Ranging over 300 miles from the Canadian borderlands down to the Atlantic coastal enclaves in the south, and more than 250 miles from the Great Lakes to the forested country of New England in the east, the state of New York can be truly formidable in its size and scope. Budding eco-tourists and nature-loving travelers are often left flabbergasted by its kaleidoscopic offering of destinations and immense diversity of natural sites, while many short-term visitors are left deciding between the fabled sand stretches of Long Island and the soaring peaks of the upstate Adirondack hills.
So, just to help out, here are five of the best state parks in New York, where visitors can enjoy a great cross-section of the region’s natural gems, along with a veritable array of cultural and recreational pursuits.
Neatly packed into 28-acres of rooftop garden space on the banks of the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan Island, this curious state park offers a veritable hodgepodge of cultural and recreational activities. Perhaps most notably its home to one of downtown New York’s most popular winter ice rinks, while the on-site Olympic-sized swimming pool and sprawling athletic sports facility host some of the city’s best-known team names. What’s more, kids and adults alike will love the regular fairground attraction, along with the Hudson waterside promenade walk.
Many believe that the spurting geysers and natural springs of the Saratoga Spa State Park have been revered for their medicinal abilities since they were first discovered by Iroquois Indian tribesmen in the centuries before colonization, while others attribute the site’s supposed healing powers to the clever marketing of entrepreneurs of the early 1900s. Whatever the reason, Saratoga’s State Park remains the most-visited spa resort in New York State, attracting guests in search of its natural mineral waters, regal Victorian architecture and fantastic offering of recreational pursuits (which today range from 18-hole golf to Nordic skiing in the winter).
Another of the great and iconic North American sites, this state park is home to the superlative Niagara Falls, which ceaselessly gush their way northwards from Lake Eerie into Canada. Every visitor here should be sure to head for the great observation tower in Prospect Point Park, while more daring guests can opt to get up-close-and-personal with the mighty waterfall with a trip on the Maid of the Mist touring boat. But, away from Niagara’s most iconic sight, there’s also a myriad of hiking trails and mountain biking routes that offer up altogether different views from the adjoining parklands.
The largest state park in all of the United States encompasses just under 10,000 square miles of northern New York, where the undulating foothills of the Adirondack ranges gradually sharpen to their 5,000-foot summits at Mount Marcy and Whiteface. Naturally, the region is home to some of New York’s best hiking and mountain biking routes, while fly fishing, whitewater rafting and wild swimming are also highly popular. What’s more, as a two-time Olympic host, the region around the town of Lake Placid offers up some of the state’s best ski resorts and winter sports facilities, with cross-country trails and freestyle pistes to boot.
The wet and verdant "Grand Canyon of the East" represents one of New York’s most breath-taking natural hotspots. It is home to the great Genesee River Middle Falls, which cascade more than 180 metres through the craggy canyon waterways on their way northwards to the town of Rochester. For hikers, the great bluffs and ridges that have been carved out over thousands of years now play host to a web of walking trails, while the colder months usher in some of the best Nordic skiing opportunities in all of New York State.