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John Boyd Thacher State Park is situated along the Helderberg Escarpment, one of the richest fossil-bearing formations in the world. Even as it safeguards six miles of limestone cliff-face, rock-strewn slopes, woodland and open fields, the park provides a marvelous panorama of the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys and the Adirondack and Green Mountains. The park has volleyball courts, playgrounds, ball fields and numerous picnic areas with eight reservable shelters. Interpretive programs are offered year-round, including guided tours of the famous Indian Ladder Trail. There are over 25 additional miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, winter cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. Learn more, watch WMHT's documentary: 'The Great Ledge: Exploring Thacher'
The Visitor Center located at Thacher State Park has geological and historical exhibits showcasing the Helderberg Escarpment and its' importance on the region. The visitor center has activities for children and adults alike, along with two rentable spaces. There is a conference room for groups under 25, and the Helderberg Room which offers stunning views and a premiere space for weddings and larger celebrations or gatherings.
Sport climbing is available with a completed John Boyd Thacher State Park Risk Climbing Waiver permit. Completed digital permit applications are to be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Permits are now paperless. As a result, you will receive an
email that will serve as your permit for the 2023 climbing season. Please have
a copy of the email with you while climbing. Please visit the
climbingthacher.org website for the opening date of the climbing area.
Camping is available at this park at Thompson's Lake Campground, which features 140 campsites with options of private wooded sites and open, adjacent sites. Sites can accommodate tents or RVs and are all close to restroom and shower facilities. Take the virtual tour!
Wild Play Adventure Course: This new adventure course offers 15 zip lines, 60 aerial games, and a 40 ft jump. For hours and pricing visit www.wildplay.com/thacher/ or call: 1-800-668-7771
The Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center is located two miles from the Overlook on Thompson's Lake. The center offers exhibits, interactive displays, trails for hiking and skiing, snow shoe rentals and educational programs.
Thacher has eight pavilions. Prices range from $150 to $250 and can accommodate 40 to 200 people. Check availability at ReserveAmerica.com.
Pet Policy: A maximum of two pets are allowed in campsites and day use areas unless prohibited by sign or directive. Pets are to be supervised at all times and either be crated or on a leash not more than 6-feet in length. Proof of rabies inoculation shall be produced if requested by staff. Pets are not permitted in playgrounds, buildings, golf courses, boardwalks, pools and spray-grounds or guarded beaches (this does not apply to service animals).
Hours of Operation
- The park is open year round, sunrise until sunset.
Emma Treadwell Nature Center is open Tuesday - Sunday, 9am-4pm
Programs: Year-round. Call 518-872-0800 for details.
- Skiing, Snowmobiling and Mountain Biking: Available on designated trails only.
Snowshoe rentals by appointment only
- Picnic Shelters: May - October. Advance reservations available at reserveamerica.com
Visitor Center: Open 7 days a week 9am-4pm (Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day)
Visitor Center Bathrooms open daily 9am-4pm
Service Window: Daily, 9am-4pm
- Day Use/Picnicking/Hiking/Nature: Available year round.
- WildPlay at Thacher is now open on weekends.
Fees & Rates
Most New York State Parks charge a vehicle use fee to enter the facility. Fees vary by location and season. A list of entry fees and other park use fees is available below. For fees not listed or to verify information, please contact the park directly.
The easy-to-use Empire Pass card is $80- and your key to all-season enjoyment with unlimited day-use entry at most facilities operated by State Parks and the State Dept. of Environmental Conservation including forests, beaches, trails and more. Purchase online or contact your favorite park for more information.
Learn more about our Admission Programs including the Empire Pass.
- Vehicle Entrance Fee
Collected 9am-5pm daily
May 1 - October 31
Non-Profit Buses: $35
Commercial Buses: $75
- Helderberg Room Rental
- Please call the park for more information.
- Snowshoe Rental (available at Nature Center)
- $10 per day
$5 less than 4 hours
New! Download this park's digital map to your iOS Apple and Android device.
Highlights of Thacher State Park:
- Thacher has a limestone landscape! The dissolution of limestone bedrock gives rise to Karst features: sinkholes, caves, disappearing streams, and springs.
- The park is a migration corridor for hawks and a Fall Hawk Watch is set up at the park overlook every year during the mid-September peak period. On a good day, hundreds of hawks can be seen passing overhead.
- On the first warm rainy nights in spring, usually late March/early April here, volunteers gather to help salamanders cross the road on their journey to breed in vernal ponds.
- The honeybees in the observation hive at the Nature Center are busy: the queen is laying eggs, and the workers are raising larva and gathering nectar and pollen.
- Ripe nuts from our native trees are an important source of winter food stores for wildlife. On the Helderberg Escarpment, the most abundant nut trees are oak, hickory, and beech. Acorns are especially important winter food for deer, squirrels, and chipmunks.
- With an elevation of over 1100 feet, the Helderbergs average 8 degrees colder than the valley and receive much more snow in the winter. Thacher Park is a favorite destination for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. The ground may be bare in Albany when there is deep snow in the park.
- Thacher's Nature Center was voted into the "Top 20 Places to Take Kids in the Capital Region" by Kids Out and About.
What will you see? Plan your visit today!
Listen for these birds at our Park:
Everyone is a Steward: Be a Thacher State Park Hero!
- Keep your dog on a leash to protect ground nesting birds and small mammals in the woods.
- Use trails when geocaching and place caches within 20 feet of the trail.
- Learn about invasive species and volunteer for removal projects.
- Buy your firewood at the campground and leave behind what you don't burn.
For more information, please read our Trail Tips!
Ask a Naturalist!
Q: Can we explore the cliff above and below the Indian Ladder Trail?
A: Please stay on the trail! The slopes can be dangerous with loose rocks and slippery mud. Climbing up the steep banks destroys vegetation and creates erosion problems. Many of the mosses take decades to establish and minutes to destroy. The trail is narrow and the steep slopes are difficult to stabilize. Please stay on the trail to preserve this fragile environment.
Q: Where can we go to see fossils?
A: Much of the rock in the park is limestone and contains fossils of shelled marine animals. They are easiest to find on rocks in streambeds, in the stone wall at the Overlook, and in bare rock exposed along the Cliff Top Trail. Enjoy hunting for fossils, but please remember that collecting is prohibited in state parks.
Q: When and where can we see waterfalls in the park?
A: There are two waterfalls that cascade over the Indian Ladder Trail, one at Hop Field, and at Paint Mine picnic areas. Early spring is best, and after heavy rains in summer and fall. During much the summer, the waterfalls can be completely dry.
Did You Know?
- DID YOU KNOW? In the late 1800s, the Helderbergs became a popular tourist destination and city dwellers hired buggies to bring them up to the resort hotels near the Helderberg Lakes.
- CHECK IT OUT! On a hot summer day, the narrow cave along the Indian Ladder Trail's cliff wall provides cool relief.
- DID YOU KNOW? The Indian Ladder Trail got its name from the felled trees that Native Americans used to climb over the Helderberg Escarpment on their journey between the western hills of the Schoharie Valley and the Hudson River Valley.
Incredible Insects (April-September)
Butterflies, bees, and all kinds of bugs are an important part of
nature. Discover what makes them special, and what you can do to support
biodiversity in your backyard. Then, take to the fields and forest to see
how many insects you can find.
Discover the different parts of a habitat, and
what animals need to thrive. Then, borrow nets and see how many lake creatures
you can catch! Dress for wading.
Indian Ladder Trail Tour
Descend through the entrance of the Indian
Ladder Trail to view the amazing rock formations, and the forces that shaped
them. This one mile hike offers spectacular views of the valley and mountains
north and east.
Explore mammal skulls and skins to learn about
the many adaptations that help them survive in their habitat. Then, take to the
trails to search for signs of wildlife. The hike will be lead on snowshoes,
We'll strap on snowshoes and take an
invigorating walk on the trails or in your schoolyard. Learn to look for
evidence of animal life while you take in the quiet beauty of winter. Warm,
waterproof footwear, and snowpants recommended.
Superpowers (All Year)
Meet some of our animal ambassadors and
discover the adaptations that help them thrive in their habitat. Then, take a
hike to search for some of the amazing plants and animals that call the park
With Fossils (All Year)
400 million years ago, New York was submerged
under a tropical sea! Explore the geological history of the park, and examine
fossils of ancient sea creatures.
Grant Program is designed to connect students in New York State with nature
and history. Each
grant can provide reimbursement for field trips to state and federal parks,
forests, historic sites, fish hatcheries, and outdoor recreation areas for
districts with at least one Title 1 school. Additional
programs can be designed to meet your group's specific interests. To schedule a
field trip or outreach program in your classroom, please call 518-872-0800 or
"Cliffs Higher Than the Palisades" was just one of the
superlatives used to describe John Boyd Thacher State Park after its
acquisition in 1914. It was also extolled as a paradise for geologists and
acclaimed for its precipitous cliffs and magnificent prospects. Enthusiasts
declared its scenery unsurpassed, even in the Adirondacks.
Thacher Park is located in the Helderbergs, an east-west
mountain range between the Adirondacks and the Catskills. Although the
Helderbergs extend more than 300 miles, their most dramatic manifestation is
the 3-milelong, 1200-foot-high limestone escarpment southwest of Albany that
forms the core of the park. The escarpment was formed more than 100 million
years ago, when layers of limestone, sandstone, and shale were uplifted and
eroded by wind, water, and other elements. As softer rock wore away, limestone
broke off along vertical cracks, leaving a jagged, perpendicular wall. Thacher
Park includes this escarpment and extends west along the wide, elevated plateau
Thacher park has been a frequent site for geological
exploration and research. Scientists have traveled across the globe to visit
Thacher park and see the unique geology that can be found here. During the
Devonian period, which occurred from 419 to 359 million years ago, the entire
state of New York was covered by a warm shallow sea.
Winifred Goldring was a
prolific paleontologist and geologist who made significant contributions to the
scientific community in a time when it was especially challenging to be a woman
in science. She was appointed the first female state paleontologist for New
York in 1939. In 1949 she went on to be elected the first female president of
the paleontological society, only four women have held this position since, and
in 1950 she was elected the vice president of the Geological Society of
America. She produced a major study on Devonian crinoids found in New York, she
studied the Petrified Sea Gardens stromatolites, and mapped New York State
geology, most notably at John Boyd Thacher State Park. She also did invaluable palaeobotanical
work on the Devonian age fossil forests in Gilboa, New York. Goldring never let
the challenges she faced as a woman in the field hold her back and is truly a
woman of great scientific and historical significance.
The park has a long association with human activity. Native
American trails from the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys traversed the escarpment
leading to settlements in the Schoharie Valley, while the secluded caves under
the cliffs provided refuge for loyalists during the Revolution. Permanent
European settlement began after the war, when Stephen van Rensselaer III opened
this remote corner of Rensselaerswyck to tenants, and by the 1790s farms were
established throughout the Helderbergs. In 1821 a steep road was cut along the
cliff face; however, this treacherous approach did little to diminish the
region's isolation. A combination of poor soil and near feudal leaseholds
sparked turbulence after van Rensselaer's death in 1839, as heirs demanded
long-overdue rents. The ensuing "Anti-Rent Wars" engendered years of
instability. Despite disadvantages, a small agricultural community persisted on
the Helderberg plateau into the twentieth century.
Early visitors were drawn to the Helderbergs by scientific
interests. In the 1830s, geologists began studying the region's superb
exposures of upper Silurian and Devonian strata and its extraordinary
collection of marine fossils. One prominent scientist called the Helderbergs "a
key to the geology of North America." By the late nineteenth century, the Helderbergs were attracting tourists, and
boarding houses, hotels, and campgrounds developed around Thompson's and
Warner's Lakes, to the west. Increased visitation hastened transportation
improvements, and after 1864 the Delaware & Hudson Railroad provided service
from Albany to nearby stations.
In 1906 John Boyd and Emma Treadwell Thacher began acquiring
land along the escarpment to protect it from development. J.B. Thacher
(1847–1909), a well-known politician, served as a state senator and as mayor of
Albany. By 1909, when Thacher died, the couple owned numerous ridge-top
parcels. Emma Thacher (1850–1927) later donated 350 acres to New York State for
public parkland. In 1914 the legislature delegated management to the American
Scenic and Historic Preservation Society (ASHPS), formed in 1895 to protect
scenic and historic sites. The society enthused that "the lover of nature, the
geologist, the seeker for inspiration can here make interesting explorations of
the wonders of nature...."
Not much is known about Emma Treadwell Thacher before she
married John Boyd Thacher, but that is not uncommon for a time period when a
woman's role in society was to marry and produce children. We know that Emma Treadwell Thacher was born
into a wealthy family, and that her father sold fur and seal skins. She was a well respected woman of society, a
philanthropist, and a naturalist. She
saw the value in preserving land for future generations to enjoy, and she had
the means to make that a reality. After
her husbands death she donated 350 acres to the state of New York which became John
Boyd Thacher State Park. She only had
the opportunity to do this because of the Married Women's Property Act of
1848. The first law of it's kind in the
United States, it allowed women to retain assets under their own name after
they married. Previously any wealth a woman had would transfer to her husband,
and after a man's death his wealth would be tied to his estate or pass on to his
closest male relative. This left women
at the mercy of their male relatives. The passing of the Married Women's
Property Act gave the women of New York State the protection of financial
security, and control of their assets. It
gave Emma Treadwell Thacher the ability to leave this unique historical site in
the protection of the state, for all future generations to enjoy.
The ASHPS surveyed the land and constructed trails, picnic
groves, and camping areas. Stabilization took priority; the same natural forces
that had created the park made public access difficult or even hazardous.
Flooding streams washed out roads, and waterfalls and erosion undermined the
cliffs. By 1927 the 900-acre park included the Indian Ladder Trail, a scenic
path below the escarpment; additional land along the cliff; and fifty acres on
Thompson's Lake. A
new state highway improved access and increased visitation.
In 1924 New Yorkers had passed a $15 million bond to develop
a state park system, and Thacher Park received $25,000 for development. With
funding secure, in 1928 the ASHPS solicited a plan from chief engineer Major
William A. Welch, from the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. Among many new
features were a large rustic log shelter and improved vistas. The state park plan, which linked urban populations with scenic resources,
identified Thacher as the key park serving the Capital District, prompting
plans for additional improvements.
The untimely onset of the Depression eliminated state park
funds, leaving officials dependent on state and federal relief programs. The
Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA) provided funds for
maintenance, and a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp on Thompson's Lake
provided labor for forestry and trails. Workers from a later camp at Thacher
constructed the first section of a handsome stone overlook along the edge of
the escarpment. Before 1940, the park was transferred to the New York State
Conservation Department, which administered it until 1972, when the
Saratoga-Capital District State Park and Recreation Commission was established.
After World War II, the increase of suburban families
produced patrons seeking family activities and water recreation. A large pool
was constructed at the north end of the park in 1952 became a popular
attraction for young families in the Albany area during the 1950s-60s, and new
picnic shelters, athletic fields, game areas, and parking lots accommodated
record-breaking weekend crowds. 2017 was the grand opening of the newly constructed John Boyd Thacher Park Visitor
Center. The 3.8 million dollar building located right next to the Indian Ladder
Trail provides a location for education, events and overlooking the escarpment
viewshed towards the Green Mountains and Hudson river valley.
Key BCA Criteria:
- Migratory concentration site
- Diverse species concentration site
- Species at risk site
The John Boyd Thacher/Thompson's Lake BCA consists of portions of two nearly contiguous State Parks in Albany County. John Boyd Thacher sits atop the Helderberg escarpment, a 100 foot high calcareous cliff. The BCA is especially important because its diverse habitats support a wide variety of birds of prey. Thacher is dominated by forested uplands. The Thompson's Lake area consists of additional upland forest, old fields and a bur oak-black ash swamp adjacent to the lake. The lake itself is not owned by OPRHP.
There are 171 species of birds that have been identified within the J.B. Thacher and Thompson's Lake BCA, of which 102 are confirmed or probable breeders, including: Sharp-shinned hawk (Special Concern), Cooper's Hawk (Special Concern), Northern Goshawk (Special Concern) and Golden-winged Warbler (Special Concern). The forests support some of the area's highest densities of breeding songbirds such as Hermit Thrush, Winter Wren, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Canada and Worm-eating Warblers and Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes. J. B. Thacher supported the first recent regional nesting of Common Ravens and is now the nucleus for the population in the area.
Download a copy of the BCA map.
Go birding with the Thacher Park Bird Checklist.
Hunting permits will be issued beginning September 15th.
All persons hunting within the boundaries of the permitted hunting area of Thacher State Park must have a valid NYS hunting license, archery license, muzzle loading license and/or turkey permit as required by Environmental Conservation Law. A special permit, issued by Thacher State Park, is also required. Permits can be obtained at the park office at no charge.
Rifles of any caliber or handgun of any type is strictly prohibited. Muzzle loader or shotgun only. Bow hunting in designated areas. With the exception that all hunting ends on March 31st of each year, the hunting schedule follows the hunting season as outlined by New York State DEC for NYSDEC wildlife management unit (WMU) 4H; this is considered the "Southern Zone." All NYSDEC regulations and provisions pertaining to WMU 4H apply. Hunting within 500 feet of any building or road is strictly prohibited. No structures of any kind. Tree stands must be climber style or lock on. All tree stands must be removed daily.
Hunters must display the park issued parking registration form on the dashboard whenever parked in one of the designated hunting parking areas. Hunters must carry the park issued hunting permit on their person at all times when hunting in the park. The permit must be displayed upon request to any park employee or officer.
Hunting permits include a report; the report must be completed and returned to the park office by March 31st.
Hunting is permitted from sunrise to sunset.
*Please note: Hunting is not permitted within 500 feet of any building, road, playground, or parking lot, and all trails are considered safety zones where hunting is not allowed.
Overlooking the Geology
Saturday, September 30, 2023 01:30 PM - 02:30 PM
Thacher State Park
Weather permitting, meet at the Thacher Park Overlook, where on a clear day at least four different landscape regions are visible. Learn how and when they formed and about the many different rock types of which they are made. Ages 16+, Registration encouraged. Call 518-872-0800.
A Walk Through the Paleozoic
Saturday, October 7, 2023 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Thacher State Park
Meet at the Thacher Visitor Center, On this one-mile walk, participants will be introduced to the rock layers of the Indian Ladder Trail and the fossils found within them. We will return along the top of the escarpment which offers spectacular views of the valley and mountains north and east. This trail requires going up and down multiple flights of stairs. Registration encouraged. Age 16+, Call 518-872-0800.
Fall Foliage Walk
Sunday, October 8, 2023 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM
Thacher State Park
Meet at the Thacher Visitor Center, Learn about some of New York's most common trees and their color-changing habits just in time for fall! We'll walk one mile over easy terrain on the Escarpment Trail. All ages, Registration Encouraged. Call 518-872-0800.
Girl Scouts Cadette Tree Badge
Sunday, October 8, 2023 01:30 PM - 03:00 PM
Thacher State Park
Meet at the Old Stage Road Trailhead, Take in the fall colors on this hike to High Point. On the way, Cadettes will learn to identify trees and work towards earning their Tree Badge. Carpooling is encouraged. Registration required. Call 518-872-0800.
Caves & Karst
Saturday, October 14, 2023 09:30 AM - 11:30 AM
Thacher State Park
Meet at the Thacher Visitor Center, Discover the development of Thacher Park's unique landscapes as we observe limestone layers, resurging underground streams, and an active sinkhole! Each participant will follow the group leader in their own vehicle as we caravan to different sites. Ages 16+, Registration Encouraged. Call 518-872-0800.