11 Amazing Nature Spots You’ll Find Close to New York City

As a nature person who lives in New York City, I often want to get away from the city and to anyone who shares this feeling, I’ve got 11 things to do outside of it:

Now being that pretty much anything worth seeing outside NYC is nature and scenic, I’ll show you the 10 most beautiful areas that extend as far as a 2 hour drive outside the city and depending on how much time you have, be it a single day or possibly more, you’ll decide whether or not you can cover these 11 areas or not.

Whether you’re into hiking, scenic driving, beautiful parks or anything nature related basically, you will find that these 10 spots, seen on their own or in bulk are enough to really help you “reset” from the city’s noise and stress.

In my case, I can fit most of the spots on this list into a single day trip, but do note that obviously, you don’t have to mimic my approach to day trips and can enjoy even 1 of those spots for a half day or even full day trip, then come back to the city.

Here is the list of the 11 scenic, nature areas to see outside New York City:

  1. Check out Croton Dam.10 nature spots close to new york city
  2. Sight see around Purple Heart Memorial Bridge.
  3. Visit Fort Montgomery if it’s open.
  4. Check out Bear Mountain State Park. 
  5. Go up to Breakneck Ridge and hike it if you can. 
  6. Visit Widow Jane Mine. 
  7. Check out Rosendale Trestle and do the hike there. 
  8. Check out Mohonk State Preserve.
  9. Visit Harriman State Park.
  10. Drive the Palisades Parkway and stop at the scenic area.
  11. Definitely stop at Fort Lee Historic Park.

Now I marked these places in the order you can do them, but depending on which of these same locations you wish to visit, you can plot out the locations of each spot and visit them in your own order. 

Note: When I started this list, it was 10 places, now it’s 11 (and growing).

1) Croton Water Dam:

croton water dam photo

For a very long time, I’ve seen photos of this place on Instagram and very few actually mentioned the name of it.

Once I found out it was called Croton Water Dam and that it was about 40 miles north of the city, I had to go and I finally did yesterday and it was well worth it.

Despite it being a small area to explore, the beauty condensed into that small area is truly spectacular with a man made waterfall that is unlike any I’ve ever seen before.

Now there are 2 access points to Croton Water Dam:

  • One from the top view (free to view). Check that out!
  • And one from the bottom, which costs $10 to enter and will take you into the small park next to the dam. You’ll see it from the perspective I took this picture of it from to the right.

I recommend seeing this place from both locations. The waterfall in this place is amazing and I put it on my list of the 10 best waterfalls to see in New York State.

2) Sight see around Purple Heart Memorial Bridge (plenty of hiking available):

Sight see around Purple Heart Memorial Bridge

This beautiful bridge is about an hour north of the city and also close to Croton Water Dam, so if you visit it, getting to the bridge from there is about a 30 minute drive. 

While there’s beautiful hiking spots near this bridge and scenic overlooks, you can enjoy just walking over it (it’s free).

Not only that but the scenic drives all around it are well worth exploring too as you can head in at least 3 different directions, all of which will take you through some of New York State’s most beautiful parks and regions.

The only thing to really watch out for here is ticks, as well as in the greater New York State in general.

3) Visit Fort Montgomery:

This Fort is located right under the west side area of the Purple Heart Memorial Bridge and if it’s open (I believe after 10 a.m), then it’s worth visiting. There’s a bridge at the lower end of this Fort which will give you a beautiful scenic view of the bridge from below it.

Sadly, I haven’t had a chance to visit this Fort yet because it was closed when I was in this location, but there are walkways near it that’ll allow you to also enjoy beautiful views.

4) Visit Bear Mountain State Park:

This park has many beautiful views and is very close to both Fort Montgomery and Purple Heart Memorial Bridge.

The hikes in this park are pretty simple and there are many activities there. I’ve visited this park only once, but I still remember how much I enjoyed being there and I know you will too, NYC residents!

5) Go up to Breakneck Ridge and hike it if you can:

breakneck ridge scenic photo

Breakneck Ridge is a popular hiking location, especially to NYC hikers who want to get away (because it’s pretty close to the city).

It’s main, most popular hike is about a 3 mile loop which for the first mile is very hard, so it’s only recommended to check out if you’re in good shape and love hiking.

Here are some views from the top of it:

This place is extremely popular on weekends to visit, so if you’re truly trying to escape the crowd element of NYC, visit this place on a weekday that isn’t a holiday. It’s also one of the best day hikes for NYC residents (it’s not far from the city).

I rarely visit these kinds of locations on weekends because of the crowds, but if I have no choice, I’ll try to make it happen very early, because then there won’t be as many people, like in Delaware Water Gap (another good spot near the city to visit).

6) Widow Jane Mine:

widow jane mine cave

This place is about 2 hours north of New York City and worth visiting if you don’t really like hiking, but enjoy scenic areas.

I’ve been to Widow Jane Mine many times and always enjoy taking friends there.

It’s free to enter the parking area near it, with a 5-10 minute walk to the actual mine. Then there is also another trail nearby which I personally had not taken, since I was only interested in seeing the mine itself.

It is best to see this mine on a weekday as you’ll likely find nobody there, and unless you’re scared of dark mines, it’s worth going there during that time, but make sure to bring a flashlight.

I have been to Widow Jane Mine several times and enjoy taking a short mini trip there on my way to doing other hikes, which typically involve hiking in the Catskill Mountains after I’m done with this place.

7) Rosendale Trestle (right near Widow Jane Mine):

rosendale trestle near widow jane mine

If you’re going to explore Widow Jane Mine, you need to check out Rosendale Trestle and do the short hike there.

It’s a remodeled bridge that was used for trains long ago.

It’ll take you over a beautiful bridge and trail which will have you pass beautiful cave spots that have freezing misty air come out of it. 

There are parking areas near this location and it’s normally not busy there, even on a weekend, so do explore it if you can.

And on a completely different subject, I recently visited my second official abandoned trestle in Vancouver Island and I have to say, it was even more beautiful than the one in New York, but trust me, this one is also very beautiful!

8) Mohonk State Preserve:

mohonk preserve viewpoint from a top

At this point in the locations, we’re heading back south to NYC.

And Mohonk is a bit south west of Widow Jane Mine, but it’s not far from I 87, a very scenic road I recommend checking out in general (details on other scenic drives in New York State).

Now when I visited Mohonk, I didn’t have a very good camera, but if you do visit this place, know these few things:

1) It costs anywhere from $15-$26 per person to enter the park and that depends on if you visit during a weekday or weekend.

2) There’s a beautiful hotel in this region with a lake where you can kayak or canoe on.

3) There’s a popular hiking trail called the Labyrinth I do recommend checking out. It’s very short, but very challenging and fun to do.

More details about Mohonk Preserve here. That link details my trip there and again, my camera photos weren’t high quality there, but it’s still a beautiful place to see.

9) Visit and explore Harriman State Park:

harriman state park outside of NYC

I’ve visited Harriman State Park twice and love it.

For a simple scenic drive or day hike outside of NYC, this place is one of the best options around.

It’s located about 30 minutes from the George Washington Bridge (if you live in Manhattan) and has some really nice things you can explore.

If you do go to Harriman State Park, here’s a few things I recommend doing:

  • Do the 7 Lakes Scenic drive.
  • Sight seeing the different lakes there.
  • Doing one or more of the hiking trails there (they are fairly simple to do).

This park also has a number of waterfalls (manmade and natural) and while overall it is a simple park and there’s nothing really major about it, it’s a great getaway from the city to take in my opinion.

People can easily spend an entire day here and have a great time!

10) Drive through the Palisades Parkway:

I honestly think the Palisades Parkway s one of the most beautiful scenic drives I’ve done near New York City and because it’s so close, with so many exits to see beautiful hiking trails and views, it’s a must see for any NYC resident. It’s literally right outside the G.W. Bridge as you enter NJ from the city.

That drive will actually take you through many of the locations I listed on this article, including the Purple Heart Memorial Bridge and Bear Mountain State Park.

11) Visit Fort Lee Historic Park:

fort lee historic park photo

Just yesterday I finally got a chance to briefly visit this park right before returning to NYC with my friend.

We exited Palisades Parkway and right before getting onto the G.W. Bridge, shifted away from it and onto a road called Henry Hudson Parkway. 

This road took us through the Fort Lee Historic Park which will take you underneath the G.W Bridge and enjoy plenty of good views and while we didn’t have too much time to stop, the drive, the park and the scenic views there were breathtaking and highly recommended to any NYC resident to see as well:

You’re going to see some really beautiful spots in this location, which I will document in a later article, because while it’s a small park (but long), there’s a lot to do there, especially for NYC people.

Have more time to explore other spots outside NYC? Here are more places to explore:

1) Like I said earlier, if you’re short on time, you’ll find one of these spots will occupy most of your day, but if you’re an active road trip person like me (this is how I do road trips), you may be able to see many of these spots in a single day like I did.

I wouldn’t rush though as all of these locations each offer great views and adventures that you should enjoy. 

2) But opposite of this point, if you have time to visit more places, then besides doing all 11 of these spots, check out areas like the Catskills, or spots west of NYC like Watkins Glen State Park

3) Consider road trips across the eastern United States like this too if you have at least 5 days of free time if you’re looking for ideas of other things to see outside NYC, let me know how many days you have that are free and what you’re looking to see and where and I’ll be sure to provide my list of recommended locations to see.

Leave a Comment