Scenic Drives in New York (You Need to Try)

Explore the beauty of the Empire State with these New York scenic drives

New York State is a dream destination for scenic drives. Even though New York City may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of New York, you may be surprised how much stunning scenery there is around it.

These scenic drives in New York will give you the opportunity to explore some of the best the state has to offer as far as attractions, natural surroundings and beautiful views. There’s more to see in the Empire State than just the Empire State Building.

If you’re planning to experience New York beyond the Big Apple, hopping in your car is a great way to explore. From ocean views to charming countryside villages to idyllic lakes tucked inside mountains, there’s no shortness of scenic lanes and highways worth discovering.

Use this FREE printable travel planner to help you get ready for your New York trip.

Route 23 to the Catskill Mountains

waterfall cascading over a stone ledge in the Catskills
Enjoy a New York scenic drive through the Catskills.

Taking you all the way from Otsego County right into the heart of the alluring Catskill Mountains, this 100-mile road trip will have you skirting through historic towns, stunning mansions, gorgeous waterfalls, crystal clear reservoirs, and enchanting mountain views (of course!).

The scenery is spectacular every mile of the way on Route 23, with the Catskill Mountain range surrounding you all along the drive.

Even though the drive is somewhat short, what makes it so magical are the dramatic changes in scenery you’ll experience. From the urban views of the Catskill outskirts to flat vistas of cornfields and farmlands to swishing mountain passes, you’ll have plenty to keep you entertained all along the way. 

If you feel like stretching your legs, you’ll find a bunch of excuses to do just that, with lots of amazing hiking trails scattered all over the road, including the Kaaterskill Falls Trail.

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Highway 20 (Cherry Valley Turnpike)

Winding through the southern part of the Mohawk Valley, Highway 20 runs from Skaneateles through the town of Cobleskill. Even though the route is only 100 miles long, this turnpike will take you through some of the most picture-perfect scenery in all of New York State.

Picturesque farmlands and gently rolling hills for miles on end are the staples of this road, but there’s history aplenty to be found pretty much every mile of the way as well. A few of the spots worth making a stop at include Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Cooperstown was founded by William Cooper, father of James Fenimore Cooper who famously penned The Last of the Mohicans along with the rest of the Leatherstocking Tales. Abner Doubleday, known as the father of baseball, was another famous Cooperstown resident.

If you’re feeling in the mood to relax after driving, make sure to stop at historic spa village Sharon Springs, where you’ll find a downtown filled with history and where you’ll likely feel as though you’ve been transported back in time. Sharon Springs has been undergoing a revitalization over the last couple of decades.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt even mentioned Sharon Springs in a speech he gave in Georgia in 1929.

North Fork Trail

light house in the water off Long Island
Your scenic drive in New York could be a great day trip from NYC.

Enchanting hamlets, quaint farms, seaside restaurants, and coastal views sums up the North Fork Trail in a nutshell.

If you’re looking for country charm, Long Island’s North Fork Trail is just the drive you’re after. Running along route 25 from Southhold to Orient Point, the North Fork Trail provides a wonderful mix of seaside goodness, quaint villages, and rustic allure, all mingled with farm-to-table cuisine and uninterrupted ocean views keeping you company every mile of the way.

This 36-mile long scenic byway also has the benefit of being quite close to New York City, making it an excellent option for a day trip from the big city by car.

Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway

Mixing past and present, this 88-mile long scenic byway offers a little something for everyone regardless of the type of travel they enjoy. 

Even though it may seem like just farmland scenery at first, this byway quickly becomes a wonderland of mixed scenery. Not only does this drive provide access to 30,000 acres of pristine nature preserves, but it also links a number of historic settlements and sites that date back to the early Dutch settlements, where you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported back in time.

Plus, the fact that the byway loops around the northern side of the Shawangunk Mountains and past the Rondout and Wallkill valleys means you’ll be able to find outdoor adventures scattered all over. From gorgeous hiking trails to rock climbing adventures and world-class winter sports, this drive is gorgeous no matter the time of the year! 

Seven Lakes Drive

aerial view of a bridge in Bear Mountain State Park

Cutting through two beautiful state parks–Harriman and Bear Mountain–the Seven Lakes Drive is an easy road trip from New York City where you’ll get to explore some of the best Hudson Valley has to offer. If possible, try planning this drive to coincide with peak fall colors. You’ll be glad you did.

As you make your way through its twisty roads, you’ll get glimpses of the gorgeous mountains in the area, see seven idyllic lakes, and stumble across wildlife all along the way.

As if that weren’t enough reason to give this short 18-mile drive a try, this road offers hiking opportunities aplenty. Herriman State Park features 22 miles of trails, with swimming, boating, and rock climbing being other fun ways to explore the park.

Bear Mountain State Park is also a great place to hike or bike.

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Things to do on your scenic drive through New York State

Although you’ll no doubt be more focused on your surroundings during your scenic drive, you might also want to take some time to get to know your travel companion better (if you’re not traveling solo).

These road trip questions are perfect conversation starters for long car rides. You’ll find everything from deep and thought-provoking to quirky and silly.

If you have a long road ahead of you before you even get to your scenic drive then check out these fun things to do on a long road trip to help pass the time. My list is full of great ideas to help you keep occupied.

Final thoughts on New York state scenic drives 

I hope this list of the best scenic drives in New York State gives you some inspiration to roll down your window and enjoy the crisp air in the Empire State.

Even though it would be impossible to list all of the beautiful roads in New York, these stand out from the crowd when it comes to beauty and variety in scenery. From the mountains to rivers and lakes to beautiful ocean views and quaint villages, there’s surely a New York state scenic drive to please every traveler.

Which of these scenic drives catch your eye the most? I’d love to know which one you’re most excited about driving, so let me know your picks in the comment section below!

Need help planning your New York trip? Check out our essential travel planning resources.

 More articles about things to do in New York state

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scenic drives in New York State

Scenic Drives in New York (You Need to Try)

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