Fall Waterfall Tour part 1 – Finger Lakes region, New York – Sept 12 – 22, 2023

I have named our fall trip “Fall Waterfall Tour” because we saw more waterfalls within a couple of weeks, than we ever have before. We headed east, with plans to explore the Finger Lakes Region in New York, then head south to Shenandoah National Park. We had all or our campsites booked in advance, with the end of the trip left open, in case the weather was good and we wanted to stay out longer.

Following our normal approach to RV travel, we monitored the weather and other factors that could affect our plans. We have learned that in the fall, hurricanes quite often eventually move toward New England or the midwest, after making landfall and downgrading. These enormous weather systems can stall for long periods over an area, causing days or weeks of rain, where we have plans to camp.  This year, Tropical Storm Ophelia did just that, resulting in a very different second half of our trip.  This post covers the first half.

1 night in Ohio then Letchworth State Park, NY

We left our house on a Tuesday, just after rush hour, heading to our first stop at Geneva State Park, in Ohio. We chose to avoid going through Canada, since Dave has been hassled by US border agents in the past (no problem with the Canadians). We figured crossing the border with an RV increased the chances of being hassled. It was a great 1-night stop, where we could pull in, stay hitched and do plenty of walking around the park before dinner.

We spent 4 nights at Letchworth State Park in New York. When we checked in, we were told we had one of the best campsites. We had a partial view into Letchworth Gorge and lots of space around us. We hiked every day and checked out the spectacular waterfalls and scenic views throughout the park.  There are nearly 30 different waterfalls and cascades in the park. We walked nearly every inch of the campground and through much of the park. We visited the museum and gift shop.

It was our first New York State Park and our first realization that the park system does not provide much information about a park, once you are there (accurate maps, directories, what to see, history of the park, conservation information). With no cell service, you should really research the trails and what waterfalls to see before you go. Of all the parks we visited on this trip, this was the only one that had information on the history, but only at the museum.

The New York Park state park system seems to be far less concerned with visitor safety than other places we have been to. With the exception of the fence between our campsite and the gorge, there were few safety railings or barricades. I imagine there have been many deaths there, accidental or not. My fear of heights kept me away from anything too dangerous. We managed to see a lot and stay safe. We really loved Letchworth State Park.

Watkins Glen State Park, NY

We spent 6 nights at Watkins Glen State Park.  We set up camp and then went to check out the town and harbor. We hiked the Gorge trail on our first morning there.  The trail is 1.5 miles, 500 feet elevation gain and feature 19 waterfalls, sheer rock walls and 832 staircase steps. It was so beautiful I did not even notice the steps and elevation gain.  I have really never seen any place like it. We went through pretty quickly with a plan to return really early another day, when there were less people. By mid-morning it was packed.

We explored the area around Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. There are countless breweries and wineries with great views, our favorite being Two Goats Brewing. We visited the town of Montour falls for more waterfall viewing.  We spent a morning walking around the Cornell campus in Ithaca and visited Taughannock State Park. and the Cayuga Nature Center. We also went to Geneva, NY, which was a bit disappointing, as nothing was open and it was quite deserted. We hiked the South rim trail in the park, which was uncrowded and beautiful. We never did return to the Gorge trail, as  it became increasingly more crowded with day visitors. We believe it was likely near the beginning of leaf-peeping season.

Near the end of our stay there, the weather was starting to turn. Tropical storm Ophelia had moved north from the Carolinas and had become a tropical depression.  It was approaching Shenandoah National Park and was headed north. At the same time we were watching the news regarding the funding of the federal government and were concerned that there could be a government shut-down, which would close the campgrounds there.  We didn’t want to drive all the way there, only to head home right away. The rain was moving in toward us, at Watkins Glen, The beauty of camping is that you can watch the weather and change your plans at minimal cost (unlike canceling hotels and airfare). We canceled our reservations at nearby Robert Treman State Park, as well as Shebandoah and left the Finger Lakes area early. We headed toward Niagara Falls, where we found available campsites and the forecast looked good. Neither of us had ever been there, so we were excited to go.

We had a nice, level campsite at our first stop, so we did not need to unhitch and then rehitch in the morning. Geneva State Park, Ohio
This was only the second time in my life, that I have been to Lake Erie. Geneva State Park, Ohio
Genessee Arch Bridge and Upper Letchworth Falls
Genessee Arch Bridge, Letchworth State Park
Middle Letchworth Falls
Our campsite at Letchworth State Park had a lot of space around it and a view into the gorge.
Letchworth State Park is commonly referred to, in New York, as “The Grand Canyon of the East”
Geneseo, NY is a college town, home to State University of New York (SUNY)
We stopped in for a cold one at the Dublin Corners Taproom. It’s always fun to chat with the locals in a new town. Geneseo, NY
A mastadon skull at the William Pryor Letchworth Museum. Mr. Letchworth donated 1000-acre estate to the state of New York for use as a park , with the provision that he could remain there for the rest of his life.
This old stone footbridge built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provides a great view of Lower Letchworth Falls. The main trail to this area was closed for maintenance, so we had to take an extremely steep, wet, slippery path down to this area. Hiking up was a workout, but much easier!
Lower Letchworth Falls, Letchworth State Park
Hiking in Letchworth State Park. This trail had great views and many hawks.
Strange Design Public House was originally built in 1879, as an addition to the County Poor House. It was purchased and remodeled in 2018 and would be Geneseo’s first brewery.
Inside Strange Design Public House, Geneseo, NY
Letchworth State Park Camp store has a produce stand with fresh local produce. The sweet corn was really good!
Letchworth State Park
Our beautiful campsite in Watkins Glen State Park
Enjoying a pumpkin spiced ale at Horseheads Brewing Seneca Lake in the Watkins Glen Harbor
The Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park
The Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park
The Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park
The Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park
On the deck at Two Goats Brewing on Seneca lake near Watkins Glen
We had a great carry-out dinner from Nickel’s Pit BBQ, Watkins Glen, NY
Geneva, NY
Geneva, NY We were surprised at how deserted town was ona Tuesday afternoon.
Aunt Sarah’s Falls in Montour Falls were nearly dry. Montour falls, population 1,583, is just 5 minutes outside of Watkins Glen, NY.
Shequaga Falls is located in the center of town in  Montour Falls, NY.
Some of the buildings in Montour Falls, NY date back to the mid 1800’s.
Eagle Cliff Falls in Havana Glen Park, Montour Falls, NY
Deckertown Falls, Montour Falls, NY
Hiking above Deckertown Falls. The trail was pretty sketchy with a steep drop-off, so I stopped where I was…
Upstate Brewing Company, Watkins Glen, NY
The 6-story tree house at Cayuga Nature Center, Ithaca, NY. There are several rescue animals housed there who cannot be rereleased into the wild. There were foxes, a red-tailed hawk and a raven. I won’t post any photos because it is too sad to see their tiny cages.  I really hope they will be moved to a better place some day.
The lower falls at Taughannock State Park, on Cayuga Laken near Ithaca, NY.
The main attraction is Taughannock Falls, a 215 foot waterfall. It wasn’t possible to get a good photo in the afternoon, as the sun was just behind it.
Pond on the South Rim Trail in Watkins Glen State Park
Campfire at Watkins Glen State Park