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The Most Unique State Parks In New York to Visit

New York State is home to a wide range of activities and adventures, both inside and out of the big city. For the outdoor lover, the number of state parks are many, each with a unique experience, geology, and stunning views. In total there are 215 state parks and historic sights, meaning you could spend months or years exploring them all. But where should you start? We have some great suggestions for you that will take you to the most unique state parks in New York, display the beauty of the state, and give you long-lasting memories.

So, without further ado, let’s hike the Grand Canyon of the East, see the roaring power of Niagara Falls, hike Watkins Glen and view iconic waterfalls, hike to great views of the Hudson Valley, admire the chimney bluffs that formed over thousands of years of erosion, explore the abandoned ruins of a girl scout camp, admire the beauty of the Chittenango Falls, and marvel at the unique colors of the Green Lakes.

victoria falls
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Photo by Salah Alawadhi on

Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park, commonly called the Grand Canyon of the East, is definitely one of the most unique state parks in New York to visit. Located along the Genesee River in Livingston and Wyoming County, the park spans 14,427 acres and is home to a highway running through for a scenic drive, hiking trails, overlooks, great viewpoints, camping areas, picnic areas, playgrounds, and a snack bar. There is also a restaurant available within the park for dining. Letchworth State Park is the perfect destination for those looking for some family fun or those wishing to escape into the woods and do some exploration on their own.

Activities within the park are plentiful and include hiking, horseback riding, camping, biking, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, white water rafting, kayaking, hot air balloon rides, snow tubing, hunting, and a nature center. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk. The admission fee to the park $10 per vehicle or you can enter using the New York State Empire Pass. For those looking to stay overnight, camping is available at $24-$26/night, and cabins are available for rent for $132-$512/week.

Upper falls of Letchworth State Park, one of the most unique state parks in New York
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Letchworth State Park-Upper Falls.

Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls State Park is undoubtedly one of the most well known and most unique state parks in New York. Located at the Southern end of the Niagara Gorge at the border of New York and Ontario, Canada, Niagara Falls is one of the most notable waterfalls in the United States. It is made up of three different waterfalls, the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls, and the largest of the three, the Horseshoe Falls.

The falls drop 160 ft. and water pours over the falls at 168,000 m3 (six million cubic feet) per minute. Visitors to the park can walk along the trail and get up close to the top of the American Falls, climb the observation tower for great views of the Falls, explore the visitor center, enjoy a Maid of the Mist boat ride, experience Cave of the Winds, or walk the Niagara Gorge Nature Trail. At nighttime visitors can watch as the Falls are transformed into a magical light show.

Activities within the park include hiking, picnicking, biking, fishing, and falls viewing. The park is open 24 hours, but attraction times vary and may be seasonal. Be sure to check the individual sites for hours of operation for each attraction before you visit. To get into Niagara Falls State Park there is no fee, but fees do apply for many of the attractions. You will most likely have to pay for parking too, so be prepared for that.

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Niagara Falls State Park-Horseshoe Falls (View from Canadian Side).

Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park is located in New York’s racing village and is one of the most famous and most unique state parks in New York State. It’s waterfalls, gorge, and cavern attract visitors from around the country and has them marveling at its beauty by the time they leave. The Watkins Glen stream descends 400 feet over cliffs and is home to 19 waterfalls. Of note are the Rainbow Falls, the most well-known of the waterfalls, and Cascade Cavern, which visitors can walk through behind the waterfall and up a spiral staircase.

Visitors can enjoy walking either up the glen and taking a bus back down, taking the bus up and walking down, or walking both ways. The bus is $5 per person. The availability of the bus makes the hike less strenuous, making Watkins Glen one of the best New York State Parks to visit. Other than waterfall viewing, activities within the park include hiking, biking, camping, hunting, playgrounds, pavilions and grilling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk. Admission to the park is $8 per vehicle. For those looking to stay overnight, camping is available for $18-$30 a night and cabins are available for rent for $58.00 per night (a minimum 3-night stay is required)

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Watkins Glen-Rainbow Falls.

Bear Mountain State Park

Bear Mountain State Park sits on 5,205 acres along the Hudson River. Its stunning Catskill Mountain views make it one of the most unique state parks in New York to visit. The park is home to over 50 hiking trails, but also offers visitors many other unique attractions. The Trailside Zoo is home to many injured or rehabilitating animals, a merry go round for the kids to enjoy, and an ice-skating rink in the cooler months.

Visitors can also rent a paddle boat or rowboat and spend the day on the water. Picnic areas and playgrounds throughout the park give families the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic or grilling. Bear Mountain Park holds the perfect combination of nature and family fun activities, making it one of the best New York State Parks. The park is open daily dawn to dusk. Admission to the park is $10 per vehicle (or the Empire Pass).

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Bear Mountain State Park. Photo Credit: Sudhagar Shanmugasigamani on Unsplash

Chimney Bluffs State Park

Chimney Bluffs State Park is located on the shore of Lake Ontario and offers visitors unique views. The chimney bluffs located along the North end drumline are a major draw in for visitors and make Chimney Bluffs one of the most unique state parks in New York. Lake Ontario was created as a result of a glacier that passed through the area over 12,000 years ago. The bluffs were crafted from years and years of erosion and are quite impressive, reaching up to 150 feet tall in some spots. The unique scenery makes Chimney Bluffs State Park one of the best New York State Parks to visit.

Today visitors can take one of the many hiking trails to the bluffs or walk below along the shoreline. There are also picnic tables and grills available within the park so visitors can hike the trails and then stop and enjoy some lunch while taking in views of Lake Ontario. Other activities in the park include hunting, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. The park is open daily year-round from dawn to dusk. Admission is $5 per vehicle from April 1st to October 31st. Overnight stays are not available.

the bluffs at Chimney Bluffs State Park
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Chimney Bluffs State Park.

Beechwood State Park

Beechwood State Park is located a short distance outside of Rochester in Sodus, NY. The park is the remnants of a girls scout camp on the shore of Lake Ontario and today visitors can explore the remains of the girl scout cabins, camp counselor housing, and the old girl scout pool. While this park is not maintained as well as the other state parks, trails can be found throughout the park.

The beach that once existed on the shore of Lake Ontario has succumbed to erosion and now consists largely of cliffs and fallen trees. Visitors can walk the trails, which are flat throughout the park and doable for any skill level, explore the area, and take in views of the beautiful Lake Ontario. The park is a popular dog friendly area, and you are bound to see a family or two walking their dog. Other activities include birdwatching, fishing, and kayaking. The park is open daily from 7am to 8pm. There is no admission fee to the park. Overnight camping is permitted and reservations can be made through the groundskeeper.

the most unique state parks in New York, Beechwood State Park
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The remnants of the girl scout camp.

Chittenango Falls State Park

Chittenango Falls State Park is a small park located in, you guessed it, Chittenango, NY. While the falls is beautiful and is worth the trip to visit if you are in the area, what makes this area really unique is Chittenango is the birthplace of Frank Baum, who authored the Wizard of Oz. All around town you can see signs of the town’s connection to the Wizard of Oz with signs, a museum, and a yearly Wizard of Oz festival.

Visitors to Chittenango Falls State Park can enjoy a fairly easy hike down to the falls and will be rewarded with some great views. Visiting in the fall months will reward visitors with even better views as the colors of fall foliage begin to emerge. Visitors can also spend some time in the park at the top of the falls or walk along the river. You can also enjoy fishing in the park and if visiting with children there is a playground. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk. The admission fee is $5/vehicle or the Empire Pass. Overnight stays are not permitted.

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Chittenango Falls

Green Lakes State Park

There is no denying that Green Lakes State Park is a hidden gem and one of the most unique state parks in New York. Green Lakes State Park is home to two glacier formed lakes-Round and Green Lakes. The lakes are unique because of their rare (to the area) turquoise green colored water and both lakes are meromictic lakes, which means the tops and bottom layers of water don’t mix.

Green Lakes State Park also has a beach for swimming, boat rentals available, and hiking trails around the lake. Visitors can extend their visit and camp overnight or rent a cabin. The unique waters found at Green Lake State Park make it one of the best New York State Parks. Other activities in the park include golfing, camping, biking, fishing, hunting, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and if visiting with children, playgrounds. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk. The admission fee is $8 per vehicle. Camping is available at $18-$36/night and cabins are available at $434 per week or $108.50 per night (with a minimum of 2-night stay).

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The clear green and blue tinted waters at Green Lakes State Park.

Saratoga Spa State Park

Saratoga Spa State Park is located in the world-famous Saratoga Springs and its long history makes it one of the most unique state parks in New York to visit. The main draw of Saratoga Spa State Park are the 13 mineral springs scattered throughout the park. Visitors can hike the many trails and discover the springs, which all have a unique taste and believed health benefit.

Saratoga Spa State Park also has the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa, National Museum of Dance, Hall of Springs, and more. The park has many picnic and grilling areas, playgrounds, tennis courts, and a pool, making it the perfect family destination. Other activities include biking, hiking, ice skating, a nature center, playgrounds, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and fishing. Park hours vary depending on the time of year. Be sure to check their site before heading out for your adventure. The admission fee is $10 per vehicle. Overnight stays are not permitted.

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Saratoga Springs

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  1. What an interesting and informative post this is! It’s surprising and nice to know that such a huge city as NY has so many open green space around. Each of these state parks are beautiful in it’s own way. And the waterfalls are looking great too!

  2. We planned to be home this summer when we entered 2020. And wanted to explore more of New York State. And then nothing happened like we planned. I will keep this list for when we start to travel south of the border again. We gave visited the Finger Lakes area and Watkins Glen. But great to know there are so many other great options. Certainly the Grand Canyon of the East would be high on the list. Great to see the Great Lakes from the other side.

    • I’m sorry you’re plans didn’t work out, it has been a tough year for sure! Watkins Glen is one of my favorite, as is Letchworth, the Grand Canyon of the East. They really are all so beautiful.

  3. These state parks and National Parks are going to be the No 1 reason, of me travelling to the states in the future in the post pandemic world. Its so amazing to see, such uniqueness in the surroundings of each park, which are not that far from New York.

    • The state and national parks are a very unique part of the country. There are so many different ones across the country, you could spend months exploring them all.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this, especially being a fellow New Yorker! We just bought our first RV so that we can continue to travel during COVID. We had Letchworth State Park and Watkins Glen on our list. But this read was so helpful for more planning. Green Lakes is a beautiful Caribbean blue! I would love to see that in person! Chittenango Falls State Park is a new discovery for me. I’m glad you mentioned this in your post! Chimney Bluffs State Park is actually on our list to check out this month! Thank you for sharing wonderful NY travels!

  5. New York is a great state (in some aspects!). There are plenty of picture perfect nature areas. I’m jealous, I would love to have an RV. In the future I hope. Enjoy your travels!

  6. I initially, before reading this post, thought that I may have one or two maximum of favourite New York state parks. But now I love each one of them and every state park looks pretty. However I do have the most favourite one which is the Bear Mountain State Park. That looks straight out of a fairy tale.

  7. I have only visited Niagara Falls state park and it was really wonderful. I missed other state parks on my visit to East Coast due to lack of time. I love the beauty of Letchworth State Park. Even Bear Mountain State park is really very colorful with those Falls colors. Thanks for sharing great list.

  8. Wow, so many parks to visit in New York state! I always limited my visits to New York City , but I must reconsider my itinerary next time… the Green Lakes State Park looks gorgeous, I’m taking notes 😀

  9. One of the best things about USA is their national and state park system. I am not very fond of urban travel so New York has never been on my bucket list of places to visit. But with so much natural beauty around, I should just take advantage of my cousin living there and go stay for a bit 🙂

  10. I agree with Nish, for sure. One of my favorite aspects of the States, not being from there myself, is that they have a myriad of national parks and state parks. I LOVE that. There is always something new to discover, and being close to nature, I feel so much in my own element (Rather than visiting, say, a big city like NYC). I think the Niagara Falls State park is my favorite out of the ones you listed, but I Have not had an opportunity to visit. I hope to be able to go back once the travel ban is lifted, and when I do, I could certainly use this guide as it’ll help me plan my trip 🙂

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