When you start a sentence with “I’m organizing a reunion in New York,” does the word “City” automatically slide out of your mouth?  If so, you’re missing out on the vast majority of what this large state can offer traveling groups.  Even if you leave out the perennially popular vacation resorts in the Adirondacks and the Catskills – not, of course, that you’re at all obliged to – New York has a state or national park that’s just right for your family or friends.

What Should I Look for When Planning a New York State Park Reunion?

When you’re talking about the wide-open outdoors, running out of space is rarely a problem. What you can run out of, however, is fun things to do.  And there’s no way we would want that to happen.  So, when choosing these state parks, we looked at several important criteria:

  • Lodging facilities: camping and/or cabins
  • Group spaces
  • Beaches and other natural attractions
  • Proximity to well-known destinations, such as Niagara Falls
  • Lots of opportunities for sports, swimming, and other high- and low-energy activities

There are 180 or so state parks in New York. Obviously, we don’t have room to review them all in this article. For simplicity’s sake, we’re skipping the two largest parks (technically forest preserves) in the state: Catskills Park and Adirondack Park. Although these parks must be kept “forever wild” according to state statutes, they are each so massive that it would take several articles apiece to do them justice.

What New York State Parks Made the Reunion-Planning Shortlist?

Finding a reunion destination is hard, and pinpointing which of New York’s many awesome parks should get your nod is even harder.  Are you looking for a sandy beach or a rocky gorge?  Would you like to head to the state’s south, north, east or west?  Does your group want lots of activities or a quiet spot with a million-dollar view?  Decisions, decisions.  Read on to see our top picks.

Finger Lakes: Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park, located near the town of the same name, is perhaps the best-loved of the Finger Lakes state parks. If you wonder why, just have a look at the 200-foot cliffs and 19 waterfalls within the park’s reach. Both Seneca Lake and Catherine Creek are nearby, so trout fishing is always a possibility.  If your group prefers their watery fun on the milder side, there’s an Olympic-size swimming pool waiting for them.  In the spirit of friendly competition, playing fields, a playground, pavilions and picnic tables are ready to host anything from card game tournaments to rough-and-tumble sports. Afterwards, fix up your favorite camping food on one of the grills, relax and enjoy.

Niagara: Four Mile Creek State Park

It would be tempting to host your family reunion at Niagara Falls State Park, but if you’re looking for overnight accommodations, the campers in your group will be out of luck. Instead, head about 15 minutes north to Four Mile Creek State Park. There are over 250 generously-sized campsites available. Recently, Four Mile Creek installed yurts, a sort of circular hut, that small groups can reserve. Each yurt comes with six cots (with mattresses) as well as conveniences like a fridge and microwave.  Your group won’t be dependent on traveling to Niagara Falls for recreation, either. On-site, you can enjoy fishing, hiking or biking.

Long Island: Wildwood State Park

Thirty minutes north of the Hamptons, there’s a stretch of undeveloped shoreline with great views of Long Island Sound.  It’s Wildwood State Park, and its blend of hardwood forest and two miles of sand- and rock-filled coastline make this park feel surprisingly far away from the hustle and bustle of the City. Here kids can get on their bikes and zoom around, while the littlest ones play at the playground.  Hiking, fishing, nature trails, swimming and stand-up paddle boarding round out the list of active pastimes.  When your group is all played out, then it’s back to one of the 314 campsites to chill, eat some food and enjoy an age-old group camping tradition – a campfire.

Capitol/Saratoga Region: Thompson’s Lake Campground at Thacher State Park

Located about half an hour west of Albany, Thacher State Park is awash in scenic views, rocky slopes, wooded areas, and numerous amenities. From this spot on the Helderberg Escarpment, you can see the Hudson and Mohawk valleys as well as the Adirondack and Green mountains. Of course, family reunions cannot be sustained on views alone; in this case, the 140 campsites of Thompson’s Lake Campground as well as the volleyball courts, picnic areas, ball fields and group shelters give your crew much more than just spectacular scenery.  By the way, both tents and RVs are welcome here, and all sites are within reach of restrooms and shower facilities.

Geneseo Region: Letchworth State Park

A list of New York state parks would be utterly incomplete without Letchworth State Park. Voted one of the 10 Best Parks in the Nation by USA Today, Letchworth State Park also goes by the moniker of “the Grand Canyon of the East.”  Here, 66 miles of hiking trails compete with facilities for horseback riding, biking, performing arts programs, whitewater rafting, a swimming pool and even hot air balloons.  Both campsites and cabins are available; if your group prefers not to rough it, Letchworth is only 35 miles south of Rochester, so finding more upscale lodging should not present a problem. Remember, that’s if your group can tear itself away from the forests, 600-foot high cliffs, and three major waterfalls within the park’s boundaries.

Truly, the only challenge your group will face when planning a reunion at one of New York’s State Parks is picking out which one you’ll go to.  Or better yet, choose several, and bring the group back next year as well!