If I have a penny for every time a non-New Yorker asks me where I live and doesn’t understand my answer right away, I will end up a millionaire by the end of this year.
My answer, Niskayuna, or Schenectady or even Albany doesn’t ring a bell. I usually have to settle with upstate NY. Even then it takes time for some folks to register that there is a world beyond NYC. Quite a thriving one, thank you very much. It is okay though. You can’t blame people for not knowing US geography. The world doesn’t revolve around it. Does it? Before I get politically charged, let me say this:
NEW YORK IS A STATE, ALBANY IS THE STATE CAPITAL and NYC ITS LARGEST CITY.
There. Now that we have this important geographical fact clarified, let’s see what makes NY a great place to have amazing adventurous vacations and weekend getaways- Yep! The sheer number of state parks. 180 to be precise!
There is a lot to explore from beautiful mountains to grand waterfalls, silver rivers, clear water lakes and hiking trails. I haven’t been to all of the state parks yet but the ones that have stood out to me so far are worth visiting. In no particular order, here is my top 5 list.
1. Letchworth State Park
Whaaat? Number 1 and 3 state park in the country?
“In 2015, Letchworth won the USA TODAY Readers’ Choice Award for Best State Park in the United States! Letchworth came out on top of the 19 other state parks nominated for the contest, chosen from more than 6,000 parks across the nation.”
Wow! Upstate is even cooler than I thought!
^ That was the reaction when I found out about two NY state parks making it to the top five list of best state parks in the country.
Letchworth State Park spans across 14,350 acres of manicured grounds and lush forests with a gorge that has been labelled the Grand Canyon of the East. The Genesee River flows through the gorge and cliffs producing three waterfalls. The Upper and Lower falls are smaller and not particularly magnificent. But the Middle Fall, reaching a height of 107 feet is pretty spectacular.
There are about 66 miles of hiking trails plus activities like horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. It also offers guided walks, tours, a summer lecture series, kayaking, white water rafting and hot air ballooning.
This park is different in the sense that it has indoor table tennis and snooker facilities and a giant swimming pool. It has a museum dedicated to the heritage of Seneca Indians. There are a few restaurants, a conference centre and multiple accommodation options including lodges and cabins located within the park. It frequently holds concerts and performing arts festivals
The cabins and camping sites are decent. However, the restrooms could do with an upgrade. We went here for camping this Labor Day weekend. It was packed with visitors (who probably took the bait of this ranking business). Overall, considering it beat so many parks to be at the top, for us, it didn’t quite feel like a number one park.
Thanks to some ladies room eavesdropping, I deduced that other people shared similar feelings about it.
Don’t get me wrong. The park is still worth visiting!
2. Watkins Glen State Park
Chosen as the 3rd best state park of the country in 2015, this huge state park is a popular tourist spot. It is part of the Finger Lakes State Parks, sort of like a park within a park. With its gorge trails and 19 waterfalls, this place leaves you enthralled at nature’s magnificence.
The amenities are great including the convenience of trail shuttles that run every hour.
3. Green Lakes State Park
15,000 years old glacial lakes! Two of them, crystal clear with the most gorgeous shade of green and blue (They should rename it as Emerald Lake). There is also a forest that surrounds it and around which is the picnic area. According to the official website,
Green Lakes are meromictic lakes, which means that there is no fall and spring mixing of surface and bottom waters. Such lakes have a high potential for evidence of ancient plant and animal life.
There are all the amenities of a regular park including beach access.
There is also a 18-hole golf course which is a haven for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winters.
4. Chittenango Falls State Park
This park was my first exposure to NY state parks and despite traveling extensively since then, I still think it has one of the best waterfalls in NY. The milky waterfall looks like it belongs to one’s imagination of Paradise. It is said to be flowing over a 400-million-year-old bedrock. The best viewpoint requires a little bit of a steep hike but it is worth every minute of it.
This park has a picnic area with BBQ grills but doesn’t have camping grounds anymore, neither is it open in winters due to safety reasons. But try visiting in autumn and be transported to heaven!
5. Adirondacks State Park
And finally, Adirondacks State Park. It is the most famous state park of NY with Lake George being a household name for all upstate New Yorkers.
Six million acres of land! 3,000 ponds and lakes!
Now, that is humongous for a state park.
Larger than several states in New England, bigger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon and the Great Smokies National Parks combined – the Adirondack Park contains the largest protected wilderness area east of the Mississippi.
The amusing thing is that there is no park fee! You can stay as long as you want, even past sunset or midnight.
There are innumerable things to do here and many towns to explore. There is a tree-top adventure park called the Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course as well as a family theme park, The Great Escape by Six Flags.
We happened to visit in autumn, so the views were even more breathtaking.
As usual, pictures can never do justice. Go, see it for yourself.