Few wonders of nature as mesmerizing as waterfalls seem to lure and captivate you spiritually, relatively inexpensively. e. New York is blessed with an abundance of waterfalls, including arguably the most famous in the world — Niagara Falls — a nearly 500-mile trek from Long Island.
The iconic site tops the list of Empire State compelling cascades. And for those who want to stay closer to home as gas prices skyrocket, others well worth the trip are included.
The parks also offer other amenities, including camping, beaches, marina's and more for those spending a few days away. For those looking to visit multiple state parks in one day, it's good to note that one parking admission gets you into all state parks on that same day (so hold on to your pay stub/ ticket to show proof of purchase at the next state park) according to the Press Office of the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Department.
COVID restrictions vary per location; be sure to check what’s presently in effect before visiting. Though summer is typically the most convenient time to visit waterfalls, it’s also the season when flows are generally lowest, especially if it hasn’t rained recently.
Niagara Falls State Park, Niagara Falls (Western New York)
It’s not its height (176 feet) that makes Niagara Falls an international mega-destination, but its flow — 750,000 gallons per second over a total brink of 3,660 feet — the greatest in the world after Africa’s Victoria Falls. If you’ve never been there, prepare to be wowed. If you have, prepared to be wowed all over again. Viewing options at Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest state park in the country, include eye-level at redesigned Terrapin Point, from above atop the Prospect Point Observation Tower ($1.25), from halfway down along the Cave of the Winds walking tour ($19 ages 13 and up, $16 ages 6-12), and from the bottom aboard a “Maid of the Mist” boat ($25.95 ages 13 and up, $14.75 ages 6-12.) A passport, passport card, or enhanced driver's license is required to access the Canadian side.
INFO free, but parking costs $10 Mon.-Thurs. and $15 Fri.-Sun.; niagrafallsstatepark.com
Letchworth State Park, Castile (Western New York)
Straddling 14 miles of the scenic Genesee River, Letchworth State Park, is home to three major falls: Upper (70 feet), Middle (107 feet), and Lower (40 feet). In addition, there’s 350-foot-high Inspiration Falls, in theory the state’s tallest except it only flows after summer rainstorms. The park’s 14,400 acres include 66 miles of hiking trails, swimming, biking, camping (257 campsites ($27-$35); 81 four or six-person cabins ($132-$568 per week); lodging at the historic Glen Iris Inn or contemporary Pinewood Lodge; a summer lecture series; and opportunities nearby to go white water rafting, kayaking and hot-air ballooning.
INFO $10 per vehicle; parks.ny.gov
High Falls, Rochester
A rare urban waterfall, High Falls (of the Genesee River) plunges 80 feet from just beyond the Inner Loop Bridge. It was here that industry in Rochester, in the form of flour mills, was born in the 1820s. Contemporary visitors to the Brown’s Race Historic District can see the remains of numerous mills, forges, and warehouses. The falls themselves are best viewed from either the 1891 Pont de Rennes pedestrian bridge, High Falls Terrace Park (currently under reconstruction), or the balcony or rooftop of the Genesee Brew House, all at no cost. Located a mile and a half downstream, Lower Falls is significantly taller (110 feet), but can only be fully seen from the Avenue E Bridge.
Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen (Finger Lakes)
A total of 19 chutes and spills define Glen Creek’s 2-mile, 400-foot descent through a narrow, shale and sandstone gorge. Allowing you to experience them all — up close and personal (you will get wet) — is the spectacular artistic 1.5-mile Gorge Trail, comprised of some 800 handcarved stone steps and walkways. For the macro prospective, return by either the North or South Rim Trail. Amenities include 279 campsites ($18-35 per site) and nine rustic six-person cabins $58 (three-night minimum), and an Olympic-sized pool.
INFO $10 per vehicle; parks.ny.gov
Taughannock Falls State Park, Trumansburg (Finger Lakes)
Taughannock’s 215-foot, solid-curtain plunge from the trough of a 400-foot shale cliff makes it the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Mississippi. The ¾-mile Gorge Trail leads to the lower viewing area, while the North and South Rim Trails, 1.5 and 1.2 miles, respectively, allow views down into it. For those not wanting to hoof it, there’s also an overlook parking lot. Amenities include 68 campsites ($18-$29 per night) and 16 four-person cabins ($59-$66 per night), picnic sites, a swimming beach, and a marina, all on the shore of Lake Cayuga, and a plethora of nearby wineries.
INFO $9 per vehicle; parks.ny.gov
Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca (Finger Lakes)
Deriving its name from the mostly solid white blanket of froth generated as Buttermilk Creek descends 165 feet over dozens of offset shale ledges, Buttermilk Falls is more of a steeply inclined river than a classic waterfall — though every bit as aesthetically pleasing.Farther up the gorge are nine more traditional plunges. Amenities include hiking trails, a natural swimming pool at the base of the falls and 25 campsites ($15-$19 per night) and 18 four or five-person cabins ($52.50-$59.50 per night.)
INFO $9 per vehicle; parks.ny.gov
Chittenango Falls State Park, Cazenovia (Central New York)
More picturesque than dramatic, Chittenango’s 167-foot total tumble is accomplished in two primary and several secondary stages. A half-mile loop trail leads from the upper viewing platform (near the parking lot) to a footbridge at the bottom and back up the other side. Visitors can also enjoy hiking and picnicking at the park.
INFO $5 per car, though limited parking this summer due to construction; parks.ny.gov
Kaaterskill Falls, Haines Falls (Catskills)
Two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls plummets 230 feet into upper Kaaterskill Clove, a spectacular, amphitheater-shaped basin that was the site of Rip Van Winkle’s legendary 20-year nap. As such, it is the generally acknowledged highest in the state. Access to the extremely popular free site is via a moderately strenuous 1.4-mile trail off State Route 23A. Be advised, however, that authorized parking is limited, and that illegally parked vehicles will be towed.
Ausable Chasm, Keesville (Adirondacks)
A narrow, 2-mile sandstone gorge carved by the lower Ausable River that culminates in 91-foot Rainbow Falls, privately owned Ausable Chasm has been welcoming tourists for more than 150 years. Contemporary visitors can walk its four trails ($17.95 ages 13 and up; $9.95 ages 5-12) or combine them with a float trip down the Grand Flume ($34.95 ages 13 and up, $24.95 ages 5-12.) A la carte activities include rock climbing, rappelling, tubing, an Adventure Trail (ropes), and a nighttime lantern tour. Overnight accommodations are available at 89 RV sites ($45-$50), 44 tent sites ($25-$30) and eight three or four-person cabins ($80-90 per night).
INFO 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from July through Sept. 5; ausablechasm.com
High Falls Gorge, Wilmington (Adirondacks)
This privately owned tract of rugged, boulder-strewn terrain along the upper Ausable River features four main chutes and a combined 700 feet of vertical drop. Inside-the-gorge viewing comes via a 1/2-mile-long trail comprised of wooden steps and catwalks and steel bridges.
INFO $13.10 ages 13 and up, $10.10 ages 4-12 (no charge for parking); Open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; highfallsgorge.com