and please feel free to share what you love about these beautiful places as well!