When you think of New York most people think of New York City. Well, it might make up the largest of the state’s population, it doesn’t hold its beauty. So when you’re looking for the Best New York State Parks most New Yorkers look upstate.
With 180 New York state parks, one is more beautiful than the next. However, some stand out more than others, that’s where this list of the best New York State parks helps you determine where to plan your next vacation.
Note: There are no “state parks” in the Catskills and Adirondacks as recreational areas are run by the Department of Environmental Protection in these areas. These preserved areas are stunning with 6 million acres in the Adirondack Park and 700,000 acres in Catskill Park. The parks in this article are within New York’s other regions.
Best New York State Parks
Letchworth State Park
New York’s gem of a state park nestled in what is called the “Grand Canyon of the East”. This park also has been voted one the top 10 state parks in the United States.
The Genesee River runs through the park forming the gorge with 3 stunning waterfalls between the cliffs. The park offers 66 miles of hiking trails consisting of 18 different trails. The most popular trail is the gorge trail where you can see 2 out of the 3 stunning waterfalls that attracts visitors to the park.
The trail to the lower falls is a 4.1-mile roundtrip hike. This trail is usually crowded so it is recommended to hike it early in the morning. Even with the crowded it is totally worth it.
Other activities in Letchworth include kayaking, whitewater rafting, performing arts programs, a swimming pool (swimming in the Genesee River is prohibited) that is opened Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. You can even experience the park from a hot air balloon.
Letchworth also has a campground and the Glen Iris Inn, a historic landmark with lodging and dining and several cabin rentals.
For more information on this park visit Letchworth State Park.
Watkin Glens State Park
New York Finger Lakes Region is filled with beautiful state parks, wineries, and stunning waterfalls and Watkins Glen State Park is the jewel of the region.
You can see the best scenery in the park by hiking within a 2-mile stretch featuring 19 waterfalls and 200-foot cliffs. There is also a rim hiking trail that overlooks the gorge.
Watkins Glen also offers a campground, an Olympic size pool and a picnic area. You can also fish in nearby Seneca Lake and Catherine Creek.
As you can see this beautiful state park, which came in third place of Best State Parks in the United States, can get very crowd. Make camping reservations very early (up to one year in advance). Also, it is recommended to get to the park early to avoid crowds especially during summer and fall.
Click here for more information about Watkins Glen State Park.
If you are interested in hiking in New York check out this article on Short Hikes in Upstate New York.
Buttermilk Falls State Park
Another beautiful Finger Lake Region park is Buttermilk Falls State Park.
The park has 10 waterfalls, a beach, hiking, fishing, picnic area and pavilions, playground and a campground which also has cabins.
The main hiking trail, Gorge Trail runs parallel Buttermilk Creek to Buttermilk Falls. There is also the Rim Trail (overlooking the gorge) and if you want to continue hiking there is Bear Trail which goes to Lake Treman and Lake Treman Falls. This trail also hooks up with the Finger Lakes Trail.
Click here for more information about Buttermilk Falls State Park.
Another great way to explore New York’s beauty is on its rail trails. Here are the Best Rail Trails in New York.
Robert H. Treman State Park
This park in the Finger Lake Region features the Enfield Glen Gorge with 12 waterfalls including the Lucifer Falls at a 115’ drop.
The park offers 9 miles of hiking trails, a campground with cabins and picnic area.
The best part of this park is when you return from your hike at the base of the falls is a natural swimming pool. You and your kids will love this special swimming area (lifeguards in peak season).
When visiting the Finger Lake Region this must be on your list of parks to see. For more information visit their website.
Taughannock Falls State Park
This park is known for the tallest single waterfall (215-feet) east of the Mississippi, about 30 feet taller than Niagara Falls. The falls are nestled in a 400-foot gorge.
The park also features two other waterfalls along the Taughannock Creek. Located downstream of the Taughannock Falls is a 20-foot cascade and located upstream is 100-foot Upper Falls.
There are 2 trails going to the falls, the Gorge Trail (3/4 mile) that takes you to the base of the falls and the South Rim Trail (1.2-miles) where you get views from the top of the falls.
Part of the park is on the Cayuage Lake shoreline offering swimming, boating and fishing. The park also has a campground.
For information visit Taughannock Falls State Park.
Minnewaska State Park Preserve
Located in Ulster County near Gardiner and St. Paltz, this preserve has over 22000 acres of pristine land.
The park is used for hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, snowshoeing and swimming. It contains 4 lakes including Lake Minnewaska, Lake Awosting, Lake Haseco and Lake Maratanza.
When hiking the scenic views of the Catskill Mountains can be seen from the ridgeline along with Mohonk Lake which is located on the property of the famous Mohonk Mountain House.
There are several hiking trails in the park including the following:
Hike around Lake Minnewaska which is easy and even wheelchair accessible. It takes you on a large carriage road around 1 to 2 hours to hike depending on how often you stop to take in the beautiful scenery.
Awosting Falls 1-mile loop
An easy mile loop to a nice waterfall. The trail can get crowded at times, but it is worth it.
The Sam’s Point Preserve contains 5000 acres in the southern section of the park. It is in the highest point of the Shawangunk Mountains. There is a rare area containing pitch pine barrens. These trees provide habitat for flora and fauna.
The park is full of carriage roads and you can connect several trails to make a longer bike ride. It offers beautiful views while enjoying your ride attracting bikers from all over the state.
Other hikes in the park include Beacon Hill and Verkeerde Hill Falls, a 187-foot waterfall located on private property, but you are allowed access.
Here is more information on Minnewaska State Park.
For a map of the parks trails click here.
Bowman Lake State Park
Bowman Lake State Park is known as a camper’s paradise with over 100 sites and camping cabins nestled between trees.
Located in Oxford in Chenango County, it features a small but nice lake in the day-use area with a sandy beach. The park offers fishing, swimming, canoeing/kayaking, hiking, and picnicking.
The no-frill campground is what draws people to this park. The sites are wooded and large, and although there are no hookups, it’s a great choice for a secluded, quiet time that will give you a chance to relax.
There are also camping cabins. The park as a whole makes for a pleasant, less crowded, getaway.
For more information visit Bowman Lake State Park.
For camping reservations for any New York State Park visit Reserve America.
Mine Kill State Park
This is one of New York’s hidden gems, Mine Kill State Park is nestled in Schoharie County in the small town of North Blenheim.
This small park (500 acres) features the beautiful 80’ Mine Kill Falls. The falls can be viewed by a short path (all downhill with steps) from the road (Route 30), across the way from the park, or a longer hike through the park.
The park runs adjacent to the Blenheim-Gilboa Reservoir, where you can fish for trout and walleye. There is also a boat launch where you can launch your own non-motorized boat or rent kayaks. There is a wash station located in the park to wash your boat prior to launching on the reservoir.
Mill Kill is one of the few state parks that has an Olympic size pool, a diving pool, a wading pool, and a bathhouse. This is great for family fun on a hot summer day.
The NY Power Authority Blenheim-Gilboa pump storage power project is across from the park and the power authority pays for park fees, so you don’t have to.
There are several miles of hiking trails located in the park. The Long Path (1-mile loop) trail goes to the lower falls and beyond, you will need to cross a small creek. There are plenty of places along the trail to cool off near the water. The falls offer a small pool for a dip on a hot day.
Mill Kill also features disc golf. You can rent equipment at the park gate or at the pool area. It’s 18 holes and the course goes throughout the park starting at the pool area.
Visit there website here.
Lake Erie State Park
Although this is a smaller state park compared to most it sits on the southern shores of Lake Erie with ¾ mile of shoreline.
The high bluffs provide stunning views of the lake. Visitors enjoy picnic areas, hiking trails, a playground, nice beaches, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, and disc golf.
Birdwatchers are drawn to the park as it is recognized as a place for rare migratory birds as well as bald eagles.
The park also offers a 99 site campground (all with electric) and 10 cabins with electric and small cooking facilities but no heat and no bathrooms.
For information visit their website here.
Niagara Falls State Park
The oldest state park in the United States offers stunning views of the majestic Niagara Falls. You should begin your visit at the visitor’s center where you can obtain maps and learn about the area you want to explore. Also located there is a gift shop, café, ice cream and a grill.
The park offers several hiking trails but the most beautiful one goes through the Niagara Gorge. These trails get crowded but are so worth it. The Great Gorge Scenic Overlook hike is an easy hike that everyone can do. Another easy trail is the Upper Great Gorge hike that follows the Gorge Railway Trail, Take the kids they will love it.
The state park is free to all visitors but houses several attractions that cost extra, including the famous Maid of the Mist, Observation Tower, Cave of the Winds, Niagara Scenic Trolley, and the Adventure Theater. Nearby the park is the Aquarium of Niagara that is always worth a visit.
There is also the famous Top of the Falls restaurant located on Goat Island in the park. You can dine while viewing Horseshoe Falls through the ceiling to floor windows.
Niagara Falls Illumination happens daily from dusk until 2 am. LED lights create breathtaking views. The falls light up in different colors. Nightly on the ½ hour is the “Inspired by Nature” display of lights representing the sunrise, a rainbow, the aurora borealis, and the sunset. In addition, and changes daily are charitable cause illuminations. You can check the schedule of colors and groups for each evening.
Fireworks will return to Niagara Falls this season, but the 2021 schedule has not been posted yet. Check the website here for details.
Tip: The park offers an app you can download with a walking tour and the history and attractions of the Niagara Falls State Park. This will help you view the falls and make your visit more enjoyable.
Chimney Bluffs State Park
Located on the shores of Lake Ontario, you will need to hike from the parking areas to see the bluffs and views.
The main parking area takes you to the top where you hike (easy) to the overlook of the Chimney Bluffs and Lake Ontario, At the top, there is a staircase where you can head down to the beach.
However, if you don’t want to walk up those stairs (very steep) you can also go back to your car and go to the second parking lot (lower lot) where you can take a short hike to the beach. It is well worth seeing both locations, it just depends on if you would rather hike or drive.
In addition to amazing views, this park offers a picnic area with a visitor’s area with bathrooms (located at the main parking lot).
For more information visit Chimney Bluffs State Park.
Montauk State Park and Montauk, NY
Montauk, located at the end of Long Island, is a quaint beach town. There are 5 state parks there, each featuring different things and all worth a visit making for a great day or weekend getaway.
Montauk Point State Park
Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Block Island Sound, this location offers beautiful beaches with calm water. The rocky shoreline makes for great surf fishing as well as surfing during the winter months.
The Montauk Lighthouse is a must-see as it’s the oldest lighthouse in New York State and the most photographed spot-on Long Island east end.
The park has hiking trails, a playground, a food concession, fishing, and picnic areas. During certain times of the year, you can even see seals.
Visit Montauk Point State Park for more details.
Shadmoor State Park
This small park is located near Montauk Village and offers specular views of the ocean. You can get down to the ocean by 2 staircases or see the view from the bluffs.
The park also features a freshwater wetland preserve, birdwatching elevated platform, hiking trails, saltwater fishing, and picnicking.
Still remaining on the property from World War II are 2 concrete bunkers that you can explore.
For more information visit their website.
Camp Hero State Park
Once a military base and it remains as a Natural Historic Site. The radar tower, barracks, dining hall, and several other buildings are still there for you to see.
The park offers hiking, biking, and horseback riding through wooded areas and also has an extensive beachfront. There are great views of the ocean, surf fishing, picnicking, and birdwatching.
Visit Camp Hero State Park for more information.
Hither Hills State Park
Hither Hills State Park is best known for its large sandy beach and large campground on the ocean. The park features walking dunes. It’s also known for its surf fishing. The park has a picnic area, fireplaces, and a playing field.
During the summer camping reservations are only for a week at a time (fewer days are available in the off-season) and are very hard to obtain so you must book them early.
For more information visit Hither Hills State Park.
Montauk Downs State Park
This park houses an 18-hole championship golf course. It also has a driving range, tennis courts, swimming and wading pools, a clubhouse with a restaurant. It has catering affairs overlooking the ocean.
For more information and to book tee times visit their website.
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