Syracuse is the fifth-most populous city in the “Empire State,” There are many excellent reasons to live here or plan a visit. Easily walkable and navigable, Syracuse has a vibrant downtown with many distinctive districts, an expansive arts and culture scene, numerous museums, galleries, and theaters, and a burgeoning culinary community.
The land around Syracuse shares many of the other Finger Lakes’ wonderful features—spectacular waterfalls, stunning gorges, and steep-walled ravines created by “glacial scouring” eons ago. The area is fertile and perfect for growing grapes. The soil, the glacially designed drainage, and the moderate influence of the deep lakes are the ideal conditions the grapes need to flourish. The excellent wine made here is why the area is known as Finger Lakes Wine Country.
Visiting New York State Parks is one of the best ways to explore the region. Join us as we have a look at the fantastic state parks that are just a short drive from Syracuse.
Map of State Parks Near Syracuse NY
Here is a map of the New York state parks covered in this post:
List of State Parks Near Syracuse
Here are each of those state parks with distance from Syracuse and what is special about each.
1. Chimney Bluffs State Park
Location: 7700 Garner Rd, Wolcott, NY 14590
An hour northwest of Syracuse along the shores of Lake Ontario is the otherworldly Chimney Bluffs State Park. These dramatic and stunning bluffs are eroded drumlins, spirals of glacial till deposited and formed by glaciers and further shaped by the erosive power of the wind, waves, rain, and snow. The towering sandstone peaks, some up to 150’ tall, are the most impressive landscape on Lake Ontario shores.
Chimney Bluffs is a day-use park with nature trails for hiking, picnicking, fishing, and wildlife observation.
Helpful tip: Chimney Bluffs is open year-round, the winter scenes are spectacular. And, consider seeing the bluffs from the water; kayaking or paddle boarding is allowed on Lake Ontario and is another excellent way to see the drumlins. For lake access, look for a dirt path that leads to the water near the parking area on East Bay Road.
2. Clark Reservation State Park
Location: 6105 E Seneca Turnpike, Jamesville, NY 13078
Clark Reservation State Park is 15 minutes south of our featured city in the Empire State. The park’s focal point is Glacier Lake, formed millennia ago from a powerful waterfall on top of a glacier cascading down and eroding a deep hole in the underlying limestone. The lake is a rare meromictic lake, this occurs when there is no water mixing, and distinct temperature layers form.
The area is rich with unique flora and fauna, and there are many opportunities for bird-watching, hiking, fishing, and it is a haven for botany enthusiasts. Clark reservation is known for the many species (26) of ferns that thrive here. The endangered Hart’s Tongue Fern does well here, and this park has the largest population of these in the US.
With its rocky outcroppings, rugged cliffs, woods, meadows, wetlands, and Glacier Lake, Clark Reservation State Park is an intriguing and outstanding natural resource to visit. The park is day-use but features a playground, hiking, fishing, and a picnic area.
Helpful tip: Stop by the Nature Center to read about the area’s history and learn what animals and plants you can view in the park. You can pick up a brochure for a self-guided nature tour that points out plants along the trails.
3. Fair Haven Beach State Park
Location: 14985 State Park Rd, Fair Haven, NY 13064
Fair Haven Beach State Park is about an hour northwest of Syracuse, on Lake Ontario, just east of Chimney Bluffs. Sandy beaches, shoreline bluffs, miles of woody hillside trails, and Sterling Pond and Creek make Fair Haven an outdoor destination spot with endless opportunities for outdoor activities.
Fair Haven has every amenity you can imagine. From diving boards and boat rental to the scenic Springbrook Greens State Golf Course. Two colonies of campground sites and cabins dot the wooded park, and with a camp store and concession, there’s no reason to leave once you arrive.
Helpful tip: You can enjoy Fairhaven year-round. The park maintains a heated enclosed shelter to enjoy winter cross country skiing, sledding, and ice fishing.
4. Chittenango Falls State Park
Location: 2300 Rathbun Rd, Cazenovia, NY 13035
Just 35 minutes east of downtown Syracuse is one of the most impressive waterfalls in central New York. Chittenango Falls State Park features 167-foot cascading falls that tumble over varying layers of limestone bedrock—the effect—simply stunning. You can see the falls from the top and hike into the gorge to a footbridge for a lower view.
An exciting activity at the falls is to hunt coral fossils in the limestone rock; eons ago, the area was an ocean and tropical, and a great place to search for these coral fossils is downstream from the footbridge.
The park is for day-use, and you can fish for trout along the Chittenango River, hike along the nature trails, and picnic. There are three pavilions to rent for gatherings and events.
Interesting facts: The park is home to the endangered Ovate Amber Snail, and the Chittenango Falls are the only place on earth where you can find this tiny gastropod. There is no access at the base of the falls; the snails live among and under rocks, and stepping on their homes may crush them. Roseroot and Hart’s Tongue Fern are two other very rare occupants that grow on gorge walls in this unique ecosystem.
5. Fillmore Glen State Park
Location: 1686 NY-38, Moravia, NY 13118
Head 45 minutes south of our featured city, and you’ll find Fillmore Glen State Park. Fillmore Glen is a long narrow gorge with numerous hiking trails surrounded by steep sedimentary rock walls, beautifully crafted stone bridges and staircases, five waterfalls, camping, and a swimming beach. Fillmore Glen and shaded park are a cool reprieve on the hottest of summer days.
Cowshed Falls are the easiest to reach and most visited falls; they are a double-drop falls totaling 50 feet overall and are spectacular. Where the falls got its name, Cowsheds has two interesting backstories. There is an overhang next to the falls; one story says that cows used to shelter here during storms, and the other is that on hot days the cows were drawn to the coolness of the cliff walls. Either story is interesting and why it has the name.
Helpful tip: If you are interested in visiting Fillmore Glen State Park and want to know more about the five falls, here is more information. Cowsheds Falls may be the most popular, but the others are just as intriguing.