15 Best State Parks in New York That Rival National Parks!

This article covers what I consider to be the 15 best state parks in New York to explore and I’ll tell you something, some of the ones on this list and their beauty actually rival some of the national parks I’ve personally seen across the country (I’m not joking) and you can tell me below if you agree or not.

While New York State has no official national park, it does have tons of state parks and while I haven’t explored all of them, I have seen enough to filter through which are worth visiting and which are not and of course the list provided here is going to show you only the best ones that are perfect for hikes, family travels, mountain biking, swimming and whatever other outdoor adventures there are.

I’ve lived in New York City for nearly 30 years now and I’m shocked by how beautiful this state can be if you know where to go and some of the pictures I post on this site or on my Instagram, while taken somewhere in this state sometimes have people asking me if it’s a national park or not even knowing that it’s located in NY state! And when you see this list, you may find yourself double checking if it’s really here or not!

Here is my list of the 15 best state parks in NY:

best state parks in new york 01

  1. Letchworth State Park.
  2. Robert H. Treman State Park.
  3. Watkins Glen State Park.
  4. Buttermilk Falls State Park.
  5. Harriman State Park.
  6. Taughannock Falls State Park.
  7. Lake Minnewaska State Park.
  8. Green Lakes State Park.
  9. Stony Brook State Park.
  10. Allegany State Park.
  11. Filmore Glen State Park.
  12. Thacher State Park.
  13. Robert Wehle State Park.
  14. Hudson Highlands State Park.
  15. Schunnemunk Mountain State Park.

Quick Q & A info on New York State Parks:

How many state parks are located in New York?

Officially 180 (full list of New York State Parks).

What about national parks?

There are no national parks in NY, but there are a lot of preserves, conservation areas, reservations and other places that sometimes get mistaken for state or national parks.

Are the Catskill Mountains or Adirondack Mountains a state park?

No, these regions as DEC regions and I wish I could have added a bunch of places to this list from them because both the Catskill Mountains and Adirondack Mountains on their own have so much beauty and adventures to offer, but because this list only sticks to state parks, we’re keeping it strictly focused on that.

Can you camp in every state park on this list?

Yes, there are options in every one and if they are filled up, spots are available close by.

1) Letchworth State Park:

letchworth state park in new york state new 01

Letchworth State Park is in my opinion one of the top 5 state parks in all of New York State to check out for a lot of reasons, most of which revolve around the diverse beauty of this park.

There are 2 main and giant waterfalls to check out in this park which are very scenic and for the most part, this park and the explorations here are family friendly.

One of the other things I really liked when I went here is how neat and polished the park was.

This is honestly one of the cleanest and neatest parks I have ever explored and it actually felt comfortable just being there.

You have clean roads, nice mowed grass in most parts and at the same time sections of the park which are more wild and better for hikers and adventurers to check out.

There’s also a nice hotel in the area with great scenery all around.

2) Robert H. Treman State Park:

robert h treman state park in new york new 02

One of the things I absolutely love to explore in nature are gorges, waterfalls and hikes along them and this is exactly what you get when you visit Robert H. Treman State Park.

It has numerous trails, but the most popular is the gorge trail which is a few miles long and that takes you past a bunch of waterfalls and beautiful scenic spots, one of which (towards the northern end) is a rocky but polished stone gorge that looks like it’s been carved out by man and that’s why I included this as the main picture for showcasing this park.

Of course, hiking trails for all levels are available here too, as is camping and swimming. The park isn’t very large, but it is very scenic and worth visiting for a multitude of nature explorers (casual or serious ones).

I do know there is some sort of waterfall in the area here where swimming is allowed but that’s something you may have to check out on your own because I didn’t see that when I went here, only heard about it after I finished checking this place out.

3) Watkins Glen State Park:

watkins glen state park in new york new 04

Watkins Glen State Park is in some people’s opinion the most scenic/beautiful park in the entire NY state and it’s hard to disagree with that opinion especially if you’ve been there. I have 3 times so far and each time, I just can’t believe that this place exists.

It also has it’s own gorge trail, but it’s a lot more scenic than in Robert H. Treman State Park and is great to explore for the family.

It’s also located near the giant Seneca Lake with tons of other things to explore afterwards, including some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Finger Lakes.

Absolutely go to this park if you ever have the chance. I honestly think the views in this park are better than some national parks I’ve seen in my life and in fact, I’ve compared the beauty of Finger Lakes to be better than the Grand Canyon (a national park).

When you visit this place, you’ll understand why I said this and if you are planning a visit to Finger Lakes, this has to be on your list and possibly the last place to see because it might very well be the best one.

Side note: Here is a list of the best waterfalls in New York State.

4) Buttermilk Falls State Park:

buttermilk falls state park in new york new 03

This park is also close to Watkins Glen State Park and Robert H. Treman State Park so if you can explore all 3 of these places in one day like I did when I went to Finger Lakes, then you have a trifecta day trip as far as I’m concerned because it’ll feel very complete and if you are just seeking to relax in any one of these parks, they all offer that too.

Buttermilk Falls State Park is like a blend of the stuff you see in Watkins Glen and Robert H. Treman with a nice gorge trail, a lake, and a giant waterfall with a swimming area near the parking lot.

I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this place and highly recommend this state park which too rivals a lot of national parks in my opinion.

Aside from the gorge trail, there’s just a lot of other stuff in this park that’s a mix of active exploration or just passive scenic viewing available.

If you wish to enter the parking lot, I believe there is a $15 fee to do so, so make sure you have money ready (I believe only cash is allowed here).

5) Harriman State Park:

harriman state park in new york new one 05

This is one of the closest upstate state parks you’ll find near NYC and one I’ve explored over the past few years and enjoyed doing so.

For the most part, much of Harriman State Park and the nature scenery there is OK with giant hills, some mountains, a lot of lakes and so forth, but the reason I include it on this particular list is because in my opinion this park is full of secret gems such as:

  • Abandoned mines which you have to hike deep into the park to find.
  • Remote lakes which are only accessible through hiking to them (makes for less crowds).
  • A lot of other gems like the Lemon Squeezer hike which I love exploring.
  • And a lot of other activities which you can check out.

This park is also perfect for day hikes near NYC or just casual relaxation on the many lakes that are there and accessible by car, but if you enjoy hiking and Easter egg hunting for things like mines and other gems, this is the park you have to visit!

6) Taughannock Falls State Park:

Taughannock falls state park in new york new one 06

This is another one of the plethora of gems in Finger Lakes. In fact, Taughannock Falls is itself one of the most popular waterfalls in Finger Lakes and the state park within which you’ll find it is also very nice.

There’s a lot of hiking trails, including the main one which takes you to a bottom view of this giant waterfall (100+ feet high).

Just as well, there are a lot of simple places for viewing this waterfall and gorge behind and after it if you’re more into casual strolls and not so much hiking.

I’ve been to this place once and the waterfall is indeed a great sight, especially if you go here in the autumn!

Nearby you will also find vineyards and a lot of different types of things to see and do.

The waterfall hike here is just the start of what you can explore in this state park and you can easily do an entire day trip here and it wouldn’t cover all of those activities!

7) Lake Minnewaska State Park:

lake minnewaska state park in new york new photo 07

I used to avoid going to this park because from a distance, it didn’t seem like there was much to see, but just like with Harriman State Park, I underestimated this state park and after exploring it a few times and really diving deep into the hikes and other activities there, it absolutely deserves a spot on this list.

Lake Minnewaska State Park is also located in upstate New York and is a very scenic place for a ton of different adventures.

For me, the most notable are the hiking trails, especially to Gertrude’s Nose and Lake Minnewaska itself which is very scenic and something you can hike to, or just see from a distance.

There’s tons of things to do in this park and the beauty here is up there in terms of what I consider breathtaking.

And if you do go here, there is a neighboring area called Mohonk Preserve which is not a state park, but it has a lot of beautiful spots to see there too, with similar nature trails and explorations like you’d find here (It’s worth exploring, trust me).

8) Green Lakes State Park:

green lakes state park in new york new photo 08

This is one of the state parks I have not yet visited but I have a regular hiking buddy who has.

The key feature to this park and why you want to go here is the Green Lake itself. What makes it so special is how clear and bright blue the water is (as you can tell from the photo).

In fact, I’d go as far as to compare the color of the water you see here to the type of water you would find in places like:

You can’t swim everywhere here, but you can boat on top of the lake and do some of the hiking trails nearby.

Again this park is one of the many examples of why New York State has so much to offer. Show them a picture of this and it would likely be tough for the person to guess this is actually in NY!

9) Stony Brook State Park:

stony brook state park in new york new photo 09

This is another very scenic state park in NY that has a lot to offer but the 3 main activities here are:

  • Waterfall sight seeing and swimming holes (there’s an upper, middle and lower falls).
  • Hiking across the gorge trail that takes you to these falls.
  • Camping.

Again, the whole gorge/waterfall mix is something I personally find to be one of the most scenic things you’ll ever see in nature and this park has a lot of that, much like the 3 Finger Lakes state parks I talked about earlier.

And once again, one of the key things here is a small but super scenic swimming hole by the Lower falls here which I would recommend checking out (picture provided).

Stony Brook State Park is about 1 hour west of the Finger Lakes area but is worth visiting if you’re heading through or in that direction for whatever reason.

10) Allegany State Park:

Allegany state park in new york new photo 01

This is an awesome state park which actually runs through both New York and Pennsylvania State (but then it’s called Allegany National Forest). Anyway, this park’s mountains are huge, but there are a lot of scenic trails to explore for all sorts of hikers.

One of the 2 key things that in my opinion makes this state park amazing is first the large amount of things you can aside from just hiking, and the second is the actual hikes and terrain of this park which include a lot of boulders and caves, something which you start to notice the more westward you go into New York State.

This particular type of terrain is hard to explain unless you’ve been there, but it’s very unique for this part of the states, and the great news is that you get a great tour of it in this state park. If you want to know more on what I’m talking about, here’s just a few parks that have this type of nature:

11) Filmore Glen State Park:

filmore glen state park in new york new photo 02

Flimore Glen State Park is stunning and looks like it’s an enchanted forest. I know that type of description might be common to see, but seriously, this park deserves it.

Like the other gorge/waterfall parks I’ve already noted on this list, add this one to it too.

There are many waterfalls to explore in this park and the scenic views of the gorge trail feel much more wild vs polished like in the other places, and that might be more to your liking.

In any case, the main waterfall hike here is to Filmore Glen which looks a bit like Kaaterskill Falls in some ways.

Yet this park’s beauty is on one hand familiar with the other parks in this state, but unique in it’s own and you’ll see that when you go here.

You’ll find this park within one of the main lakes of Finger Lakes (North east of Ithaca).

12) Thacher State Park:

thacher state park in new york new photo 03

This is a state park in New York I’ve only recently discovered and I’m stunned by how beautiful it is. Some of the key features that make this place worth visiting are the:

  • Amazing scenic views all around.
  • How clean and organized the park is.
  • The amazing waterfall and cave hike (main attraction).
  • The giant boulder hikes, cliffs and views of them.

This is an awesome park for a day trip to explore whether you’re into hiking or perhaps interested in a family trip.

It’s not far from Albany either (It’s located about 1 hour north west of it).

The photo of this place isn’t exactly amazing here, but if you Google the name of this park, you will understand why it’s worth visiting and why there’s a lot to see here too.

This is technically considered to be located in the upstate park of the state too.

13) Robert G. Wehle State Park:

Robert G Wehle State Park in new york new photo 04

This park is right next to Lake Ontario and while it is pretty small, there’s several reasons I recommend coming here:

  1. First, you get great views of Lake Ontario itself.
  2. Second, there’s cliffs next to the water that look like something you’d see on the Pacific Northwest, particularly places like Cape Flattery (I got that nostalgic feeling when I saw this). Seriously, do a Google search for Cape Flattery and this park and tell me they don’t look similar!
  3. Third, there’s lots of casual activities here for having a nice day off (walks, a bit of hiking, courts and a lot of amenities).
  4. Fourth, the nature terrain in this park like much of the northern end of New York State has tons of cliffs, beaches and scenery that you would never believe are actually in New York.

Again, I’ve traveled across the Pacific Coast Highway (on the west coast) specifically because I wanted to see these types of terrains and while they are stunning (like the Oregon Coast and Washington Coast), I was shocked to learn that New York also has a lot of this in this particular region and this state park is one of the many places you’ll find that at!

14) Hudson Highlands State Park:

hudson highlands State Park in new york new photo 05

This state park is very popular for NYC residents because it’s about an hour away and close to Harriman and Bear Mountain State Park (which I didn’t include on this list because in my opinion it’s not that great).

But for this state park, the reasons I recommend exploring it are because:

  1. You get amazing views from several angles of the Hudson River Valley.
  2. There are beginner-challenging hikes here like Bull Hill Loop Trail and Breakneck Ridge.
  3. You get awesome views of NYC (considering it isn’t cloudy).
  4. On a cloudy day, you will see the clouds pass over the hills/mountains of the Hudson River which make for stunning scenery too!

I have been to this park several times and go here to prepare for tough hikes, but at the same time, I also very much enjoy the hikes and scenery here. In terms of the hiking, there’s a lot of elevation gain, and even a cool Fire Tower to check out.

15) Schunnemunk Mountain State Park:

schunnemunk mountain state park in new york new photo 06

Although the name of this park is hard to pronounce, there is a lot to see and do here.

I’ve visited this place twice and though it’s small, there’s a lot packed into the park to see and do. Here’s just a few of the activities:

  • Exploring the hikes here (The Long Path hike is here).
  • The main train bridge is great to sight see.
  • There are awesome plains nearby which are very picturesque.
  • Also the nearby town has a lot of great food and stuff to see.
  • I haven’t seen it yet but there were rumors of a nice waterfall hike in the area.
  • And much more.

You rarely see a lot of people come here because this park isn’t widely advertised and I think it’s also because it’s close to Hudson Highlands State Park which normally gets all the attention, marketing and traffic, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing because trust me, it is!

Hiking gear I’d recommend bringing to any of these NY state parks:

This kind of gear is great for all types of trails in my experience!

Join the Newsletter Adventure!

Hi I'm Vitaliy, creator of TheNatureSeeker.com, thanks for stopping by!

Would you like to stay up to date with all my adventures? If so, then sign up to The Nature Seeker Newsletter (it's completely free):

29 thoughts on “15 Best State Parks in New York That Rival National Parks!”

  1. I have never really thought about this before but do you know what’s the difference is between a state park and a national park?

    It really is hard to believe that all of these beautiful places are located in New York. I especially love seeing all of the waterfalls. Where I live, we have a small park where you can hike to a waterfall. I am not an avid hiker but I am curious about how the trekking poles assist with hiking?

    Reply
    • So the difference between a national and state park is that the national one is run by the federal govt and the state one is run by the actual state govt (more local basically). Very often people mistake them for one another and besides these 2 classifications, we also have national recreation areas and other types of identities for parks (it’s confusing I know).

      As for trekking poles, basically they take pressure off your knees and legs because you put your weight on your hands vs the legs and this allows you to travel longer and it’s good for long hikes and/or people who have injuries. With trekking poles, I can honestly hike 2x further because of this (sometimes more).

      Reply
  2. Out of the parks you chose, I can see why Letchworth State Park is one of the best. The picture you took of it is stunning.

    Green Lake State Park is also quite beautiful. I have always admired beautiful nature spots that have clear water.

    Thirdly, Watkins Glen State Park is also a scenic park with wonderful views. Family oriented too! I am sure any visitor to these parts of NY will be pleasantly awed by the scenery in these parks.

    Reply
    • Green Lake State Park gets most of it’s popularity because of the water color Stella, but I would have to agree with your choice. They are all awesome!

      Reply
  3. Thank you for the great information. I am especially intrigued by Watkins Glen and Green Lakes. The water in Green Lakes looks stunning! 

    Do only Robert Treman State Park, and Stony Brook State Park permit camping?  

    Those were the only two you cited that mentioned camping. We have friends in New York, and it’s nice to know where to go when we visit. I also love waterfalls and it looks like there are many opportunities to see some beautiful ones. These parks sound like a great reprieve for dwellers of the NYC concrete jungle. Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Every single park here has a campground inside or near it Beth. Normally if you just Google camping next to the park you seek to visit, you’ll likely find one or more options. As for New York State waterfalls, I added a link so you can see the best ones (some are in these parks).

      Reply
  4. My partner and I were recommended the Hudson Highlands State Park by some people we got chatting to in a coffee shop, this is such a great place to walk round and the day we went the weather was a little cloudy but it didn’t detract too much from the views we got to take in. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is visiting NYC as it is a step away from it.

    Reply
    • There are some nice walks in this park, but there are also challenging hikes too. That’s one of the reasons I like it there. Hope you checked out Little Stony Point nearby as it also has awesome views to enjoy (and it’s great for walks).

      Reply
  5. Thank you so much for providing this article to adventures like me! I live in Colorado and am always searching for new state parks I can visit and this list is now safely stored on my phone for my next trip to NY! Have you visited any of these lately? If you had to choose your top 3 for the fall time frame which would you choose?

    Reply
    • I regularly visit Harriman State Park and Hudson Highlands State Park since they are close to me. I have explored MOST of the parks in NY that are on this list but my top 3 are:

      (1) Watkins Glen.

      (2) Letchworth State Park.

      (3) Buttermilk Falls.

      Sadly all of them are at least 4-5 hours from NYC so driving there doesn’t happen often. I’ll also do a Colorado list in the near future.

      Reply
  6. I have lived in New York for almost all my life, and I am sorry to say, that I have NEVER heard of all these gems.  When in New York, I lived on Long Island, so most of the places on your list are a few hours’ cars drive away. Now that I live in Florida, I want to go back to visit some of these places!

    I really like Buttermilk Falls State Park that you describe, plus the picture is very inviting. I also like how you combined a few of the parks to make it a more fulfilling day. I see that you are recommending the proper hiking gear, but what about us campers. Any recommendations there?

    Reply
    • Most of these parks have campgrounds and nearby RV parks to stay at, especially the ones further north and west of NYC Mike. You can easily stay nearby or even in many of the parks and get way more exploring done as a result (most require reservations).

      Reply
  7. Great topic for an article Vitaliy. I’m going to New York next year and will definitely visit at least one of these wonderful parks with beautiful landscapes. My favorite is definitely Green Lakes State Park. Is it possible to swim there? Other than that, Lake Minnewaska park seems to be beautiful. Do you have to hike to get in there? I love mountain hiking.

    Reply
    • Hi John, for Green Lakes yes you can swim there (in specific parts) and for Lake Minnewaska, the main lake is very close to a parking lot. Check out the link I put in Lake Minnewaska here for details (there are 2 parking areas there). Enjoy your trip and if you have any questions about these places, let me know!

      Reply
  8. Hi Vitaly. Another awesome article full of information on some more beautiful national parks. You are so lucky you get to hike some of the most beautiful, amazing trails. Out of all 15 of these, I think my favorite one was Taughannock Falls State Park. Absolutely beautiful. What I really like about your article is how you even model for product recommendations. 

    Reply
    • Most if not all of these parks require some sort of hiking (the more you want to explore, the more it’ll help). But I try to explore these place so you can too! 

      Reply
  9. Such an interesting topic, being an avid hiker and nature watcher, this topic hits home for me. I have never been to any of New York parks, although several on your list will soon be on my to-hike list. I have hiked Yellowstone national park, Yosemite national park, and Zion national park. I list these three because they are my absolute favorite. After reading your article I may have some others on my favorites list. I always enjoy new adventures and thanks to you I have several now. I appreciate the article. 

    Reply
    • I’ve been to 2 of those national parks Adam (except Yellowstone) and while they are awesome indeed, the truth is that state parks also carry a ton of beauty and in New York’s case, it can actually compete with many of the places you’ve been to (and they’re less crowded as well). 

      Reply
  10. I appreciate posts like this so much because they provide so much insight on things I have no idea about! Personally, I have never been to New York before but I do plan to go someday. I am someone who loves hikes and nature walks, and with this post now I have some great recommendations to venture off too when I visit New York. Wondering are some of the parks okay for camping and overnight staying? Is that allowed? Either way, I enjoyed your post and saved some nice parks to visit someday on my own. 

    Reply
    • Yes most of the state parks on this list have camping spots nearby or in the park itself. Other places also have towns nearby if you want to stay at a hotel. 

      Reply
  11. Thank you so much for this detailed post about the best parks to visit in New York! I will be going there soon and this has given me some great ideas. I really want to check out Robert H. Treman Park because I love seeing waterfalls on hikes. I also love that there are hikes for all levels there! 

    Green Lakes looks absolutely beautiful as well. You say you can’t swim everywhere there. Does that mean you cant swim anywhere in that beautiful water? Thanks for the into!

    Reply
    • Hi Ashley, with Green Lakes there is a specific section where you are allowed to swim. For the other areas there, you an rent a kayak/canoe and then explore more of it. 

      With regards to Robert H. Treman State Park, it’s absolutely amazing yes, and if you are looking for similar stuff like that, then 100% check out Buttermilk Falls State Park (15 minutes away) and then Watkins Glen (30 minutes away). They have plenty of those things too there. I explored all 3 of these parks in a single day, but this is if you’re rushing. You can absolutely do a 2-3 day weekend trip and explore all of them too.

      Reply
  12. Wow! The photos are AMAZING! I have not heard about ANY of those parks, but then again, I live in Europe (France) so I sort of have a good excuse! I visited New York City when I was really young with my parents and would love to go back there again, so I will definitely put these parks in my to-do list, especially as I LOVE hiking.

    What is your favourite one?

    Reply
  13. I was stunned to find out that the State of New York doesn’t have any National Parks. Many on the list you provided would make great candidates. 

    Being designated a National Park wouldn’t make the State Park any better. Glad that you are sharing these wonderful open spaces to explore. Sad to say, none of these State Parks are familiar to me. So thanks for sharing.

    Edwin

    Reply
    • A state doesn’t need to have a national park to have gems to explore Edwin. In fact, it just means there’s less crowds to worry about because national parks just carry that name recognition. I really believe there’s places here in NY that are just more beautiful than what I’ve seen in other places across this country and some of the parks here just prove that in my opinion.

      Reply
    • A state doesn’t need to have a national park to have gems to explore Edwin. In fact, it just means there’s less crowds to worry about because national parks just carry that name recognition. I really believe there’s places here in NY that are just more beautiful than what I’ve seen in other places across this country and some of the parks here just prove that in my opinion.

      Reply
  14. Wow! There are some incredible places to visit for sure, and this is just in New York alone! Some of these state parks look absolutely breath-taking. The lakes and the waterfalls look incredible. The Green Lakes state park looks appealing to me with how clear the water looks. The lake as you say looks like the Swiss Alps. 

    Reply
    • Just about any state in the US has amazing places to see Oliver and New York is in my opinion in the top 10 of that. I’ll be doing more posts like this so showcase what the states have to offer in terms of nature.

      Reply

Leave a Comment