Venture upstate and outdoors for a whole new type of New York state of mind.
Even New York natives may overlook the beauty of the Empire State, which is surprising given its epic scale. Niagara Falls is here. So is Lake Ontario, the Thousand Islands, and Adirondack Park, the largest protected park in the lower 48 states. In addition to these wonders, New York State is geographically diverse, giving campers top picks for natural scenery.
The Adirondack Mountains dominate to the north. Every last inch is protected, adding up to a park bigger than Yellowstone, the Everglades and the Grand Canyon combined. If you've got a kayak, you can reserve a campsite on your own private island at Saranac Lake Islands Public Campground. In winter, hardcore skiers come to the Whiteface Mountain Resort to make runs on former Olympic courses.
To the south, the Catskill Mountains are gentler yet less secluded. New York City is just a few hours away, luring Manhattanites with posh spas, ski resorts and yurts for glamping. But there's plenty for purists, too. The Catskill Forest Preserve allows primitive camping for no charge, provided you bring your own water and supplies. For serious hikers, the Woodland Valley Campground makes an excellent home base to climb Slide Mountain or Giant Ledge.
Nature lovers in New York City may not know that there is camping in their own backyard. Pack your tent and hop a local bus to Floyd Bennet Field, a retired naval station in Brooklyn. The cluster of primitive tent sites is just a stone's throw from Jamaica Bay.
To the west, the Fingerlakes have enchanted visitors for a century with serene beauty. Watkins Glen State Park has stunning waterfalls and swimming holes, plus a stocked lake not far from the campgrounds. Letchworth State Park is not to be missed. Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the East, the massive gorge drops 600 feet below to rushing rapids. The campgrounds are ideal for exploring the surrounding trails, with choices for cabins and electrical hook-up sites.