About this Itinerary
In western New York, the Genesee Valley Greenway traverses five counties on its way south from Rochester to Black Creek, just north of Cuba. This greenway follows two historical transportation routes: the former Genesee Valley Canal and the Rochester branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad; evidence of this era can still be found along the trail. Remnants of stone locks and culverts can be seen as the rail-trail passes through farm fields, river valleys, woodlands and villages. For many, the highlight of the trail is the impressive gorge and waterfalls in Letchworth State Park.
The Genesee Valley Greenway is a work in progress. Though it will eventually stretch 90 miles, the trail currently consists of three disconnected segments totaling 60+ miles that are open to the public. The longest, continuous segment (37 miles) that provides an off-road experience is between Rochester and Sonyea. On the off-road trail segments you may encounter missing bridges or occasional washouts requiring detours. When planning your trip, make sure to review the latest trail information at Friends of the Genesee Valley Greenway (FOGVG).
Because of the discontinuous nature of the Greenway, there are many ways to approach the trail. It is possible to plan a multi-day trip along the entire length of the Greenway if you are willing to spend some of your travel time on-road. Beginning in Rochester is quite convenient if you are flying into the Greater Rochester International Airport and do not plan on renting a car; the trailhead is about 1.5 miles from the airport. Alternatively, you may want to make the midway point of the trail your temporary homebase and tackle the segments (north, central and south) in shorter day trips from there. Keep in mind that this greenway also connects with several other trails so there are many options for extended exploration along the way.
There are a variety of accommodation options in Rochester and in the central region of the Greenway. Letchworth State Park offers seasonal campsites and cabins, as well as rooms in the historic Glen Iris Inn and Pinewood Lodge . Additionally, Country Inn & Suites is right off the trail in Mt. Morris and several B&Bs are tucked away in the surrounding hills.
A mountain or hybrid bike with fat tires is recommended for this trail; thin tires could make riding difficult particularly for the southern section of the Greenway. Towpath Bikes in Rochester offers bike rental services. Make sure to pack enough food and water for each day of cycling as places to stop for replenishment can be few and far between.
Three waterways intersect in Rochester’s Genesee Valley Park, including the northerly flowing Genesee River, stretching from Pennsylvania to Lake Ontario, New York. While on the Greenway you cycle alongside the Genesee River for many miles and will perhaps ponder how your mighty trail-side companion once provided power for Rochester areas’ 19th century mills and still provides hydroelectric power for downtown Rochester today. At the rear of the trailhead parking lot (off Genesee Park Boulevard) is the Canalway Trail. Follow this trail to the west (don't cross the bridge) to the start of the Genesee Valley Greenway. (Note that three trails meet in the park: the Genesee Valley Greenway, the Genesee Riverway Trail and the Erie Canalway Trail).
The first two miles of the Greenway are paved but the rest of the trail is made of cinder, grass and packed dirt. You quickly pass the Rochester International Airport fire training school and two charred airplane fuselages used in demonstrations. A short on-road detour along State Route 383 and Ballantyne Road takes you off and then back to the trail. A short side trail takes you north over historic Black Creek Culvert (circa 1838), one of the state's largest 19th-century canal culverts, before it dead-ends at an active rail corridor.
Back on the Greenway you pass through Brookdale Preserve, a large tract of hardwood forest, wetland and meadows. It is known to be the home to an exceptional variety of frogs, so watch for small hopping creatures that might be crossing the path. At 5.5 miles is the impressive stone Canal Lock #2 (circa 1839), one of the few surviving locks along the Greenway. The building of the Genesee Valley Canal began in 1938, and it was to run from the Erie Canal near Rochester to the Allegheny River at Olean. As you might imagine, the gorges and waterfalls of the river presented challenges to the canal-builders and numerous locks were needed to make the Genesee more navigable.
The village of Scottsville, at 9 miles, has connected itself to the trail via the Canal Street Boardwalk. Take a quick detour to the village for refreshments or just to stretch your legs. The Artisan Coffeehouse on Main Street offers everything from coffee drinks and pastries to heartier soup-and-sandwich meals. Those interested in Greek Revival architecture may want to cycle through the Rochester Street Historic District, which has more than 20 residential structures dating from the 1830s to 1850s. Otherwise, if you brought your own drinks and snacks, head across Oatka Creek to Canawaugus Park, which has picnic tables, parking and a view across the creek to some remaining historical canal structures.
For the next several miles, wooded sections of the trail are interspersed between farm fields and some portions of the old canal bed that have become wetland habitat; watch for the plentiful wildlife that live along the river banks and ponds. In Wadsworth Junction, at mile 11, you can see massive stone abutments from the bridge that carried the Lehigh Valley Railroad across the Pennsylvania Railroad route. Here you intersect with the Lehigh Valley Trail, which travels on this old rail corridor 15 miles east across Monroe County. You may want to take a quick detour down this trail’s first few hundred feet to stand over the Genesee River on the same railroad bridge that carried Lehigh Valley cars on its upper deck.
Back on the Greenway, you continue to follow the river for the next 14 miles to Piffard, though in a less serpentine fashion than the river itself. Remains of crumbled canal culverts, locks and stations are visible to the watchful eye. Some of the ponds were once canal turning basins. At mile 25.5, you can’t miss the Yard of Ale Canal House Inn . The canal once passed through the parking lot of this canal-era inn turned restaurant. Unfortunately, the Yard of Ale is open only for dinners but if you are there in the late afternoon or evening hours, stop in the tavern for a drink or a meal. If you decide to enjoy a bit of ale, make sure to enlighten yourself beforehand on the necessary skills for drinking the yard! Apparently, the origins of the yard of ale date back to early 17th century England for feasts and manly displays of drinking prowess. Need I say more?
Another interesting historic inn and tavern is The National Hotel in Cuylerville, mile 29. The hotel (on Cuylerville Road) was popular during the mid-1800s when canal boat captains and crew members spent many an hour carousing within its walls. Before that, however, the hotel was an important station in the Underground Railroad between Pennsylvania and Canada. The hotel claims that, in 1848, twenty-eight fugitives were harbored there.
At mile 31, you are near the north entrance to Letchworth State Park. To camp in the park, you will need to use the Perry entrance (Schenck Road) off of Route 36. Otherwise, continue south to use the pedestrian bridge to cross the Genesee River. You are now in the town of Mount Morris (mile 34), though initially you cycle through a wooded section before reaching the village hub. Ideally, your itinerary allows you plenty of time to explore this historical town and perhaps stay here overnight. There are several options for lunch and dinner fare, from grills, to diners to cafes. Replenish your energy-stores if need be and put your walking shoes on.
Mount Morris is brimming over with interesting history and architecture and their self-guided walking tour map will help you find your way around the historic homes and streets. You may see the home of Mary S. Howell, author of the women’s suffrage bill, or the birthplace of Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge of Allegiance. To boot, Mount Morris, incorporated in 1836, derived its final name from Robert Morris, a financier of the American Revolution. Needless to say, early-American history buffs could happily wander around this town for hours. History also merges with the artistic at the New Deal Gallery in the Livingston Arts Center, where a permanent collection of paintings created through a depression-era work program is housed; these painting were allocated to the Mount Morris Tuberculosis Hospital in the 1930s.
This section of the Greenway ends just a few miles further near the Groveland Correctional Facility. A few buildings remain from a 19th century Shaker colony which later was used as an epileptic facility. Note the railroad-era Mile Marker 40 just before the trail ends.
The central section of the Genesee Valley Greenway is primarily agricultural. Farmhouses, barns and other outbuildings continue to punctuate vast swaths of soybeans, corn and cabbage. The trail occasionally weaves through woodlands to finally meet up with the mighty river gorge of Letchworth State Park. Temporarily leaving the Genesee River and the former canal bed, the first segment of the path follows the route of the railroad that ran here from the mid-19th century to the 1960s. Friends of the Genesee Valley strongly suggest getting a good, detailed map if you decide to ride the sections south of Mount Morris. It can be difficult to find and stay on the trail without a map that shows both streets and the trail.
It is possible to pick up the trail three miles south of the hamlet of Tuscaroara, off Dudley Road, where you begin cycling through woodlands for two miles until you reach Creek Road. The Greenway is closed here; detour south on Creek Road for a half mile, then head west on Pentagass Road for another half mile. Look for the Greenway trail again on your left.
Back on the trail and the former rail route, you pass through the Triple Creek Golf Course. Be aware that you may need to detour around putting greens. For the next several miles, you will cross quite a few public roads so anticipate possible car traffic. For the most part, however, the path remains immersed in an expansive rural landscape. After crossing Oakland Road, you continue west for three miles to reunite with the Genesee River within the southern boundaries of Letchworth State Park. On the way, the Greenway connects again with the former canal towpath and the trail passes by seven locks with several interpretive signs. In this area, canal builders removed approximately 600,000 cubic yards of earth to maintain constant canal elevation— a daunting task without the use of modern-day equipment.
There are bathrooms and drinking fountains at the Parade Grounds Parking area. You will soon see why this park is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” The river rushes through a deep gorge containing three waterfalls and shaped by cliffs as high as 600 feet. The Genesee Valley Greenway Trail offers spectacular views of the Upper and Middle Falls.
The Greenway curves alongside the eastern edge of the river, finally crossing the Genesee to leave the park and enter Portageville. This hamlet, in the town of Genesee Falls, was named thus as Native American canoeists had to withdraw their boats from the river and portage all the way to present-day Mount Morris in order to avoid going over the waterfalls. Entering the hamlet on Main Street, you are greeted by the historical 1870 Genesee Falls Inn. You will also notice signs for the Letchworth Branch of the Finger Lakes Trail. Though Portageville is relatively small, there are several options for accommodation nearby, including the Genesee Falls Inn, the Colonial Inn (just under two miles northwest on Route 436) and the Glen Iris Inn (within the southern boundaries of the park). This central section of the Greenway currently terminates two miles south of Portageville.
After a gap of about 16 miles, the southern section of the trail picks up south of Caneadea (at Crawford Creek Road); it is possible to cycle from Portageville using detour routes. The trail parts ways with the Genesee River to sidle up alongside Black Creek, one of the Genesee River’s major tributaries. As you continue, you’ll cycle past the only remaining warehouse built for the Genesee Valley Canal; look for the Rail and Titsworth Canal Warehouse (circa 1853) at Hughes Street in Belfast. Belfast was established as mill town and, as you have probably guessed, the majority of its early settlers were of Irish descent. If you need to stop for water or snacks, just detour a few blocks into town to Harrington’s Grocery (on Route 19).
Soon, you will be approaching Rockville Lake, a man-made lake used initially as a reservoir for the canal and today a popular place for fishing. Here, you may need to take a slight detour off-trail around the eastern edge of the lake (Lake Road to 305). Be on the lookout for the remains of several locks, a waste weir, an Irish cemetery and a three-sided chestnut mile marker. Catch the Greenway again by the parking lot. The remaining 4.5 miles to the trail’s terminus at Tibbetts Hill Road are secluded and you continue to follow along Black Creek for most of them. There may still be water in the canal prisms, giving you a sense of what it was like when the canal was in operation. There is parking at Tibbetts Hill Road. (On-road routes make it possible to cycle to Cuba, five miles south of Black Creek, and plans are in place to develop the remaining miles to eventually achieve the 90-mile stretch of the Greenway).