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The Best Hiking in New York: 10 Epic Trails

by Kelsey FreyAug 30, 2022
The Best Hiking in New York: 10 Epic Trails

There’s more to New York than the city (we promise). Although the Big Apple is a landing place for many, there are plenty of outdoor destinations to check out throughout the state. From the lush landscapes of Upstate New York to the urban cityscapes near NYC, you’ll find a hiking trail (and camping spot) close by no matter where you are. Read on for pro tips and recommendations for the best hiking in New York. 

Tips for Hiking in New York

Wear Layers

Depending on the season, you’ll be hiking in the cold or heat…or both! Summer, although warm, brings thunderstorms. Winters are long and snowy. You’ll want to be prepared either way, so layers are the way to go. You can add a jacket when the wind picks up, or shed an article of clothing when the sun comes out to play.

Pay Attention to the Weather

New York gets all four seasons, and the weather can change quickly as you gain elevation. It’s possible that the lower half of the hike will be drenched in sunshine while the summit is shrouded in mist and pummeled by snow. Thunderstorms are most common in the summer, but are usually brief. Check conditions the day of your hike, and be prepared for rapid flip-flops in weather.

Beware of Poison Ivy

This stuff is no joke. The itchy, red rash that arises just from touching the plant is the opposite of fun. And you want to have fun, right? Right. So make sure you know how to identify this plant—you know the saying, “leaves of three, let it be.” It’s also best to stay on the trails to avoid accidentally brushing up against it. It’s not worth it, I promise!

The Best Hiking in New York

New York is chock-full of lakes, forests, and even mountain ranges; the Catskills, Adirondacks, and Appalachians pepper the state. If you visit during fall, you’ll be in for an extra special treat—fall foliage, of course! The other seasons have their perks (and pitfalls) too. Winter means snowy backdrops and fewer crowds (although some trails may be closed or darn near impassable in winter), spring brings back plants and trees with bursts of color (but be aware that trails might be muddy), and summer delivers warm, sunny weather to the trailhead (though it can also be quite hot, humid, and stormy). 

But whatever season you decide to embark upon a hike in New York, there’s sure to be one that satisfies your preferences. Check out some of these trails, listed from least to most mileage. 

1. Ausable Chasm

a bridge over a river with waterfalls in the background

You can choose from an array of hikes in the Ausable Chasm, ranging from easy peasy to hard…pard? We’ll come up with a better pun later. Right now we’re too busy planning our trip to the chasm!

It’s easy to see why this sandstone gorge is nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks.” The canyon walls are staggeringly high, casting shadows on the river below. 

For the best views of the canyon, try the Inner Sanctum Trail. In just one mile, you’ll walk past some of the best features of the area, like Elephant’s Head, Mystic Gorge, and Hyde’s Cave. Make time to stop at Rainbow Falls. You don’t even have to hike to see these waterfalls—just drive to the bridge on Route 9, right outside of Keesville.

Be aware that this is a pretty touristy area, and somewhat of an adventure park—you can choose from various tours and activities like floating or rock climbing—so if you want to get away from crowds, this might not be the place for you.

Length: The Inner Sanctum Trail is 1 mile, but altogether, there are 5 miles of trails

Elevation Gain: Very little

Route Type: Out and back

Time Required: 1 hour

Where to Stay: Ausable Chasm Campground

2. Buttermilk Falls Gorge Trail

Buttermilk Falls, one of the best hiking in New York experiences

This hike is short and sweet—er, we mean steep. Be prepared for lots (and lots) of stairs. You’ll certainly get a workout in and hit your step count for the day!

The good news is that you’ll be rewarded after all that work; not only are the views gorgeous, but you can also take a dip to cool off. If you’re as obsessed with waterfalls as I am, this is definitely the hike for you. The hiking path follows a creek, and you’ll pass several sets of falls on your way up. On your way back down, you can choose to take the Rim Trail instead, although the Gorge Trail is the prettier of the two.

Plan to visit in the warmer months since the gorge trail is closed during winter. Pro tip: visit after a good rain to see the falls flowing in their full glory.

Length: 1.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 500 feet

Route Type: Out and back or loop, depending on how you plan to return

Time Required: 1 hour

Where to Stay: Finger Lakes RV Resort

3. Anthony’s Nose

A hiker and dog sit at the top of Anythony's Nose, a popular hiking trail in New York

The Anthony’s Nose hike is an easy day trip from NYC. You’ll snag stunning views of the lower Hudson Valley and even hike through part of the Appalachian Trail. Although short, the first part is pretty dang steep so be prepared to do some work.

Length: 1.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 675 feet

Route Type: Out and back

Time Required: 1 hour

Where to Stay: Deerpark NYC Campground

4. Indian, Finger Lakes, and Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park

Waterfall and bridge at Watkins Glen

This popular jaunt gets busy—like really busy, especially in the summer months. Go early or late to avoid the crowds, although it’s only open dawn to dusk since it’s a state park. It’s easy, though, to see why it’s a popular spot for hiking in New York: you’ll pass 19 waterfalls on this route, surrounded by towering foliage and rocky moss-covered walls. Pro tip: wear grippy shoes since the stone path can get wet (and slippery) from the falls.

Length: 4.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 875 feet

Route Type: Loop

Time Required: 2 hours

Where to Stay: Finger Lakes RV Resort

5. Cascade Mountain and Porter Mountain via Cascade Mountain Trail

View of Cascade mountain from above

You’ve got options with this trail. While beginners might prefer to stop at the top of Cascade Mountain, take in the 360° views, and head back, hikers who want a little more can also bag Porter Mountain by trekking another mile. You can’t really go wrong either way! 

This is a very popular option for hiking in New York, so plan for sunrise or sunset if you want to avoid the crowds. Don’t forget your headlamp!

Length: 5.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,286 feet

Route Type: Out and back

Time Required: 4 hours

Where to Stay: Spacious Skies Adirondack Peaks Campground

6. Sleeping Beauty Mountain and Lake George Trails

View from Sleeping Beauty Mountain, one of the best hiking in New York destinations

This trail has it all: mountain vistas, forested pathways, and sparkling lakes. This is an easier hike compared to others in the Adirondacks, meaning you’ll do less work for some pretty amazing views. Pro tip: wear sturdy shoes because parts of the hike are rocky.

Length: 7 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,341 feet

Route Type: Loop

Time Required: 3.5 hours

Where to Stay: Adirondack Safari

7. Sam’s Point and Verkeerderkill Falls Trail

View from Sam's Point of the trees and fall foliage below with clouds in the distance

How do you feel about ice caves? We think they’re pretty…cool (get it?). On this hike, you’ll be treated to ice caves and a waterfall. However, the caves become impassable in the winter because they—shocker—fill with ice. In the summer, the ice can melt, and the falls dwindle into a trickle. You’ll get the most out of this hike in the spring, when the caves are still icy and the falls are roaring after recent rains.

Pro tip: tackle this hike on a cool, cloudy day because there isn’t much shade.

Length: 8.3 miles

Elevation Gain: 994 feet

Route Type: Loop

Time Required: 3.5 hours

Where to Stay: Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort: Gardiner

8. Gorge Trail in Letchworth State Park

A hiker stands on a trail beneath a waterfall and bridge in the distance with fall foliage on the trees

Letchworth Gorge is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” and it certainly lives up to its name. This stunning canyon features three major waterfalls, named Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls of the Genesee River. You can take detours to pretty views of each. Although long, this trail isn’t too difficult. Visit in the spring to see the falls at their best!

Length: 14 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,106 feet

Route Type: Out and back

Time Required: 6 hours

Where to Stay: Dream Lake Campground

9. Mount Marcy

A view of Mount Marcy, one of the best hiking in New York destinations

Want to say you’ve hiked the tallest peak in New York? Well, you can if you tackle Mount Marcy! Park at the Adirondack Loj Parking Lot (don’t follow the All Trails directions that take you to a different lot further away), and you’ll be on your way. The last part of this hike is incredibly steep, and make sure you’re prepared for all types of weather. Conditions are especially variable at the top. Try to conquer this trail if you’re looking for some strenuous hiking in New York. 

Length: 15 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,661 feet

Route Type: Out and back

Time Required: 8.5 hours

Where to Stay: Spacious Skies Adirondack Peaks Campground

10. Saranac Lake 6er

A view of Saranac Lake from above with hillsides of trees and fall foliage

Looking for a hiking challenge that’ll impress your friends? The Saranac Lake 6er, a hike that spans six different Adirondacks peaks surrounding the Saranac Lake, will definitely earn you bragging rights. Once you finish, you can grab an official patch and ring the bell at the town square. If you complete it in 24 hours you’ll also snag the ‘Ultra 6er’ title. What are you waiting for? Go out and get that patch—hopefully you still have space for it on your backpack!

You can choose one of the six peaks if you don’t want to do all of them at once. They’re all beautiful, but many people opt for the shortest of the six, Mt. Baker. At 1.6 miles, this small but mighty (aka steep) trail packs a punch.

Length: ~30 miles total

Elevation Gain: 

McKenzie Mountain: 2,063 feet

Ampersand Mountain: 1,765 feet

Scarface Mountain: 1,584 feet

Haystack Mountain: 1,758 feet

St. Regis Mountain: 1,545 feet

Baker Mountain: 885 feet

Route Type: Some are loops, some are out and back

Time Required: Dependent on how much of the challenge you want to hike

Where to Stay: Deer River Campsite

New York has trails for all levels of hikers. Whether you’re hoping for a leisurely stroll or an adrenaline-fueled mountain march, you’re sure to find a hike that suits your fancy. Not to mention, there’s some unique hiking in New York to be had from ice caves that last all summer to trails that stretch over six mountain peaks, this state is full of (pleasant) surprises!

Kelsey Frey is a freelance writer and full-time traveler usually found in the mountains somewhere in Europe or the USA. She’s always looking for a fun hike, backpacking trip, or lake to jump into. If you’re curious about an honest account of life without a permanent address, you can follow her on Instagram @sightsbetterseen or pop over to her travel blog at Sights Better Seen to read more about her (mis)adventures.

Image credit in order of appearance: Adobe Stock – Stephen, Vadim, Debbi Truax, Stephanie, Sara_Winter, Lisa Godfrey, Dmitry, Jonbilous, Jay, Fabian, Craig Zerbe