New York State – why you should visit

New York State Attractions

Everybody puts a trip to New York City on their bucket lists but many completely miss out on the rest of the area. New York State has it all from stunning beaches, wild and rugged national parks, there’s castles and hot springs, and some incredibly charming small towns in upstate New York. Oh and the wineries and foodie experiences in the markets and farm shops I could go on forever.

New York State or as it is nicknamed “the Empire State” deserves a visit or better yet a New York State Road trip. From upper New York State that borders on Canada with Niagara Falls, a visit to the Capital of New York State – Albany (bet many of you didn’t realize that). Don’t miss Ithaca or the Erie Canal and how about Buffalo?

Niagara Falls lit at night by colorful lights New York State

As Canadians Buffalo was always where we travelled to get our New York to Buffalo bus tickets not to mention it is the place where Buffalo Wings were invented so it made a sweet day trip on a perfect sunny day.

Do you want mountains? Well, New York State is home to the Adirondacks, the Catskills and of course the Appalachians.  New York State has more than 7,600 freshwater lakes, ponds and reservoirs, as well as portions of two of the five Great Lakes and over 70,000 miles of rivers and streams.

The Finger Lakes are a group of eleven long, narrow, lakes in an area called the Finger Lakes region. There are also 24 National Parks in New York State to hike, bike, walk, ski and camp. Not only is New York State perfect for the outdoor lover but for culture vultures, there are many famous monuments or heritage sites to visit.

Panoramic view of the Rainbow Falls, the Upper Bridge and the Hydro-electric Facility in Ausable Chasm, Keeseville, Upstate New York state

13 New York State attractions that travel writers say you should visit

Lake Minnewaska

A 17-minute drive from the college town of New Paltz, the Minnewaska State Park Preserve is a 22,275-acre preserve that flanks the impressive Shawangunk ridgeline in Ulster County, New York. 

The Shawangunk Mountain Ridge rises more than 2000 feet above sea level and as a result, the state park preserve is home to numerous waterfalls, three sparkling lakes and an abundance of sheer cliffs and ledges. 

Minnewaska State Park features over 50 miles (80km) of hiking trails, the most popular being the Lake Minnewaska Loop Trail – a heavily trafficked 2 mile (3.2km) loop that hugs the shoreline of Lake Minnewaska, the indisputable highlight of the state park preserve. 

New York State – why you should visit

In the summer, there is a small roped-off area towards the beginning of the trail where visitors are able to go for a swim in the crystal-clear water. 

If you plan on visiting in the winter months, your hiking shoes will be replaced with either snowshoes or the more adventurous cross-country skis. 

After you have thoroughly explored the lakes and waterfalls of Minnewaska state park preserve, take the 17-minute drive to the college town of New Paltz where you will find a number of farm-to-table restaurants and wonderful local breweries. 

Clemson Bros. Brewery is a great place to grab some craft beers and traditional American pub fare, with the signature Big Bad Wolf Burger being the highlight of the menu.

Home to dramatic mountain ridges and lush, dense forest, Minnewaska State Park Preserve is certainly a unique place to visit in New York State. Recommended by Ben from Ticket 4 Two Please

Mohonk Mountain House

Mohonk Mountain House is incredible.  It is a crazy jumble of Victorian-era wood and stone buildings that looks like something out of a Harry Potter movie.  The mountain house (hotel) has been constructed in several spurts, and each one has a different style that clash, but also go well together.  It stands on the edge of the picturesque Mohonk Lake and there is a wide, two-level porch lined with oversized rocking chairs where you can sit and enjoy the lake views. 

Guests can also enjoy kayaking on the lake or swim at the nearby sandy beach, hidden in a tiny cove around the corner.  There are also tennis courts, a golf course and horseback riding.  In winter, there is a small outdoor ice-skating rink and plenty of opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

New York State – why you should visit

The mountain house sits on a huge swathe of wooded land that has great hiking trails for all levels.  Perhaps the most unique is the Labyrinth and Lemon Squeezer rock scramble, where you clamber over rocks and climb steep ladders in narrow crevices to get to the top of the hill. (You can also walk up a wide path if you prefer easier access).  At the top is Sky Tower, which you can climb to the top of for truly breathtaking views over the surrounding woods and valley.  The views are especially stunning in the fall when the entire area is ablaze with spectacular autumn foliage.

For less active pastimes, there is a legendary weekend brunch, with multiple food stations and views through wrap-around windows of the Hudson Valley.  For lunch, there is a fun outdoor BBQ near the lake, and free afternoon tea and cookies are served in the main lounge area. There is also a spa where you can relax and soothe your sore hiking muscles.

Mohonk Mountain House is near New Paltz in the mid-Hudson Valley. Recommended by James Ian from Travel Collecting and Parks Collecting.

Shelter Island

Shelter Island, located in between the North and South Fork of Long Island, is just two and a half hours away from Manhattan. Visiting this quaint, picturesque destination is perhaps like stepping back in time to the 1970’s— one-lane narrow roads, no traffic lights, and plenty of mom and pop shops that have been around for generations. 

The quickest and most convenient way to get to Shelter Island is driving via the North Fork, and taking the North Ferry from Greenport. Though a car is the easiest way to go, you may also choose to take the LIRR (train) from Jamaica, Queens and bring your bicycle as a means for exploring the island. 

During the summer season, visit the local outdoor Havens farmers’ market off of RT 114 where you will be able to purchase local produce, flowers, baked goods, cheeses, wine, and more. 

New York State – why you should visit

Another wonderful activity, especially if you love the outdoors, is hiking through the Mashomack Preserve. At this scenic nature preserve with eleven miles of coastline, you may spot osprey, red-tailed hawks, box turtles, deer, possum, and many more local wildlife. After your hike, visit Ram’s Head Inn for an alfresco brunch or lunch on their patio. This historic inn and restaurant is very family-friendly as it has an expansive backyard with a hammock, playset, bocce ball court, tennis court, and its own private beach. 

Two additional great casual dining options for couples and families is Stars Café and Marie Eiffel Market, both within walking distance to the North Ferry. Lastly, another exceptional hotel to stay at is Seven on Shelter, a boutique B&B with an amazing continental breakfast that is usually open seasonally from May-September.  Recommended by Vanessa of East End Taste Magazine.

Saratoga Springs, New York

Saratoga Springs is a charming historic town in the capital region of New York. It gained popularity in the early 1900s when the elite from NYC came to drink the waters. The waters are natural springs throughout the region that still bubble today.  They are said to have health properties that other water doesn’t.

 Today Saratoga is still drawing tourists to the springs.  There are 21 natural springs throughout the city and you can try them all. They all taste quite different due to the composition of minerals. Some taste really awful, but it’s a fun way to spend the day sampling all the different springs. 

Congress Park in downtown Saratoga has 4 natural springs that continually drip water. You can bring a cup and taste them while enjoying the beautiful park. If tasting spring waters doesn’t appeal, you can also bathe in the spring water. 

The Roosevelt spa offers 30-60 minutes soaks in the spring water. You will enter a room that has a bathtub filled with warm water from the closest spa. Due to the minerals in the water combined with heat, the water turns brown!

There is enough to do in Saratoga Springs to keep you coming back again and again. Hope you will put it on your list! Recommended by Alicia of Travels with the Crew.

Bannerman Castle

The Bannerman Castle and the story of the island where it resides are unique. They may very well be one of New York’s best-hidden gems. Bannerman, a Scottish immigrant, modelled the building after Scottish castles. It’s not hard to see the awe-inspiring details on which this palace was crowned. 

The castle is located 1.5 hours from New York City on Pollepel Island. Constructed in 1901, it’s hard to believe that it only served as a warehouse to store military surplus. A smaller structure on the property, built in 1908, was used as the Bannerman family’s summer home.

New York State – why you should visit

The tour is $38 per person. For a few dollars more, you can enjoy the visit with live music. Access is only by boat and the scenic 30-minute boat ride has fantastic views of the Hudson Valley and the Hudson River. Sign up for an exhilarating and educational 1.5-hour tour. It leaves from shore in Beacon, NY near the Metro-North railroad station. Another travel option is by kayak.

You will find Beacon to be an excellent spot for dining, art galleries, or sampling artisan beers. But, if you love wandering around old, massive, eye-catching ruins, a tour of Bannerman Castle is unparalleled. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to climb stairs from the dock and navigate uneven terrain. The history, architecture, and breathtaking views are captivating, picturesque, and worth a visit.  Recommended by Tanya of Travels and Treasures

Seneca Lake

‘If you’re looking for a unique place to visit in New York State, why not head up north on Interstate 90 and visit Seneca Lake? 

The Finger Lakes region in New York has become a hotspot for leisure seekers who are looking to explore the natural beauty of America’s heartland. Seneca Lake is the largest of the glacial finger lakes and one of the most popular destinations. It offers a variety of amazing scenic views and activities that will keep you busy all day long.

Some of the best things to do include exploring the Seneca Lake State Park, visiting the Belhurst Castle, and sampling fine wines at the wineries (3 Brothers and Belhurst are some of the best). In fact, there’s actually an entire wine trail that you can walk that encompasses 31 of the state’s finest wineries.

New York State – why you should visit

Outdoor lovers will also love Seneca. As well as the State Park, the Finger Lakes National Forest is a wonderful place for hiking and getting back to nature. Watkins Glen State Park is another top choice and this actually won an award for best US hikes due to its cascading waterfalls and scenic gorges.

If you’re spending some time in New York City, it can be a wonderful weekend break, however, the drive is over 4 hours long, so you will want to leave early. There is accommodation around the Finger Lakes themselves, you could stay in neighbouring towns like Geneva or you could simply camp on the reserve.’ Recommended by Alice from Adventures of Alice

Opus 40

Opus 40 is an amazing sculpture that was built over a 37-year period by artist and quarryman, Harvey Fite. Visiting the sculpture will add a unique attraction to your New York itinerary. Sprawling over approximately 7 acres, this outdoor masterpiece will take your breath away.

Opus 40 is relatively close to Woodstock, NY. It is located right off route 87 along the Hudson River, and is less than a 2-hour drive from NYC!

When you check-in, there is a little shop where you can buy yourself a keepsake or even a little snack before you start your adventure. You will then be directed to a museum in the house on the property (this may be closed for COVID restrictions). In the museum, you can check out a short film telling you all you need to know about Opus 40.

New York State – why you should visit

Exploring and climbing all over the sculpture is hands-down the best part of visiting, and there are a bunch of different levels for you to explore. Each vantage point offers a unique view of the sculpture. On the same note, you will be walking around all uneven surfaces and there are sets of steps all around. The steps can mostly be avoided if needed, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t fully explore every inch.   

Opus 40 is a masterpiece hidden amongst the mountains and the trees in New York. The detail, precision, level of work, and amount of determination that went into this incredible sculpture is something not to go unnoticed. Aside from that, you’re surrounded by the serenity of nature and will only benefit from taking it all in.  Recommended by Nina of Nomadic Neen

Letchworth State Park

Waterfalls and picturesque gorge trails are abundant around New York’s Finger Lakes, but Letchworth State Park offers visitors the most unique and spectacular landscape in the extremely popular lakes region.

Over 60 miles of hiking trails, 3 awesome waterfalls, 1 staggering 600 ft deep horseshoe-shaped canyon and endless photography opportunities make Letchworth the perfect hidden gem in Western New York.

Start with an extraordinary sunrise from Great Bend Overlook, the sun creeping out of a flat ‘island’ horizon over the U shaped Genesee River 600 ft below.

New York State – why you should visit

Next, hike to Lower Falls, Middle Falls and Upper Falls along the gorge and rim trails. Lower Falls is the most picturesque, Middle Falls is the mightiest and Upper Falls is the most photogenic.

Don’t miss Inspiration Point for the best vantage point in Letchworth. Views upstream include the Genesee River, Middle Falls, and Upper Falls with its narrow arched train bridge crossing above.

Rochester, NY is the closest major town and airport to Letchworth, around 1-hour drive from the Middle Falls parking area.

Accommodation options near the park are sparse, but the highly-rated Letchworth Farm B&B just 8 miles from the visitor centre offers the perfect solution.

Visit Letchworth State Park for stunning landscapes, powerful waterfalls, relaxing hiking through the forest and a unique Finger Lakes experience. Contributed by Mark and Kristen Where are those Morgans.

Indian Head Hike, Upstate New York 

Sitting just outside the scenic village of Lake Placid, are the Adirondacks. One of the rare outdoorsy hubs of New York State, filled with back-country hiking, camping, and lazy lake days. One of the best hikes in this 5,000 ft high mountain range is Indian Head Trail. During this moderate 11-mile hike, you’ll pass several waterfalls and traverse the thick muddy wilderness of upstate New York.

New York State – why you should visit

Even for those with only a moderate level of fitness, it’s a doable day hike. The first several miles of trail snake from the small parking lot along a paved path to the woods. Be sure to get to the trailhead early since parking fills up by 6 AM. At the summit, you’ll be rewarded with views of a lush green valley from a rocky outcropping, or if you’re lucky enough to time your visit with the autumn changing of the leaves, a golden and burnt sienna rainbow of colours. This is my favourite hike in New York for both the spectacular views at the peak and the rambling trail. Recommended by Geena from Beyond the Bucketlist

Genesee Country Village and Museum

Encompassing over 600 acres, the Genesee Country Village and Museum is the largest living history museum in New York and the third largest country! At this unique New York attraction, about 20 minutes outside of Rochester, visitors can explore a historic village that contains over 60 buildings from three different eras.

The Pioneer settlement includes homes, barns, and a schoolhouse built between 1795 and 1830. This section has Nathaniel Rochester’s (as in Rochester, New York) first home from when he moved to the area. With homes built between 1830-1870, the Center Village feels like a real town, complete with a general store, church, and inn. Make sure to visit George Eastman’s childhood home, the founder of Eastman Kodak.

New York State – why you should visit

The Gaslight Era section contains houses built during the post-Civil War, showing off some of the technological advances, like having gas-lit lights in your home versus using candlelight. You don’t want to miss the octagonal-shaped house! It’s not every day you see a home with eight walls versus four. While you stroll through the village, you will encounter many interpreters ready to answer your questions about their jobs and how life was during the represented time.

In addition to the historic village, Genesee Country Village and Museum has an art museum and nature centre. There are also a few places to eat, including the Depot Restaurant, offering reasonably priced sandwiches, salads, and other standard fares. Recommended by Lauren from Where the Wild Kids Wander

Breakneck Ridge Hike

Hiking Breakneck Ridge should be on every New Yorker’s bucket list. The Breakneck Ridge hike is one of the most unique and challenging trails in New York. Located just an hour and a half away from New York City, it’s also one of the easiest hikes to get to. You can even reach the trailhead by train from Manhattan.

The Breakneck Ridge trail is more of a climb than anything else. Most of the trail up the mountain requires scrambling over rocks and giant boulders — which is what makes this hike so fun compared to others in the region! While it’s certainly considered to be one of the more difficult hikes in the state, people of all skill levels attempt the trek for its beautiful views over the Hudson Valley. The trail is 2.5 to 4 miles long, depending on the route you take. There’s an elevation gain of 1,240 feet, but the views along the way more than makeup for the hard work.

New York State – why you should visit

Breakneck Ridge Mountain is located between the charming towns of Beacon and Cold Spring. You can add a night in either town to make a weekend staycation out of visiting the mountain. There are wonderful restaurants and boutique hotels in both destinations. Recommended by Carla Vianna of Travel By Carla Vianna

Harriman State Park

One of the most unique places to visit in New York State is Harriman State Park! It stands out as an easy outdoor trip from New York City that is only one hour drive from Manhattan! Harriman is one of the closest parks to the city where you can be immersed in the forest without the noise of traffic. Even if you don’t have a car, it is also possible to take New Jersey Transit on the Port Jervis Line train to Sloatsburg and then walk about a mile to the edge of the park. 

Harriman State Park, like most state parks in New York, is officially open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It is such a fun place for hiking. Additionally, there are several lakes with swimming and boating options in the summer. However you should note that summer weekends can get busy!

With over 200 miles of trails and a myriad of streams and lakes, this forested park is one of the best ways to get out in nature and still be in the vicinity of New York City. The park is open year-round and the shoulder seasons of spring and fall are an excellent time to visit and explore the many hiking trails. Recommended by Daphna from A Tiny Trip.

Watkins Glen

New York State is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. However, one place that is often overlooked is Watkins Glen located in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State. 

Watkins Glen is nothing like anything you have ever seen. Chances are you will visit and feel like you’re transported to another place and even another time.

Many compare Watkins Glen to the video game The  Legend of Zelda. And for good reason.  A visit to Watkins Glen is like a visit to a Fantasy World. 

You can easily spend an entire day visiting Watkins Glens and enjoying the 19 waterfalls. But most visitors will stick to the Gorge Trail which allows you to take in all the beautiful views in under 3 miles. 

You can easily do this trail in less than a couple of hours however most people will take their time since there are so many opportunities for photos everywhere you look.

Watkins Glen State Park waterfall canyon in Upstate New York

Some things to keep in mind before you visit. Make sure to wear layers. Depending on the time of year it can get breezy one minute and hot the next when you’re hiking so layering will help.

Make sure to wear nonslip shoes. Some parts of the hike are wet and slippery. So you want to make sure you are wearing sturdy nonslip shoes. While you may see some people wearing flip-flops they will not get very far. 

Watkin Glens is a hidden gem in the finger lakes. So if you haven’t made it there yet make sure to visit. Recommended by Taima of Poor in a Private Plane.

Alexandria Bay in the Thousand Islands area.

“If you live in New York State, Thousand islands and Alexandria Bay offer an idyllic, relaxing weekend getaway from city life.

On a 50-mile stretch along the St. Lawrence river, there are plenty of tiny, scattered, islands which lend the area its name “Thousand Islands”.

Alexandria bay is a village located in the northern part of the Thousand Islands region, about 266 miles from Manhattan (NYC).

New York State – why you should visit

While there is a wide range of activities to choose from in Alexandria Bay, make sure to get on Uncle Sam’s Boat Tour for a scenic ride down the river.

The Boldt Castle is one of the many attractions you’ll spot on the ride, and is a must visit. Built by the American hotelier and millionaire George C Boldt for his wife, the architectural masterpiece is recognized as a symbol of love. A lot of weddings happen here. 

Alexandria Bay also has a host of adventure sports, and you can go fishing or scuba diving as well. There’s a golf course too!

Another popular thing to do in the area is the Carnegie Bay Walking Trail, a 2.5 mile wildlife walk, as well as the River walk which affords vantage views of the St. Lawrence river.

Visitors can also check out street markets in the area for souvenirs and handicrafts. Recommended by Tanya of My Right Sock.

Have you discovered New York State yet? What was your favourite?

You might also like

Ethnic restaurants – New York

Weird American food – 32 dishes to try

World of Drinks – the weird and wonderful

BBQ in the USA Where to find some of the best

The Origins of Barbecue

UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage – food

Pin it for later

New York State – why you should visit
Faith Coates
Scroll to Top