Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Waterfalls of New York State

After a week in Toronto, and two weeks prior to that in Chicago we felt it was time to find some proper backcountry to spend some time in again. The Waterloo State Recreation Area in Michigan was pleasant, but the area is covered by roads and towns, and there is little in the way of large hills or mountains. If we had left Toronto heading east, we would have entered New York State in the US near to the Adirondacks, a huge area of wilderness, but having left Canada via Niagara, it made more sense to head to the Catskills instead.

New York State is covered in natural beauty, and not wishing to miss it all in a dash to the Catskills, we identified two state parks to visit en route. Our first stop was Letchworth State Park, which we only found out about as our planned route took us through part of it. After a beautiful drive through increasingly hilly and forested terrain, we arrived at the park in the early afternoon, and booked a space in the largely empty campsite. Letchworth State Park consists of thin ribbon of state land, running on either side of a gorge formed by the Genesee River; the park is best known for the three impressive waterfalls formed by the river, deep below the gorges rim. The campsite, at the far north end of the 17 mile long state park, is a fair distance from any of the parks waterfalls, and not wishing to spend the remaining hours of daylight walking along the road, we drove further south, closer to where the action is. Our first day in the park was spent picnicking at a dramatic bend in the river, before hiking down into the gorge and along the south rim between the lower and middle falls.

After a night in the quiet solitude of the campsite, we left early in the morning and drove further into the park, before hiking along the remaining section of the gorge between the middle and upper falls. The peak of autumn is clearly still some weeks away, but it was a pleasure hiking through such a beautiful area, with the leaves beginning to change colour, and the signs of autumn developing.

It is difficult to comprehend a country so covered in natural beauty, that a site as astounding as the canyon and falls at Letchworth are simply one of many small attractions that few but locals would spend time visiting. If the Letchworth falls were in England, they would undoubtedly be one of the most impressive sites in the country, but in America they are lost among the countless other sites.

After a morning spent at hiking in Letchworth, we took a scenic drive through increasingly beautiful terrain, ending up at Watkins Glen State Park in the late afternoon. When we arrived it was too late to hike along another of New York's beautiful river gorges, and so we settled in at the campsite and got a fire started. We spent the evening binging on sausages and steak, before introducing Jamie to the world of smoores. In the morning we left the campsite, and hiked the length of the small but beautiful gorge that forms Watkins Glen. The gorge is not as high as that at Letchworth, but the narrow moss covered walls, and the series of picture perfect cascades, give it an almost magical feel. It's the kind of place which would look perfectly at home in a Lord of the Rings film. The site's proximity to the popular tourist town of Ithaca, means that it gets busier than other parks nearby, but the steady stream of visitors does not detract from the beauty of the place.

Watkins Glen State Park is small enough to hike all of the trails in a half day, and so by lunch time we were ready to move on. We had decided to spend the evening in Ithaca, but we couldn't resist a stopover on the way at a cidery on Cayuga Lake. In America , there seems to be little history of cider making, and to most it is simply a drink for people who don't like beer. Cideries like the one we visited are doing there best to show people the variety and quality of craft ciders, but to convince the American public, their cider is geared towards a more refined palate than many traditional English ciders. All of the ciders that we tasted were excellent, but all were sweeter and more carbonated than what I would expect to be from a small manufacturer in rural England. The were no strong, flat, cloudy ciders made from windfall apples, but we still enjoyed their offerings enough to take two bottles away with us.

Towards the end of the day we drove into Ithaca, and spent the evening drinking and eating at a popular pub in the studenty downtown area. Ithaca's central area nice enough, but I was slightly disappointed that there wasn't more to do given its popularity as a tourist destination. Any disenchantment that I felt with the town however, was more than made up for by the burger that I had for dinner. My 'Fat Boy burger consisted of a beef burger and all of the normal fillings, inserted between two grilled cheese sandwiches; another good reason to love America.

The next morning we left Ithaca, headed for a few days of wilderness camping in the Catskills.

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