Looking for a getaway from the city? These are the best places to visit Upstate NY.
I wrapped the duvet around myself to conserve the warmth as I listened to the pitter-patter of the rain outside our campervan. I dozed in and out for another 45 minutes before finally sitting up. Esther still laid curled up under the covers, and I was not about to wake the beast. As I dressed, I couldn’t help but smile in excitement for the next few days of exploring upstate.
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Last Updated: September 17, 2023
21 Best Places to Visit in Upstate NY
As soon as you head upstate, you’re transported into a completely different world. Rather than the smells, honking, and chatter bombarding you at every turn in the city, you’re enveloped by the serene forest around you. The rest of New York state has charming little towns, scenic paths and trails, and such rich history.
1. Watkins Glen State Park
1009 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY 14891, map
This is an extremely popular park that gets filled with busloads of tourists throughout the summer. Even on a rainy weekday, we passed a few tour groups. Walk along the creek to see 19 waterfalls and stunning 200ft cliffs. The most iconic shot is of Rainbow Falls Bridge and the most memorable fall is Cavern Cascade.
Find a nearby hotel here.
Local Tip: A shuttle runs from one side of the canyon to the other, but is only available in the summer and on busier weekends in the Spring and Fall. Be sure to check their schedule to find out if it’s an option.
2. Ausable Chasm
2144 U.S. 9, Au Sable, NY 12911, map
Ausable Chasm is also referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks. Hike the surrounding trails or float down the Ausable River. Adventure-seekers can find rock climbing routes and rappelling. Also, don’t forget to stop by the Ausable Chasm Bridge for unforgettable views.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for one of the best ways to visit one of the best places in upstate NY, try renting a car with RealCar. RealCar is a top-rated, easy-to-use, luxury rental car service that’ll make getting there almost as good as the destination.
3. Whiteface Mountain
Wilmington, NY 12997, map
Climb this 0.2 mile man-made path reminiscent to a mini Great Wall of China. It makes for great photos by itself, but if that’s not enough, you’ll also be surrounded a beautiful landscape.
4. Breakneck Ridge
Breakneck Ridge Trail, Cold Spring, NY 10516, map
This is an extremely popular hike because of its proximity to the city. It’s also a lot of fun if you like scrambling over rocks and boulders. After the steep climb, you’re rewarded with multiple lookout points before heading back down a more gradual trail.
Local Tip: Parking fills up quickly over the weekend. Get there early (before 8 am) to get a good spot.
5. Giant Ledge
Shandaken, NY 12464, map
This is one of the most popular routes in the Catskills. There are eight scenic lookouts and five ledges with spectacular views packed into this 3.2-mile round-trip hike.
6. Dia: Beacon
3 Beekman St, Beacon, NY 12508, map
The Beacon area is referred to as the upstate Brooklyn. It’s filled with hipsters, art galleries, and more. The Dia: Beacon is a really popular museum that covers art from the 1960s to the present day.
9. Mt. Colden & Avalanche Lake
Keene, NY 12943, map
Conquer this challenging trek up and down wooden ladders, over bridges, and along ski trails. At the peak, you’ll get the best 360-degree views the Adirondacks has to offer.
10. Kaaterskill Falls
NY-23A, Haines Falls, NY 12436, map
This is a beautiful two-staged waterfall with a popular swimming hole at the bottom. The entire area was covered in snow and ice when we visited in the winter, but we definitely need to go again when it’s warmer.
Local Tip: We highly recommend crampons if you visit in the winter.
12. Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge
3395 Hwy 20, Seneca Falls, NY 13148, map
Whether you want to go for a drive or hike, this is a great place to go birding. Besides all the different species you’ll find here, there are also 6 bald eagles nest to look out for.
Local Tip: You can borrow binoculars from the visitor center to use during your visit.
13. Sam’s Point
400 Sams Point Rd, Cragsmoor, NY 12420, map
Sam’s Point is a small section of Minnewaska State Park Preserve. The rocky bluffs of makes it hard to take a bad photo. It’s beautiful during the fall, and in the late spring and early summer, you can hike to ice caves to see what is left from the winter (via guided hikes).
If you’re looking for other hikes, check out Gertrude’s Nose, Rainbow Falls, and High Peters Kill trails.
14. Saugerties Lighthouse
168 Lighthouse Dr, Saugerties, NY 12477, map
This 1969 lighthouse sits right on the Hudson River and is now a museum and bed & breakfast. Whether you’re looking for a quick stop or staying overnight, it’s worth the visit.
15. Chimney Bluffs State Park
7700 Garner Rd, Wolcott, NY 14590, map
Experience the most dramatic landscape of Lake Ontario. It feels out of place in New York, almost as if you’ve plucked a west coast landscape and dropped it on the east coast. Stroll along the lakeshore and marvel at the massive yet fragile spires that tower over you.
Local Tip: The address is for the main parking lot with the nice bathrooms but if you drive to the end of E Bay Rd, you’ll find a small lot right next to the beach.
16. Vera’s Market Place
3091 U.S. 9 #102, Cold Spring, NY 10516, map
Cold Spring is a popular weekend getaway from the city. Restored 19th century building and mom-and-pop shops line the town center. It’s a charming getaway where you can hike, bike, golf, or kayak. Also, stop by Vera’s Market for some delicious cider donuts.
17. Ithaca Falls
Lake St, Ithaca, NY 14850, map
You would never imagine to find a beautiful 150-foot cascading waterfall in the middle of this college town. It’s an easy stop if you’re in the area. If that’s not enough waterfall for you, you can also check out the nearby Triphammer Falls or Buttermilk Falls.
Local Tip: Keep an eye out for the signs. It mentions danger of lead in the ground, so avoid touching it with your skin.
18. Peekamoose Blue Hole
Peekamoose Rd, Grahamsville, NY 12740, map
On most days during the summer, it’s too hot or humid to enjoy hiking. Head to this crystal clear swimming hole in the Catskills to take a dip and cool off instead. You can even flip off of the rope swing at the deepest part of the pool.
19. Lemon Squeezer
Appalachian Trail, Southfields, NY 10975, map
This is an extremely popular hike that is only open from Spring to Fall. On the weekends, you may even get turned away. If you are able to get in, you’ll find yourself scrambling, climbing, and squeezing through giant boulders to get to an amazing viewpoint.
20. Bear Mountain
Highlands, NY 10986, map
This is one of best-known peaks in the area and has options for the whole family. In the summer, you can hike along the trails, bike along the paths, or go fishing. In the winter, cross-country skiers take over the trails and there’s even an outdoor ice-skating rink.
21. Taughannock Falls
1738 NY-89, Trumansburg, NY 14886, map
Marvel at this beautiful 215 waterfall from multiple vantage points. Drive up to get a view from above, or hike along the creek to get sprayed by the mist from below.
Map of the Best Places to Visit in Upstate NY
Escape Campervans & Sample Itinerary
There are still so many spots on this list that we haven’t visited. We plan to check off a few more before the winter season comes. A couple of weeks ago, we headed upstate in an Escape Campervan. It was a great way to see and experience these state parks with a bit more comfort and style.
We can arrive in the parks without worrying about setting up camp. Once we pull into a campsite, we’re ready to go! The interior transforms from a living room to a queen-sized bed. During our trip, we mostly left it as a bed, and used the picnic table in our campsites. The back also opens up to a kitchen, with a camp stove, hand pump sink, and all the cooking items needed.
Here is an itinerary of our trip:
- 1:00 PM Pick up Escape Campervan
- 1:30 PM Head Up to Watkins Glen State Park
- 2:30 PM Stop for a quick lunch and pick up supplies
- 5:30 PM Arrive at Watkins Glen Campground, Set Up Camp
- 6:00 PM Make Dinner & Campfire
- 8:00 AM Breakfast at Campground
- 9:00 AM Hike along the creek and enjoy the 19 waterfalls
- 12:00 PM Lunch in Watkins Glen
- 1:00 PM Walk around town
- 3:00 PM Hike other trails in the state park
- 6:00 PM Dinner & Campfire at the Campground (or pick up pizza in town and bring it back)
- 8:00 AM Breakfast & Pack Up
- 9:00 AM Drive to Chimney Bluffs State Park
- 10:30 AM Hike and shoot photos in the state park
- 11:30 AM Drive to Seneca Falls
- 12:00 PM Lunch in Town
- 1:30 PM Visit the Women’s Rights National Historic Park
- 2:45 PM Drive to Taughannock Falls
- 3:30 PM Check into your campsite
- 4:00 PM Hike to Taughannock Falls
- 6:00 PM Dinner & Campfire
- 8:00 AM Breakfast & Pack Up
- 9:00 AM Drive to Ithaca
- 9:30 AM Visit Ithaca Falls & Buttermilk Falls
- 11:00 AM Drive back to NYC to return the campervan
More Upstate NY Attractions
- Bannerman Castle (Fishkill) – Boat or Kayak out to this castle in the Hudson. You can see it from above on the Breakneck Ridge hike.
- Boldt Castle (Alexandria Bay) – Started in the early 1900s, the building was abandoned but later completed in the 70’s. It’s now a popular tourist stop.
- Bristol Mountain (Canandaigua) – Popular for skiing and snowboarding in the winter of fly down their seven ziplines in the summer.
- Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park (Buffalo) – This is the country’s largest inland naval park with helicopters, tanks, boats, and more.
- Frederick Farms (Clifton Springs) – Every August, 700,000 sunflowers bloom making for amazing photo ops.
- George Eastman House (Rochester) – George Eastman was the founder of Kodak and his home has one of the world’s largest collections of photography equipment.
- Graycliff Estate (Derby) – If you love architecture, visit this masterpiece by Frank Lloyd Wright.
- Lockwood Lavender Farm (Skaneateles) – Visit the 120-acre farm and breathe in all the lavender.
- Magic Forest (Lake George) – This amusement park has been around since 1963. It’s right in the middle of the woods and has unique attractions and rides.
- McGregor Vineyard (Dundee) – There are a ton of wineries to explore in the Finger Lakes region, but this is one of the best views you can get.
- Mushroom House (Pittsford) – Built in the early 70s, this looks like a home straight out of the Smurfs.
- Sonnenberg Gardens (Canandaigua) – This 50-acre estate is open from May until October and has stunning photos spots.
- Warren St (Hudson) – If you’re looking for art galleries, head to Warren St in Hudson. There is plenty to browse, eat, and if you’re into Halloween, they throw great parties.
Museums in Upstate NY
If you need to a break from the outdoors, check out one of these unique museums.
- Corning Museum of Glass (Corning) – Learn about the innovation of glass at this hands on museum. You can even make your own!
- International Boxing Hall of Fame (Canastota) – Home of boxing legends Carmen Basilio and Billy Backus, and includes the original boxing ting from Madison Square Garden, promo posters, boxing trucks and more from the greatest boxers in history.
- JELL-O Museum (LeRoy) – Invented in 1897 in this small town, see the history of the iconic dessert we all grew up with.
- Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum (Jamestown) – Stop by the hometown of Lucille Ball to see reproductions of the sets from I Love Lucy, along with props, costumes, memorabilia, and more.
- National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (Cooperstown) – Explore three stories of baseball past and present.
- National Bottle Museum (Ballston Spa) – Did you know bottle-making was the first primary industry in the US? Stop by to see roughly 2,000 antique bottles and learn about the innovations throughout history.
- Nat’l Memorial Day Museum (Waterloo) – This town is recognized as the origin of Memorial Day, and this museum tells you everything you want to know about it.
- National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (Saratoga Springs) – This museum is a true celebration of the sport of racing. See trophies, artwork, memorabilia, and try out a horse riding simulator.
- The Strong: National Museum of Play (Rochester) – The Strong comprises the National Toy Hall of Fame, the World Video Game Hall of Fame, and the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. It’s focused on why it’s essential to play.
National Parks in New York State
If you’re looking to check off a few more National Park Units from your bucket list, then you have plenty to choose from outside of the 11 that are in NYC alone.
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Captain John Smith National Historic Trail
- Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (Hyde Park)
- Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor (Upstate)
- Fire Island National Seashore (Patchogue)
- Fort Stanwix National Monument (Rome)
- Harriet Tubman National Historical Park (Auburn)
- Home of Franklin D Roosevelt National Historic Site (Hyde Park)
- Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area (Albany)
- Martin Van Buren National Historic Site (Kinderhook)
- Niagara Falls National Heritage Area (Niagara Falls)
- North Country National Scenic Trail
- Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (Oyster Bay)
- Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site (Mount Vernon)
- Saratoga National Historical Park (Stillwater)
- Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site (Buffalo)
- Thomas Cole National Historic Site (Catskill)
- Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River
- Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site (Hyde Park)
- Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail
- Women’s Rights National Historical Park (Seneca Falls)
where to Stay in New York
What are your favorite places to visit Upstate New York?
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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust
Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.