Green space might not be the first thing that springs to mind in the big city buzz of New York, but the Empire State is brimming with national parks. In fact, New York State boasts over four million acres of parkland and reserves offering everything from manicured gardens to kayaking adventures. Looking for a breath of fresh air in the Big Apple? Take a look at some of the best national parks in New York.
Best national parks in New York
1. Letchworth State Park (Livingston and Wyoming County)
Known as the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth State Park is widely regarded as one of the best-looking national parks in the United States. Home to soaring peaks, plunging waterfalls and lush forest, it’s easy to forget you’re in the same state as Lady Liberty.
As well as over 66 miles of hiking trails, Letchwork State Park offers whitewater rafting, hot air ballooning, guided tours and kayaking. In the winter, there’s snow tubing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling too. Visitors with autism should take a look at The A.N.T, which provides a safe and inclusive area to experience the parklands.
2. Catskill Park (Delaware, Greene, Sullivan, and Ulster County)
Also known as the Catskill Forest Preserve, Catskill Park encompasses an impressive 286,000 acres of state land. Established in 1885, it’s technically a New York State Park, which means there’s no fee or gate pass for entry. The preserve, which sprawls across four counties, encompasses diverse terrain including forest, meadows, wetlands and lakes. For sparkling city mountain views, you can climb to the top of one of the five fire towers, originally designed to keep a lookout for firestorms.
Catskill Park is beloved by New Yorkers because it’s one of only two areas designated as ‘Forever Wild’. That means it can’t be leased, sold or destroyed. Some of the most common inhabitants include black bears, bobcats and cougars.
3. Bear Mountain State Park (Rockland and Orange Counties)
Located in the craggy mountains overlooking the Hudson River, Bear Mountain State Park offers some of the best views in the state. It’s as famous for its family-friendly activities as it is for its dramatic setting, with picnic areas, designated kids trails and a park complete with a Merry-Go-Round. The Trailside Museums & Zoo is popular too. You don’t have to be travelling with littlun’s to enjoy the national park either, with tougher hiking trails, lake and river fishing and panoramic views galore. For the best views, head up to the top of Bear Mountain to the Perkins Memorial Tower.
Come summer, visitors can beat the heat in the park swimming pool, while in winter it’s all about cross-country skiing and skate rink.
4. Gantry Plaza State Park (Queens)
Alright, so it’s probably the smallest national park in New York, but it’s not all about size. The 12-acre park curves around the East River, offering a breath of fresh air in the heart of the city. The former industrial space has been transformed into an award-winning space with landscaped gardens and native flora and fauna. Most people visit to take in the sparkling Manhatten views, but the park also boasts a children’s playground, historical relics and a fishing pier.
The park’s plaza features a stage that hosts everything from Christmas concerts to Broadways shows. Seasoned athletes hotfoot to the field area and art-deco playground for a game of basketball or racquetball too.
5. Minnewaska State Park Preserve (Ulster County)
Another Ulster County offering, Minnewaska State Park offers unparalleled hiking opportunities, with over 50 miles of trails and carriageways. The park is set against a backdrop of hardwood forests, dramatic cliffs and fairytale waterfalls, which makes for scenic walking too. The park is probably most famous for its two crystalline ‘sky lakes’, set on the site of two former hotels.
If you want to make the most of your day out here, you can also camp over at the Samuel Pryor Shawangunk Gateway Campground, around five minutes from the main entrance.
6. Saratoga Spa State Park (Saratoga)
Saratoga Spa State Park is home to some of the county’s best-loved historical landmarks, including the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the National Museum of Dance, Spa and Little Theatre and the Roosevelt Baths and Spa. While it’s an undeniably picturesque spot, it was the water that first put Saratoga on the map. Local lore holds that Native Americans of the Iroquois Nation believed the mineral waters were sacred and referred to it as the “Medicine Spring of the Great Spirit.” The spa resort developed in the early 1900s, drawing hundreds of visitors every month to take the waters as a remedy for everything from diabetes to heartburn. You can still take the waters today.
There’s more to the park than H20 though, with dozens of trails, two swimming pools and a couple of golf courses too.
7. Buttermilk Falls State Park (Indiana County)
Buttermilk Falls State Park takes its name from the foaming cascade formed by Buttermilk Creek. The park is just as charming as its name, featuring meandering hiking trails, a lake, picnic areas and playfields. There’s also a campsite and a natural swimming pool.
This national park is also home to some of the best waterfalls in New York. Buttermilk Falls is the tallest, tumbling 165-foot down the rock face. It’s just a 10-minute drive from Ithaca too.