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20 Best New York State Parks To Visit In 2023

20 Best New York State Parks To Visit In 2023

New York State is home to over 180 State Parks with numerous parks we think could easily rival a few of the best US National Parks.

This guide was written by a New York State local whose main goal is to help you explore the best State Parks New York has to offer.

In our detailed NY State Park guide, we will show you:

  • Our New York State Park experience
  • The difference between a national and state park
  • The 20 best New York State Parks with hotel recommendations
  • Interactive map with the best NY State Parks
  • How to save money with the Empire Pass

Now, let’s explore the beautiful state parks scattered all throughout New York State!

*Please note this post may contain affiliate links. If you click on one, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting the free content we provide! Read more in our disclosure policy.*

Our New York State Park Experience

Kristen is a New York State native and we lived in the NY Finger Lakes region when Mark first moved to the United States in 2019.

Once the pandemic began a few months later, visiting these NY State Parks was how we spent most of our time. You can even find a few of our NY photos featured in Gestalten’s Great American Road Trip.

While we no longer live in the area, Kristen’s family still lives in upstate New York so we typically return to this beautiful region every year.

Everytime we come back to visit, we plan to check off more beautiful New York State Parks to create a continuously growing guide to help you explore upstate NY.

Bookmark or save this guide so you can return to it in the future to see what else the Empire State has to offer!

National Parks In New York State

Before we jump head first into the best NY state parks, we wanted to clear the air…

You can find many publications online stating there are National Parks in New York State and this is misleading. So just to be very clear, there are NO New York National Parks.

The National Park Service manages 424 units across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories with some of these recreational sites located in New York State.

In New York State, you can visit either State Parks or National Recreational Sites such as:

  • Historical sites
  • Historic trails
  • Memorials
  • Monuments
  • Recreation area
  • Scenic trails
  • Seashores

These National Recreational sites are often referred to “parks” but this does not fall under the same category as the 63 US National Parks such as Grand Canyon or Yellowstone.

What Is The Main Difference Between A State Park And Recreational Site?

When you visit a new York State Park, these parks are run by NY state and not the federal government. There are 180 State Parks in New York and they typically charge a vehicle entry fee of around US$ 5-10 per day.

But if you visit a US recreational site, you can use your America the Beautiful pass to gain entry because these sites are run by the federal government.

In this guide, we are only going to discuss the best state parks in New York which means you will have to pay a vehicle fee at every park (unless you have the Empire Pass but more on this later in our guide).

Love US National Parks? Don’t miss our round up of the best National Parks to visit in the United States.

What Can You Expect From This NY State Park Guide?

With 180 State Parks in New York State, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a park to visit.

We have either personally visited the parks on this list or they have a place on our NY state bucket list so you can be rest assured this list only features the best state parks in New York.

Because each New York State Park offers something unique, we have listed each park in alphabetical order and explained why you should considering visiting that particular park.

If you are in a hurry and don’t want to read this entire guide, you should check out Letchworth State Park or Watkins Glen State Park which are the best NY State Parks in our opinion.

So without further ado, here are the 20 best New York State Parks

1. Allegany State Park 

Picturesque wooden covered bridge in Allegany State Park
Thomas L. Kelly covered bridge in Allegany State Park

It’s only right to start this list with Allegany State Park, which is the largest of the New York State Parks. In this park, visitors have everything on their doorstep such as mountains, forests and even lakes.

Allegany State Park is a year round adventure boasting campsites, cabins and winterized cottages. The two most popular areas in the park include Red House and Quaker with activities the entire family can enjoy.

Hotel recommendation: White Pine Lodge | Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino

Travel Tip: For those who love winter sports, the mountain biking and equestrian trails in this NY state park double as snowmobile and cross-country ski trails.

2. Bear Mountain State Park

Famous bridge at Bear Mountain State park in upstate New York
The Beautiful Bear Mountain State Park Bridge
  • Address: Palisades Parkway or Route 9W North, Bear Mountain, NY 10911
  • Bear Mountain Google Maps Location
  • Camping: Many options nearby
  • Swimming: Yes (Jun to Sep)
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10.00 with another $5 for pool access

Located along the west bank of the Hudson River, Bear Mountain State Park is home to a swimming pool, play fields, numerous hiking or biking trails and a lake with fishing access.

Open year round, Bear Mountain State Park features an outdoor ice skating rink from late October to mid-March and a merry go round with with hand painted scenes of the park.

Popular hiking trail: Bear Mountain Loop

Hotel recommendation: Bear Mountain Inn | Overlook Lodge

3. Buttermilk Falls State Park

Two cascading waterfalls at Buttermilk Falls State Park near Ithaca New York
Small cascading waterfalls at Buttermilk Falls State Park
  • Address: 112 E. Buttermilk Falls Rd, Ithaca, NY 14850
  • Buttermilk Falls Google Maps Location
  • Camping: Yes, $15-$19/night (May to Oct)
  • Swimming: Yes, dependent on weather conditions
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $9 (collected 4/1 – 11/30 from 6:00 am to 6:30pm daily)

Cascading waterfalls, stunning gorges and natural beauty are the highlights of a gorge trail day hike at Buttermilk Falls State Park in the Finger Lakes region of New York State.

In summer, visitors can enjoy a natural stream-fed swimming pool at the base of Buttermilk Falls after a long day of hiking. However, the popular Gorge Trail closes in winter and typically reopens in April.

Hotel Recommendation: Argos Inn Boutique | William Henry Miller Inn

Planning to visit Buttermilk Falls? Don’t miss our popular guide featuring how to visit Buttermilk Falls State Park near Ithaca.

4. Chimney Bluffs State Park

Woman walking the shoreline of Lake Ontario at Chimney Bluffs State Park
Kristen exploring Chimeny Bluffs State Park
  • Address: 7700 Garner Road, Wolcott, NY 14590
  • Chimney Bluffs Google Maps Location
  • Camping: No
  • Swimming: No
  • Dog friendly: Yes, but not recommended on the Bluff Trail
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $5 (Collected 4/1 – 10/31), no fee at south entrance

If you are looking for a unique State Park to visit, look no further than Chimney Bluffs State Park which sits on the southern shores of Lake Ontario in upstate New York.

When visiting Chimney Bluffs, we recommend you begin your visit by hiking the Bluff Trail to experience the large earthen spires looming above the shoreline.

Hotel recommendation: The Inn at Burnap’s 

Interested in Chimney Bluffs? You might like to read our guide featuring Chimney Bluffs State Park.

5. Chittenango Falls State Park

Chittenango Falls at Chittenango Falls State Park in upstate New York
Chittenango Falls at Chittenango Falls State Park near Ithaca

The main attractions at Chittenango Falls State Park is the 167 ft waterfall showing casing 400 million year old bedrock with a beautiful wooden bridge.

This extremely picturesque waterfall is also home to the Ovate Amber Snail so no wading in the water to protect this endangered species of snail. Visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing and picnicking.

Hotel recommendation: Embassy Suites Syracuse | The Parkview Hotel

6. Gantry Plaza State Park

View of flowers and the Empire State Building at Gantry Plaza State Park
New York City in April as flowers bloom in Gantry Plaza State Park
  • Address: 4-44 47th Road, Long Island City, NY 11101
  • Gantry Plaza Google Maps Location
  • Camping: No
  • Swimming: No
  • Dog friendly: Yes, two dog runs available
  • Vehicle entrance fee: None but $30 picnic permit processing fee

Gantry Plaza State Park is the only park on this list near New York City, but this 12 acre green oasis offers stunning views of the Midtown Manhattan skyline including the famous Empire State Building.

We love this smaller NY State Park because you can visit the four piers, enjoy the manicured gardens and admire the NYC skyline from afar. Don’t miss the restored gantries which used to load and unload rail car floats.

Hotel recommendation: Best New York City hotels

Heading to New York City? Don’t miss our popular guide to the best observation decks in NYC ranked including pros and cons to each one.

7. Green Lakes State Park

View of Round Lake Natural National Landmark at Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse New York
Round Lake at Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse
  • Address: 7900 Green Lakes Rd, Fayetteville, NY 13066
  • Green Lakes Google Maps Location
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes (May to Sept from 11:00 am – 7:00 pm)
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10

Nestled near Syracuse, Green Lakes State Park is popular thanks to the gorgeous glacial lakes surrounded by hemlock trees and numerous hiking trails.

In the summer months, visitors to Green Lakes can enjoy beach access and boat rentals. Other highlights include the 18 hole Green Lakes State park golf course and extensive snowshoe trails in winter.

Hotel recommendation: Embassy Suites Syracuse | The Parkview Hotel

Plan to visit Green Lakes State Park? Don’t miss our complete guide to visiting Green Lakes State Park including how to hike the beautiful Green Lake and Round Lake loop.

8. Harriman State Park

Orange trees in fall along a foggy lake in the morning
Fall foliage in Harriman State Park
  • Address: Seven Lakes Dr / Bear Mountain Circle, Ramapo, NY 10974
  • Harriman State Park Google Maps Location
  • Camping: Yes, two public camping areas
  • Swimming: Yes, Lakes Welch + Lake Tiorati
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10 (collected May – Sep)

Harriman State Park is the second largest park in the New York State park system featuring 31 lakes, 200 miles of trails, two public beaches and two popular camping locations.

Located in Rockland and Orange counties, Harriman State Park is about an hour from New York City and it becomes a sanctuary for visitors in the summer months for swimming, hiking and camping.

9. Hudson Highlands State Park

Mountain view of the Hudson Highlands State Park in New York
Scenic views in Hudson Highlands State Park

Hudson Highlands State Park is one of the more undeveloped preserved on this best state parks in New York State list. With over 8,000 acres and 70 miles of trails, this region is a hikers paradise.

Another park about 50 miles from NYC, this is a popular destinations for hiking, boating, fishing, and birding. Many visitors enjoy the parks extensive network of hiking trails.

Best hikes in Hudson Highlands: AllTrails

Hotel recommendation: Beacon Hermitage | The Roundhouse | Cold Spring Hotel

10. Letchworth State Park

Railroad bridge over high falls at Letchworth State Park
The famous railroad bridge above Upper Falls in Letchworth State Park
  • Address: 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile, NY 14427
  • Letchworth Google Maps Location
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes and white water rafting
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10

Letchworth State Park is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East as the raging Genesee River cuts through stunning gorges creating three magnificent waterfalls.

This popular New York State Park features over 60 miles of hiking trails as well as activities for the entire family including white water rafting, swimming, nature centers, bird watching and hot air ballooning.

Hotel recommendation: Glen Iris Inn | Country Inn & Suites

Heading to Letchworth? Use our extremely popular guide to Letchworth State Park featuring the best things to do in the park and how to see the 3 stunning waterfalls.

11. Minnewaska State Park Preserve

Lake and tree view in a New York State Preserve
Lake and trail views in Minnewaska State Park Preserve
  • Address: 5281 Route 44-55, Kerhonkson, NY 12446
  • Minnewaska Google Maps Location
  • Camping: Yes (mid-May to mid-Nov)
  • Swimming: Yes + scuba diving
  • Dog friendly: Yes, but not permitted on beaches
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10

Another extremely popular New York State Park located in Ulster County about an hour and a half drive from New York City, Minnewaska State Park Preserve sits on the Shawangunk Mountain ridge.

This NYS park features three crystalline lakes, numerous waterfalls, dense forests and dramatic cliffs opening to beautiful views of the valleys below. Visitors can enjoy swimming, biking, hiking, rock climbing and even scuba diving.

Hotel recommendation: Minnewaska Lodge | Stonehill’s Farmhouse

12. Moreau Lake State Park

Moreau Lake State Park frozen over in the winter season with lots of snow
Moreau Lake State Park during the winter season
  • Address: 605 Old Saratoga Road, Gansevoort, NY 12831
  • Moreau Google Maps Location
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $6-8 depending on time of year

A year round destination featuring a gorgeous lake in upstate NY, Moreau Lake State Park is home to numerous hiking trails, sandy beaches, several campsites, pavilions and several picnic areas.

Moreau Lake is certainly the star of the show at this NY State Park offering visitors opportunities for fishing any time of the year as well as boating including row boats, kayaking and paddle board rentals.

Hotel recommendation: McGregor Inn Motel | Sara Glen Motel

13. Niagara Falls State Park

Observation Tower and American Falls at Niagara Falls State Park
  • Address: 332 Prospect Street, Niagara Falls, NY 14303
  • Niagara Falls Google Maps Location
  • Camping: No, but campsites nearby
  • Swimming: No
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $5-10 depending on time of year

Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States and almost ten million people visit this natural wonder every year.

We love Niagara Falls because there are many popular activities such as Cave of the Winds and Maid of the Mist not to mention amazing views from the Canadian side of Niagara Gorge as well.

Hotel recommendation: Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino | The Cadence

Planning to visit Niagara Falls? Use our popular guide featuring the best things to do in Niagara Falls to make sure you see all the highlights in the park!

14. Robert H. Treman State Park

Lucifer Falls and the Gorge Trail at Robert H Treman State Park
Lucifer Falls at Robert H. Treman State Park near Ithaca

Located near Ithaca, Robert H. Treman State Park is home to a stunning gorge known as Enfield Glen. Visitors can walk the winding gorge trail past 12 waterfalls including Lucifer Falls and Lower Falls.

We like Robert H. Treman because you can swim in the stream fed natural swimming pool located underneath Lower Falls in the summer months. Other popular activities include hiking, camping and picnicking.

Hotel recommendation: Argos Inn | Rodeway Inn Ithaca

Planning a trip to Robert Treman? Don’t miss our guides with insider tips on how to visit Robert H. Treman State Park in upstate New York.

15. Rockefeller State Park Preserve

Calm lake setting at Rockefeller State Park Preserve
A stunning reflection at Rockefeller State Park Preserve
  • Address: 125 Phelps Way, Pleasantville, NY 10570
  • Rockefeller Google Maps Location
  • Camping: No
  • Swimming: No
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $6 (collected 8:00am – 4:30pm) 

About 30 miles north of New York City, Rockefeller State Park Preserve features the former country estates of John D. Rockefeller family and William Rockefeller within the Pocantico Hills.

This preserve is open year round allowing visitors to explore the 45 miles of crushed stone carriage roads laid out by John D. Rockefeller Sr. and Jr which are perfect for jogging, walking and of course, carriage rides.

Hotel recommendation: Castle Hotel & Spa | Comfort Inn Hawthorne

16. Saratoga Spa State Park

Perspective shot of main building at Saratoga Spa
Mineral baths at Saratoga Spa State Park
  • Address: 19 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
  • Saratoga Spa Google Maps Location
  • Camping: No
  • Swimming: Yes
  • Dog friendly: No
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10 + Victorian pool additional fee

Saratoga Spa State Park is also considered a National Historic Landmark well known for its classical architecture with various art exhibits, a large pool complex and a beautiful golf course.

One of the popular amenities within Saratoga Spa State Park is the Peerless pool complex with a large main pool, 19′ slide pool, a wading pool with a mushroom fountain and the historic Victoria pool.

Hotel recommendation: Batcheller Mansion Inn | The Adelphi Hotel

17. Stony Brook State Park

Two people posing for a photograph at Stony Brook State Park
Mark and Kristen visiting Stony Brook State Park

Stony Brook State Park is nestled in the rolling hills of upstate New York near Dansville. Popular activities in Stony Brook include camping, swimming, hiking and picnicking.

One of the major highlights of Stony Brook includes the gorge trail which showcases two cascading waterfalls within the tower cliffs of the gorge and this trail begins next to the natural stream fed swimming pool.

Hotel recommendation: Country Inn & Suites | Temple Hill Bed and Breakfast

Never been to Stony Brook? Use our detailed guide with everything you need to know featuring things to do in Stony Brook State Park.

18. Taughannock Falls State Park

Taughannock Falls Overlook in fall with a small plunging waterfall
Taughannock Falls State Park during the fall season

The main attraction at Taughannock Falls State Park is the 215 ft Taughannock Falls encircled by towering 400 ft high cliffs. Visitors can enjoy the view from the overlook or hike the gorge trail.

But in addition to one of the most popular waterfalls in New York State, this park has campsites and cabins overlooking Cayuga Lake with a marina, boat launch and beach access.

Hotel recommendation: Glass Magnolia | Inn at Taughannock

Want to see Taughannock Falls? Use our guide to the Taughannock Falls Overlook to plan your trip.

19. Thacher State Park

Rolling hills of New York State at Thatcher
Rolling hill view of Thacher State Park
  • Address: 830 Thacher Park Road, Voorheesville, NY 12186
  • Thacher Google Maps Location
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes at Thompson’s Lake Campground 
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $6

John Boyd Thacher State Park offers visitors stunning views of the the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys, the Adirondack and Green Mountains. This park also contains one of the richest fossil-bearing formations in the world.

Popular activities at Thacher State Park include 25 miles of trails for hiking or mountain biking as well as cross country skiing or snowshoeing in the winter. Be sure to hike the famous Indian Ladder Trail.

Hotel recommendation: Amsterdam Castle | Morgan State House Inn

20. Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail at one of the best New York State Parks
Rainbow Falls at Watkins Glen State Park
  • Address: 1009 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY 14891
  • Watkins Glen Google Maps Location
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes (only in pool)
  • Dog friendly: Yes, but not on Gorge Trail
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10

Watkins Glen State Park is easily the most famous NY Finger Lakes State Park with a winding gorge trail through 19 stunning waterfalls including the photogenic Rainbow Falls.

The highlight of this NY State Park is certainly the Gorge trail, but visitors can enjoy camping, swimming in the olympic sized swimming pool and fishing in nearby Seneca Lake.

The Watkins Glen Gorge Trail closes in winter and typically opens in late May, but if you visit in the winter, you can still find plenty of things to do in the Village of Watkins Glen.

Hotel recommendation: Budget Inn Watkins Glen | Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel

Planning to visit Watkins Glen State Park? Don’t miss our detailed guides featuring how to hike the Gorge Trail to Rainbow Falls.

New York State Empire Pass

If you are a frequent visitor to any NYS park, you should consider purchasing an Empire Pass because this wallet-sized pass grants you unlimited day use vehicle entry to New York State Parks.

Empire passes are available for the individual season, multi-year or lifetime use. Just present your pass at the entrance station and your Empire Pass will waive the vehicle fee for day use entry.

Another benefit to the Empire Pass is that it can be enjoyed by the entire household. This pass is not assigned to a specific vehicle so it can be used by parents, grandparents or anyone in the family.

The 2023 Season Empire Pass will be accepted through December 31, 2023 and you can purchase it online or in person at any of the NY state parks.

Price for the New York State Empire Pass:

  • 2023 Season Empire Pass – $80
  • 3-Year Empire Pass – $205
  • 5-Year Empire Pass – $320
  • Lifetime Empire Pass – $750

For more information or to purchase an Empire pass, click here.

New York State Park Interactive Map

Click on the interactive map above to move around and find the best State Parks in NY including our hotel recommendations as well.

  • Dark Green – Hotel recommendations
  • Light Red – Restaurant recommendations
  • Purple – Best things to do in the park
  • Blue – Parking lots

Or you can access our New York State Park interactive map view this link here.

FAQ’s For The Best State Parks In New York

Let’s take a quick look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the best state parks in New York State.

What is the most popular New York State Park?

With over 9 million visitors a year, Niagara Falls is the most popular state park in NY with three large waterfalls and plenty of things to do when visiting this famous region.

What is the largest state park in New York?

Allegany State Park is the largest state park in NY and you can find this park in the western portion of the state near the Pennsylvania border.

What is the most unique New York State Park?

Watkins Glen is the most unique park in New York State because it features 19 cascading waterfalls along a rim hike that is easily accessible. If you only visit one NY State Park, make it Watkins Glen!

More New York State Guides

Want more New York content? Head over to our New York Travel Guides to explore the Finger Lakes, Adirondacks and the best of NYC.

We hope this guide to the best state parks in New York helps with planning your visit to the Empire State!

Please let us know if you need any help planning your visit to any of these gorgeous state parks in NY in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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