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20 Awesome New York State Parks To Visit By A Local

20 Awesome New York State Parks To Visit By A Local

New York is home to over 180 state parks featuring waterfalls, hiking trails, gorges, beaches, natural swimming pools and lakes. And we think some of these stunning landscapes can easily rival many of the most famous US National Parks.

In this guide we’re going to show you 20 amazing New York state parks based on our experiences.

Our New York State Park Experience

Two people sitting on a stone wall in front of a waterfall
Mark and Kristen at a NY state park in spring

Kristen grew up in the New York Finger Lakes and we lived in the the region when Mark first immigrated to the US in 2019. When the pandemic hit a few months later, visiting these state parks was how we spent most of our time.

While we no longer live here, we return to upstate New York every year to visit family. You can even find our NY photos featured in Gestalten’s Great American Road Trip. We’ll continually update this guide so bookmark or save this page as we check off more state parks. Read more about us.

Parks Vs Recreational Sites

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 the state. In New York, you can visit state parks or national recreational sites such as:

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

These 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.

New York state parks are run by state and not the federal government. Visitors will typically pay a vehicle entry fee of US$ 5-10 per day. 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.

READ: Best national parks in the United States

About This Guide

With 180 state parks in New York, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a park. We’ve either personally visited the parks on this list or they are on our NY state bucket list so you can be rest assured this guide only features the best state parks in New York.

Because each one offers something unique, we’ve created this list in alphabetical order and explained why you should considering visiting that particular park.

If you’re 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.

For most of the parks in this guide, you’ll have to pay a vehicle fee when you visit unless you have the Empire Pass which we discuss at the end. Vehicle entry fees are generally collected during certain hours each day. We’ve listed hours for each park so if you visit outside of these hours, entry may be free.

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
  • Address: 2373 ASP, Rte 1, Salamanca, NY 14779
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: Tents, cabins and cottages
  • Swimming: Yes (Jun to Sep)
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $7 (collected 9:00am-4:30pm)

It’s only right to start this list with Allegany State Park which is the largest of the New York state parks located near the Pennsylvania border. In this park, visitors have everything on their doorstep including mountains, forests and even lakes.

Allegany State Park is a year round destination 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 visitors who love winter sports, 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 Bridge
  • Address: Palisades Parkway or Route 9W North, Bear Mountain, NY 10911
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: Many options nearby
  • Swimming: Yes (Jun to Sep)
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10.00 with another $5 for pool access (collected 8:00am–5:00pm)

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

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

Popular hiking trail: Bear Mountain Loop

>> Hotel recommendations: Bear Mountain Inn | Overlook Lodge

Need a campsite in NY? Use our exclusive free trial of The Dyrt PRO to snag reservations at sold out campgrounds by creating alerts to notify you of cancelations at popular sites.

3. Buttermilk Falls State Park

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

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. The popular Gorge Trail closes in winter and typically reopens in April.

>> Hotel Recommendations: Argos Inn Boutique | William Henry Miller Inn

READ: How to visit Buttermilk Falls State Park

4. Chimney Bluffs State Park

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

If you’re looking for a unique 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 

READ: What to see at 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 near Ithaca
  • Address: 2300 Rathbun Rd, Cazenovia, NY 13035
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: No
  • Swimming: No
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $5 (collected 8:00am-6:00pm)

The main attraction 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 home to the Ovate Amber Snail. There is no wading allowed in the water to protect this endangered species of snail. Visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing and picnicking nearby.

>> Hotel recommendations: 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
  • Address: 4-44 47th Road, Long Island City, NY 11101
  • Location: Google Maps
  • 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 located close to New York City. 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 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 recommendations: Best New York City hotels

READ: Best observation decks in NYC

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 near Syracuse
  • Address: 7900 Green Lakes Rd, Fayetteville, NY 13066
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes (May to Sept from 11:00am-7:00pm)
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10 (collected Memorial to Labor Day)

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

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

>> Hotel recommendations: Embassy Suites Syracuse | The Parkview Hotel

READ: Complete guide to Green Lakes State Park

8. Harriman State Park

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

Harriman State Park is the second largest park in the New York state 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
  • Address: 3011 Route 9D, Cold Spring, NY 10516
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: No but options nearby
  • Swimming: No
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: Varies

Hudson Highlands State Park is one of the more undeveloped preserves 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, Hudson Highlands 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 recommendations: 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
  • Address: 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile, NY 14427
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes and white water rafting
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10 (collected 5/7-10/24 from 9:00am-5:00pm)

Letchworth State Park is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East because the Genesee River has carved out deep canyons showcasing 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 recommendations: Glen Iris Inn | Country Inn & Suites

READ: First time visitor guide to Letchworth State Park

11. Minnewaska State Park Preserve

Lake and tree view in a New York State Preserve
Lake and trail views in Minnewaska
  • Address: 5281 Route 44-55, Kerhonkson, NY 12446
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: Yes (mid-May to mid-Nov)
  • Swimming: Yes + scuba diving
  • Dog friendly: Yes, but not permitted on beaches
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10 (collected 9:00am-5:00 or 9:00am-9:00 depending on time of year)

Another extremely popular New York state park located in Ulster County about a 1.5 hour drive from New York City, the Minnewaska 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 scuba diving.

>> Hotel recommendations: 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 during the winter season
  • Address: 605 Old Saratoga Road, Gansevoort, NY 12831
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $8 (collected 5/28-9/5), $6 (collected May and September)

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

Moreau Lake is certainly the star of the show at this NY state park offering fishing any time of the year. Visitors can also enjoy water activities such as row boats, kayaking and paddle board rentals.

>> Hotel recommendations: McGregor Inn Motel | Sara Glen Motel

13. Niagara Falls State Park

Observation Tower and American Falls at Niagara Falls
  • Address: 332 Prospect Street, Niagara Falls, NY 14303
  • Location: Google Maps
  • 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. With over 9 million annual visitors, Niagara Falls is also one of the most popular state park in NY with three large waterfalls and plenty of activities.

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

>> Hotel recommendations: Seneca Niagara Resort | The Cadence

READ: Best things to do in Niagara Falls

14. Robert H. Treman State Park

Lucifer Falls and the Gorge Trail at Robert H Treman State Park
Lucifer Falls at Robert H. Treman near Ithaca
  • Address: 105 Enfield Falls Rd, Ithaca, NY 14850
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes (Jun -Sep)
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $9 (collected 4/1 – 11/30 from 6:00am-6:30pm)

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 recommendations: Argos Inn | Rodeway Inn Ithaca

READ: How to visit Robert H. Treman State Park

15. Rockefeller State Park Preserve

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

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

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

>> Hotel recommendations: Castle Hotel & Spa | Comfort Inn Hawthorne

16. Saratoga Spa State Park

Perspective shot of main building at Saratoga Spa
Mineral baths at Saratoga Spa
  • Address: 19 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: No
  • Swimming: Yes
  • Dog friendly: No
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10 + Victorian pool additional $8 fee for adults / $4 for children 5-11 yrs

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

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

>> Hotel recommendations: 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
  • Address: 10820 Route 36 South, Dansville, NY 14437
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $9 (collected 5/20-10/19 from 9:00am-5:00pm)

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 towering cliffs of the gorge. This trail begins next to the natural stream fed swimming pool.

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

READ: Best 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 during the fall season
  • Address: 1740 Taughannock Blvd, Trumansburg, NY 14886
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes at north point
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $9 (collected from sun up to sun down daily)

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

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 recommendations: Glass Magnolia | Inn at Taughannock

READ: How to visit Taughannock Falls Overlook

19. Thacher State Park

Rolling hills of New York State at Thatcher
Rolling hill view of Thacher
  • Address: 830 Thacher Park Road, Voorheesville, NY 12186
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes at Thompson’s Lake Campground 
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $6 (collected 5/1-10/21 from 9:00am-5:00pm)

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 recommendations: 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
  • Address: 1009 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY 14891
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Camping: Yes
  • Swimming: Yes (only in pool)
  • Dog friendly: Yes, but not on Gorge Trail
  • Vehicle entrance fee: $10 (sunrise to sunset mid-May to mid-October)

Watkins Glen is 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. However, you can still find plenty of things to do in the Village of Watkins Glen if you visit during the winter.

>> Hotel recommendations: Budget Inn Watkins Glen | Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel

READ: How to hike the Gorge Trail to Rainbow Falls

Interactive Map

Click on the interactive map above to find the best state parks in NY including our hotel recommendations from this guide. Here is a key to help you make sense of the map:

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

You can also access our New York state park interactive map via this link here.

The Empire Pass

An example of the New York State Empire Pass
Photo courtesy of New York state parks

If you’re a frequent visitor to any NYS park, you should consider purchasing an Empire Pass. This wallet sized pass grants you unlimited day use vehicle entry to the New York state parks.

Empire passes are available for 1 year, 3 years, 5 years 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 used 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 2024 Season Empire Pass will be accepted through December 31, 2024 and you can purchase it online or in person at any of the NY state parks.

Travel Tip: You can Go Green and purchase the digital version of this pass instead of the physical card to save a little bit of money.

Price for the New York State Empire Pass:

  • 2024 Season Empire Pass – $80 physical pass or $72 digital pass
  • 3-Year Empire Pass – $205 physical pass or $197 digital pass
  • 5-Year Empire Pass – $320 physical pass or $312 digital pass
  • Lifetime Empire Pass – $750 physical pass or $742 digital pass

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

The Morgan Conclusion

There are numerous NY state parks and you can’t go wrong with any of the ones we listed in this guide. But if you’re trying to decide which state park you should visit in New York, here are the 5 top rated options according to TripAdvisor and AllTrails as well as our favorites.

According to TripAdvisor:

  1. Watkins Glen
  2. Niagara Falls
  3. Letchworth
  4. Robert Treman
  5. Taughannock Falls

According to AllTrails:

  1. Minnewaska
  2. Hudson Highlands
  3. Storm King
  4. Harriman
  5. Bear Mountain

According to Where Are Those Morgans:

  1. Watkins Glen
  2. Letchworth
  3. Stony Brook
  4. Taughannock Falls
  5. Bear Mountain

We think Watkins Glen is the most unique park in New York State because it features 19 cascading waterfalls along a rim hike that’s easily accessible. If you only visit one NY state park, make it Watkins Glen. However, it’s closed in winter so plan accordingly.

More From Upstate New York

More From The Finger Lakes

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 New York state parks 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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