The Beauty of New York State Parks

I admit that I’m not that well-traveled in this country.  Given the choice between England and New England, I’d pick the overseas flight rather than the traffic-filled drive.  But in the summer, air travel can be cost-prohibitive.  Plus, if you don’t have the ability to get away for a full week or more, it may not be the best option.  So this past year I decided to spend weekends exploring more places nearby.  And when I’ve flown, it’s been within the U.S. where I can use miles or at least get a cheap last minute flight.

Last August, we went to Acadia National Park, Freeport and Bar Harbor in Maine (amazing hiking and lobster rolls).  In January, one week in Maui turned into two.  Memorial Day weekend was a return to Nashville (seeing places I hadn’t in college) and then the first weekend of summer, we went to Charleston.  It’s easy to forget how scenic this nation is and how varied the adventures can be.  On the coasts, you can go from the city to the beach or the mountains in a day.  When looking for inexpensive weekend getaways, it’s as easy as going for a walk in the woods.

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Verkeerderkill Falls in Sam’s Point

If you live near a state park, you should have lots of options for hiking, fishing or just relaxing.  Whether you want to camp in a tent, stay in a rustic cabin, park an RV or even rent an airstream- there’s something for everyone.  And yes, there are decent showers and bathroom facilities.  This is more properly called “glamping” – so even those who tend to prefer fancy hotels, should be relatively comfortable, at least for one night.  And most likely there’s an actual four-star resort nearby if you don’t want to rough it at all.

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We’re always good when we have some ribs to grill over a fire.

Some of the nicest state parks happen to be in New York.  In about an hour from NYC, you can reach Sam’s Point Preserve, where you can take a somewhat challenging hike to view ice in caverns even in the middle of summer.

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That’s ice and snow in the center.

Or trek to the highest peak there for an incredible view.

IMG_4469We stayed for a night at a local campground to make it more special.  It’s amazing how with one night of outdoor cooking, it felt like a real vacation.  In town the next morning, we stumbled on Cohen’s Bakery, which had incredible chocolate covered cream-filled donuts and decent iced coffee!  Definitely don’t bother with the sticky buns though.

IMG_4467Having this little taste of camping, we decided to take a long weekend and drive up to the Finger Lakes (about 4 hrs from NYC).  We were surprised that most of the state-run campgrounds were booked, and then we learned it was NASCAR weekend.  Oops.  But we ended up making a reservation at Cayuga Lake State Park, which has a nice view of the lake and was less crowded (some of the other parks have pools and more kid-friendly facilities).  At about $25/night for up to 2 tents and 2 cars in any park, it’s a great deal.

IMG_4584We spent the night before in a cheap motel, and then drove to Watkins Glen to view the spectacular falls there before setting up camp for the night.

IMG_4585At Cayuga, you can rent a boat, kayak or canoes from the nearby General Store and head out onto the lake.  Beware that the fishing might be good, but only at the start of the season, and by the time we arrived, it was over-fished.  We still enjoyed spending time on the lake though.

IMG_4595Nearby, you can visit the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge a short drive north or Taughannock Falls State Park, which has a 215 feet waterfall, if you go south.

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Taughannock Falls

If you are into a more rigorous hike, try Robert Treman State Park near Ithaca (I was stung by a wasp and we saw a snake). There are more waterfalls here too and one you can even swim in — if you’re good with water that’s only 60 degrees.

IMG_4635The beauty about camping in the state parks here is that you have a grill to use (just need firewood that you can buy onsite or nearby) or you can eat at a local restaurant.

After a day on the water, we wanted post-boat drinks overlooking the lake, so we stopped at Wolffy’s in Seneca Falls, just down from the campground, and had a couple local brews and some appetizers.  This crab dip with pita chips was so filling we didn’t want much for dinner, so we just grilled some clams casino we picked up at the local supermarket.  (Yes, we still needed to grill something!)

IMG_4598In the Finger Lakes region, a popular activity for the adults is exploring the Wine Trail, which now is made up of wineries, as well as craft beer and local distilleries. We only stopped at Hermann J. Wiemer, which happens to be where my friend is doing harvest starting this week!  We enjoyed sampling their dry Rieslings and bought a bottle of the 2012 Magdalena to bring back home.  The freedom of driving to your destination, means you can stop anywhere you want along the way- for wine, waterfalls or wings.

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Wings at Wolffy’s Grill & Marina on Cayuga Lake

NB:  All NY state parks are carry in, carry out.  Please be mindful of your surroundings and the environment.  There’s a daily charge for parking, but if you’re camping there, it’s waived.

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2 thoughts on “The Beauty of New York State Parks

  1. Beautiful indeed. It’s not just in NY that state parks are beautiful. We’ve enjoyed them in Utah and surrounding states as well. Some of them have amazing camp sites, like on the banks of the Colorado river near Moab UT or Maroon Bells near Aspen CO. We haven’t been to the East Coast except for NYC and Florida, so perhaps we should go there some time.

    • I imagine it’s not as thrilling as the west, but it’s not a bad trip if you have a little extra time in the area. There are some good restaurants in the Finger Lakes too.

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