National Parks in New York State: A Guide for Tourists

Each year, the state of New York attracts millions of visitors. NYC alone welcomed 62.2 million in 2023.

The state’s rich history, cultural diversity, cosmopolitan lifestyle, vibrant art scene, culinary hotspots, and iconic Broadway shows have all made it an appealing destination for leisure travelers. According to Nuwber, it is also home to some of the safest cities in the US.

And the state of New York’s scenic beauty is second to none. Hidden behind the sprawling commercial centers, you can find countless parks with lush forests, pristine lakes, majestic waterfalls, and endless valleys.

Currently, the state claims 24 sites overseen by the United States National Park Service and 180 state parks. If you enjoy the outdoors, here are the sites you don’t want to miss.

1. Saratoga National Historical Park

This is a 2,379-acre National Historic Landmark in Saratoga Springs.

In the early days, Saratoga Spa Park was mainly known for its mineral springs, although now, there are many other reasons to explore it.

The park is a sanctuary for anyone who loves nature—you can trek its miles-long trails, enjoy bird-watching, or simply bask in its untouched serenity.

Saratoga is popular for its historical and cultural significance, too. 

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center, National Museum of Dance, and Spa Little Theatre are some of its must-visit attractions. The intricate architectural aesthetics of well-preserved buildings will not disappoint you, either.

Activities you can look forward to when you are at Saratoga include biking, hiking, horseback riding, as well as fishing. Ice skating, cross-country skiing, and ice hockey should be on your itinerary if you are traveling in winter.

2. Niagara Falls State Park

Established in 1885, this is the oldest state park in America and one of the most visited.

Whether you plan to travel solo or with kids, its 435-acre land has lots to keep you busy the whole day.

The southern tip of the Niagara Gorge features the magnificent American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls, which together carry 757,500 gallons of water each second.

The park provides several options for tourists to admire them. For instance, you can experience the American Falls at close range at the Cave of the Winds.

In addition, a 230-foot observation tower at the helm of the gorge offers the perfect vantage point to appreciate the cascading waterfalls and the surrounding area.

If that isn’t enough, you can always choose a boat ride or a guided trolley tour to enjoy the park’s scenic wonders at a lower altitude.

While you are there, don’t forget to visit the Aquarium of Niagara for an interactive glimpse into the park’s underwater ecosystem.

3. Letchworth State Park

Spread across 14,427 acres, Letchworth Park is located in the western parts of NY state.

Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East”, Letchworth’s biggest highlights include the Genesee River, which has given birth to three stunning waterfalls, and the impressive rocky gorge that rises 550 feet in certain areas.

The park allows plenty of outdoor activities, from biking, kayaking, and whitewater rafting to hunting and fishing. You can even find guided tours and hot-air ballooning.

But during the winter months, most tourists opt for skiing, snowmobiling, and snow tubing.

Wondering how the park got its name? It is all thanks to William Pryor Letchworth, an industrialist who donated the 1000-acre Glen Iris Estate to NY, which later became a central part of the park.

Today, his former residence is fully restored as Glen Iris Inn and provides accommodation and dining for park visitors.

4. Minnewaska State Park Preserve

The 22,275-acre grounds of Minnewaska Reserve are every nature lover’s dream.

With just a two-hour drive from NYC, you will be instantly transported to a stunning and tranquil paradise at the reserve—a far cry from New York’s typical metropolitan buzz.

Lodged on the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge, the Minnewaska Reserve features thick forests, picturesque waterfalls, clear blue lakes, and flora and fauna you will likely not find anywhere else in New York. It is the perfect destination whether you are looking to unwind and relax or take a few Instaworthy photos.

And when you are done admiring the reserve’s natural beauty, you can take a quiet stroll down the miles and miles of footpaths, go biking, hiking, hunting, or horseback riding, or simply enjoy a picnic with your family.

But if you are feeling adventurous, mountain climbing and bouldering are on the cards, too.

For those who prefer to stay close to the stunning water bodies of Minnewaska, boating and scuba diving are some of the options to consider.

During the colder months, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities among tourists.

5. Adirondack Park

You can’t talk about parks in New York State without referring to Adirondack Park.

With a whopping 6.1 million acres under its name, Adirondack takes up one-third of the Empire State. It is also known as the largest park in the contiguous United States.

The massive land mass of Adirondack Park will not disappoint you. It is full of scenic vistas in impressive numbers; Adirondack is home to around 30,000 miles of streams and rivers, 2,800 ponds and lakes, and 200,000 acres of old-growth forests.

Although termed a “park”, Adirondack is a National Historic Landmark. It is not just about wildlife and wondrous sceneries. The site has over 100 communities of towns and villages, living in harmony with their natural surroundings.

And what type of recreational activities could you expect when you visit the park?

The Adirondack Mountains’ famous 46 High Peaks typically keep most hikers busy. If you manage to scale them all, you can gain entry to the exclusive Adirondack Forty-Sixers club.

But if you prefer to explore one of the thousands of water bodies, boating, fishing, scuba diving, and water skiing are some of the activities you must not miss.

Parks in New York State map

To Recap

New York is not all about a buzzing cosmopolitan lifestyle. Within its state boundaries lie several stunning parks full of natural splendor.

Letchworth, Niagara Falls, Saratoga, Minnewaska, and Adirondack are among the favorite destinations of travelers to NY—not just for their picturesque settings but also for the countless opportunities to unwind and engage in outdoor activities.

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