New York’s Best State Parks

Watkins Glen State Park in upstate New York has more than 800 steps on the Gorge Trail.

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

New York is home to many state parks that offer numerous ways to enjoy the outdoors this season. If you plan to visit many state parks, consider purchasing an Empire Pass, which with few exceptions offers free, all-day vehicle admission. The Empire Pass is available for on year ($80), three years ($205) five years ($320) or lifetime ($750) and is transferrable among your vehicles. These are only a few of New York’s 180 state parks. They’re all listed and searchable by amenities on the web.

Western New York

Letchworth State Park is called the “Grand Canyon of the East” for its 600-foot cliffs, gorges and rock formations among its more than 14,000 acres. Be sure to check out the three largest waterfalls in the park, the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls, from Inspiration Point, which offers the best view. The park provides 66 miles of trails to hike.

Niagara Falls State Park.

Niagara Falls has been designated as a National Heritage Area and offers the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center in Niagara Falls State Park as well as the Aquarium of Niagara and Cave of the Winds. Step onto the Hurricane Deck or ride the Maid of the Mist vessel to get up-close to the Falls.

Allegany State Park sprawls across nearly 65,000 acres, representing the largest state park outside of the Adirondacks and Catskills. The towering trees of this mature forest inspire awe, along with boulders and other stone formations among the hiking trails. Numerous campsites, cabins and cottages are available.

Finger Lakes

Chimney Bluffs State Park provides some of the state’s most unusual topography with numerous wind and water-carved, 150-foot pillars (the “chimneys”) to view. Hike the upper trail through the wooded rim of the bluff, overlooking Lake Ontario, or get your toes wet along the lakeshore on the lower trail. The trails are relatively short, but the park provides 597 wooded, open and shoreline acres.

Robert H. Treman State Park boasts 1,000 acres and 12 waterfalls, including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls. Explore its wooded landscape and gorges on six hiking trails between the Lower Falls and Upper Falls. During the summer, a lifeguard is available at the Lower Falls (also known as Enfield Falls) for swimming.

Also, near Ithaca the Buttermilk Falls State Park is named for the foamy water of Buttermilk Creek, whose waterfall plummets 165 feet. Enjoy hiking along the gorge and rim of the park. Spot wildlife in Larch Meadows, a wetland with a meandering nature trail.

Taughannock Falls State Park near Ithaca.

Taughannock Falls State Park represents another great state park near Ithaca. The park includes its namesake waterfall, which drops 215 feet, one of the largest drops on this side of the Rockies. With 750 acres to roam, Taughannock Falls provides plenty of room for hiking, camping and boating or kayaking on Cayuga Lake.

Don’t miss Allan H. Treman State Marine Park while in the Ithaca area if you want to enjoy the waters of Cayuga Lake. The park represents one of the state’s largest inland marinas with 370 seasonal, 30 transient and 30 dry boat slips.


No list of New York’s state parks is complete without listing Watkins Glen State Park. With 19 waterfalls, breathtaking gorges, camping, and upper and lower hiking trails, it’s easy to see why it ranked as 3rd place in the USA Today Reader’s Choice Poll for Best State Park in the United States from among 6,000 sites.

Central New York

Sandy Island Beach State Park in Pulaski offers a beachy getaway without driving to the ocean. As the major freshwater dune in the Northeast, Sandy Island Beach provides a great venue for birdwatching. The park offers a pavilion and community room (available by reservation), swimming and fishing.


Clark Reservation State Park  in Jamesville includes a variety of environments, from craggy cliffs to meadows to forests to wetland to a meromictic lake, meaning that the surface and bottom waters do not mix. Enjoy fishing, birdwatching, hiking five trails and viewing exhibits at the Nature Center.

Fayetteville’s Green Lakes State Park.

Fayetteville’s Green Lakes State Park features two meromictic lakes, along with the 18-hole Green Lakes State Park Golf Course, 15 miles of trails and an all-terrain wheelchair to borrow to access the beach and trails.

Capital Region/Catskills

Catskill State Park, also known as Catskill Park, includes 600,000 acres of meadows, forests, streams and waterfalls. Part of the park is Bear Spring Mountain Campground, which offers opportunities for camping, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and hiking on 33 trails.

Minnewaska State Park in Kerhonkson

Kerhonkson’s Minnewaska State Park boasts 50 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails through forests and rugged terrain and near waterfalls and lakes. Don’t miss the mile-long Awosting Falls Trail that culminates in a 60-foot waterfall. The park also offers camping, horseback riding, and swimming.

Before making plans to visit a state park, check the website to confirm amenities, policies and which trails may be closed.

Top image: Watkins Glen — With 19 waterfalls, breathtaking gorges, camping and upper and lower hiking trails, it’s easy to see why it ranked 3rd place in the USA Today Reader’s Choice Poll for Best State Park in the United States.