Green Lakes State Park cover

Our Favorite 5 State Parks to Explore

Within a two hour drive of Rochester, there are 49 New York State Parks all worthy of exploration, but try our favorite five if you haven’t already.

As different as these parks are from one another they all have on thing in common—fresh, flowing water. Or frozen depending on when you visit!

Best of Rochester - Day Trips Around Rochester book

Day Trips Around Rochester, New York

Wolf Creek
Letchworth State Park new train bridge
Upper Falls
Letchworth winter middle falls
Letchworth Ice Volcano
Letchworth Glen Iris Inn winter
Glen Iris Inn

1. Letchworth State Park


With three incredible waterfalls, a gorge trail that is seven miles end-to-end, and a robust nature center, it’s no wonder why this is top on many national lists of places to see.

There are several scenic overlooks along the length of the park, and you can park your vehicle right next to them making the spectacular views very accessible.

You can glimpse 2 of the 3 major falls from a vehicle or overlook as well. And, Letchworth is the best state park for a fall-foliage drive.

Water: Taughannock Falls
Water: Taughannock Falls Lower
Taughannock Falls State Park creek walk
Taughannock Falls State Park bridge
Taughannock Falls winter pathway
Taughannock Falls winter icy
Taughannock Falls winter overlook
Taughannock in winter

2. Taughannock Falls State Park


Taughannock’s cascade is higher than Niagara Falls, and highest this side of the Mississippi.

Unlike the other gorge parks, this is a flat walk making the falls accessible to travelers of all abilities, and is open year round. Also unlike the other gorges, you can swim in the creek.

Outside the park there is a breathtaking scenic overlook absolutely worth seeing for yourself.

Watkins Glen Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls
Watkins Glen State Park lower entrance
Lower Entrance
Watkins Glen Cavern Cascade
Cavern Cascade
Watkins Glen Frowning Cliff cover
Frowning Cliff

3. Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen
Open late-May through mid-October

People travel from far and wide to climb the 800+ steps through the 2-mile glen. Among all of our incredible gorge parks, Watkins Glen is the most spectacular, mainly because of its 520′ rise in elevation from the Main Entrance to the North Entrance, affording magnificent views from above.

You can walk behind cascades, and through the rock walls for a truly unique experience from May through roughly mid-Fall when the gorge trail closes for the winter.

Green Lakes State Park Green Lake bench
Green Lakes State Park beach house
Green Lakes State Park red
Green Lakes State Park tree roots water
Green Lakes

4. Green Lakes State Park


Green Lakes State Park in Fayetteville, ten miles east of Syracuse, features two turquoise-colored glacial lakes, walking trails, and a swimming beach on Green Lake.

Both Round and 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. The site also contains about 20 acres of outstanding virgin mesophytic forest adjoining the lake. Round Lake is designated a National Natural Landmark.

Best New York Attractions - Niagara Falls American Falls
Niagara Falls Observation Tower
Niagara Falls Cave Winds
Niagara Falls Winter NY USA Luna Island
Niagara Falls USA winter tower
Niagara Falls Winter NY USA Horseshoe Falls
Niagara Falls

5. Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls

People travel across the world to witness the power of the Niagara River over the falls.

On the New York side, you can stand at the crest of Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American Falls at Goat Island, Luna Island, and Prospect Park.

From the Cave of the Winds and the Crow’s Nest you can stand close enough to be soaked! It’s awe inspiring and refreshing at the same time.

Gorge Trails Near Rochester

Gorge trails call out from their deep, dark, and cool caverns. If you haven’t already, start checking these spectacular trails off your list.

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Transcending Places

Instead of being an escape, I see these places as opportunities that encourage us to transcend space, time, and our state of mind.

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Easy Waterfalls

Not all waterfalls are hidden in dark ravines. Many of the region’s most stunning waterfalls can be viewed from the road or a short walk.

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80+ Hiking Trails Around Rochester

Less traveled than in our parks, these hiking trails around Rochester offer a secluded and rustic area to immerse yourself in nature.

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26 Easy Winter Walks Around Rochester

Each destination offers a unique perspective of the Rochester area’s natural beauty, from snow-covered parks to picturesque waterfronts.

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Letchworth State Park inspiration point cover
Cover: Inspiration Point, Letchworth

Which are your favorite state parks?

Your insights and experiences are valuable. Please share them in the comments.

Debi Bower, Day Trips Around Rochester NY

Debi Bower is the founder and creative director of and author of the award-winning book Day Trips Around Rochester, New York.

People often ask me if I get free access to places while exploring. The answer is no unless I’m invited to previews or granted behind-the-scenes access as part of my media role. Generally, I don’t mention my project, Day Trips Around Rochester, NY, because I want the same experience you would have. I create and share content simply because it brings me joy. I would appreciate your support—a cup of coffee or two to help fuel future field trips—if you have found valuable information here that has helped you explore the Rochester area.

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