23 Best NY State Parks With Lush Forests, Waterfalls, Beaches, Campgrounds & More

Aerial view of the Genesee River cutting through the gorge in Letchworth State Park, New York

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Ready for an epic adventure to some of the NY state parks?

These parks offer a remarkable array of outdoor experiences, from majestic waterfalls and lush forests to serene lakes and rugged mountains. 

With around 180 of them scattered throughout the state, the state park system showcases an impressive blend of history, wildlife, and geological wonders. 

This comprehensive guide will take you on a journey through the breathtaking beauty and abundant recreational opportunities that these parks have to offer.

Whether you seek an adventurous hike along scenic trails, a peaceful retreat amidst the tranquility of nature, or a fun-filled family day by the water, we’ve listed some of the best state parks in New York that will equip you with all the essential information to make the most of your experience.

You may also check out our New York bucket list to plan the ultimate escape in the Empire State along with our other NY guides.

Best State Parks in New York State

We’ve organized our list of state parks in NY beginning from the southeastern Long Island region, then heading Upstate, and concluding in the western part of NY.

However, feel free to tailor your itinerary according to your preferences.

Hither Hills State Park

Near the end of Long Island is Hither Hills State Park, which is about 1,800 acres and has a variety of landscapes throughout.

Hither Hills is a great place for New Yorkers to take a weekend vacation in a beach setting.

The park’s trail system is seamlessly linked to Lee Koppelman County Park, effectively doubling its mileage for adventurous explorers. 

Additionally, visitors can enjoy the park’s scenic landscapes, featuring forested bottomland, upland, beach, and dunes along its western side, while indulging in the popular campground situated by the serene Atlantic Ocean with a nearby beach.

Orient Beach State Park

Orient Beach State Park is situated on a peninsula on the north side of Gardiners Bay on Long Island.

The park is relatively small, but the relaxed beach atmosphere and its size make it a quiet place to relax by the water.

There are small nature trails in the area, as well as more than two miles of unmarked trails that are open to people willing to venture into the sandy landscape.

A canoe and kayak rental place is available, allowing visitors to paddle on Long Beach Bay or Gardiners Bay.

The park also has a lighthouse about five miles round trip from the parking area down the beach, another adventure for interested parties.

Jones Beach State Park

Moving closer to the city, Jones Beach State Park is located on the south side of Long Island outside of Wantagh.

Covering 2,400 acres with over six miles of beach on the Atlantic Ocean, this place offers a vast expanse of natural beauty.

Experiencing immense popularity, the park frequently hosts events and concerts, and within its boundaries, numerous dining locations, a mini golf course, shuffleboard, basketball courts, and various other sporting facilities are available.

Jones Beach is a popular place for east coast surfers too, and they can occasionally be seen when the weather permits.

The bike path in the park also connects to other state parks in New York, like Gilgo and Captree.

Dusk at Jones Beach State Park, New York

Riverbank State Park

Riverbank State Park is a set of facilities on the Hudson River that cater to leisure athletes of New York.

The park is small but is packed with many different facilities for keeping fit.

Basketball, baseball, handball, tennis, swimming, and track and field sports can all be practiced and played here.

This state park near NYC also has an amphitheater, skating rink, picnic area, restaurant, and carousel and hosts classes in its many athletic facilities.

If you’re looking to explore New York City, read our guide to NYC on a budget, romantic things to do in NYC, and the best parks in NYC.

Tallman Mountain State Park

On the west side of the Hudson River just north of the New Jersey border is Tallman Mountain State Park.

This park is one of many to showcase southern New York’s Hudson River Palisades.

The palisades in the park rise nearly two hundred feet above the Piermont Marsh and Hudson River, and many of the hiking trails in the park run along the ridge.

Tallman Mountain also has a number of sporting facilities within it, with a running track and tennis courts being located within its boundaries.

High Tor State Park

High Tor State Park is located just south of Haverstraw on a number of bluffs and mountains that rise to six hundred feet above the Hudson River.

While most of the trails in the park consist of the Long Path (a regional trail in New York), the views from that trail are worth the trip.

There is a trail that runs three miles one-way west to east through the park with three overlooks along the way looking north to the Hudson River.

The park also has a public pool and shower facilities near the parking lot, for those who may want a dip after hiking.

Harriman State Park

New York has plenty of state parks that are true outdoor experiences, and Harriman is one of these parks.

Harriman State Park is a unique park in that it is rural, yet it can be accessed by only public transport if one wants to use it.

The park office is near the train station that has frequent trains back into New York City, and there is a shuttle that takes visitors to more than ten stops within the 44,000-acre park.

Within the park, you’ll discover numerous reservable overnight facilities, ranging from campsites to cabins, along with an extensive network of 200 miles of trails.

Paddle enthusiasts will be delighted by the park’s 31 lakes and reservoirs, which offer plenty of launch spots for their adventures.

Some of these lakes, like Tiorati and Sebago, are large enough for motorized watercraft as well.

Established in 1913, when state parks were pioneering across the United States, Harriman State Park is what many think of when spending a day or weekend in the woods.

Fall foliage reflecting on calm water in Harriman State Park, New York

Fahnestock State Park

Fahnestock State Park is a large park just north of the city in Putnam County.

With the Appalachian Trail running through the park, it is a hiking destination for many.

Paddling opportunities are abundant on the park’s ten lakes as well.

Fahnestock is a prime destination for winter outdoor enthusiasts since part of the park turns into Fahnestock Winter Park seasonally, with 10 miles of well-maintained ski and snowshoe trails.

The park is also home to the Acorn Cafe, a handy place to get a bite to eat while enjoying the park.

Catskill Park

New York has over 100 state parks, and while most are defined as state parks by the system, the largest two pieces of land are simply designated as parks.

Since they are owned by the state, it would be a crime not to include them in the list, however.

Catskill Park is 286,000 acres across four New York counties and is mainly focused on preserving the mountains known as the Catskills.

The official name of the park is the Catskill Forest Preserve, and since the park is so large, wilderness campers will have more wildlife viewing opportunities than almost anywhere else in the state.

With rugged terrain and peaks of over 4,000 feet above sea level, the park is a playground for those willing to hike to them.

Those hiking the Finger Lakes trail will either start or end in Catskill Park; it is one of the main walking paths within the park.

Catskills also features in our guide to fall in Upstate New York.

Autumn colors Aerial view of fall foliage along the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York along Five State

Thacher State Park

Located on an 800-foot-tall ridge west of Albany, Thacher State Park is not only a place for hiking and camping, but rock climbing as well.

With stunning views of the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys and a waterfall that stands over 100 feet tall, the park offers a delightful experience.

Additionally, it caters to those seeking a more laid-back visit.

The Thompsons Lake campground is perfect for this, with a 133-acre lake for paddling or swimming.

As one of the state parks in upstate New York, these places provide opportunities for the perfect getaway for Albany area residents and visitors.

Adirondack Park

Many have heard of Adirondack Park, which falls under the same state-owned system as Catskill Park.

Adirondack Park is the largest tract of publicly protected land in the United States, with over 6,000,000 (6 million!) acres of mountainous wilderness being protected from development.

The state of New York owns 2.6 million of these acres, making Adirondack Park at least partially a state park.

With over 20 wilderness areas in the park, the aim is to protect the land to the highest level, and the hundreds of villages within the park have adopted a culture of preservation.

Hiking and paddling opportunities are abundant in the park, with hundreds of miles of trails and dozens of lakes to explore.

New York’s highest point also lies within Adirondack Park; Mount Marcy stands at 5,344 feet above sea level and is a challenging hike.

Adirondack Park not only offers a true wilderness experience, but it also contains scenery that is nearly unrivaled in the state.

And if you’re planning to stay for a night or two, this is one of the upstate New York state parks with camping.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) manages 41 campgrounds situated within the park- you can check this list to plan ahead and get ideas about where these are located.

If you’re visiting in the autumn, be sure to check out our guide to fall in the Adirondacks.

Fall foliage along the Ausable River and High Falls Gorge, Adirondacks, New York

Point Au Roche State Park

Lake Champlain is usually better known as a Vermont destination, but the lake has a shore in New York, and Point Au Roche is one of two New York state parks showcasing it (compared to Vermont’s ten parks).

Point Au Roche State Park is a perfect public place to launch a large watercraft on Lake Champlain.

Behind the park, you’ll find a boat ramp and a large parking lot.

Additionally, there is a trail system within the park that weaves in and out of its four bays.

For day-use visitors, the park offers a public beach, playground, and open field.

Person on a rocky overlook at Point Au Roche State Park in New York

Rock Island Lighthouse State Park

Rock Island Lighthouse State Park is located in New York’s Thousand Islands region on the Canadian Border.

Getting to the park may not be easy, but that’s what makes reaching and experiencing it all the more rewarding.

Spanning just a few acres, the park comprises a single island where private watercraft can dock, allowing visitors to explore the lighthouse and museum.

If you don’t have access to a watercraft, the only option to reach the island is through Clayton Island Boat Tours.

The nearest place to launch a large watercraft is at the nearby Grass Point State Park, a five-mile ride from the island.

Kayakers are obviously welcome to scout out their own locations, which may be closer to the island.

Sandy Island Beach State Park

On Lake Ontario’s eastern shore is Sandy Island Beach State Park.

Located in northwestern New York, the park forms an integral part of Lake Ontario’s exclusive dune and wetland system, making it a truly unique destination in the state.

While not widely recognized, the park, although small, presents an ideal location for a peaceful beach day.

With its picnic shelters, shower facilities, pavilion, and community room, the park offers ample amenities for visitors- the latter two can also be reserved to accommodate large gatherings.

Buttermilk Falls State Park

Diving into New York’s Finger Lakes region, Buttermilk Falls State Park is an 800-acre park located outside of Ithaca.

As the name suggests, the park is centered around a series of cascades in Buttermilk Creek which fall 400 feet throughout the park.

This park has trails winding along the creek, giving visitors fantastic views of the many falls located in the park.

The northern end of the park is also home to a shallow man-made lake and spillway, adding to the natural falls in the park.

Buttermilk Falls in the Finger Lakes, New York

Watkins Glen State Park

If you’re looking for one of the best state parks in New York with waterfalls, Watkins Glen is where you want to go.

Watkins Glen State Park is a household name in New York and is centered around Glen Creek and its 19 waterfalls.

The trails nearly all run along the creek and are between 1-1.5 miles each.

You’ll also find six small campgrounds dotting the park, each of which is named for one of the six nations that occupied this area prior to the arrival of European colonists.

Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park is home to what many call the “Grand Canyon of the East”.

The park’s 14,350 acres on the Genesee River are home to 66 miles of trails, a great destination if you’re looking forward to hiking in New York state parks.

Also featured are multiple lodges and restaurants, a rafting outfitter, and a balloon touring agency.

Visitors can also camp on the high banks of the river in the large campground.

And as one of the state parks in New York with cabins, you can reserve yours in advance through their site.

The park’s many pedestrian bridges across the river create a nearly unmatched state park experience.

Aerial view of the Genesee River cutting through the gorge in Letchworth State Park, New York

Hamlin Beach State Park

Hamlin Beach State Park is on Lake Ontario just west of Rochester.

The park not only has multiple miles of beach, but the main shoreline hiking trail also leads to the Devil’s Nose, a point on the lake that rises higher than the beach with 50-foot cliffs below.

Water recreation is the main focus here, but the park’s main trail is open to biking.

The park also has a large campground to serve overnight visitors.

Fort Niagara State Park

Fort Niagara State Park is located where the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario.

Located at the end of the peninsula, the old fort encourages visitors to explore and learn. 

Additionally, this park offers modern amenities like a swimming pool and nature center. 

The park is mainly focused on historic value and urban recreation, making this a family-friendly and accessible state park with its two miles of paved paths.

Devil’s Hole State Park

Devil’s Hole State Park is a small park on the Niagara River with trail connections to four other parks in the New York system.

The park mainly serves as an access point for the Niagara River and the trails along it, but it does have some unique features.

Multiple overlooks tower over the Devil’s Hole Rapids, which is the main attraction of this specific park.

This park is a popular spot for fishing on the Niagara River since many of the upstream locations are inundated by tourists looking for the falls.

Niagara Falls State Park

The most popular state park in the entire United States exists in New York.

But Niagara Falls is not only the most popular state park in the country, it is also the oldest, with an establishment date in 1885.

The park is equipped with plenty of amenities and activities to occupy its many daily visitors.

From scenic trolleys to boat rides to the cave beneath the falls, the park has plenty of different areas to explore.

The park also has a 230-foot overlook of the falls from an observation tower.

Fall colors on the American side of Niagara Falls in full flow with water mist rising.

Lake Erie State Park

Another one of the state parks in western New York is Lake Erie State Park, located on Lake Erie.

Situated 10 feet above the lake, the park offers shoreline access points and features a full campground with over 100 sites, along with 10 camper cabins for those without camping gear. 

The park’s trail system is split into two pieces: the west and east sides.

Each side of the park has a little over one mile of trails, and hikers can connect the two using park roads.

Allegany State Park

Allegany State Park is a vast and picturesque state park located in western NY.

It sprawls across 65,00 acres, making it the largest state park in New York.

The park boasts diverse landscapes, including lush forests, sparkling lakes, and rolling hills, providing an ideal setting for camping, hiking, fishing, and other outdoor activities.

You can visit the park at almost any time as it is open year-round and features 424 campsites as well as 375 cabins, which also makes it one of the best NY state parks for camping!

Lush greenery around water in Allegany State Park in New York

Final Thoughts

We hope our list of state parks in New York has given you insights that will help you plan your next adventure.

We’d be thrilled to hear about your favorite state park and your experiences with them, so don’t forget to leave a comment below.

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