New York State Parks: Great Family-Friendly Vacation Spots

For one fee you can visit NYS Parks as many times a year as you want

Kids of all ages won't be able to pass up a chance to take a spin on the merry-go-round at Bear Mountain State Park.

New York’s State Park System offers a variety of child-friendly programs and family-fun activities across New York. Many of its most sought-after sites are closer than you think, offering year-round excitement, education, and outdoor adventure for visitors of all ages. Whether you’re looking for tent camping or a fully outfitted cottage with all the amenities, exploring fossils at a nearby nature center or enjoying a day at the beach, these popular destinations provide quality recreation and relaxation at an affordable price.

Spend a night in the great outdoors
Visitors can enjoy a variety of daytime outdoor activities among the magnificent natural resources found throughout state parks. But why stop there? Gather up the family and stay the night, the weekend or a week at one of New York state’s camping parks. Cherry Plain State Park in Rensselaer County offers trailer and lakeside tent sites on Black River Pond. Or, surprise the kids with a trip to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. For a unique lodging choice, rent a full-service cottage at nearby Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park in Otsego County (minimum 7-night stay required), and take advantage of Glimmerglass State Park’s swimming beach.

Campers, bring your fishing gear to Moreau Lake State Park in Saratoga County with its tent, trailer and RV sites, as well as a full-service lakefront cottage that sleeps six, or to Taconic State Park in Dutchess County which offers all types of camping – some year-round – where the park’s waterfalls and ponds are an angler’s delight. In the Palisades, Harriman State Park , the second largest state park in the system, has two camping areas, 200 miles of hiking trails, 31 lakes and reservoirs, and two beaches for summer sun and fun. With sites to accommodate tents, trailers, and RVs and 37 rustic cabins, this park is a great place to stay overnight. There are also group camps perfect for kids and families new to the outdoors.

Help kids explore the past
The Hudson Valley is home to much of the rich military history that helped shape our state and nation. Visit the remains of the Fort Montgomery Battlefield on the shores of the Hudson River, just minutes from the Bear Mountain Bridge and learn about the site’s pivotal role in stalling the British forces during the American Revolutionary War.

Or glimpse the military headquarters and residence of the Continental Army’s General George Washington at Washington’s Headquarters , the nation’s first state-owned historic site, in Newburgh. Just north of West Point, the New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site features costumed staff demonstrating musket drills, blacksmithing, military medicine and other 18th century skills. The site is also home to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, the only institution in the country dedicated solely to Purple Heart recipients and the preservation of their stories of sacrifice (note that the Hall of Honor is currently closed for an expansion project and is set to reopen in November 2020). 

For nature lovers and those interested in ecological history, enjoy a picnic along the waterfront trails at Peebles Island State Park in Saratoga County. Located at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, the park is the headquarters for the State’s historic preservation and conservation laboratories and offices where architectural historians, archeologists, conservators and other museum staff help preserve and interpret New York’s historic sites and state-owned landmarks.

For more Capital District fun, take a guided tour of Schuyler Mansion in downtown Albany. New York history buffs can’t miss Clermont State Historic Site in Germantown, an homage to the impact of seven successive generations of the prominent Livingston Family, including Robert R. Livingston, Jr. who helped draft the Declaration of Independence and negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.

Take time to enjoy the views
Pack a lunch and a camera to capture the breathtaking views from Minnewaska State Park Preserve, with its hiking trails along the Shawangunk Ridge near the Catskills. Across the river in Columbia County, Olana State Historic Site, a Moorish-style mansion atop a hill, offers panoramic views of the Hudson River that inspired its original owner, painter Frederic Church, and legions of artists over the years. 

Set among the Hudson Highlands, Perkins Memorial Tower at Bear Mountain State Park affords spectacular 360° views of four different states and the New York City skyline. The observation floor has interpretive displays that describe the distant views including the Hudson River, the Bear Mountain Bridge, West Point, Storm King, and Fort Montgomery, along with several mountain ranges.

Get hands-on with wildlife
Just south of the Adirondacks is Moreau Lake State Park with environmental programming and activities for visitors of all ages. The Emma Treadwell Thatcher Nature Center at Thompson’s Lake State Park outside of Albany will delight the family with its exhibits, including a live honeybee observation hive, bird viewing area, fossils, furs and other hands-on collections. Explore the hiking and skiing trails that lead from the nature center to the lake through woodlands and fields.

Headed downstate? At Fahnestock State Park in Putnam County, the Taconic Outdoor Education Center provides year-round environmental education and interactive learning experiences. On the other side of the Hudson, you can stop at Bear Mountain State Park and visit the popular Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center. If a slower pace is more your speed, hop on the Bear Mountain Carousel for an up-close look at hand-painted scenes of the park and 42 hand-carved seats of native animals including black bear, wild turkey, deer, and raccoon.

Take the plunge at state park beaches
With the historic Victoria Pool and the family-oriented Peerless Pools at Saratoga Spa State Park and sandy beaches at Grafton Lake  and Thompson’s Lake State Parks, cooling off in the Capital District on a hot summer’s day is never an issue. If rustic is more your style, enjoy the refreshing swimming hole at Taconic State Park or relax on the beach at Lake Taghkanic State Park, both in Columbia County.

This is just a snapshot of what New York’s state parks offer – but it’s clear there are plenty of opportunities for fun and enjoyment. You can experience the forests, the trails, the lakefronts through all of New York State’s beautiful seasons.

Your family can make visiting New York State parks a breeze with an Empire Pass, which gives you access to most of the parks and historical sites New York State has to offer at an affordable price.

Updated Feb. 2020


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