If you think camping in a state park campground is enjoyable in the summer, wait until you experience an overnight getaway in September or early October, when New York’s outdoors is awash in enough colors and sounds of the season to overwhelm the senses.
The autumn mist rising from the water’s surface on a brisk morning, paddling along a tree-lined shore edged in spectacular reds, oranges and golds, the crunch of leaves underfoot on a hike, the aroma of coffee over a crackling fire — these are just a few of the experiences awaiting those campers who prefer to camp once the crowds thin, schools are back in session, and Labor Day is in the rearview mirror.
Benefits to fall camping include fewer neighbors, fewer bugs, and a greater selection of sites from the peak summer season. With the right clothes and gear, the slightly cooler temperatures make fall camping more comfortable than in the commonly muggy dog days of summer.
Plan to extend a leaf-peeping day trip and sleep under the autumn stars. You can book ahead to reserve a spot or opt for a spontaneous adventure and just grab your gear and go. Many state park campgrounds throughout New York are still open with availability for tent and trailer sites, yurts, cabins, and cottages.
Here are just a few of our fall favorites:
At 65,000 acres, Allegany State Park is the perfect setting for embracing nature’s colorful palette in the fall months. Lakes, ponds, and miles of trails, beckon outdoor lovers for hiking, biking, nature walks, fishing, paddling, and more. Choose from tent and trailer sites, cabins, and cottages.
In the Genesee Valley, the sweeping views at Letchworth State Park are jaw-dropping in every season, but add vibrant foliage to the mix and prepare to be amazed by the sheer grandeur. For campers, the park offers tent and trailer sites and cabins. Visit the new Humphrey Nature Center or explore the gorge trail on your own — views from Inspiration Point and Middle Falls are a must-see.
The Finger Lakes gorge parks also provide a stunning backdrop for camping this time of year. Take a break from campfire cooking and enjoy the bounty of farm-to-table restaurants or the premier wineries in the area. Home to 19 waterfalls, Watkins Glen State Park on Seneca Lake welcomes campers to an array of wooded campsites (many with electric hookups) and rustic cabins. Walk along the winding paths of the gorge or take a bike ride on the nearby Catharine Valley Trail. Taughannock Falls State Park on Cayuga Lake leaves visitors spellbound with its namesake waterfall and rocky cliffs that perch high above the gorge.
The only thing more colorful than the fall foliage at Green Lakes State Park is the actual Caribbean-like hues of the glacial lakes themselves. With campsites nearby including many full-service sites and renovated cabins, campers also have easy access to the park’s 20 miles of hiking trails and championship golf course.
Moreau Lake State Park is situated in the foothills of the Adirondacks with tent and trailer sites, cabins and cottages. Hike or bike on the 27 miles of trails and enjoy paddling and fishing on the scenic waters of the park’s beautiful lake or the Hudson River. Wildlife viewing is a favorite!
Taconic State Park offers autumn campers incredible sites for tents or trailers, cabins and cottages, and plenty to see and do including biking, hiking, fishing, paddling, and more. As part of the adventure, be sure to check out the Harlem Valley Trail, the South Taconic Trail, Bash Bish Falls, and the Copake Iron Works Museum.
Tip: Whether planning a fall camping adventure or taking a leaf-peeping day-trip, a good resource to determine peak color location is the I Love NY Fall Foliage Report issued weekly.
You’ve probably heard about kids not getting outdoors and in nature enough these days. The good news is you don’t have to be an expert on the outdoors to take kids into nature! Kids are curious beings. Taking the time to look and discover is more important than knowing the names of everything or how things work.
Kids are natural explorers outside, so your biggest challenge will be getting them back indoors. Others may not be used to bugs, dirt and the freedom to look around and discover, so it may take a little encouragement.
Let’s get outside! Whether you are a parent, friend, babysitter, educator here are 7 fun ideas for getting kids outside in nature.
Tiny Explorers: All you have to do is make sure they are safe and they will figure out the rest. Walking on spongy grass, dabbling in puddles – who doesn’t love puddles – or feeling the roughness of a big log and learning the words to describe what they are feeling in nature is all part of the experience.
Ready for a hike, photo by Jamie Bybee
Stomping in puddles is always fun! Photo by Jamie Bybee
There are lots of things to explore on a fallen log, photo by Josh Teeter
Beaches on Lakes, Rivers or the Ocean: These are great spots for exploring. There are almost always bugs, shells and rocks to find. And of course water and sand make for endless opportunities for building castles and moats. Look for Learn-to-Swim classes, too. Lessons will help kids (and you) feel more at ease on the waterfront.
Beach construction projects, photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Out for a beach walk, photo by Julie Lundgren
Stream Watchers: Shallow rocky streams are also intriguing – especially for more active kids that like to climb on rocks or logs, launch sticks and watch them float down stream, and look for fish, frogs, stream insects and snails. Avoid fast moving or deep streams that can be hazardous. Remember to put any animals back where you found them as that is their home.
Stream exploring, hoto by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Kids are great at finding toads and frogs. Remember to let them go where you found them, photo by State Parks
Young Scientists: If your child has a deep interest in nature, they might like keeping a nature notebook like a real scientist. This boy was learning about logs in a program at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve. How big is the log, were there holes, is there moss ora mushroom on it; did you see any insects or other animals on or inside it? Or collect some leaves – how many kinds can you find? Or draw pictures of the different insects and caterpillars one finds in the garden of meadow.
“LogLog” Program at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, photo by State Parks
Red efts are common along wooded trails, photo by Mike Adamovic for State Parks
Bird and butterfly watching: This takes a bit more patience, waiting and watching, to see birds, butterflies or even dragonflies! But it is amazing what you can see when you take the time to watch. This activity is good for older kids as it takes some skill to focus the binoculars. Younger kids can practice using binoculars made from cardboard tubes. If you are new to this, look for guided programs aimed at young people or families.
Get the Bug: Get a little butterfly net and see what you can find. This can be a good prop for kids who get bored with walks or just looking at stuff. Swinging a net, whether or not it catches anything, can be fun. Best to learn what bees and wasps look like first though, and to aim for the butterflies and moths instead. Look for fun pollinator activities at parks near you- these activities are for kids of all ages.
Looking for pollinators at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, photo by Emily Becker, State Parks
Sulphur butterflies (like this one) and cabbage whites are very common, photo by Matt Schlesinger, NYNHP
Bike Riding: Bike riding in parks is great way to see and hear nature. You would be surprised at how much one is learning even when not specifically focused on looking at the trees, the birds or the bugs. Animals will dart across the trail or scurry away as you get closer, birds will be singing, and you will pass by hundreds of different species of plants (trees, wildflowers, ferns), increasing your awareness of the diversity of the natural world. Having a physical activity and a sense of accomplishment from a bike ride or a hike can help sustain interest in getting outdoors. Check out trail maps on parks’ websites and remember your helmets!
What to do when you don’t know the answers?
What is it? Kids will ask but they don’t expect you to always have an answer. Feel free to say you don’t know, but take the time to look a little closer to explore together. “Hmmm, it is some kind of animal – see how it hops. It is very tiny. Can you see its eyes?” or “What a nice flower. Do you think the bees like it? Let’s watch to see if any bees or butterflies or other insects come to the flowers to feed. They like the sweet nectar.” A tip from educators: don’t reply with “it’s just a bug” or “just a flower”because everything is novel and interesting.
What is it doing? See if they can come up with an idea of what the animal is doing. Are they swimming, jumping, sunning, sleeping, searching for food, talking (in animal language), fighting, or running away. Why are they running away? Why do they burrow in the sand? If you don’t know, children often come up with pretty good ideas about what is going on if you encourage them to take the time to watch.
State Parks offer ideal places to bring children – the trails, interpretive signs, and beaches are ideal spots for kids to explore the nature world. We hope to see you there!
Recommended Guide Books – check your library, bookstore or online distributor:
Peterson First Guides: A series of small, inexpensive books on insects, wildflowers, mammals, caterpillars, seashores, birds, and other topics. Highly recommended for young and old as an introduction and guide to more common plants and animals one might encounter.
Backyard Birds (Field Guides for Young Naturalists) by Karen Stray Nolting, Jonathon Latimer and Roger Tory Peterson 1999.
The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards 2011.
The Bumper Book of Nature: A User’s Guide to the Great Outdoors by Stephen Moss 2010.
The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-ups by Gina Ingolgia 2013. Published by Brooklyn Botanic Garden and full of questions and answers about trees in both city and countryside.
Post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program. The author grew up exploring the back yard and woods and has spent a lifetime working as an environmental educator and ecologist.
“What a gorgeous day to be out on the water!” proclaims a very eager Marshall.
“I hope we see a bald eagle like last time!” replies Svoboda.
No matter the canoe tour guide, a visitor is in for a treat, as all of the educators (guides) from the nearby Taconic Outdoor Education Center. These guides are friendly, knowledgeable, and bring their own unique perspective on the natural history and ecology of the region. The hour and a half tour circles the shoreline of the 65-acre lower portion of the man-made lake, weaving in and out of numerous small islands.
The lake, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, is both a recreational and ecological jewel in the park. In summer, you can find people swimming and sunbathing, paddling in kayaks, and fishing for largemouth bass and yellow perch along the shoreline. Chain pickerel, brown bullhead catfish, and black crappie also lurk through the aquatic plants below the surface. A lake such as Canopus, although made by humans, provides a very rich ecosystem. Other critters that spend most of their time in the water include painted turtles and water snakes such as northern water snake and black rat snake. There are even predacious water beetles in the lake; beetles are large enough to eat small fish!
Canopus Lake also attracts animals from the forest ecosystem that may be looking for a drink of water or a place to hunt along the water’s edge. Beaver activity is evident with toppled trees along the shoreline and a large wood/mud dam near the CCC dam. Osprey (state special concern species), bald eagles (state threatened) and other birds of prey soar overhead. Osprey are excellent at fishing, plunging into the water and, more often than not, emerge with a fish in their talons. What makes this canoe trip so exciting is that one really never knows what they might be lucky enough to observe when out on the water!
Canoe tours cost $5 per person and leave from the park’s boat launch along Route 301 just south of the park office. Some of the boats can accommodate four people (two paddlers and two passengers.) Reservations are encouraged by calling (845) 265-3773. Come experience this fun summertime activity for yourself!
Did you know that Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States? Established in 1885 as Niagara Reservation, the breath-taking waterfalls at this park are considered some of America’s greatest natural wonders. Did you also know that the American Falls at Niagara Falls State Park, at around 100 feet tall, is not the tallest waterfall in New York? To find this peak waterfall, we must actually go to another New York State Park! From high plunges to rocky cascades, waterfalls are all over New York State Parks. In fact, there are 15 parks that have sizeable waterfalls. Few can deny the mesmerizing power and beauty of a waterfall, so why not try to add some of these destinations to a road trip this summer?
Niagara Falls State Park
Easily the most well-known of New York’s waterfalls, Niagara Falls is actually composed of three distinct waterfalls. The smallest is Bridal Veil Falls (the middle falls in the picture), which measures around 50 feet wide and 80 feet down to the rocky cascade below. Luna Island separates Bridal Veil Falls from the American Falls, both of which are on the American side of the Niagara River. American Falls (located on the far left of the picture) is around 100 feet tall (measured from the top to the rocky piles below) and around 830 feet wide. Horseshoe Falls (on the right in the picture), which runs between New York and Canada, averages 188 feet tall and 2,200 feet wide.
Letchworth State Park
Considered the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park southwest of Rochester has three major cascading waterfalls – Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls – which range from 70 to 100 feet tall. There are also numerous smaller waterfalls as the Genesee River cuts through the gorge.
3. Stony Brook State Park
Stony Brook State Park, near Dansville, contains a large, rocky gorge common in the Finger Lakes. Visitors can hike along the Gorge Trail to see two of Stony Brooks’ three main waterfalls, as well as several smaller ones in between. Lower Falls, the largest of the three, cascades about 40 feet down to Stony Brook below.
4. Buttermilk Falls State Park
Buttermilk Falls State Park, near Ithaca in the Finger Lakes, contains a large cascading waterfall, 165 ft, right near the entrance to the park. If you hike up the Gorge Trail, you will find several other minor falls along Buttermilk Creek. There is even a natural swimming area at the base of these falls.
5. Watkins Glen State Park
At Watkins Glen State Park, located at the southern tip of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes, you can walk through the gorge along the scenic Glen Creek. Within the two-mile glen there are 19 waterfalls that you are able to walk past, two of which you can even walk behind! Central Cascade is the park’s largest waterfall, plunging more than 60 feet.
6. Robert H. Treman State Park
Home to ten smaller and two major waterfalls, Robert H. Treman State Park is located in Ithaca in the Finger Lakes. In the Upper Gorge you can hike to Lucifer Falls, a 115-foot cascading waterfall. Another park highlight is the stream-fed pool right at the base of the cascading Lower Falls.
7. Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls State Park, located in the Finger Lakes north of Ithaca, is home to the highest vertical single-drop waterfall in the eastern United States. Carved into 400-foot cliffs, water from Taughannock Creek plunges 215 feet over Taughannock Falls. Two smaller waterfalls, Upper and Lower Falls, can also be found at this park.
8. Fillmore Glen State Park
Another classic gorge of the Finger Lakes, Fillmore Glen State Park (about 20 miles northeast of Ithaca) is home to five waterfalls. These range from 5 feet in height to the largest in the park, Dalibarda Falls, which is around 85 feet tall. Dry Creek, which runs the length of the park, helps create a stream-fed swimming pool in the Lower Park area.
9. Chittenango Falls State Park
Chittenango Falls, a beautiful 167-foot staircase cascade, is the highlight of Chittenango Falls State Park, located in Central New York southeast of Syracuse. Enjoy the view from the picnic area above or from a wooden bridge over Chittenango Creek below. Chittenango Falls is also home to the world’s only population of the federally threatened Chittenango ovate amber snail!
10. Pixley Falls State Park
Pixley Falls State Park is named after its main attraction, the 50-foot waterfall on the Lansing Kill. There are also a few smaller falls in nearby streams. This park is in Central New York, about 20 miles north of Utica.
11. Mine Kill State Park
Located southwest of Albany, Mine Kill State Park features an 80-foot cascading waterfall that cuts through a narrow gorge. Hike down to the base or check out the separate parking area (1/4 mile south of the park’s main entrance) that provides access to the overlook viewing platform.
12. John Boyd Thacher State Park
John Boyd Thacher State Park, just west of Albany, contains numerous waterfalls which range from 5 feet to over 100 feet. Indian Ladder Falls (also called Minelot Falls) and Outlet Falls are two of the larger falls at this park, each plunging around 100 feet.
Peebles Island State Park is just north of Albany, located at the merging of the Mohawk River into the Hudson River. There is a waterfall here, about 15 feet high, in the Mohawk River near the southern end of the park.
14. Taconic State Park
Taconic State Park shares borders with Massachusetts and Connecticut. Many people flock to this park to see Bash Bish Falls, which is actually just a short hike across the New York border into Massachusetts. After a long cascade and a 60-foot drop, it is Massachusetts’ tallest single-drop waterfall.
15. Minnewaska State Park Preserve
Minnewaska State Park Preserve, located in the Hudson Valley near New Paltz, contains many waterfalls. Near the gate house, the Peters Kill plunges around 70 feet at Awosting Falls. Stony Kill is another plunging waterfall, reaching about 90 feet in height. Some other well-known falls include Rainbow Falls, Bogerman Falls, Peterskill Falls, Sheldon Falls, and Verkeerderkill Falls near the Sam’s Point Preserve area.
Please remember that waterfall conditions are dynamic, changing with weather and seasons. Stay on the trail and be cautious of your surroundings, like slippery or rocky terrain, fast moving water, or steep drops.
For more information, check out some of these great waterfall resources:
From the tip of Long Island, to the St. Lawrence River, the forests of the Taconic Mountains to the Niagara River Gorge, New York State is home to thousands of miles of trails. Every year on the first Saturday in June we celebrate these places with National Trails Day®.
Created by the American Hiking Society in 1993, the 2017 celebration marks the 25th anniversary of the event. National Trails Day® seeks to connect people and trails across the country. Organized trail events are hosted at parks and recreation locations across the country and people are encouraged to “participate, recreate, and give back”. Many locations have events where folks can join other trail lovers in an organized hike, paddle, bike or horseback ride. Other spots host trail work days where volunteers can lend a hand and clean up their favorite stretch of trail or even help a trail crew construct a new one. In 2016 there were over 100 events in New York alone!
Outdoor recreation is more popular than ever and many people are finding enjoyment on trails. Whether it’s cycling on a greenway trail, hiking to a scenic view, or paddling a river, trails provide a connection to the natural world. That connection is important as studies now show that, in addition to our hearts, lungs, and legs, trails are good for our brains as well!
With greater numbers of people heading out on the trail, it’s more important than ever to recreate responsibly by following the seven principles taught by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.
The Seven Principles are:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
It is also good practice to prevent the spread of damaging insect pests and weeds by brushing off your boots or boat before you leave the trail or water. Following these steps will help you have a safe and satisfying experience and ensure that the trail will be there for the next person to enjoy as well.
To find out more information on National Trails Day® including links to events near you, visit the American Hiking Society’s website. To learn more about the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, visit their website. For maps and information on trails in New York State Parks, visit Trails webpage. National Trails Day® events in State Parks can be found here.