Nature At Its Finest: Five Serene Campsites in Upstate New York

By Nancy Raven Kirk on September 27, 2023

Beyond skyscrapers and suburbs, there’s much more to New York state than its iconic populous city. Every traveler should check the Big Apple off their bucket list, but East Coast outdoor enthusiasts should also add a few more stops to their list. Whether you're a city dweller or upstate local, the northern portion of New York offers some seriously serene getaways.

Here are five of the most breathtaking camping locations near Upstate New York.

1. Green Lakes State Park

Location: Green Lakes State Park, Fayetteville
Number of Campsites: 145

Open: May through October 
Cost: $18 per night, two nights minimum

Best for: Hikes to Glacial Lakes 

green body of water in front of green trees
Green Lakes State Park, NY by rachaelvoorhees.

There are two glacial lakes at Green Lakes State Park, both of which shimmer with brilliant colors. Dating back to the ice ages, Green Lake and Round Lake are meromictic. This means that their water layers do not mix, which is a unique geological feature that exists in less than 100 lakes across the world. The water in these lakes is crystal clear, so you’ll be able to see deep into the water, and there are even glass-bottom boats for rent if you want to float.

As the nature of these lakes is very sensitive, the park does not allow private boats on its premises. But there are plenty of hiking opportunities amidst the park’s old-growth forests. The most popular is trekking around Green Lake, a moderately easy and flat at 2.3 mile hike. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, try the English’s Ridge Rumble 10 Miler. There’s also a nearby 18-hole golf course, the Green Lake Pitch & Putt, for those interested in swinging their club.

2. Alger Island

Location: Alger Island & Fourth Lake, Old Forge
Number of Campsites: Yes, 15 sites 

Open: May through September 
Cost: $18 per night for residents; $23 for out-of-state

Best for: Boating and fishing 

house next to pink and purple body of water
Fourth Lake Sunset by Doug Letterman.

This island is only accessible by boat to minimize noise and neighbors. Hop in your motorboat, rowboat, or canoe to get to the island’s only campground, and soak in the peacefulness of surrounding Fourth Lake, part of the Fulton Chain of Lakes. If you’re an angler, this is a great camping location. With fewer visitors, you have a better chance of catching lake trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, and landlocked Atlantic salmon. 

Note: This tiny island does not have drinkable water, so make sure to bring plenty for cooking your favorite camp meals

3. Watkins Glen State Park

Location: Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen 
Number of Campsites: 279

Open: Year-Round 
Cost: $18-$30, additional $5 per night for out-of-state (check here)

Best for: Rim Trails Overlooking Waterfalls and a Gorge

waterfall between tall rock formations
Rainbow Falls in shadow - Watkins Glen State Park. Photo by Eric Kilby.

Visitors to this park must take the Gorge Path! In less than a few miles, you’ll encounter 19 waterfalls, several narrow limestone gorges, and 11 narrow lakes. Aptly named, these narrow waterways are called the Finger Lakes, the most visited and longest of which are named Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. Along the Gorge Path, hikers will pass the tallest and most unique waterfall, the Cavern Cascade. If you take a rim trail, you’ll see this stream descend 400-feet from a bird’s eye view. This park has hidden gems at every turn and won a national readers’ choice third place for the best state park in the entire country. 

4. Cranberry Lake Campground

Location: Cranberry Lake Campground, Clifton 
Number of Campsites: 48

Open: Year-Round 
Cost: $20, additional $5 per night for out-of-state (check here)

Best for: Watersports and Lakeside Relaxing 

lake campsite surrounded by green trees
Fall colors at Cranberry Lake Campground by Tony Webster.

From canoeing to paddleboarding to rafting, boating enthusiasts will enjoy the 55 miles of untouched shoreline at Cranberry Lake. The lake sits in a remote, woodsy area of the Adirondacks mountains with waterside campsites so you can roll out of your sleeping bag and enjoy a cup of coffee as you gaze out at the third largest lake in the Adirondacks. The lake is almost 7,000 acres with depths averaging only six feet, and it has plenty of trout for anglers. Plenty of campers also take it easy by swimming and sunbathing on the sandy beaches.

5. Robert H. Treman State Park

Location: Robert H. Treman State Park, Ithaca 
Number of Campsites: 72

Open: Year Round 
Cost: $18-$28/night, additional $5 per night for out-of-state (check here)

Best for: Waterfall Chasing 

waterfall on tall rock formation
Lucifer falls from across the gorge by Chris Waits.

Explore this park’s 1,100 acres, originally purchased by Robert H. Treman in 1915. After he purchased the park formerly known as Enfield Glen, he planted more than 1,000 trees to revamp this natural site. The effort was successful, and today, Robert H. Treman State Park serves as one of New York’s most gorgeous state parks. With the convenience of more than 70 campsites, you're more likely to snag a serene getaway, although sites do fill up during peak season. Make sure to visit one of the park’s 12 waterfalls, the most elegant of which is Lucifer Falls, flowing at a height of 115 feet. 

Go Camp With KÜHL 

Camping offers us an escape from life’s everyday worries. New York State has a plethora of trails, rivers, forests, lakes, and waterfalls to wander through, whether solo or with friends. If you’re venturing by yourself, always be sure to tell others where you're going and when you’ll return.

Check off all items on this First Aid Kit Checklist to ensure your safety. Pack an adequate amount of food, and safely store your food away from wildlife.

Read The Complete Camping Food Guide: Prep, Storage, and More for tips on food preparation while going camping. Also, browse our top-quality outdoor clothing (especially quick-dry shorts such as Shift Amphibia, as you're going for the lakes and waterfalls!) to ensure maximum comfort on your camping trip. 

Featured image: Watkins Glen by Jim Griffin.

Nancy Raven Kirk
Nancy Raven Kirk

Nancy is a writer, traveler, and outdoor enthusiast originally from Los Angeles. She's had work published in the L.A. Times, OC Weekly, and various other publications. Check out her website at


Get all the news right in your mail