Over Labor Day weekend we decided it was time to take another camper trip. To be honest, I’ve been kind of itching to get back into a camper, get out into nature, and take some massive steps back from the world. There’s just something about being in a camper, disconnected, in nature that really just works for me. It gives me that much needed “silence the world” feeling.
Now, last year when we did our camper trip it was in October to the Lake Placid area, and it was glorious- the beauty of Autumn in the Adirondacks is unparalleled and unreal. You can read that HERE. It was our first time in a camper, and we fell in love (if you can’t tell).
This time we decided to go to another famed region of New York- Letchworth State Park. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” it is known to be one of the most “scenically magnificent areas” of the eastern part of the country. It is home to a lot of hiking, horseback riding, white water rafting and kayaking, hot air balloon rides, as well as a variety of lodging right within the park.
We decided to stay outside of the park, mostly because most of the spots were already reserved when we looked (these spots, both, book up FAST). We chose a KOA campground on the southern end of the park and we’re actually very pleased with it! I know that in some instances KOA’s can get a bit of a bad rep, and sure being as close to neighbors isn’t like…great, but our experiences thus far have been great. We arrived in the afternoon on Friday and spent the first few hours getting settled in, unpacking, letting the kids run free and wild.
The next morning dawned bright and clear so after breakfast we headed out to Letchworth State Park. Letchworth State Park follows the course of the Genesee River for about 17 miles as the river goes over a total of 3 waterfalls and cuts a gorge through the landscape. It crosses two counties as well as 5 cities. The park dates back to 1859 when William Pryor Letchworth started purchasing the land. He started with the land nearest to the Middle Falls, built his home and then started to look beyond. In the end by 1906 he had 1,000 acre’s that he bequeathed to the state of New York. The park contains three waterfalls, Upper, Middle, and Lower. Each are unique, each are located within the southern section of the park (yes there is a southern/northern line, and it is marked within the park-it is THAT big). Upper Falls has an active Railway arch bridge above it, creating quite the photo backdrop, but also historic as that railroad bridge path dates back to 1875. Middle Falls is the highest of the three waterfalls at 107-foot drop and is just the powerhouse you expect it to be. Lower Falls is exactly what you would think from the name, a lower “calmer” fall over several levels, with a stone bridge just below. There is one smaller, ribbon waterfall, however most of the time you are not able to truly see it.
My initial thought was to hike the distance between the three waterfalls; HOWEVER, this is a 7-mile hike and is listed as a “moderate” level hike but has a steep incline/decline that we didn’t know about until we overheard some hikers speak about it. We decided at the middle falls that hiking the full way was not feasible with two little kids on an 80 something degree day. This is fine as not only can you drive the entire park, but you are also able to stop at more than enough spots to get out, take in the gorge, the river, and the falls. There are two parking lots for the falls, one located in between upper and middle, and then one close to lower falls. (To be honest- I was also ok with not hiking as most of the hike is above the river, rather than within the gorge.)
I think that the park itself is incredible and definitely worth a visit, and the amenities for camping or staying within the park are great, but if you are looking for river/waterfall/gorge hiking, I would recommend Watkins Glen State Park. Obviously, these are two VERY different parks and I hate to even put the comparison there, but I would definitely say I preferred that one to Letchworth if we are talking about water adjacent hikes/locations.
We basically spent all day within the state park, as planned, and just decided that when we were done, we would head back to the campsite. The KOA campground had live music both nights right near our site, so we had an enjoyable evening next to the fire.
We slept in a bit the next morning and it was a bit more overcast than Saturday. We knew there was a possibility of rain later in the day (hence the State Park on Saturday), so we decided to choose things a bit more…low key. We gave the kids an option of two activities, both geared towards their interests (but we would enjoy too). The first was a train ride that would span the countryside, the second being an animal safari. It was a tough decision, but they ultimately chose the animal safari.
Now, let me say this first- I am always wary of the animal sanctuary/roadside zoo style places. I tend to…avoid or research the practices prior to visiting. I just wanted to share that before getting into this. I think, like anything else, there are good places and bad and it’s up to us to look into each place before we visit.
So, we decided to spend a couple hours at Hidden Valley Animal Adventure. We opted to do the safari they offered, in their vehicles with a tour guide, rather than our own. We did a more mid-day tour time and our tour guide ended up being one of the animal care takers. So, we not only learned what the park was like, but the specifics in how they care for the animals and how they manage heards, relationships, and the like. Not to mention how they…simply maintain and provide the best for the animals. We were able to see quite a variety of animals, but I never felt like they were animals that were…inappropriate or overly exotic for the location. We did get to feed them which was cool, and the guide was incredible in passing along knowledge and letting us know when to step away. After the safari you are able to walk up to the petting zoo and feed the goats or down to the Koi Pond and feed the fish (or both really). It was a great couple hours.
Thankfully the rain held off until after we got back to camp and didn’t properly start coming down until later in the evening. We started up the fire to try and enjoy one last one, cooked up some dinner, and just relaxed. When it started to rain, the pitter patter created quite the perfect ambiance for us and the live band for the evening were great!
That really wraps up our weekend. It was a much needed, very relaxed, leisurely weekend unplugged and away. One of my goals in the coming years is to make these Camper trips more than a once-a-year occasion. We really enjoy them and, eventually, want to get a camper of our own.