Mind the Splash – White Water Rafting at Letchworth State Park

by Jennifer Srmack

Ask any Finger Lakes local about Letchworth State Park and I’m sure they’ll gush about the trails, the history, the camping and, most of all, the breathtaking views down to the river. But I’ll wager many have never seen it from the bottom up. Rafting in Letchworth is yet another adventure to explore within the Finger Lakes.

Head to the Lower Falls area of the park to the South Poolhouse, and there you’ll find Adventure Calls Outfitters (ACO). Founded in 1981, they’re the ones who will lead you on a raft ride down the river through “The Grand Canyon of the East.”

The rafting season runs from April to October. I chose June as a good time to seek out my adventure, mostly because I’m rather averse to cold water. In the summer months, the water may be low, so they do note on the site that some days they use inflatable kayaks rather than rafts to get down the river. When the water is lower the trip may take longer, but it just means that there’s that much more time to enjoy the breathtaking views.

You can choose to go on a morning run or afternoon run. I chose afternoon. When you arrive the guides are there to greet you and get you situated for the ride. I was greeted by Joan, a vet amongst them, and was introduced to Kevin, the company owner. Most of the staff have been there for years and they definitely exude a cheerful family feeling. They love their job and, let’s face it, who wouldn’t?

Your guides will fit you with a lifejacket, helmet and paddle. Once everyone is fitted, there’s a short presentation about safety and the dos and don’ts of rafting. Pay attention, because you may find yourself stuck on some rocks and in need of a way to get loose.
After that you board one of three buses for a short ride down to the river. ACO takes care of everything at this point. Rafts and kayaks are zip-lined down to the river and all you have is a short hike to the boats. Groups are formed with four to five people per raft. Some have guides and some don’t, but you all stick together so you’re never without assistance.

On this raft ride you are expected to paddle, but it is by no means strenuous. People of all ages can enjoy this ride. I was lucky enough to end up in the lead raft with my guide Ted, a knowledgeable and funny character. He steered and we paddled.

The view from the bottom of the canyon is simply jaw dropping. You can’t really take in the scope of it all until you see it from the bottom. Make sure to wave to the folks at the top.

The amount of rapids you hit depends on the water level of the river. Because the level was a bit low that day, we only experienced a few fun rapids, but the pace of the river gave us more time to spot local wildlife – some deer, eagles and several families of geese. Ted and the other guides have a good sense of where to spot them, and are always eager to point them out.

To ensure everyone stayed together, we took a few breaks on the side of the river so the groups behind us could catch up. At these times, you’re free to jump into the water to cool off or walk up on shore and explore a bit. It’s recommended you wear clothes that can get wet, so I chose to swim.

About two-thirds of the way down, we stopped at Wolf Creek. A few steps away from the river are an Instagram-worthy waterfall and the “Leap of Faith,” a small 4- to 5-foot-wide hole of water near the waterfall. Are you brave enough to jump in?

After that it’s just a leisurely float to the end where you can jump in the water and swim to shore or paddle in. After that, the rafts are loaded onto the buses for a ride back to base where juice and cookies are waiting.

All in all, it’s an amazing bucket-list adventure. I met several folks who do the rafting trip every year. One couple, who were seasoned travelers, mentioned that this rafting tour was one of their favorites.

If you’re looking for a fun day adventure, I’d definitely recommend this one. And if you come face to face with the leap of faith, take it.

A few words of advice
• Wear clothes that can get wet
• Listen to your guide
• Watch out for the bucket. If you didn’t get wet on the rapids you may still get doused.
• Bring a camera that can get wet
• Sunblock, sunblock, sunblock

Adventure Calls Outfitters
Letchworth State Park
7051 Lower Falls Rd., Castile, NY 14427

April 7 through October 28
Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays (call for departure times)
June 19 through August 31
Tuesday through Friday (10:30 AM only)

FAQs from Adventure Calls Outfitters

How deep is the water?  You can either touch the bottom or you can’t. However, as a general rule wherever the river is the deepest it is also the calmest.

Will I get wet? Yes, that’s sort of the point with this activity.

Can I bring my dog? No, and you can’t bring your cat either.

Is the water cold? In the early spring and late fall, yes, thus the need for wetsuits. During the summer months it is quite refreshing and bathing suits or t-shirts will suffice.

Do I need to know how to swim? No, your PDF allows you to float whether you can swim or not.

Is it possible the raft could tip over? Yes, but only if everyone in it stands on one side and pulls the boat over on their heads. It is extremely unlikely that the raft will flip over as a result of the river conditions.

What happens if I fall out of the raft? You’ll get wet. Part of the safety talk that precedes every trip is about what to do in the event you fall out of the raft.

Is this dangerous? You will partake in two very dangerous activities the day of your trip – riding in a vehicle to and from our site office. Our safety record is among the very elite in the paddlesports industry.

Does the river end where it started? Only on an amusement park ride. A river trip on a naturally flowing waterway always starts at a point ‘A’ and ends downstream at a point ‘B’.

Do I have to wear a life jacket? Only if you want to go on the trip.

Can I go barefoot? No. Footgear is required and you must bring your own. Old sneakers, water shoes or secure sandals are best.

What do we do if it rains? We get wet. All trips proceed rain or shine.

Do I have to paddle? You’re kidding, right? Paddling is what propels the raft forward and moves it left or right around rocks and other obstacles in the river bed.

Is there a guide in every boat? No, but generally, people that really would like a guide in their raft will get one.

For more FAQs and general information, visit adventure-calls.com.

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