Nature had a major role in New York’s landscape design, including the sculptural hand of water. In the case of Niagara Falls, long a tour de force attraction, humans were vital partners. While working on Buffalo’s parks in the 1860s, Olmsted began advocating for preserving Niagara Falls. He collaboratively saw to New York’s establishment of the Niagara Reservation—the first park of its kind created by a state government—which he and Vaux then designed.

Niagara, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse groups have another water-powered crown jewel in the region—Letchworth State Park. Running 17 miles and spanning 14,000 acres along the Genesee River, the “Grand Canyon of the East” features three major waterfalls (Upper Falls currently closed as its historic train trestle is replaced); 66 miles of hiking trails; a conference center; and the intimate 1914 Glen Iris Inn, park founder William Letchworth’s former estate.

Spectacular cascades populate the Finger Lakes region, including 19 falls within Watkins Glen State Park, and Ithaca’s gushing collection, including mighty multitier Taughannock Falls.
In the Catskills, two-tier, 186-foot Kaaterskill Falls are the tallest in the state, with a new viewing platform in place. Water also flows throughout the scenic Thousand Islands region, home of legendary Boldt Castle on Heart Island.