By Mary Heyl

Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park is one of the most beautiful areas in the eastern United States. In 2015, Letchworth won the USA TODAY Reader’s Choice Award for Best State Park in the U.S., ranking first among the 19 other state parks that were nominated from over 6,000 parks across the country. This weekend is the perfect time to discover for yourself all that Letchworth has to offer, from scenic views to hiking trails to family-friendly activities all year long.

Less than an hour from Springville, Letchworth State Park is about 17 miles long and follows the course of the Genesee River through both Livingston and Wyoming counties. The river runs through an impressive gorge over three magnificent waterfalls, the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls, which are all located in Portage Canyon. The deep gorge formed by the river has rock walls that rise almost 600 feet in some places, which inspired its nickname as the Grand Canyon of the East.

Besides its breathtaking views, Letchworth State Park has so much to offer visitors who are looking for a full day of adventure. Hikers can explore 66 miles of hiking trails, as well as trails for horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Snow tubing and snowmobiling are other winter activities that Letchworth offers. During the warmer months, visitors can enjoy whitewater rafting and kayaking on the Genesee River, as well as hot air ballooning over the stunning gorge.

Interested in spending the weekend at Letchworth State Park? The Glen Iris Inn, the country estate of William Pryor Letchworth, has hosted park guests since 1914. Letchworth, a successful businessman in the iron business, wanted a retreat from his busy life and decided to build an estate that he could enjoy with family and friends.

In 1858, Letchworth traveled through the Sehgahunda Valley of the Genesee River, where he discovered a large two-story house that overlooked the Middle Falls. Letchworth purchased the home and began renovating it in 1859; he named it the Glen Iris, inspired by local Native American lore that when the sun passes over the glen, it pauses a moment longer there than at any other part of the valley.  Letchworth wanted the estate to be preserved for future generations; upon his death in 1906, he left his estate and 1,000 acres of land to New York State, which would eventually become the state park.

This weekend is a great time to visit Letchworth State Park, as there are family-friendly events taking place throughout the weekend. On Friday and Saturday, March 3 and 4, visitors are invited to take part in Project Feederwatch from 10 to 11 a.m. This citizen science project is a part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which is the most dynamic and comprehensive source of information on birds in the world. By learning about and counting the types of birds through Project Feederwatch at Letchworth, you can contribute to a huge database of information used by scientists all over the world. This data is used to track bird migration and understand how birds are affected by pollution, disease, and habitat loss.

On Sunday, March 5 from 1 to 2:30 p.m., the 2017 Winter Lecture Series continues with “Are There Mountain Lions in New York?” This program is hosted by Dr. John Van Niel, Professor of Environmental Conservation at Finger Lakes Community College, who will discuss the history of mountain lions in New York, as well as present stories and photographs about this interesting topic.

Also on Sunday, March 5, there will be a Winter Waterfalls Walk at 6 p.m. beginning at Inspiration Point. This walk will take hikers on a journey to Middle and Upper Falls at dusk, when the landscape is particularly beautiful. Hikers are encouraged to dress appropriately and bring a flashlight.

Other upcoming events at Letchworth include the Bear Hollow Trail Trek on March 9, beginning at 10 a.m., the Maple Nature Table, where guest can discover the process of making maple syrup from March 16 to March 31, Mt. Morris Canyon Trek on March 22, Signs of Spring Walk on March 22, Search for Hidden Creatures on March 26, and Winter Lecture Series: The World of Trout, also on March 26.

To learn more about Letchworth State Park, including directions, camping accommodations, events and more, visit Follow Letchworth State Park on Facebook for photos and news about upcoming events.