When people think of National Park Service locales, even native New Yorkers don’t generally think of those in New York beyond the Statue of Liberty. Yet there are 23 of them throughout the Empire State, most of them small historic sites, historic parks, monuments or memorials. All are worth visiting, and many are absolutely free.
While most NPS sites are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., those with reduced winter hours generally switch over to full summer hours after Memorial Day.
Hyde Park, New York
Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Park
Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
America’s 32nd and longest-serving president was born and grew up in Springwood, a manor house to which he brought his new wife, and distant cousin, Eleanor, in 1905. Springwood remained Roosevelt’s home throughout his life and frequently served as a summer White House. Preservation began shortly after his death in 1945, meaning that visitors see it essentially just as FDR last did.
Upon her husband’s death, Eleanor took up permanent residence at a nearby house, she called Val-Kill, where she frequently stayed in the 1930s to escape from both her domineering mother-in-law and her husband’s infidelities. On a hill behind Val-Kill is Top Cottage, the retreat that FDR designed and built in 1939 to accommodate his wheelchair and where he went to escape from what he called “the mob,” his retinue.
ADMISSION Springwood, Presidential Library and Museum, Val-Kill and Top Cottage $10 each; under 16 free
Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, Hyde Park
Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, Hyde Park
Built between 1896 and 1899 as a country manor for Frederick William Vanderbilt, longtime director of the New York Central Railroad and grandson of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, this opulently furnished, 54-room Gilded Age mansion has just been extensively restored. Visitors also can visit the large formal Italian gardens and 211 acres of landscaped grounds overlooking the Hudson River.
ADMISSION $10, under 16 free
INFO 845-229-7770, nps.gov/vama
The Upper Delaware River, New York
Upper Delaware National Scenic & Recreational River
Less dramatic, accessible and crowded than the adjacent Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River stretches roughly 75 miles from Hancock, New York, in the north to Millrift, Pennsylvania, in the south. (Most river access points are off New York’s scenic Route 97.) Activities include hiking, as well as canoeing, kayaking, tubing, whitewater rafting and fishing in the remarkably pristine, free-flowing river. On land are the Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History in Narrowsburg, New York, and Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct and the Zane Grey Museum, both in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania. The park headquarters are in Beach Lake, Pennsylvania, across from Narrowsburg.
INFO 570-685-4871; nps.gov/upde
Catskill, New York
Thomas Cole National Historic Site
English-born landscape painter Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was mesmerized when he first came to sketch in the Catskill Mountains in 1825. Seven years later, he rented a room and small studio in the village of Catskill and proceeded to found what would become known as the Hudson River School, the first American art movement. Eventually Cole married his landlord’s niece, built a second studio and accepted students. Art aficionados can tour all three buildings and then drive and hike the Hudson River School Art Trail to the sites that inspired some of his most famous works.
ADMISSION $12; seniors and students $10
INFO 518-943-2830, thomascole.org
Kinderhook, New York
Martin Van Buren National Historic Site
Midway through his first term, Martin Van Buren, the eighth U.S. president and the first born under the American flag, began preparing for his post-Washington life by purchasing Lindenwald, a derelict 300-acre farm near his native Kinderhook, New York. It turned out to be a prudent move. “The Little Magician” as he was known for his small stature, wasn’t re-elected. Over the next five years, he revived Lindenwald’s fortunes — and his own — with orchards, livestock and vineyards. After his son remodeled the house, the ex-president began lavishly entertaining former colleagues from Albany and Washington. His birth site, church and grave are in the village.
INFO 518-758-9689, nps.gov/mava
Erie Canal, New York
Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor
When it opened in 1825, the 365-mile-long Erie Canal revolutionized travel and trade, linking the Great Lakes with the Hudson River (and hence the Atlantic Ocean). Subsequently widened and in some places rerouted, the canal is still open, though now exclusively for recreational boating with its original mule towpath now the domain of hikers and bikers. Among the many New York attractions are museums, including the visitor center on Peebles Island State Park, the Erie Canal Museum, in Syracuse; Discovery Center, Lockport; the Canal Town Museum, in Canastota; and locks and an aqueduct at Schoharie Crossing; as well as other canal towns and festivals. Water excursions include commercial cruises, canoe and kayak rentals and private houseboat rentals.
ADMISSION Access to the canal is free; admission prices to museums vary.
INFO 518-237-7000 ext. 207; eriecanalway.org
Stillwater, New York
Saratoga National Historic Park
Generally acknowledged as the turning point of the American Revolution, the Battles of Saratoga, fought Sept. 19 and Oct. 7, 1777, resulted in Gen. John Burgoyne’s surrender of 5,700 British and Hessian troops to American Gen. Horatio Gates. A 20-minute orientation film prepares visitors for the 9-mile battlefield driving tour. Eight miles north is the rebuilt home of Gen. Philip Schuyler (the original was burned by the British), the 155-foot-tall Saratoga Monument, which marks the site of Burgoyne’s surrender, and Victory Woods.
INFO 518-670-2985, nps.gov/sara
Seneca Falls, New York
Women’s Rights National Historic Park
In July of 1848, 300 women and men, including African-American abolitionist and social reformer Frederick Douglass, convened in Seneca Falls’ Wesleyan Chapel to, in their words, “discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women.” The resulting Declaration of Sentiments formally initiated the American women’s rights movement, whose turbulent, ongoing history is depicted in the adjacent visitor center. The park also includes the houses of organizers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Mary Ann M’Clintock, but not the nearby National Women’s Hall of Fame.
INFO 315-568-0024, nps.gov/wori