ESCAPE TO NATURE – THE 8 BEST STATE PARKS IN NEW YORK

Did you know that New York state parks offer the most diverse landscape in the Northeast? All 180 of them impress with stunning scenery and endless recreational opportunities. The state provides millions of acres of protected wilderness, 2000 miles of hiking and biking trails, 561 waterfalls, 7600 freshwater lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. If that is not enough, then how about shores of two of Great Lakes and over 70000 miles of rivers and streams? N.Y. is truly a mecca for nature lovers, with room for everyone. If nature is calling your name, then take a look at these best state parks in New York. 

My favorite state park in New York, Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
My favorite state park in New York, Minnewaska State Park Preserve.

1. Adirondack Park

3. Letchworth State Park

4. Minnewaska State Park Preserve

5. Niagara Falls State Park

6. Taughannock Falls State Park

7. Watkins Glen State Park

8. Wellesley Island State Park

I live only an hour away from New York State and Pennsylvania border. I took numerous trips to explore N.Y.’s state parks in a span of 33 years, and I am still eager to discover more. From the shores of Long Island to the mighty Niagara Falls, New York’s 180 state parks offer countless opportunities to explore the natural environment, escape from city life, and experience exciting new adventures. The parks below are my favorite, but I could easily add another 20 to this list.

Best state parks in New York. Amazing Letchworth State Park truly shines in the fall.
Amazing Letchworth State Park truly shines in the fall.

1. Adirondack Park

People often think that the Adirondacks is a national park. With its towering mountains, it certainly gives that impression. But in fact, it is a region consisting of public and private land that allows for conservation and civilization to thrive in harmony. The Adirondacks is only partially a state park, made up of state-designated areas including wild forest, wilderness, canoe, primitive, historical, and state administrative lands. It is also home to 105 towns and villages.

Lake Placid is the beautiful base town for many adventures in the Adirondacks.
Lake Placid is the beautiful base town for many adventures in the Adirondacks.

To put things in perspective, Adirondack Park, with more than 6.1 million acres, is the largest park U.S. outside of Alaska. It is larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Great Smokies national parks combined! The good news is, there are no gates or entry fees to enter the park.

If you are a hiker, head to the High Peaks Wilderness Area, home to 36 of the 46 “High Peaks” of the Adirondacks. Each year, thousands of visitors travel to the area seeking striking views, beautiful alpine environments, and the personal challenge of climbing these epic peaks.

I you are looking for challenging hiking, the Adirondack will satisfy your apetite.
Cascade Mountain, 4098 feet high and 1940 feet vertical ascent, is one of the two 46 Adirondack High Peaks that I climbed. Look at that view!

You will not see what the park has to offer in one visit, but you will find plenty of things to do in Adirondacks each time you venture out there.

Ready to take a break? Here is a list of the 8 best state parks in New York offering stunning scenery and an abundance of recreational activities.

If you are looking for a great place for a day visit or a week-long camping family trip, Green Lakes State Park in the Finger Lakes region delivers all you need. Located a short drive from Syracuse, this strikingly scenic park offers two beautiful lakes with blue-green water, a wide sandy beach, and recreational activities like camping, hiking, fishing, and even golfing. Every member of the family will find exciting things to do in this Green Lakes State Park.

The Green Lakes State Park appeals to families with children with its nice beach and easy hiking trails.
The Green Lakes State Park features two unique color lakes. 

The park preserves the largest stand of old-growth forest in Central New York, and Round Lake has been designated as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Nearly half the park’s area is an old-growth forest that includes many large specimens of tulip trees, sugar maples, beech, basswood, hemlock, and white cedars.

Best state parks in New York State. Green Lakes State Park.
Green Lakes State Parks display its full glory during the fall. 

3. Letchworth State Park

Located in western New York State, Letchworth State Park, also called the Grand Canyon of the East, lures its visitors with spectacular Genesee River Gorge and three magnificent waterfalls along the way. The park’s beauty is captivating at any time of year, but especially in the fall when each overlook becomes a masterpiece on its own. This is a place to unwind, connect with family and friends, and take in gorgeous views.

Letchworths is the best state park in New York to see the folliage.
I do not think you can find a better place in the Northeast to enjoy the colors of the fall than Letchworth State Park.

The park is top-rated, so make your reservations well in advance if you want to stay overnight. If coming just for a day trip, arrive early to secure a parking spot near the most popular overlooks. Visit mid-week if possible and try to avoid Columbus Day weekend when crowds are at their peak.

Best state parks in New York State. Letchworth State Park - the gorge seen through the leaves.
Just another splendid view in Letchworth State Park in New York State. 

The major attractions of the park are three beautiful waterfalls called the Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls. They can be viewed from a hiking trail that follows the rim of the canyon for 7 miles. The canyon’s cliffs are very high and surrounded by the lush forest that turns into a breathtakingly colorful carpet in autumn. (How to visit Letchworth State Park in the fall)

Fall scenery at its best at Letchworth State Park.
Double rainbow at Letchworth State Park.

4. Minnewaska State Park Preserve

Minnewaska State Park Preserve stole my heart with its spectacular scenery and captivating vibe. The park features three crystalline sky lakes, dense hardwood forests, and sheer cliffs and ledges opening to beautiful views. Its 35 miles of carriage roads and 50 miles of footpaths are waiting to be explored. Hiking at the park is the main activity offering fabulous overlooks of the Catskill Mountains. The park also provides picnicking, swimming, mountain biking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing.

Minnewaska State Park Preserve, NY.
Minnewaska State Park never fails to impress.

It would be impossible to see all of Minnewaska’s beautiful spots in one day. I took numerous day trips there, and I feel I only touched the surface. This is the place I like to return to each year to continue my exploration. No camping is allowed in the park, and nearby hotels are fully booked during the fall months. If you are planning a visit to enjoy the foliage, come early to find a parking spot, especially on weekends.

Minnewaska State Park Reserve in the Catskills.
Minnewaska State Park Reserve in the Catskills.

5. Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls is recognized as one of the world’s top natural wonders, and it has been captivating millions of visitors each year.  Here the crashing power of 4-6 million cubic feet of water rushing over the edges every minute of the day, delivers a neverending show. Despite being a famous tourist attraction, Niagara Falls on the U.S. side focuses more on exploration and education than the  Canadian side of the Niagara Falls, where you can find highrise hotels, multiple restaurants, and casinos.

Best state parks in New York.The Niagara Falls never fails to impress.
The Niagara Falls!

Still, the USA side offers many exciting options like interactive exhibits, miles of hiking trails, and dining options in a family-friendly environment. You can buy Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass that includes admission to all the attractions, including Cave of the Winds, Maid of the Mist, Niagara Adventure Theater, Aquarium of Niagara, the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center and a one-day unlimited transportation ticket for the Niagara Scenic Trolley.

No picture can capture the beauty and power of Niagara Falls.
No picture can capture the beauty and power of Niagara Falls.

6. Taughannock Falls State Park

This state park features one of the outstanding natural attractions of the Northeast, Taughannock Falls, that plunges 215 feet past rocky cliffs that tower nearly 400 feet above the gorge. Gorge and rim trails offer spectacular views from above the falls and from below at the end of the gorge trail. The Gorge Trail runs from the main park entrance, past the Lower Falls, and along the gorge all the way to Taughannock Falls. If the water level is low, and it usually is, you can walk within the creek bed, and that is a fun thing to do.

Best state parks in New York. Taughannock Falls State Park.
This picture is 20 years old. It reminds me how much my son enjoyed Taughannock Falls State Park and the Finger Lakes Region in general.

Campsites and cabins overlook Cayuga Lake, with a marina, a boat launch, and a beach nearby. The park also offers organized activities, including tours through the Taughannock Gorge and summer concerts along the lakefront. When in the area, do not forget to explore the Finger Lakes wine trail!

When visiting Taughannock Falls State Park, reserve some time for a wine tasting.
When visiting Taughannock Falls State Park, reserve some time for a wine tasting with a view. 

7. Watkins Glen State Park

Known for its natural beauty, the Watkins Glen State Park features a series of waterfalls and gorges that are sure to amaze anyone. An almost two-mile hike will take you past 19 waterfalls and up over 800 stone steps. Several small trails are leading off of the Gorge Trail, giving way to many other outdoor activities close by the main trail. There are tent and trailer campsites, swimming pools, picnic facilities as well as guided tours of the local topography. The park is a perfect destination for a day trip.

Best State Park in New York. Watkins Glen State Park offer a picturesque trail for the whole family to enjoy.
Watkins Glen State Park offers a picturesque trail for the whole family to enjoy.

8. Wellesley Island State Park

For boating and camping enthusiasts, Wellesley Island State Park is one of the best state parks in New York. It offers the largest camping complex in the Thousand Islands region, 432 campsites, and many of them right on the shores of St. Lawrence River! The park offers regular tent/trailer sites with electrical hook-ups, a cabin colony, facilities for group camping, and twelve vacation rentals.

Best state parks in New York. Wellesley Island State Park
Wellesley Island State Park is a camper’s paradise.

To accommodate boaters, the park has a full-service marina and four boat launches. A sandy beach on the river offers excellent swimming and sunbathing. Other facilities include a camp store, laundromat, arcade, and the 9-hole Wellesley Island State Park Golf Course.

Wellesley Island State Park. St. Lawrence River offers swimming, boating, and fishing and incredible scenry.
St. Lawrence River offers excellent camping, swimming, boating, and fishing.

The 1000 Islands Region, located between New York State and the province of Ontario in Canada on St. Lawrence River, is a perfect destination for those seeking beautiful scenery, outstanding fishing, and excellent water sport opportunities. To truly appreciate the area, you need to take a river cruise. Clayton Island Tours will pick you up right from the park. I suggest a Boldt Castle and Two-nation Tour offering the highlights of the area.

Situated on an island, Boldt Castle is 1000 Island's major attraction.
Situated on an island, Boldt Castle is one of 1000 Island’s major attractions.

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