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The 7 Best State Parks in New York for Skiing, Boating, or Picnics

Best state parks in New York
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / RickJbrown

State parks are great for more local nature adventures that put less of a strain on our environment. Follow these tips and recommendations for the best state parks in New York.

Next time you’re in need of a nature adventure, consider local state parks over national parks. State parks are often overlooked in favor of the larger, more well-known national parks, making them perfect for your next visit. State parks often pour the same funding and resources into the space as national parks do, but they are not nearly as overrun by visitors. Simply because they are not as well known, you may never have heard of your state’s parks containing some of the most beautiful natural attractions in your area. 

If you want to avoid busy areas and constant chit-chat on the trails, state parks may be a better option for you. By going to lesser-known areas, you can enjoy nature in a more private and personal way. Plus, visiting local state parks puts much less strain on the environment.

Instead of driving hundreds of miles to the other side of the US, get to know your own state parks first and cut down on your carbon footprint. Often you can use public transport as well, to really minimize your impact on the environment. 

Tips for Visiting State Parks

Being a responsible park visitor keeps you and the park in better shape.
Being a responsible park visitor keeps you and the park in better shape.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / sasint)
  1. Look into public transport. Often there are easy ways to get to state parks without needing the shell out the money for gas. This is also the best way to travel while keeping the environment in mind. Check with Amtrak and local public transport schedules to figure out the best way to travel to your next natural attraction. You may find you can easily access hikes by train.
  2. Carpool if public transport is not available. Hiking safer and more fun when you have loved ones with you anyway. Plus, this allows for more people to enjoy the park without too heavily increasing their carbon footprint. 
  3. Follow park regulations. Always make sure to respect the space you are in by reading up on and following the state park regulations. When visiting natural attractions, read the signs and follow the rules. This will help you stay safe and prevent harm to the park’s wildlife and ecosystems. 
  4. Pack out what you pack in. Just because you are in a natural environment void of trash cans does not mean it is okay to leave waste behind. Any trash you produce while at the park must be packed up and properly disposed of. This includes apple cores, banana peels, plastic wrappers, sanitary products and more. It’s best to take a small trash baggy with you when hiking as you may be carrying your trash around for several hours. 
  5. Tell people where you are going when hiking. Always tell a loved one which trail you will be on. It is best to tell them in person and leave a note as a reminder as well. Put a post-it on the fridge, send a text or leave a voicemail. In the case that you do get lost, you will be very happy somebody knows where to look for you. 
  6. Bring a GPS monitor and a map. Make sure to carry a map with you and stay on the trail. A GPS monitor is even better as they are not prone to human error, and your location can be tracked by a trusted loved one in case of emergency. Consider a GPS monitor especially if you will be hiking alone.
  7. Bring lots of food and water. We recommend one liter of water for every two hours of hiking. You cannot be too prepared when hiking, however. In case of emergency, it’s always best to overpack food and water. Prepare the night before by packing some homemade energy bars or a healthy lunch for a longer trail. 
  8. Dress properly. Overpacking goes for clothing as well. Make sure you wear proper shoes and layers to stay warm for long periods of time. When in doubt, add the extra jacket. In the worst-case scenario, you will be happy to have it, and in the best-case scenario, you will get a better workout from carrying around all your supplies.

1. Letchworth State Park

Letchworth is one of the best state parks in New York on account of its beautiful forests and waterfalls.
Letchworth is one of the best state parks in New York on account of its beautiful forests and waterfalls.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Dragon77)

Along the Genesee River in New York lies Letchworth State Park. Thirty-five miles southwest of Rochester and sixty miles southeast of Buffalo, the park covers parts of Livingston County as well as Wyoming County. This park offers scenic cliffs and vistas, vast forested areas and three huge waterfalls. Letchworth is great for hiking, white water rafting, camping and more. There’s also a popular bird conservation area for birdwatching. 

2. Devil's Hole State Park: The Best New York Park for a Day Trip

Take a longer trip and visit Niagara Falls along with Devil's Hole.
Take a longer trip and visit Niagara Falls along with Devil's Hole.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / stanbalik)

The Devil’s Hole State Park in Niagara County is a day-use park overlooking the Devil’s Hole Rapids. This is a great park for those looking for a relaxing nature experience. While extensive hiking trails are available, there’s also many scenic overlooks, picnic spots, and fishing areas. A great place for a day date or a family outing, Devil’s Hole is also only two miles from the Niagara Falls Amtrak Station. 

3. Minnewaska State Park

Check out Minnewaska's beautiful landscapes.
Check out Minnewaska's beautiful landscapes.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Julius_Silver)

Minnewaska State Park spans the Shawangunk Mountain Range of Ulster County. It has waterfalls, dense forest, lakes and rocky peaks with views of the Catskill Mountains. Famous for the Rainbow Falls, this massive park offers fifty miles of trails both for hiking and mountain biking.

In the summer, Minnewaska State Park is great for beach days and swimming in Lake Minnewaska and Lake Awosting. Wintertime is popular for snowshoeing. You can visit Minnewaska year-round for day trips or longer stays at the campsites. 

4. Bear Mountain State Park: The Best New York Park for Summer and Winter

Bear Mountain State Park is famous for the Hessian Lake.
Bear Mountain State Park is famous for the Hessian Lake.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / FrankWinkler)

Only fifty miles from New York City, Bear Mountain State Park is located on the west bank of the Hudson River. In warm weather, Bear Mountain is perfect for boating, fishing, picnicking, swimming, hiking and biking. Come winter, the park offers cross-country skiing, sledding, and even ice skating. Just make sure to stay warm and safe when hiking in winter.

5. Cumberland Bay State Park: The Best New York Park for a Beach Trip

Cumberland Bay boasts a beautiful beach.
Cumberland Bay boasts a beautiful beach.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / 12019)

Cumberland Bay State Park is a small park up north in Plattsburgh, New York. It is located on the west bank of Lake Champlain. Equally popular amongst campers and day-trippers, Cumberland Bay offers a sandy beach and picnic grounds with tables and grills. The park is perfect for New York families who want to enjoy the playing field and kids’ playground.

You can make an easy day trip of it, or stay at the bay for longer by utilizing one of the many campgrounds. The park is less than four miles from the Plattsburgh Amtrak Station, and easy to access by the local public transport from there. You can also take the Greyhound Bus.

6. Buttermilk Falls State Park

Visit Buttermilk Falls for serene hikes along the water.
Visit Buttermilk Falls for serene hikes along the water.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / bones64)

Buttermilk Falls is a state park in Ithaca, named for its frothy churning waters. This park includes beautiful rock formations, ten waterfalls, forested areas and a large gorge. It’s popular for fishing, hiking and camping. Buttermilk Falls also has a beach, playground, playing fields and recreation programs. It’s also easily accessible by public transport. 

7. Cayuga Lake State Park

Cayuga lake is one of the best state parks in the finger lakes region.
Cayuga lake is one of the best state parks in the finger lakes region.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Tommy_Rau)

Located on the north end of Cayuga Lake, this park is just between Rochester and Syracuse in Seneca County. Cayuga Lake State Park offers a beach, playgrounds, playing fields, picnic spots, recreation programs, short nature trails, boating and fishing. This is a popular area for camping and vacationing. In the winter, Cayuga Lake offers sledding, cross-country skiing, and even ice fishing. 

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