(WSYR-TV) — With summer officially here, it’s time to get out of the house and enjoy the great outdoors!
While New York was named the best state for summer road trips by WalletHub, high gas prices might have some rethinking how far to go. Luckily, Central New York has plenty of outdoor locations to enjoy the summer sun and Mother Nature.
A decade-old thread on City-Data discusses some of the best hidden gems in the area and we’ve compiled some of the highlights here. Some of these might be more well-known than others, but they all call Central New York home!
Estimated drive times in the articles are based off a starting location in Downtown Syracuse and provided by Google Maps. Times will vary depending on where you’re coming from.
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Bahar Nature Preserve
Drive Time: 45 minutes
Bahar Nature Preserve might be familiar to some as the home of Carpenter Falls, but this 87-acre preserve is more than just that — it’s a “hidden forest that calls to visitors yearning for an enchanted retreat.” The preserve also features 65 feet of Skaneateles lakeshore, where you can beach a canoe or kayak before a hike!
While Carpenter Falls is currently closed for infrastructure improvements, Bahar Nature Preserve has plenty of other space to enjoy. It’s on the southwest shore of Skaneateles Lake.
Baltimore Woods Nature Center
Drive Time: 25 minutes
Baltimore Woods Nature Center offers 6 miles of hiking trails and 182 acres of protected land. The area was the first purchase by the CNY Land Trust and leads outdoor programs and summer camps on a regular basis.
Baltimore Woods features ponds, valleys, wetlands, streams, and — you guessed it — woods! They’re also open year-round, but the summer is a great time to explore the area.
Beaver Lake Nature Center
Drive Time: 23 minutes
Beaver Lake might be familiar to some readers too due to its size — it features 670 acres and 9 miles of trails! According to their website, Beaver Lake features over 180 species of birds, 20 species of mammals, and thousands of plant species.
The park opened in 1970 and is also open the entire year. If you can’t make it this summer, you can try the Golden Harvest Festival in September!
Drive Time: 33 minutes
Chittenango Falls is a picturesque location of a 167-foot waterfall that flows over 400-million-year-old bedrock. The park features plenty of area for outdoor recreation and a wooden bridge path allows hikers of all skill levels to enjoy the area.
Chittenango Falls is currently doing some construction to fix up appearances, so parking may be limited. If you decide to leave your car in the park, it costs $5.
The park is also a participating location in the New York State 2022 Geocaching Challenge!
Drive Time: 13 minutes
New York State Parks calls Clark Reservation a “geologic wonder of the last ice age and a botanist’s paradise.” The reservation is an area beauty that features cliffs, rocky outcrops, woodlands, meadows, and a wetland and lake. Fishing is also popular here, but if you’re timid about visiting, the Nature Center is open during the summer and will offer field trips, demonstrations, and history on the park!
The reservation is over 350 acres in size and has several different nature trails to explore.
Drive Time: 36 minutes
Cross Lake offers beautiful campgrounds and abundant fish, thanks to the Seneca River that flows in and out of the waters. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Cross Like is known for producing some of the largest northern pike fish.
Even if fishing isn’t your forte, the lake has plenty of vegetation and wildlife that would be great to photograph!
Drive Time: 10 minutes
Elmwood Park is a beautiful and relatively large park just south of Syracuse. There’s something for everyone here, as the park boasts athletic courts and fields, a playground, picnic tables, wooded walking areas, and a refreshing creek. The park is also very animal friendly. Whether you want to take a run or relax in the sun, Elmwood Park is truly a great spot to enjoy in the city that most don’t utilize!
Erie Canal Park
Drive Time: 14 minutes
The Erie Canal Park in Camillus “is nestled between Nine Mile Creek and a wooded hillside,” according to their official website. The park also features over 13 miles of scenic wood pathways and walkways that visitors can use to hike, bike, or run! The park also features a historic aqueduct that will make you appreciate the engineering ingenuity of the Erie Canal!
The park is also on the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Upstate New York, which contains the entire Empire State Trail. You could follow the entire canalway when it’s completed!
Gypsy Bay Park
Drive Time: 28 minutes
Gypsy Bay Park is a small area on the southernmost point of Cazenovia Lake. It’s tranquil green space that is popular among locals for its lush grass and the shallow watering hole with a soft sandy bottom.
Gypsy Bay Park is also popular among dog owners, as it’s a perfect spot for them to run around and have a quick splash away from the road.
Joseph F. William Memorial Park and Beach
Drive Time: 20 minutes
This local park is great for everyone in the family. There’s opportunities to fish and take out boats, places for peaceful picnics, and great playgrounds for the kids. As the heat ramps up, you’ll even be able to take a dip in the refreshing waters of Oneida Lake!
A Google reviewer had this to say: “Very beautifully kept and maintained. Great for pictures. Little playground for the kiddos, and a little beach area.”
Drive Time: 22 minutes
Pratt’s Falls is a beautiful park in Pompey that has spectacular views without the need for strenuous hiking. The park also has beautiful trails, picnic areas, and is dog-friendly! If you’re an archer, you can also bring equipment and targets to use the park’s Excelsior bales.
Even if this park is a little bit more well-known, it’s worth a visit!
Drive Time: 44 minutes
Want to see some fossils from hundreds of millions of years ago? Take a visit to Staghorn Cliffs!
Staghorn Cliffs sits on the southeastern shore of Skaneateles Lake. It’s named after the staghorn coral fossils and the cliffs are recognized as one of New York’s premier paleontological sites. You can see these coral fossils embedded in the exposed bedrock of the lakeshore.
The cliffs are part of the 21-acre Cora Kampfe Dickinson Conservation Area, which features a hardwood forest and plenty of wildlife and was donated to the Finger Lakes Land Trust in 2011.
Just a note: While the fossils are really cool, collecting them is forbidden.
Sterling Nature Center
Drive Time: 53 minutes
While Sterling Nature Center is one of the farthest destinations on this list, you could spend an entire day on the property and still not see everything that the area has to offer! The entire nature center is over 1400 acres and has 10 miles of hiking trails, along with a plethora of different species that call the land home.
The center also has gorgeous views of Lake Ontario.
Three Falls Woods
Drive Time: 16 minutes
Three Falls Woods is home to Staircase Falls, Tall Twins Falls, and Bridalveil Falls, which give the area its name. There’s also two smaller falls, Little Twins Falls and Cascade Falls. All of the falls are best viewed in late spring and early summer. as they may dry up unless there are heavy rains later in the season.
In total, the woods boasts over 60 acres of land to explore and is truly a hidden gem. Due to the natural state of the park, there are no bikes or strollers allowed as it can get slippery at times.
Drive Time: 28 minutes
Tinker Falls is located in the Labrador Hollow Unique Area and offers year-round activity. The falls are just quarter-mile hike into the park and is nestled in a limestone amphitheater, so the visit is great for many different folks.
It’s also one of the only waterfalls in Central New York you can get behind!
When you’re done seeing the falls, you can take a look around the Labrador Hollow Unique Area, a 1483 acre park, featuring all sorts of natural formations and wildlife.
Drive Time: 9 minutes
Upper Onondaga Park is the larger of the two parts at 67 acres and features amenities like a swimming pool, playground, and athletic fields. It’s also home to Hiawatha Lake, where you can take $5 kayak rides this summer!
Lower Onondaga Park is only around 15 acres, but features some peaceful walking paths, gardens, and grottos. There’s also a neo-classical greenhouse to appreciate!
Drive Time: 13 minutes
Webster Pond is stunning wildlife sanctuary just south of Syracuse and is home to hundreds of birds that the public is encouraged to feed. The pond also features handicap accessible trails, making the pond a welcome outing for everyone. The pond also has a junior fishing program on the weekends.
Hopefully you discovered some place new! While we are just getting into summer, it will be snowing again before you know it — so get outside and enjoy the fresh air and the beauty Central New York has to offer!