“Take a hike” is a New York City pejorative greeting you’re bound to hear if you spend any time at all wandering the streets of that dazzling metropolis. Whatever the Brooklyn cab driver or Bronx delicatessen owner who hurls out the phrase might mean by it, the underlying wisdom of this Empire State proverb will become apparent soon enough to anyone exposed to the drab quotidian mundanity once the bright lights of the city have lost their luster. To recharge your batteries when the crowds and tall buildings in Brooklyn or the Bronx get too overbearing, head out of the city to one of New York State’s 22 national parks, or try one of the many state parks and natural landmarks. There’s tons of nature to see outside New York City, and it’s all within reach of that world-class economic and cultural beacon that’s so easy to reach from virtually anywhere in the world.
New York State is larger than it seems and often overshadowed by the gargantuan presence of its largest city. Venture out into the wilderness north and west of New York City and you’ll find vast expanses of incredible natural beauty, such as Niagara Falls, the Catskill mountains, the Adirondacks, and the Finger Lakes. Adirondack State Park in northeastern New York State is one of the oldest state parks in the United States and, comprising approximately 6 million acres, is larger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier and Grand Canyon National Parks combined. If you’re looking for the best hiking trails that have mountains, rivers, cold springs, and lakes, or you want to see the stunning fall foliage of New England, New York State is the perfect place.
Whether it’s biking, hiking, or backpacking, read through this guide to find the best trails in New York State. Then it’s just a matter of reviewing these safety tips and packing up your furry friends before you can set out on your next great adventure, New York style.
Located in what’s known as the High Peaks Wilderness, a section of Adirondack State Park that makes up the largest Forest Preserve unit in New York State, the Algonquin Peak and Wright Peak Trails are nine-mile trails of pretty difficult hiking. Nearby Lake Placid and the surrounding wilderness are popular hiking destinations, but this trail is frequently sparsely populated if you make it there at the right time. The spectacular views of the Adirondack mountains, hills, and valleys make this easily one of the most beautiful trails in the High Peaks Wilderness. On clear days you can see for miles in every direction, offering wonderful forest views and vistas over Lake Placid. Starting in September or October of each year, this trail can get icy, so if you’re going in the latter part of the year make sure to bring along poles, crampons, gaiters and the best hiking boots you can find.
Most of this trail follows a stream on the ascent and descent, but remember that this is the Adirondacks so it’s not easy going and you will absolutely want to have the right equipment along if you go in the winter months. On the weekends and national holidays, the surrounding area can be quite crowded, so show up early if you plan to go, especially during the summer holidays. There’s a decently-sized lake along this trail and many species of plants and wildlife. This trail is best hiked from April to October each year and is fantastic for biking. Keep an eye on the weather regardless of which season you choose to visit this trail because conditions can become swampy if there has been precipitation. This trail will wear you out but the vistas and landscapes visible from the top will make all the exertion very much worthwhile.
The Interloken Trail is a gorgeous 11-mile trail in the Finger Lakes National Forest between Syracuse and Ithaca in the direction of Rochester. It’s well-populated with wildflowers, wild mushrooms, and wildlife. The surrounding forest gives trekkers on day hikes a sense that the trail and the woods stretch outward forever until the path opens out into a serene clearing or the quaint lake hiding on this trail. The way along this trail won’t wear you out or overexert hikers looking for a gentle stroll in the great outdoors. It’s also great for biking.
Open year-round, the Interloken features an even mixture of woodsy trails and pastures which make it a fulfilling running or hiking trek in the summer months and a fairly easy-going snowshoeing or skiing journey in the wintertime. The leaves burst with red and orange in the autumn and there is no substantial elevation gain, so both hikers and those on a simple stroll can enjoy this trail. The best outdoor activity we can recommend on this trail is cross-country skiing. In the summertime, the trail can become rather muddy, especially near the lake.
Animal-lovers will also love this trail not only because dogs are allowed if they’re on a leash, but also because the Forestry Service has an ongoing project allowing local farmers to pasture their cows along the trail from May to October. The cows are gentle and keep to themselves as they graze, but they do make a charming countryside addition to day hikes here for those interested in rustic barnyard atmospheres. For the more daring hikers looking to diversify their mode of transport along the trail, the Interloken Trail is well-suited to horseback riding as well.
This 10-mile trail features just about the full spectrum of the best hiking features in New York State. There are many waterfalls scattered in the wilderness, including Templar Falls, which is very close to the parking lot and very useful to soak your feet or wash your best hiking boots or shoes after you’ve completed your hike. It’s a challenging hike for seasoned outdoor enthusiasts, while perhaps novice level hikers could find it a bit too difficult. Since the trail is occasionally muddy after inclement weather, it’s wise to make sure you bring along some kind of walking poles in case you get stuck in the mud. If you’re daring enough, biking can be a good bit of challenging fun on this trail.
At one point along this trail, hikers will find a fire tower and a rocky staircase near a bridge and a waterfall. If you cross the dry creek bed there, you’ll find about 5 more waterfalls and cold springs that most hikers pass by unknowingly. The bridges, cabins, fire towers, and waterfalls really set this trail apart, even among New York State hiking trails that are generally replete with such wonders. The fall foliage is truly amazing here among the rocky formations and the calming sound of the waterfalls in the background. There are enough water sources to keep you cool in the summer months as well.
The spectacular views along this trail vary from small, intimate, up-close encounters with wildlife and vegetation to wide-open vistas of peaks and valleys from a high vantage point. Follow the white markings on the trees to keep to the trail and keep a sharp eye out for snakes in the leaves underfoot. Be aware before you go that there is one section of this trail that crosses some private property and may be closed at certain times of the year, but should be easily maneuvered around.
This trail is actually a hodgepodge of the best parts of three other trails. Located in Bear Mountain State Park, less than an hour’s drive from downtown Manhattan, the trees and foliage along this trail are in a league of their own. Lush greenery surrounds hikers in the spring and summer and explodes into vibrant autumnal glory around September or October. This particular trail is a standout among the other New York State trails because it offers elevated views of the Hudson River, Hudson Valley, and spectacular views of the New York City skyline.
Remains of the Dunderberg Railway Works dot the trail, including two tunnels that offer comforts like shade and cool air as well as a look at the very interesting history of the Dunderberg Spiral Railway. This combination trail is super quiet and not heavily trafficked so solo hikers can enjoy solitude and self-reflection if so desired. Biking is stupendous on this trail. The trail markers aren’t always clear on this path, so here are some general instructions from a hiker who’s been there to get you through the whole thing:
- Start out following the Timp-torn trail (TT) “Blue markers” and Ramapo-Dunderberg (RD) “white markers.”
- Head west to follow the TT trail. (You’ll come back via RD).
- Where you’d make a right to head back east towards your car (RD trail), instead make a left and head up to The Timp for gorgeous views of NYC – on a clear day. You’ll be following the TT and RD trail markers.
- After you catch some pictures, backtrack back to the loop.
- Head left on the RD trail (you’re no longer following the TT blue markers).
- Continue on the RD trail until you return to your car.
The Cayuga is an absolute monster of a trail. It’s top-of-the-list unmissable for hikers who enjoy trail running as part of their hiking trip. As the name states, the Cayuga is 50 miles of up-and-down elevation climbing walls of gorges and making many cold springs and creek crossings. Waterfalls are strewn freely along the long course, wide shallow falls that cascade over rocks rather than free-falling like most other waterfalls. This winding course will take you around almost all of the Robert H. Tremen State Park in Ithaca, New York.
With a 2,130-meter elevation gain, this trail is not for the lighthearted. Some hikers might like to see it without running, but be on the lookout for the professional runners that frequent this trail so as not to block their progress and hurt their finishing time. The forest setting here is one of the best in the state, but because of the rock throughout it this trail is best used between April and October. For really avid trail runners, check out Cayuga when they’re having a marathon on, which does happen from time to time.
This 9-mile trail runs along the edge of a gorge and offers spectacular views of a forest and the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park about an hour’s drive south of Rochester and a little over an hour east of Buffalo, the state capital. It’s full of lush forest greenery and features one of the most outstanding waterfalls in this part of New York State. It tends to get slippery in the winter months, so the best time for day hikes on this trail is between April and September. Winter hikers might be able to get some snowshoeing or skiing done if they’re daring enough.
The Genesee River is very beautiful, even in the winter. Railroad bridges, fire towers, and the vegetation add some enjoyable details to the trail. The mid-falls here are stunning as their water tumbles and crashes on the rocks, creating a fine mist and adding some soothing ambiance to the challenging hike. Any hiker lucky enough to see the cold spring and the view over the river from this trail will immediately understand why so many people hike in the State of New York.
Okay, geography sticklers are going to decry the inclusion of the Shawangunk Ridge Trail on this guide. Technically, yes, the trailhead is in the state of Pennsylvania. The vast majority of the ridge trail’s whopping 70-mile length is across the state line, designating this as a definitively New York trail. Finishing just northwest of Poughkeepsie, this trail crosses the Minnewaska State Preserve and features long-distance views from various points along its skyscraping 3,184-meter elevation gain.
The colors visible during this challenging hike are almost unreal and in the autumn the surrounding forest completely transforms. While it is a very long trail, many hikers tackle short sections in a single afternoon on improvised out-and-back excursions. Sprinters and trail runners can also head to this trail for the annual Shawangunk Ridge Trail Run. Rivers and a lake break the treeline at many points on this trail and offer a nice spot to take a breather during day hikes. In the wintertime, this trail may be too intense for most to accomplish in its entirety, but in the early season when the snow is just a dusting the Shawangunk offers fantastic winter wonderland landscapes.
This 7.5-mile trek in the Hudson Highlands State Park about 45 minutes’ drive south of Poughkeepsie has far and away the best, most majestic views in New York State. In addition to that, the world-famous Appalachian Trail comprises part of this trek. Stretching from Maine all the way to the great state of Georgia, the A.T. is on bucket lists all across the United States and all over the world. It takes between 5 and 7 months to conquer the whole A.T., but this hiking trail gives you the opportunity to tackle a shorter section in the Hudson Valley and get some idea of the whole trail.
With lakes, creeks, and rocky outcroppings, this trail is challenging enough to be interesting but not so severe that you’ll need specialist equipment or years of hiking experience to complete it. There are plenty of side-trails and offshoots on this trail, so you can spend more time exploring the surrounding area if you find day hikes on the trail itself doesn’t last long enough. The panoramic views of the Hudson Valley on this trail are unmatched anywhere else.
Don’t be daunted by the spooky name of the loop on this 12-mile hike. The headless horseman hasn’t been sighted along this trail, although perhaps hikers were simply too distracted by the spectacular views to notice him riding in the woods. The region surrounding this trail is hilly and the woods are quaint and charming. There’s a swamp near the trailhead and a few additional smaller water features along the rest of the trail. The Sleepy Hollow loop has many turnoffs for additional exploration, including one called the Quarry Road Trail that leads back to the parking lot so you won’t have to retread ground you’ve already covered once.
The overlook section of this trail is really breathtaking but can be a little hard to find so make sure you bring a map or use an app to find your way there. The surrounding Catskill State Park, so-named for the eponymous mountain range in the region, is beautiful in every season and this trail offers a great workout while you take in the spectacular views.
Technically this isn’t one single hiking trail but rather 6 different hiking trails. But for daring hikers, it can be a fantastic bit of fun to attempt this challenge, which entails climbing to the summits of 6 different small mountains in the Adirondack Mountains. Between the 6 peaks (McKenzie, Ampersand, Scarface, Haystack, St. Regis, and Baker) there’s a little over 37 miles of hiking to be done. Hikers are allowed as much time as they need to complete this trek and become a “6er”, but in order to become an Ultra 6er, you have to complete the whole journey in under 24 hours. If you’re looking for a fun way to try night hiking, this is a great option.
The actual hiking on the challenge is not the most difficult in the world, but it is a real endurance test to attempt in a single day and you’ll definitely be proud and worn out once you’ve become an Ultra 6er. The views and the nature surrounding the Adirondack mountains and Saranac Lake itself are all wonders to witness. And the Village of Saranac Lake even promises some swag to hikers who complete the challenge and mail in the details of their climb.
Roundtrip day hikes on the best hiking trails in New York State have a lot to offer hikers and biking backpackers. Outside the shining beacon that is New York City, there is striking nature such as the Adirondack Mountains, Lake Placid, the Hudson River, and Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and the Appalachian Trail, just to name a few. Cold springs, lakes, and rivers dot the surrounding landscapes of just about every hiking trail. The difficulty of these trails ranges from challenging hikes to easy ones, so there’s something for every hiker in New York state.
From the High Peaks Wilderness in the Adirondacks to the Sleepy Hollow loop in the Catskills, spectacular views await the eager hiker in every region of New York State. With so many state parks, national parks, and the world-class Appalachian Trail, hiking never gets old. Part of the adventure that is hiking in New York State is locating the many, many hidden gems hidden within its multitudinous forests.
Bonus tip: Eager to challenge yourself? Check out this video of some hikers completing the Saranac Lake 6er Challenge!