From Finger Lakes to NYC
A recent three-week road trip led me to exploring New York state this past year, and I have finally compiled my list of favorite MUST SEE parks, perfect for photographers.
Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca
This was one of my favorite State Parks, featuring a beautiful gorge with stone stairs (LOTS of stairs) winding along the edge as you pass by nearly a dozen waterfalls of all sizes.
I can’t stress enough HOW many stairs there were. Be ready for a journey despite the short mileage.
Taughannock Falls State Park, Trumansburg
This breathtaking park features two large waterfalls, and, best of all, it has very little walking or steps involved! The main waterfall is HUGE and is a short walk if you are content with the overlooking view (which I think is the best view and, with proper State Park permits, is a great vantage point for aerial imagery). You can also walk closer to the falls but that is much more walking.
The other waterfall is quite a bit smaller on the southwestern end but 100% worth it as it is unique and mesmerizing in its own way! It can be confusing to find as the signage to it leads you “outside” of the actual State Park, but there is a small parking lot on Jacksonville Road to get to that 2nd fall. There's also an amazing walking bridge that goes right over the falls.
Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen
Unquestionably, this is THE one spot to go to in upstate New York if you only have time for ONE park on my list. It was such a magical and stunning location. It has some of the BEST walkways I have seen, which wound through the gorge and went UNDER waterfalls twice at least. Sometimes, the walkways even went into caves to get you up and around. The stunning gorge and all of the views will captivate you.
It was so amazing, I actually wrote an entire article just about it here!
Awosting Falls, Rochester
What a fantastic State Park! I enjoyed the short hike leading up to Awosting Falls, which was in gorgeous foliage and had several amazing cascading waterfalls (smaller) to enjoy, both before and after the main falls.
It was a beautiful time of year with the fall foliage raining down on me as I walked along the river.
High Falls Gorge, Wilmington
Kaaterskill Falls, Hunter
WOW, does not do this park justice! It is up there with Watkins Glen for being extraordinarily unique. What I loved MOST about this location was that you hike for a bit to finally get to this three-tier waterfall, and then you can completely lose track of time exploring around the waterfalls in all sorts of different ways.
I had an absolute blast going across and then climbing up and behind the larger upper waterfall. The lower falls offer stunning views of the entire waterfall system. There are also places to climb around that let you get really close to the waterfalls.
Letchworth Falls State Park, Castile
This park is ALL about three huge waterfalls, with pretty easy access to all three. While I do prefer feeling more immersed in nature, it is certainly convenient being able to park and see the waterfall FROM your car.
The Upper Fall is the largest, featuring a stunning train track that arches right over the falls. The middle falls are stunning in how close you get to them via the overlook (prepare to get misty!). The lower falls are more of a trek, but they offer very unique views as well. Besides that, they are more isolated from the main path, making the view easier to enjoy.
Split Rock Falls, Elizabethtown
Ok. I know I keep saying this, but WOW is this location amazing! It is SO not obvious to find and seems to very much be a hidden gem. I only knew it was here from extensive research, as even once you are “here”, there are NO signs or anything. Just trust your navigation, and you'll see a pull off.
You can quickly walk and see these falls from above, or do what I did and take a bit of a challenging climb down to get to water level right by the falls - though the best photo spot really is at the easy-access overlook where you can see all the tiers of falls.
Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls
Ok so this one you may have heard of, but it very much should be on this list! I will say, the Canada view is so much better (hear my expanded opinion on that here), but the New York side has great views as well. Since it is so easy to get to once you are here - you might as well check it out!
I had a blast on both sides, which the link above goes into much more detail about what I loved most.
Central Park, New York City
Last, but not particularly least, is another iconic park you may not think about - Central Park in the big city! It is a fantastic park that is so huge you can't even hear the noise of the city! Yes - I'm from a small town, can you tell?
I absolutely loved exploring the southern region the most, including the Belvedere Castle, The Ramble, Bethesda Terrace, The Mall, and visiting the Balto statue.
10 parks, 10 amazing experiences! When I planned my trip to New York for these parks, I knew I was going to fall deeply in love with this region, and I wasn’t wrong!
I can’t recommend exploring Upstate New York more strongly, despite absolutely falling in love with so many states to the west (Colorado, California, and Arizona at the top). Put New York on your bucket list for your next trip (plus add Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut while you're at it).
Comment below which of these 10 parks is YOUR favorite.
About the Author
Founder and visual artist, specializing in all aspects of a businesses presence from imagery and video to graphics and web. A graduate of IPFW with a Bachelor in Fine Arts, Concentration Photography as well as an Associates Degree in Business. His personal photography works are focused on landscape, travel, and aerial photography.