Hiking during any season is an excellent way to unplug, clear your mind and decompress. But you don’t need to go to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon or Yosemite to experience awe-inspiring beauty. Here are some of the most striking parks in Western and Central New York — all punctuated by dramatic waterfalls, and all within a 3-hour drive or less.
Chittenango Falls State Park, 2300 Rathbun Road, Cazenovia
175 miles from Buffalo; approx. 3 hours
After hiking down the trail to get a photo of the falls from the wooden bridge, take in the view of the double decker waterfalls and listen to the flowing water run through the creek below.
Post-hike reward: Funk ‘N Waffles in Syracuse, serving sweet and savory waffles (and featured on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”).
Buttermilk Falls State Park, 106 E Buttermilk Falls Road, Ithaca
160 miles; approx. 2 hours 45 minutes
This is a challenging hike with a generous amount of stairs to climb, so be sure to dress appropriately and have plenty of water. Just when you think it’s over, there’s another turn — with more waterfalls and stunning views of the gorges.
Post-hike reward: A giant burger at Ithaca Ale House.
Lake Street, Ithaca
159 miles; approx. 2 hours 45 minutes
A short distance into the park, you’ll find a thundering waterfall with a 150-foot drop, where people bring their picnic lunches, go fishing, and spend the day skipping rocks. This isn’t much of a hike at all, so no need for hiking clothes!
Post-hike reward: Tapas at Just a Taste in Ithaca.
Pratt's Falls Park, 7671 Pratts Falls Road, Manlius
167 miles; approx. 2 hours 45 minutes
Be sure to pay attention to the weather, otherwise Pratt’s Falls might end up being more of a trickle than a waterfall. But if it’s been rainy and not too hot, Pratt’s Falls is a beautiful short hike.
Post-hike reward: All Who Wander for unique craft beers and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Taughannock Falls State Park, 1740 Taughannock Blvd., Trumansburg
148 miles; approx. 2 1/2 hours
Hike through the wide open, not-too-strenuous trail to get down to the lowest platform for the best view of the falls. After soaking in the view (and the mist of the falls), take a short drive to the Cayuga Nature Center. Here, you’ll discover “Treetops,” a 6-story treehouse in the middle of the woods you can play in.
Post-hike reward: Collegetown Bagels on the Cornell University campus.
Watkins Glen State Park, 1009 N Franklin St., Watkins Glen
132 miles, approx. 2 1/2 hours
The 19 waterfalls around Watkins Glen are so gorgeous, you’re almost completely distracted from the challenging upward hike. (Note: there is the option to park at the top and walk downhill.) At times, you can actually reach out and touch the smaller waterfalls.
Post-hike reward: RoosterFish Brewing Tasting Room & Beer Garden.
Letchworth State Park, 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile
62 miles; approx. 1 hour 20 minutes
Letchworth has a number of waterfalls that are easy to get to, driving or hiking. In fact, the park is so large I recommend parking near each waterfall (lower, middle, and higher) then hiking around the falls before driving to the next one. The train tracks over the high falls make for a stunning photo opportunity, so don’t forget to bring your camera.
Akron Falls Park, 44 Parkview Dr., Akron
25 miles; approx. 40 minutes
A brief hike will lead you to the beautiful roaring waterfall that is Akron Falls. Follow it up with a trip to the Rich-Twinn Octagon House dating back to the 1800s.
Post-hike reward: House-made pasta at Cipollina Rustic Italian Kitchen.
Niagara Falls State Park, 332 Prospect St., Niagara Falls
20 miles, approx. 25 minutes
Stroll through the park to get a view of the spectacular landscape we often take for granted. Although locals say the view from Canada is better, you can get up close and personal on the American side, glancing right over the tumbling Falls.
Post-hike reward: Savor on Old Falls Street, part of the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.
Browns Race historic district, Rochester
74 miles, approx. 1 hour 20 minutes
You’ll only need to hike into the Genesee Brewing Company to see this beautiful falls — there are a few different views from the brewery, including the rooftop. Grab a beer and enjoy!