Letchworth State Park winter waterfall 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!

Table of Contents:

  1. Letchworth
  2. Taughannock Falls
  3. Watkins Glen
  4. Green Lakes
  5. Niagara Falls
Letchworth winter middle falls
Letchworth Ice Volcano
Letchworth Glen Iris Inn winter
Wolf Creek
Letchworth State Park new train bridge
Upper Falls
Letchworth Elder of Genesee Falls
Middle Falls – The Elder of Genesee Falls

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.

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

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 tree roots water

4. Green Lakes State Park


Green Lakes State Park features two glacial lakes surrounded by upland forest. The park also features an 18-hole golf course, as well as 10 miles of trails.

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.

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

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Which are your favorite state parks?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!


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COVID-19 NOTE: Some of the information you find in our articles may currently be inaccurate due to closures and cancellations.

Please follow the most current recommendations from the CDC and New York State for spending time away from your home. The great outdoors can provide a well needed respite & escape during stressful times. Please move quickly through parking lots, trail heads, and scenic areas. If crowded, choose a different park, trail, or time to visit. Please day trip responsibly.