When you think of New York, you probably picture the skyscrapers, neon lights and bustling streets of New York City. While any New York State trip has got to include the iconic Big Apple, there’s so much more to see. From spectacular national parks that rival Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, to charming lakeside towns and historic islands, the Empire State is extraordinary. In celebration of National New York Day on 21 September 2021, we’ve rounded up 11 of the best places to explore in New York State.
1. The Adirondacks
Did you know that Adirondack Park is the largest protected area in the USA, larger than the Yellowstone, Glacier, Everglades and Grand Canyon National Parks combined? Spanning over six million acres and hundreds of mountains, lakes, valleys and trails, the Adirondacks are the perfect place to get into nature. The forest-covered hills form part of the great Canadian Shield, with the highest peak reaching 5,345 feet, and the region is particularly stunning in autumn with the red and gold foliage.
Whether you want to hike through miles of scenic trails, kayak on the beautiful lakes, or even go on a ski trip, there’s non-stop action in the Adirondacks. If you prefer to take it slow, there are plenty of peaceful lakeside cabins where you can relax. Or fuel up on regional delights at the local wineries and breweries. You can even get a dose of history at places like Fort Ticonderoga and the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.
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2. Lake Placid
Set in Essex County in the Adirondacks region, the village of Lake Placid is a world-famous winter destination and one of the best places to visit in New York State. The winter sports resort of Lake Placid, set at the foot of Whiteface Mountain, has hosted the Winter Olympics twice in 1932 and 1980. Today, it’s popular in both winter and summer, with everything from skiing to canoeing on offer. While there is an actual body of water also called Lake Placid, you also can’t miss seeing Mirror Lake, a stunning lake in the centre of town. Whether you want to escape into the surrounding hills or explore the unique stores and restaurants on the main street, Lake Placid always serves up the best of New York State.
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3. Lake George
The town of Lake George is set at the end of the lake that shares its name, and it’s a beautiful place for a New York State travel experience. You can go swimming at Million Dollar Beach, hike up Prospect Mountain for scenic views over the lake or take a sightseeing cruise to see the lush forested islands of Lake George up close. The town also has several historical sites to explore including Lake George Battlefield Park and the Fort William Henry Museum.
4. Thousand Islands
Stretching from the Canadian Shield to the Adirondacks along the St. Lawrence River, the Thousand Islands is an extraordinary place to explore in New York State. While the region’s name sells itself short (there are actually more than 1,800 islands), it’s packed with beautiful scenery with islands dotted with fairytale castles, lighthouses and mansions. The best way to see it all is with a boat cruise between May and October. You’ll glide through the islands, spotting everything from storybook log cabins to lavish villas and even the stunning Boldt Castle that dates back to 1900.
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5. Long Island
You can’t miss exploring Long Island when you visit New York State. This 118-mile-long island is a popular retreat for those wanting to escape the bustle of New York City. It’s all about white sandy beaches, beautiful nature reserves, local wineries, and glorious sunsets. Take your kids to the family-friendly Jones Beach State Park, or sample the local wines on the North Fork Wine Trail. Soak up the serenity on Shelter Island, with calm beaches like Silver Beach and Crescent Beach, or hit the hiking trails through the meadows and marshes of Mashomack Preserve. For some retail therapy, check out the grand Victorian-era buildings that are now home to boutiques and cafes.
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6. The Hamptons
Set on the eastern side of Long Island’s South Fork, the Hamptons is a group of seaside towns and villages. It’s famed as the getaway of the rich and famous, with former first lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis spending her summers here. Today you’ll find the likes of Ina Garten, Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin and Beyoncé and Jay-Z relaxing in their mansions and soaking up the sun. It’s even a popular filming location, with shows like The Affair, Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, and Orange is the New Black filmed in the Hamptons. Whether you want to lounge on the beaches or go stargazing at the high-end bars, boutiques and restaurants, the Hamptons is one of the most glamorous spots in New York State. However, be prepared to wait – the hottest spots in The Hamptons can be booked up for months in advance.
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If you’re looking for something a little more down-to-earth, head to Montauk, known as “The End” as it’s the easternmost point of Long Island and New York State. This laidback village is also famed for its Atlantic surf, stunning beaches and rich history. Go surfing at Ditch Plains Beach or explore Camp Hero State Park, a former military base that still has a radar tower and WWII bunkers. Don’t miss Montauk Point State Park where you’ll find the 1796 Montauk Point Lighthouse and a museum with historical documents signed by George Washington.
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8. The Catskills
Famed as the United State’s first wilderness area, the Catskill Mountains are a dream for outdoor enthusiasts. Set in southeastern New York State and spanning over 700,000 acres, you can do everything from hiking, biking, canoeing and ziplining in summer, to skiing and snowboarding in winter. After working up an appetite, you’ll find plenty of fantastic restaurants and breweries. Once you’re ready for some downtime, why not relax by the resort pools or visit a spa for some pampering. And if you’re looking to capture some gorgeous photos, be sure to visit in the fall when the forests light up in autumn colours.
9. Niagara Falls
If you want to see the best of New York State, you’ve got to visit Niagara Falls. It’s one of the greatest natural wonders in the USA, drawing millions of tourists every year. Spanning the border of Canada and the USA, this enormous waterfall is actually made up of three waterfalls including American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls, the largest with a 167-foot drop and a 2,700-foot-wide ledge. Whether you go up the observation tower or take a boat tour around the falls, you’re sure to be amazed as you witness more than 3,000 tons of water tumbling over the edge every second.
Once you’ve ticked the Niagara Falls off your New York State bucket list, there’s much more to see in this region. Go hiking, biking and boating in the nearby lakes and state parks, or stroll around the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens & Butterfly Conservatory. You can even enjoy a delicious wine-paired dinner on the Niagara Wine Trail.
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10. Finger Lakes
Native American legend says the Finger Lakes were formed when a great spirit blessed the land by placing his fingers on the land. The impressions were filled with water, creating the eleven stunning lakes we see today. While autumn serves up the spectacular fall foliage, the Finger Lakes are worth a visit any time of the year. Go hiking and biking trails in state parks dotted with waterfalls and gorges, or boating from Owasco Lake to Great Lake Ontario.
Sample the local wines on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail or go skiing and snowboarding at the winter resorts. You’ll also discover a rich history with sites like the Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes in Corning. There’s also the Harriet Tubman House, Willard Chapel and the Seward House Museum in Auburn. And don’t miss the charming Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Park.
11. Letchworth State Park
Set in the Finger Lakes region, Letchworth State Park is an amazing place to explore New York State’s spectacular nature. You’ll find dozens of waterfalls dotted around the park with three magical waterfalls along the Genesee River Gorge, nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the East”. Be sure to check out the Middle Falls, the largest one with a 107-foot drop, as it’s illuminated from May to October. The whole park is a great place for hiking with miles of trails. Plus you can try kayaking, biking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding and hot air ballooning. In winter, try snowmobiling or cross-country skiing.
If you want to explore the other great cities of New York State, you can’t miss Rochester. It’s the third-largest city in the state with plenty of attractions from museums to gardens to waterfalls. If you’re travelling with kids, visit The Strong National Museum of Play. History and photography enthusiasts should check out the George Eastman House. The house itself is a 50-room mansion that has been beautifully restored to its original appearance in the early 1900s. You’ll also find the International Museum of Photography and Film on the grounds and the world’s oldest photography museum. Next up, if you’re ready for some outdoor adventure, don’t miss the High Falls, plunging to 96 feet. Or wander through the Highland Park Conservancy to see the world’s largest lilac collection.
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