Where is Thacher State Park
Located in Upstate New York, Thacher State Park is 15 miles southwest of Albany, the Green Mountains of Vermont and Taconic Mountains of Hudson Valley in view where it sits atop the Helderberg Escarpment. Thacher is famous for its Indian Ladder Trail, which descends 60 feet to the base of the escarpment, passes under Minelot Falls, allows visitors into the very heart of its limestone cliff-face and the archaeologically rich formations, before letting you out on its newly renovated Visitor’s Center.
How Big is Thacher State Park?
Thacher State Park is fairly expansive, covering 2,155 acres with over 12 miles of trails. The top of escarpment reached 1,300 feet in elevation and offers panoramic views of the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys along with the Adirondack Mountains and its famous peaks. While Thacher offers rugged terrains throughout the park, the property is well-maintained with several parking lots, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, mountain bike areas, large fields, campgrounds, and a disc golf course.
Thacher State Park Weather
May and June are still very rainy in the Capital District, but on clear days it will be a cool, 40°-60°. July and August are the hottest months with an average high of 81° and often humid without much breeze. Fall is a sweet spot, ushering in the changing of the leaves and milder temps with an average high of 71° in September and dropping by ten degrees every subsequent month. Winter brings snow and ice and freezing 30° weather until March.
When did Thacher Become a State Park
While the history of the park area dates back to being used by the Mohawk Iroquois Native Peoples 400 years ago, as evidenced by flint weapons and tools found throughout the land, it became an official state park in 1914 when Emma Treadwell Thacher, Albany Mayor John Boyd Thacher’s widow, donated the land. Since opening to the public, it has been designated as a state park named in honor of her late husband.
Things To Do at Thacher State Park
There’s something to do for all ages and ability levels at Thacher State Park. The variety of activities and amenities available at Thacher, also make it great for repeat visits and fun for solo hikers or families alike. Our National Park Visitors Guide highlights activities below.
If you want a scenic drive and a gorgeous, panoramic view without hoofing it too far, you can pull off the State Route 157/Thacher Park Rd into the designated overlook parking area which is free and open year-round to the public from sunrise to dusk. A popular destination to gaze into the valley and observe the change of seasons and fall colors.
Indian Ladder Trail
If you want a short walking trail that looks like a breathtaking climb, the famed Indian Ladder Trail is a mere half mile from the stairs descending the escarpment to the steps leading up to the Visitor’s Center and suitable for all ability levels. Keep in mind this trail is typically only open May 1-Labor Day from 8am-8pm, Labor Day-November 15 8am-5pm, and is closed November 15-April 30. However, the Escarpment Trail and Long Path is open year-round and follows along the edge of the cliffside.
Hang Glider and High Point
In the North Section Trails, you can hike to reach two beautiful vantage points that overlook the valley, unobstructed by trees or the surrounding cliff face. Hang Glider features a clear patch of grass perfect for having a trail snack and High Point offers a view at the tallest point of the park.
Visitor Center and Nature Center
The Visitor’s Center includes historical and geological exhibits, as well as a couple children’s discovery activities like a slide and short rock wall and picnic tables. The Nature Center located in the Thompson Lake campground has year-round educational programs for school groups and the general public.
The Thompson Lake Campground has 147 campsites, which can accommodate tents or RVs and offers a variety of recreational facilities, including boat rentals, showers, bathrooms, a swimming area, playing fields, and fishing, including ice fishing.
Accessible near the Hailes Cave Pavilion and parking lot is a climbable cliff area, preceded by a squeeze box and sign-in/out register at the trailhead. Climbing is free, though allowable only by permit through an online application and the actual permit must be picked up from the visitor’s center.
Wild Play Adventure Course
A new ropes and zip line course that features 15 zip lines, 60 aerial courses with obstacles like tightropes and wobbling log bridges, and a 40-foot jump for about $45. It’s open during the spring and summer and popular with kids or mixed groups.
Mountain biking is allowed on almost all the hiking trails, though the best through trails are in the Southern Section, along the escarpment, and in the Northern Section features a skills park with jumps, bowls, and other terrain features very close to the Hailes Cave Pavilion and parking lot.
In the North Section of the park is a 15 hole/basket expansive, scenic course on well-maintained grass.
There are 9 pavilions that can be reserved from $75-$250, as well as plenty of picnic areas and grills available for families to enjoy the scenery together.
Allowable only in designated areas and by special permit, hunters can catch deer and other small game.
Snowmobiling/Cross Country Skiing
During the winter the park can still be enjoyed on its designated snowmobiling trails, especially in the North Section. Because of the cliff and tree shade, snow stays on the ground for a long time.
When to Go
The Indian Ladder Trail is only open from early summer to late fall, typically from May 1-November 15 and closed for the winter months. While all other trails remain open year-round, this is generally a good guide to keep in mind when planning a visit. May and June are still very rainy in the Capital District, however if you’re in the area for a while or can plan for a clear day, the increased rainfall guarantees the waterfalls will be at their most dramatic before drying up in the summer and guarantees cool weather. July and August are popular months to go but will be humid and often without breeze, meaning bugs will be out in full swing. Fall is the sweet spot for weather and beauty, the high cliffs allowing for dramatic views of the seasonal colors. The winter which can hit in October or late into November and will necessitate snowshoes. Though there aren't a lot of sustained, elevated climbs that require crampons, trails do get really icy.
Must Have Things to Go to Thacher Park
Because Thacher Park is so well-developed with bathroom facilities by the picnic areas and is designed for people of all ages to enjoy, you don’t need a lot of specialized gear. However, if you’re looking to do a big hike there are some things List of Parks suggests you bring.
Waterproof hiking boots
Lots of the trails are shaded year round and remain muddy far into the summer season and stay that way the vast majority of the time.
WaterWhile none of the trails are ever more than 3-4 miles from a parking lot, you will need to carry your own water if you are hiking. While it never gets dangerously hot, the humidity in August especially might make hydration tablets in your water an efficient way of keeping you hydrated without the extra water weight. The waterfalls and streams will dry up in the summer so keep in mind you won’t be able to filter any refills during that time.
Bug and Tick SprayThe air is pretty still in the forested areas and ticks can be a serious health issue, so make sure to spray towards the bottom of your pants or any openings around your shirts if you are going on the trails or encountering high grass.
Birding is very popular in Upstate New York and Thacher is home to many species, including turkey vultures and woodpeckers.
JacketWith the exception of the high summer months, the shaded trails in the heavily wooded areas and wind at the cliffs’ edges make a light, windbreaker jacket or long sleeve shirt good ideas for warding off the chill and bug bites.
Where to Stay at Thacher State Park
While the Thompson Lake Campground is closer to Thacher US State Park, staying in Albany proper is the more luxurious option with a vibrant downtown area and college town scene with homey bars and ethnic eats. Experience NYC-like stylings at the Renaissance Albany Hotel or comfortable accommodations near the Crossgates Mall at Tru by Hilton. Or, if you want a taste of historic Albany, try staying at the Morgan State House Inn at the corner of beautiful Washington Park.
Where to Eat at Thacher State Park
There isn’t a snack bar in the main park area, mostly only offering places for you to bring your own food and picnic there. However, barely fifteen minutes from the Visitor’s Center and in view from the cliffside is Indian Ladder Farms Cidery and Brewery Biergarten. Try their unique hard ciders made from apples grown right in the surrounding orchards or go into their farm store for seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as refreshing, non-alcoholic apple cider. They also have a window serving out fresh apple cider donuts. If you want something more substantial, take a seat in the outdoor beer garden area with a full menu from Yellow Rock Cafe offering the usual suspects like burgers and wings and the occasional BBQ cookout. If you would rather venture into town in Albany, Paesan’s on Ontario St. has some of the best NY style pizza in the Capital Region, Shining Rainbow Restaurant has an expansive menu of authentic Chinese cuisine, or try City Beer Hall for some good brews and hometown eats.
Airports near Thacher State Park
Downtown Albany is practically equidistant from Thacher Park as it is to Albany International Airport, which is a small though highly efficient airport. It’s about 18 miles from where the airport is located to Thatcher State Park. There’s also the Rensselaer Amtrak station for those traveling along the Northeast Corridor.