Look out your dorm room window at St. John’s. You’ll hear cars bustling along on one end and a bold cityscape on the other. It matches all you ever wanted to surround yourself with, but sometimes, it floods you. A lot of the time, the noise and the repetition, the midterms and the new-assignment notifications, cave-in on you. Breaking out of the city and into the wild outdoors might just hand you that upgraded quality of life you didn’t know you needed. Pass through the last toll and launch yourself into one of New York’s natural beauties—hikes, trails, waterfalls, beaches, caverns, gardens and more.
Check out these 10 essential nature trips from St. John’s University, recommended by SJU students themselves!
1. Watkins Glen State Park
If you need an example of creation’s beauty on nature’s canvas, think of nothing other than Watkins Glen. Located in New York’s Finger Lakes Region, this surreal gorge leaves anyone spellbound. Weave under the spray of the Cavern Cascade or through any one of its other 17 waterfalls, but make sure to wear non-slip shoes. The beautiful, slippery landscape speaks for itself.
“There was a stunning moment when we were walking along the rim and water dripped down from the rocks above,” St. John’s University junior Alex Vonn said. “I tried to record it on my phone, but the camera could not give the gorge its due diligence. It looked like a wall of drizzling spring water, so unreal. My eyes followed each trickle of water splash onto the stone rim. Across from it were horizontal layers of sandstone and other flat-topped rocks rising way above and beyond me. I felt a comfort being encased in the nature all around me.”
A treasure and an experience, Watkins Glen will envelope you in wonder.
The park includes three trails. The Southern Rim and Indian trails parallel the rim while also overlooking the gorge. The Gorge trail, however, will entwine you under, over and through all of its plunging waterfalls. Prepare yourself for a hike, the stone bridges contain over 800 steps! If you want to hike all three trails over the course of a few days, the park offers tent and trailer campsites, as well as picnic areas. Remember to rest up, gear up and descend into one of NY’s finest portrait of nature ready to say “wow.”
2. Untermeyer Gardens Conservancy
Ever seen a place so beautiful, you wish you could get married there? Located just two hours from St. John’s campus, the Untermeyer Gardens not only serves as a wedding venue, but also as one of the most mystical public parks in New York.
“Drawing inspiration from Indo-Persian gardens, this majestic oasis houses a variety of plants and shrubs and is separated by canals and lotus ponds,” St. John’s University graduate Tobin Kuriakose said. “The overall scenery looks like a scene straight out of the TV series Game of Thrones, with all the foreign styled architecture, exotic plants and flowers.”
With molding Greco-Roman and modern Italian influence, these gardens intersect history, architecture and nature in one grand exposure. Untermeyer Gardens’ awe-inspiring vibes makes it the perfect spot if you want a peaceful walk through the flowers, a photoshoot or an unforgettable tech-free day. With any beautiful place, students love to pose with flora and fauna for the gram.
3. Breakneck Ridge
Squeezed between Beacon and Cold Spring, Breakneck Ridge’s steep and rocky climb hauls you up to an elevation of 1,260 feet. After a grueling ascend to flat ground, you’ll realize you only scrambled a third of the way up. Just know that the view at the mountain’s highest peak will fill you with rewarding satisfaction—the perfect mental comfort from day-to-day stress. Each time you break to look behind at sweeping views of the Hudson River and the surrounding valley, motivation to reach the top will spark. Check in with the park ranger at the start, pick out your sturdiest hiking shoes and get ready to use your hands and feet to reach the top.
After conquering another mountain, treat yourself to even more adventure. Head to Barton Orchards for out-of-this-world apple cider donuts, pastries and fresh local honey. Featuring live music, hayrides and a petting zoo, Barton Orchards houses the perfect treat for the rest of your day. For a real challenge, ride across their apple trees to the Tree Top Adventures. The guides teach you exactly how to keep safe and set you off to zipline, rock climb and test your balance every step of the way.
4. Bear Mountain State Park
A quick hour drive from SJU, Bear Mountain State Park features a hike along the Appalachian Trail that’s both a fun and strenuous workout. The euphoric feeling once climbers reach the summit gathers so many individuals to this park.
“The top of the mountain brings about so many different emotions,” St. John’s University freshman Amy Thomas said. “It’s a social place where you can take pictures and have deep conversations with friends, a quiet place where people sit back and enjoy the view. It’s a place where you can reflect upon the life you are building and have built.”
Although you may picnic at the top with friends or family, the area around Bear Mountain also features a variety of hotspots. Visit the Trailside Zoo and catch the bears, eagles, foxes and other animals native to Bear Mountain. If the climb up the mountain didn’t challenge you enough, take a walk across the Bear Mountain Bridge for more captivating views of the Hudson. During ice skating season, pack your favorite pair of ice skates or rent some from the Bear Mountain Ice Rink.
5. Letchworth State Park
An absolute hidden gem tucked into New York’s northwest forest; Letchworth State Park earned its title as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Pack a few meals, gather your closest friends and head over to surround yourself in nature. Letchworth Park runs the length of about 17 miles with the Genesee river traveling through the gorge. The park features three waterfalls, separated into upper, middle and lower levels and includes over 65 miles of hiking. A natural wonder, the park’s immersive experience makes it worth a weekend of your time. Many hikers suggest the autumn season as the best time to lose yourself to the beauty of the fall foliage.
The park also includes fishing, biking, whitewater rafting, kayaking and more. Like most parks, they also contain pavilions and picnic areas, which you may want to take advantage of as great food does not come by so easy at Letchworth. Don’t forget to do some grocery shopping ahead of time and end your day off with a fun cook-off between your friends or a classic campfire. Silence those canvas notifications and take in the awe of the nature around you.
6. Point Pleasant Beach
In Ocean County, New Jersey lies the perfect spot to dip your toes in the water or read by the beach-side: Point Pleasant Beach. Turn your back on the world of grades, career hunting and expectations. Zero in on you for the day and find your muse in the crash of the waves, the sand between your toes or the seagulls floating on the water. Take a romantic walk on the boardwalk at night or gather your friends together to watch the sunrise color the ocean blue.
The beach remains clean and spacious, and boredom will never strike.
“There’s also a lot to do because Point Pleasant is attached to Jenkinson’s boardwalk,” St. John’s University PharmD student Alisha Kuriakose said. “You don’t have to worry about going far to find food, stores or attractions. Jenkinson’s boardwalk is a mile long boardwalk bordering the Atlantic Ocean that has a fun house, a Victorian ice cream parlor, four arcades, gift shops and games.”
You cannot miss the amusement park, which now features an adventures lookout ropes course. Be sure to also eat some appetizing seafood at one of the many fine restaurants that include a view of the beach to match the mood. A pleasant town by the sea, Point Pleasant Beach offers a memorable daytrip from sunrise to sunset.
7. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
Breaking out from the city requires the means to do so. More often than not, students at SJU don’t own a car to go far and wide for nature. No worries. The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens brings nature’s treasures right to your doorstep.
“Getting to the gardens is an adventure itself,” St. John’s University junior Derek Mendez-Takizawa said. “You catch the F train that delivers you to the 6 train which finally brings you all the way down to Brooklyn. If you ever rode the public transportation in NYC, you know the many interesting personalities on these transports.”
Once you reach the museum and gardens, vendors at the street fair greet you with eco-friendly crafted goodies ranging from soaps to hand woven baskets. Take a look around, maybe even buy a little something for yourself. Whatever you do, show your support.
If you head out in April, the cherry blossoms will bloom for a quick week, just enough time for a photoshoot session. You may catch a performer in the middle of the garden, but the real highlights include the plethora of flora and fauna. Even in the rain, the garden’s stunning fields captivated all who went there. With so much to take in, including a sea of lavender, magnolias and daffodils, appreciating this oasis of flowers and greenery makes for a perfect distraction from the busy student life.
8. Domino Park
Similar to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, if getting out of the city seems absolutely impossible, don’t worry. The city still possesses some places that, although close to the noise, hangs on as a nature hub. Domino Park does exactly that.
“Despite being located in the city, the sounds of the waves from the East River numb the city chatter and provide a place to unwind during stressful times,” Kuriakose said. “A small narrow park right next to the Williamsburg Bridge, it allows you to capture amazing pictures under the bridge while also giving you the benefit to enjoy shorefront Manhattan skyscraper views.”
Located in Brooklyn, plentiful food spots and sights near the park exist. If you love the sweet stuff, travel down to Sweet Chick. If you desire more savory food, buy some tacos from the Mexican restaurant Tacocina and head on over to the park for dinner with a view. Even if you just want to catch a cool breeze after a hot day, you’ll find the perfect escape from school and the weather at Domino Park.
9. Mohonk Preserve
A perfect autumn hike, the Mohonk Preserve located 90 miles from NYC in Shawanagunk Ridge, will challenge you. If you decide on the Labyrinth or the Lemon Squeeze trails though, know that the view at the Sky Top will make you forget all the challenges it took to get there. A must for nature-lovers, this preserve comprises of a wide lake and an array of fun rock adventures such as the rock scramble and the Tabletop Rock, that ensure a fun hiking experience.
The views at Eagle Cliff and other view spots give way to a panorama of the countryside in fall colors. At such a high altitude, the fresh air and the open world below, all the stress that you put on your shoulders seem to fly right off. To top off a great day of relaxation, check out the Phillies Bridge Farm Project. You can take a workshop on sustainable agriculture or just stop by for the live music. If your stomach needs a hot, fresh meal, head to Café Mio for a selection of quality brunch items. After a long day of taking in all that nature offers, be sure to treat yourself to your favorite snacks and blast your road trip playlist.
10. Robert H. Treman State Park — Lucifer Falls
Lucifer Falls compares to Watkins Glen State Park. They both share rock formations that encase a gorge and spectacular waterfalls with beauty a camera could never capture. Located near Ithaca, the Robert H. Treman State Park and its neighboring sights forge a perfect 3-to-4-day nature getaway for the fall season.
The gorge trail takes you on a stroll through the smaller waterfalls. Skipping down a series of smaller stone steps, you’ll reach the enchanting 115-foot-tall Lucifer Falls. As you drift down more stone steps to the bottom of the waterfall, the fairy-tale and castle vibes follow along. Watching the water plummet to the rocks below, your worries, anxieties and fears seem to float away and into the stream.
If you’re in-between a sweet and savory meal, make your way down to Waffle Frolic. Make your own waffle at the waffle bar or order from the menu. Either way, waffles never failed me and enjoying a meal with your friends sounds like a perfect wrap up to a day filled with nature’s serenity.