There are around 180 New York State Parks located all across the state. They have a collection of campgrounds, hiking trails, visitor’s centers, ponds, and even lakes to explore. But, which ones should you go to? Based on my experiences, I’ve created a list of 11 state parks that I’ve traveled to and camped at, and what they offer.
Glimmerglass State Park – Cooperstown, NY
This is probably one of my favorite state parks I went to as a child, just because it would be my grandparents, my sibling, and I by ourselves for like a week. We loved hanging out at the campsite and playing card games or sitting by the fire, because most of them are secluded and quieter. There is ample road to go biking on, which we often traveled to the beach house and back to the campsite.
At the beach, there is a designated swimming area, bathrooms, picnic tables, and grills. You can definitely either come here for a day trip, or make a whole weekend of just hanging around fishing and playing Go-Fish.
Highlights- Campsites & cabins, playgrounds, hiking trails, fishing, kayaking, pavilions
Chenango Valley State Park – Chenango Forks, NY
Nearly every Memorial Day weekend I would be at a campsite in Chenango Valley State Park. I loved the fact that everything was all connected by paved roads, and wasn’t too large to get lost. Many days a group of us would bike around the loops of 184 campsites until we finally returned to ours.
Another plus of Chenango is the lake right in the park, where you could swim, fish, or launch a kayak and paddle around the water for hours on end. There is also a golf course in the park, which I’ve never seen anywhere else, and my parents would go for a day and go through the 18 holes. If you have a family that needs lots of entertainment, this is the perfect place to go.
Highlights- Campsites & cabins, boat rentals, golf course, fishing, biking, designated swimming area
Mine Kill State Park – North Blenheim, NY
From about seven years old to seventeen years old, I traveled to Mine Kill for a week for soccer camp. I would also go down to the boat launch for the lower reservoir, and spend a day floating and tubing on the water. This park doesn’t have any campsites, but you could also stay at Max V. Shaul and make your way over to this picturesque park.
Along with the soccer fields, there is a disc golf course that weaves its way around the hills, and an olympic size swimming pool if you ever get too hot. Another interesting fact about Mine Kill is that there are several geocache sites scattered around the park, so any enthusiasts definitely want to stop here.
Highlights- Disc golf course, Olympic size pool, hiking trails, boat launch, regulation soccer fields, geocache location
Watkins Glen State Park – Watkins Glen, NY
Usually when I visited Watkins Glen, it was to hike and see the waterfalls on the various trails. Only a half an hour away from Sampson State Park, if you want to take a day trip from one park to the other, it is completely possible. That is one of the benefits of the state parks, as many of them are clumped and you can visit several of them while not having to travel that far.
The most impressive part of the park is the glen’s stream, which falls 400 feet past 200 foot tall cliffs, and generates 19 waterfalls along its course. It leaves many spellbound, including me as I hiked up and around the waterfalls and finally up a large set of stairs to a gift shop at the top. If you want to see incredible views while hiking, this is the place you want to go.
Highlights- Campsites & cabins, hiking, hunting, waterfalls, playing fields, gift shop
Keuka Lake State Park – Bluff Point, NY
I traveled to Keuka Lake many times with my parents and grandparents to go camping for a week. Located in the heart of wine country, this campground is amazing and a perfect place to take your boat. The lake is one of the major finger lakes, and also is unique due to its y-shape, while most of the others are just one prong.
It’s the perfect spot for boating, and if you’re lucky you can catch some pretty good fish. One year I caught a 3 ½ lb. small-mouth bass, and we were able to keep it. Along with 150 sites, there are several hiking trails to explore, making this campground a place you never have to leave.
Highlights- Campsites & cabins, boat launches, dockage, pavilions, hunting, hiking
Sampson State Park – Romulus, NY
Formally an Airforce and Naval Training Base, this campground located on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake has some of the most picturesque sunsets in the Finger Lakes region. Though it takes a little while to get into the park as you drive across old runways, the campsites are all mostly hidden in the trees, providing some much needed shade in the summer.
The park’s location also puts it close to several Finger Lakes wineries, so if you enjoy wine tasting then make a whole day of exploring these locations. Finally, the park’s boat launch puts you right onto Seneca Lake, so boat enthusiasts can explore the lake during the day and then take a load off by the campfire at night.
Highlights- Campsites & cabins, boat launches, marina, biking, fishing, playgrounds
Gilbert Lake State Park – Laurens, NY
This state park not only has a lake, but two ponds as well in the foothills of the Catskills. This park is kind-of secluded, but that lends to the feeling that you really are in the woods. I’ve been here a couple of times, and I really enjoy the small hiking trails and cabins scattered around the park. It is also not too far from the Canadarago State Marine Park, which makes it perfect for people who own boats and campers to take a day trip floating on the water, and then driving back to your campsite to have s’mores.
Highlights- Campsites & cabins, disc golf, boat rentals, hunting, biking, camper assistance program
Max V. Shaul State Park – Fultonham, NY
Even though this state park is less than an hour away from my hometown, I still have gone there a couple of times. It is quite small compared to other state parks I’ve been to, but that does not diminish its beauty. I think the quaintness actually makes it more interesting, and allows you to both explore the 70 acres of park itself, or explore the surrounding Schoharie Valley or Minekill State Park, just nine miles away. Bring your camper and set it up on one of the 30 campsites, kick back and relax, or take a drive and see what you can find.
Highlights- Campsites & cabins, geocache site, camper assistance program, hiking, playgrounds, fishing
Fair Haven Beach State Park – Fair Haven, NY
During college, I took a trip with my three friends to Fair Haven Beach, and I wish it hadn’t been my last semester. This park was only twenty minutes away from campus, and it was absolutely beautiful, especially as the sun set on Lake Ontario.
We played frisbee on the 600 feet of protected beach and watched as families waded through the still-chilly water, grilled food, or just strolled across the expansive boardwalk. It’s the perfect place to take a day trip and soak up the sun, or just go as the setting sun reflects against Lake Ontario.
Highlights- Campsites & cabins, boat launches, stand-up paddle boarding, hiking, boat rentals, swimming beach
Thacher State Park – Voorheesville, NY
I’ve been to this park a couple of times – once with my friends and once with my family. Both times we walked around the various hiking trails that weave through the wilderness, and tried not to get too lost. The most impressive part of the park is the Helderberg Escarpment, which is one of the richest fossil-bearing formations in the world and a perfect spot to see a panoramic view of the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys.
Even if you don’t stay here, it’s definitely worth seeing the views and taking a walk through the visitor center, which has both historical and geological exhibits.
Highlights- Campsites & cabins, geocache location, disc golf, nature center, waterfalls, hiking
Canadarago State Marine Park – Richfield Springs, NY
The main reason I’ve gone to Canadarago is for the lake, which is 3.5 miles long with a max depth of 44 feet. Though this is not one of the biggest lakes I’ve ever been to, it is definitely worth driving out to, because not many people venture out to the secluded boat launch. They do have fishing tournaments here, and it’s the perfect place to fish, lounge around on the boat, or go tubing.
You can also bring kayaks or canoes and paddle around, as the waves are usually not too terrible, but always check the weather before you go because anything over 10-15 mph will not be a smooth ride.
Highlights- Boat launches, fishing, bathrooms, picnic tables, grills, near Baseball Hall of Fame
Each of these state parks has it’s own unique attributes, but they are all similar because they are gorgeous and full of nature. Whether you decide to head out of central New York and the Finger Lakes, or travel closer to the Capital Region, there are state parks to explore.