The first destination that probably comes to mind when you think of the Empire State is, logically, New York City. While the Big Apple is an incredibly amazing city worth visiting, there is a lot more to the state that is also worth checking out. There really are so many things to do in New York State.
From stunning mountains to quaint little towns and numerous state parks, the state of New York is full of wonderful destinations that deserve a place on any traveler’s NY itinerary.
If you’re currently in the plotting stages of a trip to New York, make sure these destinations are on your radar when planning your itinerary.
Seriously, New York State is chock full of incredible sights and attractions you’re very likely not to find anywhere else in the country, and you owe it to yourself to explore New York beyond its most famous destinations…although those do warrant a visit too, of course.
This article includes ideas for some great towns to visit upstate, perfect destinations for nature lovers along with fun New York hidden gems like castle ruins and a psychedelic walk inside the largest kaleidoscope in the world.
Some even make great ideas for day trips from New York City.
Cities and towns to see in New York State
Planning a road trip through New York? Check out these cities and towns as you build your itinerary.
New York City
Of course if we’re going to talk about things to do in New York State we need to include New York City. It’s one of the top travel destinations in the world.
You can easily spend a week at a time in NYC (I certainly have), but for a first-time visit to New York City I would recommend a trip of about 4 full days (4–5 nights). With four days in New York, you can cover a lot of ground without completely breaking the bank on accommodations.
No matter what you like to do when you travel, whether it’s museums, art, music, parks, guided tours, shopping, food, whatever it is, you’ll find it in New York City.
You can’t exhaust all the amazing things to do and see in this spectacular city.
We have several articles to help you plan your New York City itinerary:
- The perfect one-day itinerary for NYC
- How to spend 4 days in NYC
- The top free things to do in NYC
- Things that first-timers in NYC absolutely need to do
But of course there’s a lot more to New York State than just the Big Apple. Keep reading to discover more wonderful things to do in New York plus some hidden gems you might not know about.
Dreaming of scrumptious food and a great art scene far from the bustle of the big city? Beacon is a quaint small city in Dutchess County that boasts just that: fantastic dining and a lively art scene.
Located about 90 minutes from NYC in the lush Hudson Valley countryside, Beacon is an easy destination for a day trip from New York. This enchanting town’s signature is its historic red-brick buildings, many of which have been turned into locally owned museums, art galleries, antique shops, cafés, bakeries, trendy restaurants, and boutiques.
If you’re keen on exploring the nature around the city, you can hike the Mount Beacon Incline Railway Trail, a hiking path along part of a historic railway route that leads all the way up to the top of Mount Beacon for the best views in town.
Home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown has become synonymous with “baseball.” This charming village in central New York is a must for baseball aficionados, who’ll be fascinated by the museum’s vast collection of memorabilia that tells the history of America’s national sport.
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 not into Baseball, fret not! Cooperstown has a ton more to offer, including Glimmerglass State Parks, acclaimed opera shows at the Glimmerglass Festival, and the Fenimore Art Museum, a neo-Georgian farmhouse that houses amazing folk and Native American art.
2 hours and 15 minutes from NYC lies the town of Woodstock. Contrary to what you might think, this isn’t the place where the 1969 festival was held (it actually took place in Bethel). Despite that, the town of Woodstock is full of the festival’s vibe.
If you’re into healthy eating and local shopping, you’ll find yourself in heaven here, with an organic dining scene like no other. And locally-owned shops offer all sorts of unique goodies to bring back home!
Can you imagine getting to personally visit the setting of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?
This small town was once famous for its milling and farming, but today, its fame comes from its Halloween festivities throughout the month of October, when the town bursts to life with haunted hayrides, parades, live music, and spooky decor all over. Of course, the Headless Horseman is part of the festivities.
While here, make sure you check out The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, with tours available day and night.
A charming town with a river lined by sidewalk cafés and restaurants? Yes, please!
Considered one of the best-preserved 19th-century towns in the Hudson Valley area, Cold Spring is set just 50 miles north of Manhattan, making it a perfect day trip if Instagram eye candy is what you’re after.
As you stroll through its picturesque historic center, you’ll find riverside restaurants, boutiques, antique stores, and quaint coffee shops dotting every corner. During the summer, a favorite activity is having coffee at sidewalk cafes and dining by the riverfront or at outdoor patios, many of which feature live music.
If you’d like to enjoy a little nature during your day trip, Cold Spring has a lot of that as well. There are also several hiking and biking trails in the outskirts of town, as well as water sports, including boating, canoeing, paddle-boarding, kayaking, and waterskiing on the river. During the autumn, fall foliage cruises are quite popular.
State parks and other places to see in New York State for nature lovers
Even though it’s a pretty small town, Lake Placid is famous for its big views, big scenery, and big history.
Rolling hills, breathtaking views of high peaks, fresh mountain air—that’s Lake Placid in a nutshell. During your visit, you’ll get the opportunity to indulge in various outdoor activities, including fat-tire biking, riding a mountain coaster, hiking, boating, and, during the winter months, sports like snowshoeing and skiing.
After a day spent adventuring, make sure to relax by enjoying Lake Placid’s lovely mountain charm by hitting a few of its locally-owned restaurants, buying handmade goodies at the many boutique shops scattered all over, or simply walking around the town while taking in its fresh mountain air.
Lake Placid was the home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games.
Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park
Set only 50 miles north of New York City, this beautiful state park features mesmerizing views all over, all of which you can enjoy while boating, fishing, birdwatching, or hiking.
Hiking here is especially amazing, with over 100 miles of trails to choose from. Some of the trails here intersect the Appalachian Trail, giving you the opportunity to experience a piece of this epic hike!
After a day spent hiking and exploring in nature, you can choose to spend a night under the stars at one of the 80 campsites scattered all over the park.
Orient Beach State Park
Beaches are also a thing in New York State, and Orient Beach State Park is home to some of the most beautiful in the state.
Set on the easternmost tip of Long Island’s North Fork, right on Gardiner’s Bay, Orient Beach is a destination that will have you exploring a maritime forest and passing by saltwater marshes that brim with different species of birds.
North Fork Trail is one of the most scenic drives in New York State.
While here, you can swim in the bay, go kayaking or windsurfing, or opt to keep dry by hiking some of its gorgeous trails instead.
What is very unique about Orient Beach is that it is a rare maritime forest with red cedar, prickly-pear cactus, and black-jack oak trees where marine animals cohabit peacefully with the forest flora.
If you’re into birdwatching, species like the Great Blue Herons, Black Crowned Night Herons, Egrets, and Osprey are just a few of the birds to keep your eye out for!
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Niagara Falls State Park
Niagara Falls probably doesn’t require an introduction, and while listening to the roar of one of the world’s most famous waterfalls is probably on your bucket list already, it’s worth noting there’s a lot more to do at America’s oldest state park after you’re done admiring the falls from the main viewpoint.
If you’re into hiking and love getting off the beaten path, a must-do activity is following the trail into the heart of the Niagara Gorge, where you’ll be able to walk down to the base of the gorge or hike the Devil’s Hole Trail, which offers incredible views of the rapids.
Whirlpool State Park
Did you know there’s a part of Niagara Falls where the water is a little calmer? Here’s a little secret: If you head downstream, you’ll find a relatively unknown state park where you can explore the gorge where the Niagara River flows through.
This is Whirlpool State Park. While here, you’ll get to enjoy spectacular views of the Niagara Whirlpool and the rapids that feed it. Sturdy stone steps will allow you to descend to the river, where you can sit on the shore to enjoy this stunning natural spectacle.
Pro tip: There are amenities such as picnic tables, restrooms, and a playground on the upper level of the park, making it a great spot to both enjoy a secret part of Niagara Falls as well as spend a relaxing day.
Allegany State Park
Whether you’re a declared nature lover or you’re simply looking for a getaway away from the city, Allegany State Park will fit the bill.
Boasting over 64,000 acres of lush valleys, three lakes, a sandy beach for swimming, a myriad of hiking trails, and five miles of paved bike paths, there’s no shortage of wonderful things to do at this state park.
Come winter, the snowmobile trails and well-maintained cross-country ski trails become the focus of attention for winter sports aficionados, which guarantees fun no matter the time of the year you visit.
Allegany is also a major camping and overnighting destination, with many lodging options that range from rustic tent sites to basic cabins and fully-equipped cottages.
Robert G. Wehle State Park
Located on the tip of a peninsula that juts out into Henderson Bay in the Thousand Islands region of New York, Robert G. Wehle State Park offers a splendid shoreline for those looking for the best coastal vistas in the state.
In fact, the park is home to 17,000 feet of shoreline, and while you could virtually spend the entire visit just gawking at the views, make sure you also make the most out of the many hiking and biking trails on offer.
Wehle (who the park is named after) left his land to NYC Parks when he passed away. He was a sculptor, conservationist, and dog breeder. If you’re up for doing something a little different, make it your mission to find all of his sculptures scattered all over the park.
Fun fact: Every hiking trail here is named after his English Pointers!
Located 137 miles north of New York City, the Catskills Mountains make up a small but incredibly stunning mountain range that brims with a vast array of natural wonders.
Waterfalls, lakes, rivers, and a whopping 98 peaks (with over 30 of them rising above 3,500 feet) are just a few of the staples that make the Catskills the incredibly sought-after region it is.
Thanks to its close proximity to New York City, the Catskills are a popular getaway year-round for locals, making it a perfect destination to visit if you love nature with city-like amenities.
A few of the adventures on offer here include skiing, hiking, camping, and rafting, but you’ll also find restaurants aplenty as well as a varied array of hotels and accommodation options.
The Finger Lakes region may be one of the dreamiest parts of the Empire State. Boasting exquisite hiking trails and gorgeous lakes, there’s no shortage of beautiful scenery in the region.
Spend the day hiking or biking in search of waterfalls, go fishing or boating at the clear lakes in the region, spend a night under the stars, or lay at one of the white-sand beaches that surround the lakes. Whatever activity you choose to go for, beautiful views are guaranteed.
Watkins Glen State Park
Boasting gorgeous waterfalls and gorges, Watkins Glen Park is one of the most famous parks in New York and a favorite among locals and visitors alike. You’ll find it in the Finger Lakes Region.
The main thing to do during your visit? Hiking in search of waterfalls, of course! The Gorge Trail follows a gorge lined by multiple waterfalls, where you’ll get to weave through walls and caves, walk up hundreds of stone steps, and stumble across 19 beautiful waterfalls cascading down.
Innisfree is a unique 150-acre garden that features a delightful display of rocks, water features, stone walls, and plants carefully curated and placed in order to delight your senses.
Despite its combination of modern with Japanese and Chinese touches, its design manages to achieve a look so cohesive that you’ll feel as though you were transported into a garden inside a movie.
That said, Adirondack offers a myriad of adventure possibilities for nature lovers all year long. If you’re yearning for a nature-filled type of getaway, you’ll fall head over heels in love with the six million acres that make up the property.
Adirondack Park was established in the late 19th century and covers one-fifth of the state!
During your visit, you can spend the day touring sugar houses and farms or apple picking. If you’re into hiking, you’ll be overwhelmed with options, with thousands of miles of hiking trails available.
Driving is also a thing here, with many scenic highways and byways on the menu that will take you through the towns, villages, and hamlets scattered throughout the park.
In the mood for some great hiking, biking, rock climbing, and horseback riding? Set a mere 72 miles away from New York City, Mohonk Preserve in the Shawangunk Ridge is New York State’s largest nature preserve and one where you’ll have a very hard time getting bored.
This amazing preserve protects and manages more than 8,000 acres of mountain ridges, forests, fields, streams, ponds, and other unique environments where you can hike, bike, horseback ride, and even rock-climb the famed Gunk cliffs.
During the winter months, Mohonk Preserve becomes a favorite for winter sports, with cross-country skiing being the star of the show with more than 40 miles of trails on offer.
Green Lakes State Park
Set near the town of Lafayetteville in Central New York, Green Lakes State Park is home to two gorgeous glacial lakes whose waters come in striking blues.
While swimming is only allowed on designated spots in order to protect the coral in the lakes, Green Lakes State Park is a dream for hiking, with an array of trails featuring gorgeous views of the lakes and the idyllic forest that surrounds them.
Boating and camping are popular activities here during the summer, while winter brings in lots of fun in the snow activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Unique places and hidden gems in New York State
Bannerman Castle on Pollepel Island
Pollepel may sound like just another island on the Hudson River, but it actually homes one of the most incredible castle ruins in the entire Americas. Once an old warehouse built to store military supplies, Bannerman Castle is one of New York’s most beautiful landmarks today.
While a big part of the complex was destroyed during an explosion, the castle’s ruins look as beautiful as ever. The easiest way to get to see Bannerman Castle is by booking a cruise and walking tour of the island, but if you consider yourself skilled enough, you can actually kayak your way there.
Moreover, the castle also hosts movie and theater nights for a truly unique activity.
Eternal Flames Falls
While New York State boasts much taller waterfalls, Eternal Flames Falls is quite likely the most special of them all. Located in Chestnut Ridge Park in the western part of the state, this unique waterfall hides a grotto behind it that emits a natural gas that lights a natural flame almost year-round (hence its name!)
At 60 feet tall, Kaatskill is the largest kaleidoscope in the entire world, making it something you must consider adding to your New York bucket list.
Located right next to the Emerson Resort & Spa, this gorgeous psychedelic-looking gem overlooks the quaint town of Mount Tremper. Visitors can enter the kaleidoscope and walk inside it, a truly mesmerizing experience that will have you wondering if you’ve been somehow transported into a wonderland of striking colors and patterns!
Herkimer Diamond Mines
Ever dreamed of finding your own diamonds? If a day spent treasure hunting sounds like your jam, Herkimer Diamond Minds provides just that experience.
As one of the most unique spots in upstate New York, this mine doesn’t actually contain diamonds, but its quartz crystals look as close as they can do it. While here, you’ll get to scavenge the area in search of them, and yep, anything you can find during your visit, you’re free to keep!
Back in time, Native Mohawk people used these crystals to create jewelry and various tools. In order to keep the history of the land alive, there are several workshops you can join after the crystal hunt where you’ll get to learn how to make your own jewelry and gifts to bring back home.
Sitting on Heart Island in the Thousand Islands region in New York, Boldt Castle is actually a half-finished mansion that was built by millionaire George Boldt for his wife, Louise. The extensive building was actually left incomplete and abandoned for seventy years after the death of his wife, but its remains are as dreamy as ever and may just remind you of an enchanted castle!
Visiting the castle and the island it stands on is easy, with several boat tour operators providing transport to Heart Island from Alexandria Bay. During your visit, you’ll get to explore the mansion’s ruins, the island, and even get to set a picnic table up to enjoy a lunch surrounded by gorgeous views of a sleepy fairytale castle and the St. Lawrence River.
Final thoughts on places to see in New York State
I hope this list of places to see in New York (including some great New York State hidden gems) helped you plan a super itinerary through the state.
Even though there are plenty more wonderful things to see in New York, these spots in particular stand high above the crowds when it comes to providing a truly wonderful experience in the Empire State.
Have you ever visited New York State? If so, have you been to any interesting locations outside of NYC? Let me know your favorites in the comment section below!
Need help planning your trip? Check out our list of the essential travel planning resources.
More articles to help you plan a trip to New York State
- The best scenic drives in New York State
- How to spend one day in NYC
- These are the things every first-timer in NYC needs to do and see
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