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The Best Parks In Central NY

The Best Parks In Central NY

If you’re looking for the best park in Central New York, we’ve got you covered. In a region where summer seems to leave just as fast as it comes, it’s important to make the most of that precious window when snow doesn’t blanket the ground. What better way to do so than to lose yourself in the wonders of nature? Central New York has a variety of beautiful state parks, and all central New Yorkers have their favorites. As part of our continuing search for the best parks in Central New York, we explored the two we believe beat out the rest. Our picks were Green Lakes State Park in Manlius and Taughannock Falls State Park in Ithaca.

Green Lakes State Park: Life’s a beach (and a golf course and campsite)

Green Lakes is a 1,785-acre park tucked away in a small town. Open year-round and located in Manlius, it’s about a 20-minute drive from Syracuse University. This makes it an easy day trip for stressed out college students who want to be one with nature instead of being one with the library.

Green Lake’s beach is a popular spot for swimming on hot days

The park has two lakes, Green Lake and Round Lake. The former is a popular spot during the summer for swimming and beach activities. Fishing is available in both lakes, as well. The park is most well known for the beach at Green Lake and the greenish-blue waters of its lakes where people can boat and fish. It’s also well known for its hiking trails, its picturesque 18-hole golf course, and its multitude of campsites (142 sites with seven cabins available for booking from May 12 to Oct. 8).

Green Lakes State Park gets its name from the iconic hue of its waters, which comes from the presence of high levels of calcium carbonate that reflects the green wavelength.

The serene greenery and beautiful views (especially with the leaves changing) make this an ideal spot for fall activities, maybe a first date. If you want to impress your beau with some ecological knowledge, make sure you stop at Dead Man’s Point halfway down the hiking trail around Green Lake. There, you’ll be able to show them some truly bizarre calcium and sulfur reef formations that seem to drop off into the middle of nowhere.

In addition, Green Lake’s hiking trails are easy to navigate and are family and pet-friendly. On this gorgeous day, families with young kids, dogs, senior citizens and college students were out and about. The hiking trails follow the pattern of the lakes, so visitors can walk around both lakes without getting onto a new path.

Taughannock Falls State Park: Gorges views that you’ll go wild for

Taughannock Falls State Park, in the town of Ithaca, is also open year-round and spans 783 acres.  It’s about an hour and a half from Syracuse, and 25 minutes from Cornell University, making it a viable stress relief getaway for college students as well.

A well-known attraction of the park is its waterfall at the bottom of the gorge. At 215 feet, it exceeds the height of Niagara Falls! Other attractions that Taughannock Falls offers are hiking trails, hunting, bird watching, and camping. The park offers 68 campsites and 16 cabins which are available to book from April 21 to October 15. Swimming, fishing, and boating are available in nearby Cayuga Lake, but not within the park itself.

Taughannock Falls from the top of the trail

We hiked down to the falls from the visitor’s center instead of parking at the base of the falls. The simple trail map helped us avoid getting too lost, and we took our time to enjoy the scenery.

The hike down to the falls was a bit long and possibly strenuous for an inexperienced hiker. It was full of nature and wildlife at every turn, and for a while, we were the only people on the trail. It also seemed more untouched by human influence than its competitor. We heard bird songs in the forest on either side of the trail and saw turkey vultures flying overhead. A small garter snake even crossed our path.

Once we reached the bottom of the trail, everyone was enjoying the lovely weather by wading in the gorges. The waterfall was straight ahead and was breathtaking. It truly made us appreciate just how insignificant we are in relation to the natural environment.

Taughannock Falls from the bottom of the hiking trail

After spending some time enjoying the views, we hiked all the way back up to the visitor’s center. While doing so, we worked up quite an appetite. Luckily, this area boasts a wide variety of restaurants and bars so you can gorge yourself after visiting those seriously beautiful gorges.

The result

You can’t go wrong with either of the best parks in CNY, but based on our analysis of both parks, we’ve fallen for Taughannock Falls. Green Lakes is perfect for fun fall activities for the whole family. However, as adventure seekers, we seek to take the unbeaten path. The adventurous trails, wildlife sightings, and most of all, the awe-inspiring waterfall, impressed us and will certainly draw us back.

About The Author


This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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