By Alicia Dziak

The unofficial start of summer is also a great weekend to explore area state parks. Whether you enjoy hiking, biking, boating or BBQing, you can do it all and everything in between at these natural wonders.

One of the most popular parks in the region is Letchworth State Park, nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the East” and boasting a scenic gorge with the Genesee River meandering through and pouring over three large waterfalls. Letchworth is a outdoor paradise, with wooded trails, open fields, museums, a full-service inn and restaurant and much more to explore.

If you need yet another excuse to visit, the annual Red, White & Blue Balloon Rally will be happening May 26-29.

If you’ve never checked out this or another balloon rally, it is surely a sight to behold. About 30 hot air balloons launch from the Archery Field Overlook along the main park road by the park’s Castile entrance, and about a mile north of the Glen Iris Inn.

Guests who aren’t taking part in the ballooning part sprawl out with picnics, play lawn games and watch the set up as busy crews inflate balloons and anxious passengers prepare for flight. The balloons launch, one by one, heading toward the gorge. Spectators eagerly watch as they descend down toward the river and bob back up. Don’t forget your cameras, as there is nothing quite like it.

The balloons launch at about 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. all three days of Memorial Day weekend, May 27, 28 and 29. Launch times are approximate and are weather dependent. For more details call Letchworth State Park at (585) 493-3600.