Winter Fun in the Genesee Valley
The Genesee Valley’s parks and public lands are no strangers to snow. Besides plowing, piling, and decorating it for the season, the Genesee Valley’s parks and recreation areas turn the season’s frozen offerings into secret spots for ice skating, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing.
When the snow gets deep, Letchworth State Park closes both the Portageville gate and the Park Road between the Perry and Castile gates. To a cross country skier, this road closure makes Park Road a paradise. The entire 7.5-mile stretch of winding road is fast, beautiful, and easy to navigate. As a novice, I wish I had practiced ‘snowplowing’ to slow down on the steeper hills, but hey, gently plopping down on your backside at 20 miles per hour is fun too.
To be safe, it’s best to park at the parking lot at the check-in for the Highbanks Camping Area just across Park Road from the Perry gate. Highbanks camping will be closed for the season, but Cabin Area C is open year-round. While you’re at Letchworth, you might as well head south to the area around the Humphrey Nature Center, just past the Visitor Center, where a huge sledding hill towers over a small playground. The Trailside Lodge at the bottom of the hill has a fireplace and firewood.
Rattlesnake Hill Wildlife Management Area is south of Letchworth, where the land starts to get wilder. This vast tract of forest is decent for hunting, but a true hidden gem for snowshoeing. The terrain is steep and makes for huge drifts of snow in the forest trails. Ordinary boots would plunge you knee-deep or more, but snowshoes open this territory to hours of smooth cruising.
These trails get little public usage, especially after deer hunting seasons end on Dec. 22, and are some of the most underrated trails around. They’re free, well-marked, and open throughout the year. Don’t worry, there are extremely few rattlesnakes in the region, and they hibernate during the winter. They hardly ever approach people and haven’t injured anyone in the region in recorded history.
Rattlesnake Hill is a vast forest with many access points. I like to get into the heart of the state forest by taking Rte. 70 and turning northeast on Newville Road, then east on a short stretch of Shute Road that leads to a slight easterly turn onto Ebert Road. Ebert Road has a few gravel parking lots at trailheads. Fair warning, some of the more remote roads might not be plowed every day, so bring a vehicle with four-wheel drive.
When the mercury dips below 32° for the season, workers at Al Lorenz County Park in Mount Morris freeze the basketball court for ice skating. You’ll have to bring your own skates, but this hidden gem is hardly ever busy. If a winter hike is more your speed, trails branch away from the park’s playground, connecting to the Finger Lakes Trail and ultimately Letchworth State Park.
To get to Al Lorenz County Park, take Mount Morris’ Main Street to Grove Street, turn right onto Murray Hill Drive at the County Campus sign, then turn left at the nursing home. The park entrance is on the right.
With such varied secret spots from little Al Lorenz Park to the vast Rattlesnake Hill, the Genesee Valley has your perfect spot for winter play.