I used to really resent being uprooted from Boston and getting unceremoniously plunked in the middle of Central New York. Like, ok cool there are a ton of cows, guys in head to toe camo riding around in lifted trucks with Confederate flag decals (P.S.A, New York fought for the Union in the Civil War), and so much corn it boggled the mind.
At least, that was my prejudgement of this region. Sure some of those things are true to a certain degree, but what I’ve also learned after a good ten years living in the area is that the quality and cost of life out here is amazing, and every season (yes, even winter- looking at you, polar vortex) is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. And what I’ve learned to appreciate over everything else is that even if you aren’t the outdoorsy type to begin with, Central New York will instill a love of nature in you that will follow you wherever you go.
One of my favorite ways to take it all in is to hike. New Yorkers are privileged to have access to nearly 200 state and county parks, with millions of acres of preserved land, hiking trails, and historic landmarks. Many parks are free to enter during certain parts of the year, but the cheap carload admission fee is worth paying since it foes toward maintenance and other conservation projects.
Central New York is jam-packed with nature preserves and state parks (one of the few benefits of living in an area where driving 45 minutes to an hour on the highway to get to the nearest shopping center is considered a relatively short trip), but I wanted to narrow down 5 of my favorites currently for hiking!
1. Beaver Lake Nature Center
Located just off NY 690 & NY 370 on East Mud Lake Road near Baldwinsville, Beaver Lake, an Onondaga County Park, contains 9 miles of well-maintained walking trails around a 200 acre glacial lake, which is a migratory stop for thousands of Canada Geese. There are several trails of varying length and difficulty (I recommend the 3 mile Lake Loop), but none are so strenuous that you can’t make a low-key day of it. Out of all the parks I’ve visited, this is far and away my favorite.
2. Watkins Glen State Park
One of the most popular state parks in New York, Watkins Glen is home to a staggering 19 waterfalls ranging from just a few feet to more than 60 feet in height, that can be appreciated from vantage points located on 3 distinct trails: The Rim Trail, Gorge Trail, and the Indian Trail. Access the main entrance of the park in the town of Watkins Glen, just off of NY-14. This is definitely one of the more crowded parks, so plan your hiking trip accordingly!
3. Green Lakes State Park
Located east of Syracuse in Fayetteville-Manlius, New York, Green Lakes is home to two glacial lakes, Round Lake and Green Lake. The park is one of the most studied places like it in the world by biologists and geologists due to both lakes being meromictic, an extremely rare natural phenomenon in which layers of water do not mix, resulting in ancient, undisturbed layers of sediment. Much like the rings on trees, these layers have been used to record and investigate the climate in the area as it has developed over the last few thousand years. Oh, and the hiking is not bad either 🙂
4. Taughhannock Falls State Park
8 miles northwest of Ithaca via NY-89 in the town of Ulysses, New York, Taughannock is home to a 215 foot cascading waterfall (for the record, that’s 33 feet higher than Niagara Falls), and gorge and rim trails that offer breathtaking views. A lot of visitors don’t realize that there’s an incredible gorge located just behind the falls, so make sure to check it out if you go! Depending on the season, you’re more than able to walk around the rock bed, wade along the valley, swim in approved areas- and don’t quote me, but I’m pretty sure they offer ice skating in winter!
5. Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge
Located off NY-89 at the north end of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York, Montezuma Wildlife Refuge spans more than 7,000 miles of preserved marshland that provides a crucial habitat and nesting ground for fish as well as migratory birds like the gorgeous great blue heron. The huge preserve also contains plenty of hiking and wildlife trails for the avid birdwatcher and conservation enthusiast alike.
Getting up and out, and appreciating natural beauty is a learned trait that can have many other applications across different areas of your life. For me personally, I credit my weekly hikes over the last year with improved mental health- more self love and love for others, appreciating existing relationships while having the courage to strike up new ones.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but feel free to reach out to me and share your favorite hiking spots or advice!
Keep it real,
*Most of these pictures are not my own with the exception of the ones taken at Taughannock in August, since I haven’t been taking nature photography recently and wanted to do these trails justice.
**Where applicable, I drew park information from CNY Hiking, a site that collects a ton of information from all over New York- they’ve been around forever and are an incredible resource for trip planning!