14 Best State Parks in New York You Can’t Miss (2023)

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New York State is home to a diverse range of landscapes, from the rugged Adirondack Mountains to the sandy beaches of Long Island. With 180 state parks to choose from, there’s plenty of room to enjoy the great outdoors in the Empire State.

Whether you’re looking for a challenging hike, a peaceful picnic spot, or a place to swim and sunbathe, New York’s state parks have it all. With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start – but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the best state parks in New York, highlighting their unique features and what makes them worth a visit. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just looking for a family-friendly day outdoors, you’re sure to find a state park that fits the bill.

State Parks in New York You Have to Visit

Looking for an outdoor adventure or a weekend getaway in the Empire State? New York’s state parks are a great place to start. From the natural beauty of Letchworth State Park to the wonder of Niagara Falls State Park, New York has a variety, but we certainly have our favorites!

Let’s take a closer look at some of the best state parks in New York.

Watkins Glen State Park

Waterfall in the middle of rocks with a staircase in the rocks leading down the left side.

Watkins Glen State Park is a true gem of the New York State Parks system. Nestled in the heart of the Finger Lakes region on the south end of Seneca Lake, this park offers visitors a truly unique experience in the great outdoors.

One of the highlights of Watkins Glen State Park is the Gorge Trail, which is a must-see for anyone visiting the park. This trail winds its way through a series of stunning stone tunnels and over bridges that offer breathtaking views of the many waterfalls and pools that dot the trail. The Gorge Trail is an adventure in itself, and the perfect way to explore the natural beauty of the park.

For those looking to spend more time in the park, Watkins Glen has a large campground with 285 sites available to book, spread across 6 loops. It’s a great campground to enjoy while being close to all the action in Watkins Glen.

In addition to the Gorge Trail, there are so many other waterfalls near Watkins Glen that you have to check out while you’re in the area. You could spend a week in the area and still feel like you missed things!


Where should you travel next?

Letchworth State Park

A large bridge over a small waterfall on a river.

Letchworth State Park, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is an absolute must-see destination for outdoor enthusiasts in New York. The park boasts over 14,000 acres of breathtaking natural beauty.

The standout feature of Letchworth State Park is the Genesee River, which flows through the park and has carved out the park’s signature gorge over thousands of years. The gorge is almost 17 miles long and includes three magnificent waterfalls: Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls, in addition to many smaller waterfalls nestled deeper in the park. Visitors can hike along the rim of the gorge for incredible views of the falls and the river below.

But that’s not all Letchworth has to offer. The park is also home to miles of hiking trails that wind through the forests and up to scenic overlooks with panoramic views of the gorge. The park’s various trails are perfect for hikers of all abilities, and offer everything from leisurely walks to strenuous treks.

For those who enjoy water activities, Letchworth offers rafting tours. While swimming isn’t permitted in the river, there is an Olympic-sized pool to enjoy. If you’re interested in history, the park also features several historic structures, including the Glen Iris Inn and the William Pryor Letchworth Museum.

Whether you’re a nature lover, an outdoor adventurer, or just looking for a relaxing escape, Letchworth is a fantastic state park to visit in New York. With its stunning views, endless activities, and rich history, it’s no wonder it’s known as the “Grand Canyon of the East.”

Taughannock Falls State Park

A stone staircase leading down towards a lake with a thin waterfall flowing into it.

Another unique destination located in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, Taughannock Falls State Park is home to one of the tallest waterfalls in the eastern United States.

The park’s namesake waterfall, Taughannock Falls, plunges 215 feet in a single drop, creating a breathtaking natural wonder taller than Niagara Falls.

The park offers much more than just this spectacular waterfall. Taughannock Falls State Park boasts miles of hiking trails that follow the gorge around the rims and the valley, and over a historic arched bridge that spans the Taughannock Creek. These trails offer visitors a chance to explore the park’s natural beauty from all angles.

Camping is available at Taughannock Falls State Park, with both tent and RV sites featured in the park’s campground. The park also offers picnic areas, a playground, and a visitors center. Boat access to Cayuga Lake can be found just across Route 89 from the Gorge Trail parking lot.

Robert H Treman State Park

A lake with a small swimming area with a water flowing down over rocks into it.

Robert H. Treman State Park is another great state park for waterfall lovers in upstate New York. Located near Ithaca, the park is set in a picturesque gorge and offers a hike that is a little more strenuous than the other Finger Lakes Gorge trails.

One of the main attractions of Robert H. Treman State Park is the hike to the 115-foot Lucifer Falls. This challenging but rewarding hike takes visitors down steep staircases and across narrow bridges, offering up-close views of the falls along the way. The hike is not for the faint of heart but is definitely worth the effort.

Start at the bottom, at the Lower Falls, and hike all the way up to Lucifer Falls. There is a trail on each side of the gorge, creating a loop that’s about 4.5 miles long.

The park is also known for its swimming areas, including a natural pool formed at the base of Lower Falls. The swimming area is a popular spot for visitors to cool off on hot summer days.

Allegany State Park

Small wooded area with leaves covering the bottom of the ground.

Allegany State Park in southwestern New York is the largest park in the state, covering over 64,000 acres of outdoor recreational opportunities. It has two developed areas, Quaker and Red House, each filled with its own unique charm and activities to enjoy.

Quaker is the more rustic of the two, with more than 180 campsites scattered amid wooded campgrounds. Visitors can choose from cabins and tent sites to enjoy. The park offers fishing, hunting, and boating on Quaker Lake and miles of hiking trails for visitors who wish to explore more of the park’s dense woodlands on foot. The 19th-century Quaker Bathhouse is a popular spot for a swim or a picnic on a hot day.

The Red House area of the park is equally impressive, with over 130 campsites, picnic areas, pavilions, and playgrounds. It also offers some of the park’s best recreational opportunities, including hiking and mountain biking trails and some of the best cross-country skiing and snowmobiling trails in the state. In the winter months, it’s a sight to behold, with the snow and trees making for a winter wonderland.

In addition to the campsites, there are hundreds of rustic cabins scattered throughout the park to reserve and enjoy.

Another one of the park’s highlights is the breathtaking rock city at Thunder Rocks where visitors can marvel at rock formations and learn about the geology of the area while absorbing the natural beauty.  Additionally, the North Country National Scenic Trail/Finger Lakes Trail travels right through the park and offers multi-day backpacking opportunities.

Buttermilk Falls State Park

A small waterfall flowing into a pond with a stone staircase along the right side.

Buttermilk Falls State Park is a must-visit destination in New York State for those seeking stunning waterfall views, excellent hiking trails, and a refreshing swimming experience. The park is named after the foamy cascades of Buttermilk Creek, which creates a natural pool that is a popular spot for swimmers during the hot summer months.

The park features a unique natural gorge that visitors can explore via a series of trails that offer spectacular views. The Gorge Trail, in particular, is a must-do hiking experience. The beginning ascent is steep, and you’ll have to climb a significant number of stairs, but the trail rewards hikers with picturesque views of the park’s stunning landscape. Continue on to find more interesting water features and smaller waterfalls.

In addition to hiking, Buttermilk Falls State Park is also an excellent place for outdoor activities. Picnicking is another popular activity in the park, with plenty of picnic tables available for visitors to enjoy a meal amid the stunning natural scenery.

For those looking for a more relaxed visit, Buttermilk Falls State Park also offers a beautiful and safe swimming area, complete with lifeguards during the summer months. The natural pool at the base of the waterfall is an excellent place to cool off after a long hike or simply relax in nature’s beauty.

Chimney Bluffs State Park

Chimney Bluffs State Park is one of New York’s hidden gems, offering visitors a unique and stunning landscape that is much different than the ones we’ve already mentioned. The park is located along the shores of Lake Ontario in Wayne County and features towering bluffs that have been formed by centuries of wind and water erosion.

One of the park’s main attractions is the Bluff Trail, which leads visitors along a narrow path that hugs the edge of the bluffs. The trail offers incredible views of the lake, with steep drop-offs and outcroppings that make for excellent photo opportunities.

As you walk along the trail, you’ll see a variety of geological formations, including towering spires that resemble giant chimneys, from which the park gets its name.

For those looking to spend more time at the park, there are plenty of picnic areas and benches available to enjoy a snack or simply take in the stunning views. The park also offers a small beach area, but no swimming is permitted at this state park.

Harriman State Park

Harriman State Park is the second largest of the state parks in New York, sprawling over 46,000 acres of land. It’s located just an hour’s drive from the center of New York City, making it a convenient and easily accessible option for city dwellers looking to escape to the outdoors.

With its 30+ lakes and ponds, beaches, and miles of hiking and biking trails, Harriman State Park offers plenty of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy.

One of the park’s most popular activities is hiking, and with over 200 miles of trails, there’s a trail for hikers of all levels. Experienced hikers will enjoy the challenging Appalachian Trail, which winds for nearly 20 miles through the park’s rugged terrain, while more casual hikers can follow one of the many shorter trails that lead to scenic viewpoints or secluded lakes.

Hiking isn’t the only way to explore Harriman State Park. Visitors can also rent a kayak or canoe and paddle across one of the park’s many lakes, or go fishing for bass, trout, and other types of fish. 

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Minnewaska State Park Preserve

Minnewaska State Park Preserve is home to beautiful lake waters, sweeping panoramic views, and a diverse range of outdoor activities. This park is truly an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.

Perhaps one of the biggest draws of Minnewaska State Park Preserve is the miles of hiking trails that weave through the park. The park offers a variety of trails, ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced, that take visitors through stunning landscapes.

From the High Point Trail, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, to the Awosting Falls Trail, which leads visitors to the park’s stunning waterfall, there are beautiful scenic views and natural landscapes to see everywhere.

The park is also known for its beautiful lake, which is the perfect spot for swimming, fishing, and kayaking. Sunbathers will love the park’s secluded beach, while anglers can cast their lines for a chance to catch a trophy fish.

Stony Brook State Park

A small bridge over a river with water flowing into it over rocks.

Stony Brook State Park is a hidden gem tucked away in the rolling hills of upstate New York, often overshadowed by its big neighbor Letchworth State Park. With over 500 acres of land to explore, visitors are in for a real treat when they visit this picturesque park.

The park encompasses a stunning gorge that has been formed over thousands of years by the flow of Stony Brook. This makes for an ideal spot for photographers and hikers alike, with natural views from every angle.

One of the most popular activities at Stony Brook State Park is hiking and exploring the trails throughout the park. The Gorge Trail is certainly the highlight, winding through the center of the park’s deep canyon. Visitors will be treated to waterfalls, cascading pools, and unique rock formations along the way, all while enjoying the serene beauty of nature.

Another highlight of Stony Brook State Park is the swimming hole opportunities in the park. The clear water of the creek is perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day, while visitors can sunbathe on the surrounding rocks.

For those who prefer to stay on land, Stony Brook State Park has a large picnic area near the beginning of the Gorge Trail, perfect for enjoying a picnic lunch while taking in the beauty of nature. The park also has a playground for children, making it an excellent spot for a family day out.

Bear Mountain State Park

If you’re looking for a state park that offers a wide range of outdoor activities, Bear Mountain State Park is a fantastic choice. Located in the Hudson Highlands less than 50 miles north of New York City, this park boasts over 5,000 acres of rugged terrain and stunning views.

One of the biggest draws of Bear Mountain State Park is its hiking trails. There are trails for hikers of all levels, from easy hikes for beginners to more challenging treks for experienced hikers. Along the way, hikers will be treated to spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the Hudson River below.

For those who prefer to explore on two wheels, Bear Mountain State Park also has a 2-mile bike trail that travels part of the way along the Hudson River. experienced riders. Extend your visit even longer and visit nearby Harriman State Park, too.

In the winter, Bear Mountain State Park transforms into a winter wonderland. The park’s ice skating rink is a popular attraction, offering ice skating sessions for visitors of all ages. The park also has over 50 miles of cross-country skiing trails, making it a great destination for winter sports enthusiasts.

Bear Mountain is also home to several historic sites, including the Bear Mountain Inn and the Perkins Memorial Tower. Visitors can learn about the park’s rich history while exploring these historic buildings, making for a unique state park experience.

Filmore Glen State Park

Tucked away on the eastern side of the Finger Lakes region, Filmore Glen State Park is a hidden gem that is not as well known as similar parks in the heart of the region. This park typically offers visitors a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the most-visited trails.

One of the biggest draws of Filmore Glen State Park is yet another spectacular gorge trail. The trail winds along a stunning series of waterfalls, though this gorge trail is much more natural than some of the others like Watkins Glen and Buttermilk Falls which include more man-made enhancements.

For those who love to hike, Filmore Glen State Park offers miles of trails to explore. The park has trails that cater to hikers of all levels, from easy walks for beginners to somewhat more challenging hikes for experienced hikers.

If you’re looking for a place to cool off during the hot summer months, Filmore Glen State Park has you covered. The park is home to a natural swimming hole, complete with cool, refreshing water.

Chittenango Falls State Park

Chittenango Falls State Park is the perfect place to get outdoors and explore near Syracuse, NY. This state park is located in Madison County about 30 minutes from Syracuse, and it’s known for its gorgeous namesake waterfall, which is more than 160 feet tall.

Chittenango Falls has beautiful hiking trails and convenient picnic areas. The park’s hiking trails range from easy to moderate difficulty and give visitors the opportunity to explore the surrounding forests and unique geological formations of this natural wonder.

In addition to hiking, visitors can also enjoy fishing at the park’s nearby lake, or simply relax and take in the stunning views of the waterfall from one of the park’s lookout points. The park also offers a playground and picnic area, which make it an excellent destination for families looking to spend a day in the great outdoors.

The only drawback is that aren’t any overnight facilities, so don’t plan on camping in this New York state park.

Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls State Park is undoubtedly one of the most famous parks in the United States and for good reason. It is home to the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls, one of the most magnificent natural wonders in the entire world. Many don’t realize that Niagara Falls is a state park, and it’s actually the oldest one in the entire United States!

The park encompasses over 400 acres of sites, natural wonders, and attractions that draw visitors from all over the world.

The star attraction of the park, of course, is the incredible Niagara Falls. The falls are one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States and attract millions of visitors each year.

The park offers a variety of ways to view the falls, from scenic overlooks to thrilling boat rides on the Maid of the Mist. Another popular attraction is the Cave of the Winds, where visitors can stand at the base of the Bridal Veil Falls and feel the rushing water crash down around them.

There’s so much more to Niagara Falls State Park than just the falls. The park offers miles of hiking and biking trails that wind along the Niagara River and offer incredible views of the falls themselves.

Get a New York State Empire Pass

If you’re planning on visiting multiple state parks in New York, the Empire Pass is a fantastic option to save money and make the most of your trip. This pass is a permit that grants visitors access to all New York State Parks for the year.

The cost of the Empire Pass varies depending on how long you want it to be valid. One, three, and five-year options are available.

The Empire Pass is a great investment for anyone planning on visiting multiple state parks in New York. It’ll save you some money if you plan multiple visits while supporting initiatives in the parks.

FAQs: Best State Parks in New York

New York State Parks are some of the best in the country, offering a wide range of activities and amenities for visitors to enjoy all year round. But with so many to choose from, it can be tough to know where to start. 

What about national parks?

New York is home to some amazing state parks, so of course you’re thinking there are some fantastic national parks, too. Actually, there aren’t any national parks in the state, but there are plenty of other sites managed by the NPS!

Two of the most well-known national park sites in New York are the Statue of Liberty National Monument and the Fire Island National Seashore.

The Statue of Liberty National Monument, of course, is home to the iconic Statue of Liberty herself. Visitors can take a ferry to Liberty Island and explore the statue and the museum located inside the pedestal. For an extra special experience, visitors can also climb to the top of the statue’s pedestal or her crown.

The Fire Island National Seashore, on the other hand, offers a completely different kind of experience. Located on the barrier island of Fire Island, this national park site protects a vast stretch of beautiful beaches and dunes. Visitors can hike through the wilderness area, explore the lighthouse, or just relax on the beach and enjoy the ocean views.

Are the Catskills or the Adirondack Mountains a state park?*

The Catskill Mountains and Adirondack Mountains are not state parks themselves, but they do feature two of the most popular outdoor regions in New York: Catskill Park and Adirondack Park.

Catskill Park covers over 700,000 acres. It offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, including hiking and mountain biking on over 300 miles of trails, fishing in its many streams and lakes, and camping in one of its numerous campgrounds. Visitors can also ski and snowboard in the winter at one of the park’s two ski resorts. In addition, Catskill Park is known for its stunning waterfalls, scenic drives, and rich history, including being the inspiration for Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle.”

Adirondack Park, meanwhile, covers over 6 million acres. It features over 2,000 miles of hiking trails, numerous lakes and rivers for swimming and fishing, and ample opportunities for camping and wildlife viewing. The park is also home to the Adirondack High Peaks, a cluster of 46 mountains over 4,000 feet tall that attract hikers from around the world. Adirondack Park is also known for its historic Great Camps, elegant estates built in the late 1800s and early 1900s for wealthy families.

While Catskill and Adirondack Parks may not be state parks in name, they offer some of the most spectacular scenery and outdoor recreation opportunities in all of New York.

Can You Camp in Every State Park in New York?

The answer is, unfortunately, no. While many of the state parks listed offer camping facilities, some do not. However, with so many options to choose from, you’re sure to find a park that fits your camping needs.

Parks like Letchworth and Allegany are absolutely filled with rustic cabins, which allow you to get out in nature while still having a solid roof over your head.

Watkins Glen has a huge campground separated into 6 loops, giving it a little smaller feel with plenty of wooded sites. 

Niagara Falls State Park, home to the world-famous Niagara Falls, does not offer camping, but there are plenty of nearby campgrounds for visitors to choose from.

New York is home to some of the most breathtaking state parks in the country. From the stunning waterfalls of Letchworth State Park to the tranquil beauty of Watkins Glen, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. 

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