Escape From It All at these Central New York Parks & Waterfalls
August 5, 2020
I know TLC told us not to, but I just can’t help myself. I would chase waterfalls everyday if I could! One of the reasons I love living in Central New York State is because of the gorgeous landscape surrounding us. From waterfalls and gorges to glacier lakes and river beds, there are so many Central New York parks and waterfalls to explore. These days everyone is looking for an escape from their houses. So put the dogs in the car, grab some snacks for the kids, and start exploring!
LEAVE NO TRACE. When visiting any state park – whether those included or others – please be sure to leave no trace. It is incredibly important that we all remain vigilant in protecting the natural environment around us. Please stick to the marked trails, avoid stepping on native plants, and take all trash with you. Be sure to check if any of the trails are closed for maintenance – and do not use them.
Always remember: Take only photographs, leave only footprints.
Article originally published on March 7, 2017. (The very first on the blog!) Updated and republished on August 5, 2020.
When to Visit Central New York Parks
Most parks are open year-round, but those that charge admission only do so from Memorial Day to Labor Day, or April 1 through October 1. So if you’re pinching pennies, go in early spring or late fall. It’s free! Plus you’ll avoid all the crowds that the hot summer days bring. Personally, I think the parks are most beautiful in autumn.
Visiting often? Get a season pass.
A few years back, New York state introduced the Empire Passport as a card – which means you no longer need to use the same car every time you go to a NYS park! The $15 price difference is definitely worth that flexibility AND you don’t need to put a sticker on your car window. Wait, what’s the Empire Passport? It’s the yearly fee you can pay for unlimited entry into all New York state parks; that way you don’t have to worry about the $7 or $8 daily fee each time you go. And now that the passport is offered as a card, share with your friends and family!
Due to the current pandemic, the state parks are currently asking visitors to confirm operating hours and to use the restrooms before leaving home. This prevents unnecessary contact at park facilities (for those that are open).
Most Central New York Parks are Dog-Friendly
Most of the parks in the Syracuse area are dog-friendly! So don’t leave your pup at home. They will probably enjoy it more than you do! Every dog I have taken to these parks has LOVED it. There are great trails for them to hike as well as some nice spots along the shore trails for the dogs to get into the water away from the crowded beach areas.
If you decide to bring your dog, please remember to keep them on a leash, pick up after them, and respect other dogs on the trails. (Yes, there are spots around most parks with doggy bags and trash cans to help you clean up after your pooch! But bring a bag just in case.) Also, I highly recommend that your dog has flea and tick medicine, and that you check them when you get home. The ticks can get bad in these CNY summers!
Park Activities & Events
So what is there to do at these Central New York parks and waterfalls? Lots! Walk, hike, swim, kayak, canoe, relax, sunbathe, birdwatch, golf, disc golf, barbecue, geocache, play PokemonGo, fish, take photos, the list goes on forever! State parks are perfect for families with children, couples looking for a simple date night, groups of friends, or even solo travelers searching for new places to explore.
Also, keep an eye on the parks’ websites; there are always lots of events going on. Choose from summer campfires, stargazing, 5k walk/runs, and winter snowshoeing, and more. Bring a picnic lunch with you.
Have an event and need a venue? Many of the parks in Central New York have pavilions or community rooms to rent as well. Take advantage of them!
Chimney Bluffs State Park
The scenery at Chimney Bluffs is unlike anything else around. The jagged cliffs remind me of the landscape from a Star Wars scene – some otherworldly place. And that’s what makes it so incredible.
Located on the shores of Lake Ontario, this state park is a must-visit for anyone living in or traveling through upstate New York.
Chittenango Falls State Park
A local favorite for having the largest waterfall in Central New York, Chittenango Falls is a beauty! Located near the famous Yellow Brick Road in the village of Chittenango, the falls are actually visible from the road. But for the best view, hike down the stairs to the bottom of the falls.
If you’re looking for more of a hike, take the trails to the left of the parking area. They wander through the nearby fields and forest.
Clark Reservation State Park
If a day of hiking is what you have in mind, Clark Reservation State Park is the place for you. Another one of my favorite places to take the dogs hiking, the trails at Clark’s are extensive, but be warned they are not the friendliest to the mobility-impaired. There is a section of stacked rocks to climb up, and the steps get a little steep among them.
When you get to the end of the main trail, you’ll look out over the pond below, and get some great views of the Jamesville landscape. Plus, there are some fun photo opportunities along the way.
If you’re looking for the perfect place to spend an afternoon with the family, check out Marcellus Park. A beautiful spot with a stream running through it and a playground nearby, it makes a great spot for photo shoots as well.
Pratts Falls County Park
Though not quite as large as the waterfall in Chittenango, Pratts Falls is another local beauty to enjoy. The county park is also more remote and the stairs to the bottom of the falls are more rustic. The trails running through the park crisscross over streams as they meander up and down like a roller coaster.
Pratts Falls is also home to Camp Brockway, a rustic building that is the perfect setting for a wedding, Budget-friendly for rentals too!
Green Lakes State Park
Green Lakes State Park is one of my absolute favorite places to visit. From the emerald-colored lakes to the crimson leaves in the fall, it’s absolutely gorgeous. I’m lucky enough that it’s right around the corner for me. It’s become such a treasured love that I’ve organized trips for groups of international students to visit when they attended Syracuse University. That’s how much I love it.
When I started this blog, I decided that the topic of my first post would be local favorite. A place that is very near and dear to my heart – Green Lakes State Park. Green Lakes is one of the gems of the Syracuse area. There are two lakes at the park, both formed many years ago by glaciers, and the chemistry of the lakes gives them a gorgeous green coloring. It’s the only “beach” you can find in Syracuse.
Lastly, Green Lakes has the largest campground closest to Syracuse. If you’re looking for a getaway without getting too far away, book yourself a cabin or tent site at the state park.
My best memories of Highland Forest are from my Girl Scout days as a young girl. I remember camping there on several occasions and absolutely loving it! Now, as an adult, my favorite part of Highland Forest are the horse-drawn sleigh rides in the winter.
With over 20 miles of trails open year-round, the oldest county park is sure to please visitors or all ages and interests. Skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, and horseback riding are just some of the ways to enjoy the trails.
No matter the season or reason for your visit, the views from Highland Forest cannot be beaten. Located south of the city, up on a hill, your eyes can see forever. And it’s incredible! The Skyline Lodge is also a great place to rent for an event or wedding. The stone hearth fireplace, Adirondack chairs, and expansive deck make it the coziest atmosphere.
Oneida Lake is the largest lake completely contained within New York State. It’s a fantastic spot to go boating, fishing, swimming, and more. Plus, it makes a great sunset viewing location. Oneida Shores Park has a large beach area, several pavilions for rent, and lots of area for recreational activities. Arrowhead Lodge is a very popular spot for weddings and other large events, and neighboring Arrowhead Golf Course is also well-loved.
Onondaga Lake Park
Probably the most popular park in the Syracuse area, Onondaga Lake Park is synonymous with 5ks, picnics, festivals, boating, and the holiday favorite Lights on the Lake. It’s often the most crowded on a nice day with its location in the village of Liverpool.
There are two trails that run the eastern length of the lake, side by side. One is for people who are walking, and being generally more leisurely. The other is for runners, bikers, and others who are more athletic in the moment. Please keep dogs to the walking side of the trails.
In the middle of the county park is the Salt Museum, documenting the history of the salt industry in Onondaga County. To the south you’ll find sport fields, a skate park, and an incredible playground for the little ones. Even further south is the Butterfly Garden of Hope, a beautiful spot to sit and enjoy the view.
The northern end of the park is a dog favorite! That’s where you’ll find the Wegmans Good Dog Park, a fenced-in park specifically for well-behaved dogs to play with each other off-leash. There are two sections – one for larger breeds, and the other for smaller pups.
Salmon River Falls
Though it is only about 40 minutes away from my house, Salmon River Falls is one of my newest discoveries. The Salmon River winds through a portion of Upstate New York, and the falls are the highlight.
There is a short trail that leads from the parking lot to the top of the falls, where you can descend the stairs to stand (or sit) on top of the waterfall. It is a wide open, rocky area. But please do not go further than the marked area. The restriction zone is restricted for a reason! The cliff is steep and the falls are strong. Stay safe.
Which of these Central New York Parks is your Favorite?
Well now you’ve heard me rave about how much I love Central New York parks and waterfalls, which is your favorite? Do you have a local park that you just love? Did it make the list? Tell me about it in the comments!