One of the best-kept secrets of the United States is that New York is one of the most geographically diverse places in the country. From pristine beaches to world-renowned waterfalls (with lakes and rivers and mountains in between), the state is truly a paradise for nature lovers. For those who are trying to get out and see all that the state has to offer this summer without breaking the bank, these 10 family-friendly vacations will get you a bit closer to all that New York has to offer.
Western New York
Camp Prendergast at Chautauqua Lake, from $25/night
At the early part of the 20th century, Chautauqua Lake was the place to summer for people from all around the area. But as it got easier to travel further away, some of the allure surrounding the locale died. Luckily, the lake is still as beautiful as it was when Theodore Roosevelt visited it—but not nearly as pricey. You can camp out at Camp Prendergast, located only minutes away from the lake and the famous intellectual getaway, the Chautauqua Institution.
Stay near Niagara Falls: Four Mile Creek State Park, from $18/night
While many people who are visiting the wonder of Niagara Falls will overpay for a hotel, you can be one with nature at the nearby Four Mile Creek State Park. It’s only about a 15-minute drive to the falls, and staying at the campsite will get you a discount on iconic activities there such as the Maid of the Mist. The state park also has access to a beach and a nearby pool at Fort Niagara State Park.
Camping at Cayuga Lake State Park, from $15/night
In the middle of New York State is a series of lakes that bear an uncanny resemblance to phalanges. The largest of these lakes is called Cayuga. Around its almost 90 miles (145 kilometers) of shoreline are nearly 300 campsites, but the state park is perhaps the most authentic. Campers get access to beaches, fishing, and a boat launch. And for those who decide to return in the colder months, there’s even cross-country skiing (in the summer, it’s perfect hiking).
Jump into a waterfall: Camping at Taughannock Falls State Park, from $15/night
There’s a local saying that states “Ithaca is Gorges.” Camp out in Taughannock Falls State Park to check out not only the gorges but also the gorgeous waterfall for which the park is named. The fall is over 200 feet (61 meters) tall, and nearby cliffs tower over 400 feet (122 meters) above the gorge. When visitors tire of hiking, there’s also a beach for swimming, paddle boarding or fishing.
Bass Island at Lake George Islands Campgrounds, from $28/night
For those who have always dreamed of escaping to a private island, Lake George is dotted with dozens of tiny islands that are available for rent. Get off the grid with your family at Bass Island. The island is one of the most popular in the lake, due to its tent platform; therefore, your family won’t have to rough it too much.
ADK Wilderness Campground at Lake Placid, from $40/night
Stay at the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. The campgrounds sponsored by the Adirondack Mountain Club sit close to the mountain peaks and have easy access to the trails and lake. Families who would prefer to stay a bit cozy while sleeping outdoors can opt instead for a more “luxe” cabin.
Malouf’s Mountain Sunset Campground in Beacon, from $48/night
It’s basically an unwritten rule that people in New York City all escape to Beacon the first warm and sunny weekend of the year. Spend the night at Malouf’s Mountain after hiking there from the Metro-North railroad station. If the family ever tires of the great outdoors, wander into town for some charming shops and restaurants or take a look at mind-bending art at DIA:Beacon.
Dude Ranch: Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, from $219/night
For parents looking to plan an easy vacation, this all-inclusive dude ranch will make preparations easy. Kids can learn to ride horses while parents can go to the spa. There’s also an indoor waterpark on-site for children who need constant entertainment.
Eastern L.I. Kampgrounds in Greenport, from $50/night
Long Island is renowned for its beaches. For those who want to live the Long Island summer lifestyle (without paying the price of the Hamptons), settle on a campground a bit more north. The Eastern L.I. Kampground is close to many vineyards, beaches, and even a waterpark.
Watch Hill Marina and Campground in Fire Island, from $20/night
Spend the night on the beach at Fire Island. For an escape that feels like something out of the tropics instead of New York State, register for a permit, roll out some sleeping bags and fall asleep while watching the stars and listening to the waves roll in and off the sand.