Centered on the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, between the Adirondacks and the Catskills, the Saratoga/Capital Region of New York State Parks offers opportunities for both hikers and paddlers.
Covering Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga Washington, Schoharie, Montgomery and Fulton counties, the region includes a dozen state parks, as well as eight historic sites that reflect a history dating back to the Colonial era.
Maps for hiking trails and a variety of other useful information on State Parks, including those in the Saratoga/Capital Region, are now available on the NYS Parks Explorer app. The free app, which is available for use on Android and iOS devices, is easy to download, user friendly and allows patrons to have park information readily available.
As with all hikes, there are a few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Check the weather forecast before you go, and dress appropriately. Wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera to capture what you see. Be aware of your surroundings and mindful of hikes on steep terrain or those that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of an emergency is never a bad idea.
Hiking poles are also useful and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.
Trail maps are also available on each individual park website page at parks.ny.gov and at the main office of each park. Be sure to download maps ahead of time or carry a paper copy as a back up
In addition to the name and distance of each designated trail in a park, the maps include facilities such as parking, comfort stations, park offices, nature centers, campsites, and boat launches. To learn more about NYS Parks trails CLICK HERE.
Hikers should plan their route in advance, know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.
Parks facilities are carry-in, carry-out, so don’t leave trash behind. Follow Leave No Trace principles to keep trails clean for everyone.
Additionally, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard.
Lastly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, remember to practice safe social distancing, particularly in parking lots and at trailheads, and use face coverings when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained. To learn more about important COVID safety guidelines, CLICK HERE.
John Boyd Thacher State Park, 830 Thacher Park Road, Voorheesville, NY 12186 (518) 872-1237: This popular park protects more than 2,000 acres and includes more than 20 miles of trails. In the heart of the park’s South Zone, the iconic Indian Ladder Trail is both scenic and historic, originating as a Native American footpath and offering sweeping views of the Hudson-Mohawk Valley. The trail descends the Helderberg Escarpment, a 100-foot tall limestone cliff rich with fossils. There is a staircase at both ends of the trail and a walk between the two along the Clifftop Trail will make a loop hike of about 1.25 miles. Trail heads are at the LaGrange parking lot and the Visitor Center. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing protocols, this trail is one-way only, and must be started at the LaGrange lot. After climbing down the stairs, the trail runs along the base of the cliff, passing under seasonal waterfalls and over an underground stream. Interpretive signs along the way tell of the geologic and cultural history of the area. This is a rocky trail with steep drop-offs. Wear sturdy shoes and please stay on the trail.
In the park’s lesser-traveled North Zone, which has no picnic area or restrooms, try the Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail. This three-mile loop leads to a scenic view from the cliff at High Point. The red-blazed trail is fairly level with an easy slope at the beginning and end of the loop. The trail begins at an old quarry on Carrick Road, off Old Stage Road. A kiosk in the parking area offers information about the interesting geology of the area and the Long Path. The aqua-blazed Long Path joins the trail briefly on its journey from New Jersey to the north. The Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail leads through mixed forests and across small fields, reaching the cliff edge at the midpoint. The limestone bedrock is full of marine fossils and karst features such as sinkholes, caves, and crevices. At the cliff edge enjoy sweeping views of the Hudson Mohawk Valley from High Point, where the Helderberg Escarpment reaches 1,300 feet in elevation.
Peebles Island State Park, 1 Delaware Avenue North, Cohoes NY 12047 (518) 268-2188: Set at where the Mohawk River joins the Hudson River, this island park features a scenic 1.85-mile trail loop that offers wonderful views of the water. Take in sights including Cohoes dam, Horseshoe Falls and the Old Mohawk Paper mill. There are plenty of deer on the island, but kindly do not feed them! This is very shaded, intermediate trail. No bicycles are allowed, but there are picnic tables along the loop to rest and enjoy a snack.
Find a trail map here…
Grafton Lakes State Park, 254 Grafton Lakes State Park Way, Grafton, NY 12082 (518) 279-1155: Covering more than 2,300 acres, this popular park has more than 25 miles of trails. A favorite is the Shaver Pond Trail, a moderate two-mile loop that circles the lake. Much of the trial is rolling terrain with some roots and rocky sections. Look for beaver chews along the lake’s edge as well as barred owls. With many sections of hemlock forest, Shaver Pond is a cool choice for hot summer days as well as an excellent spot for winter animal tracking in the snow.
For a map of the park’s North Zone, which includes the Shaver Pond Trail as well as the 2.5-mile Long Pond Trail, click here… Kayaks and canoes can be launched at Mill Pond, Second Pond or Long Pond.
For a map of the park’s lesser-used South Zone around the Dunham Reservoir, a former water supply for the city of Troy, which has seven miles of trails, click here… The reservoir also is a good place to launch a kayak or canoe.
Schodack Island State Park, 1 Schodack Island Way, Schodack Landing, NY 12156 (518) 732-0187: Hike Schodack Island’s Orange Trail for a shaded walk along the scenic Hudson River. This trail starts at the main parking lot and runs approximately 4.3 miles for a round trip. The hike is well worth it. The path is wide and flat perfect for any experience level. Hikers will pass the Historic Ice House Chimney _ a remnant of when ice was commercially harvested from the Hudson River _ as well as the park’s new wetland area filled with migratory bird species, and two pond blinds. Birdwatchers will find it perfect for viewing great blue herons, eagles, ducks, snowy egrets, kingfishers and a variety of turtles.
Find a trail map here…
Cherry Plain State Park, 10 State Park Road, Petersburgh, NY 12138: Nestled in the heart of the Capital District Wildlife Management Area, Cherry Plain State Park is part of the Rensselaer Plateau, one of the largest and most ecologically intact native habitats in New York State. Cherry Plain has more than seven miles of tails, but a popular favorite is the Waterfall Trail. This two-mile, out-and-back trail is mostly moderate with several steep sections, as well as some rocks and roots. The waterfall trail winds through the woods overlooking small streams with the waterfall located towards the end of the trail. A fun hike for older kids, but be prepared to cross the steam a couple of times. Hiking poles or walking sticks and waterproof shoes are recommended during spring and after heavy rains. Looks for red efts on the trail and broad-winged hawks soaring above the trees in the summer.
Kayaks and canoes can be launched in the park’s Black River Pond. Find a trail map here…
Moreau Lake State Park, 605 Old Saratoga Road, Gansevoort, NY 12831 (518) 793-0511: Covering more than 5,300 acres, this park has more than 30 miles of hiking trails for all abilities. For experienced hikers, check out the trail to the Spring Overlook, which involves a challenging short one 1.25-mile climb up to a spectacular view of the Hudson River. Indicated by yellow trail markers, the trail begins at the Spier Falls Road trailhead. The trail beginning is wide open and takes you under some power lines but narrows as you make your way into the woods through white pines, black birches and hemlock trees. You will pass a trail marked in yellow and blue, which is the waterfall trail, this in not the same as the all yellow trail. Continue to follow the yellow trail markers while you cross under an old power line and walk along some steep rocks and tall grasses. While you are climbing you will see another trail junction marked with a 13 for the blue Eastern Ridge trail. At the intersection, continue left on the yellow trail to reach the rocky overlook for a scenic view of the river. This is a out-and-back hike, so when you have had your fill of the nice breeze and beautiful view head back down the way you came.
For experienced hikers, consider the short but advanced hike to the Moreau Overlook Trail. This one-mile hike starts at the back parking lot behind the park kiosk. Follow the blue trail markers up a moderate but challenging climb. At the intersection labeled number 1, stay right to remain on the blue trial and pay some extra attention you will also see red and white markers indicating other trails. The climb gets steep and rocky before you reach the top of this trail overlooking Moreau Lake. Sometimes even from the top if you listen hard you can hear the beach goers enjoying themselves. If you reach the intersection marked number 2, that is too far turn around. This is also an in-and-out hike.
For those seeking a gentler hike, try the 1.7-mile Lake Bonita Trail. The trailhead starts in the parking area off Wilton Mountain Road.
Find a trail map here…
Mine Kill State Park, 161 Minekill Road, North Blenheim NY (518) 827-6111: Kayaks and canoes can be launched into the Blenheim-Gilboa Reservoir near the parking lot. At that lot, the Yellow Trail splits to the north and south for hikes along the reservoir where bald eagles, belted kingfishers, and families of ducks are often spotted. Take the Yellow Trail to the south, then left on the Red Trail, and then left on the Orange Trail, for a hike along the Mine Kill Creek. This joins up with the Long Path. Take a left at that intersection to reach a waterfall near Route 30.
The Bluebird Trail is an easy, beginner mile-long loop that goes around the pool complex, the park office, and disc golf course. The trail is a good place to spot eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, American Goldfinches, butterflies, and other forms of wildlife.
Find a trail map here…
Cover Picture: Shaver Pond in Grafton State Park All photos from NYS Parks
Post by NYS Parks Staff