New York State’s Best Parks and Outdoor Spaces

The Adirondacks, Catskills, and Finger Lakes are particularly well known for their wild places, but every region of the state offers something special. We’ve rounded up the best of New York state parks and nature preserves for an outdoor adventure.

ridge in the shawangunk mountains
Hike through the 5,600-acre Mohonk Preserve. Photo © fallbrook/iStock.

The Hudson Valley and the Catskills

Nearest to New York City, find 5,000-acre Bear Mountain State Park and 46,000-acre Harriman State Park. Both offer excellent hiking.

Putnam County is home to Constitution Marsh Audubon Center Sanctuary, a 207-acre tidal marsh managed by the National Audubon Society, and 14,000-acre Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park, crisscrossed with hiking trails. Farther north, in Columbia County, are Taconic State Park and Lake Taghkanic State Park.

Another premier outdoors area is Catskill Park, a 900-square-mile preserve. Day hikes are plentiful, especially in Greene County, with the park’s highest peaks. The Escarpment Trail stretches for 24 miles between Haines Falls and East Windham.

In Ulster County, the ancient Shawangunk Mountains are a mecca for rock-climbing enthusiasts. Minnewaska State Park holds two stunning glacial lakes, accessible by foot only.

The famous Appalachian Trail cuts through only a small section of New York in the Hudson Valley region for about 90 miles. The trail can most easily be picked up at Bear Mountain, Harriman, and Clarence Fahnestock State Parks.

The Adirondacks

Adirondack Park is a six-million-acre refuge with an unusual mixture of public and private lands. In the park’s center tower the 46 High Peaks, most over 4,000 feet high. Skiing and other winter sports make the Lake Placid area a four-season option for nature lovers.

You can also enjoy magnificent beauty by driving its many scenic highways and byways. Blue Mountain Lake, the northern part of Lake George, much of the western shores of Lake Champlain, and the High Peaks are especially scenic. If you’re short on time, a visit to the region’s recently opened Wild Center will give you a sense of the area’s natural wonders.

waterfall under a railroad trestle in upstate New York
Upper Falls in Letchworth State Park. Photo © JimVallee/iStock.

The Finger Lakes

Between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes lies Finger Lakes National Forest, a 16,212-acre preserve laced with over 30 miles of hiking trails. Though the terrain is largely flat, the forest contains some high hills with excellent vistas. The Finger Lakes Trail is a 557-mile route that begins at the Pennsylvania border and runs to the Catskills.

The town of Ithaca is surrounded by deep gorges and thundering waterfalls. Some of the most stunning can be found at wild, rugged Robert H. Treman State Park, spread over 1,025 acres.

At the Finger Lakes’ western edge lies 17-mile-long Letchworth Gorge, dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East.” All around grows a dense, thicketed forest laced with about 20 miles of hiking trails.

Long Island

Most of 32-mile-long Fire Island belongs to Fire Island National Seashore and is accessible by ferry and boat taxi only. Exceptions are Robert Moses State Park and Smith Point County Park, located at either end of the island.

Orient Beach State Park is a favorite among bird-watchers. Hither Hills State Park is known for its so-called Walking Dunes; its trails wind through cranberry bogs, beach terrain, and pine forests. Montauk Point State Park, at the very tip of the island, is an excellent fishing and bird-watching spot.

viewfinder looks down into a valley in John Boyd Thacher State Park
Observation Deck at John Boyd Thacher State Park. Photo © photosbysergey/iStock.

The Capital-Saratoga Region

John Boyd Thacher State Park, near Albany, is where you’ll find the unusual Indian Ladder Geologic Trail, one of the richest fossil-bearing formations in the world. Glimmerglass State Park, on the shore of Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, features a swimming beach, hiking trails, and a grand neoclassical mansion. Howe Caverns offers glimpses of an underground New York filled with stalactites and stalagmites.

Buffalo and the Niagara Region

There are myriad ways to experience the world-famous falls at Niagara Falls State Park. Even in urban Buffalo, you can find plenty of opportunities for recreation: some of them are free and centered in the Canalside neighborhood, where you can ride bikes on land, water, or—in winter—ice, or take a turn around a section of the canal in a paddle or pedal boat.

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