The City of Good Neighbors is often known more specifically for the invention of the pizza counterpart, the buffalo wing, but as Upstate New York’s most famous city, it offers so much more. One of those things is providing a jumping-off point for travelers to explore not only other parts of Western New York, but Canada and Pennsylvania too. While there are plenty of day trips from Buffalo, NY, to take, here are my personal favorites.
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Best Day Trips from Buffalo, NY
1. Eternal Flames Waterfall
A little closer to home base, but no less spectacular, is the Eternal Flames Waterfall. This is part of the larger Chestnut Ridge Park is a relatively easy trail, if not a little slick, along the creek bed, but there are ups and downs (it’s not flat). I did make the hike with my infant if that gives you any clue. Sheltered in a small cave behind the waterfall is a natural gas fissure that stays lit almost all the time. The legends say it’s been lit since the Native Americans discovered it, but that’s just legends. Bring a lighter with you because sometimes, the light is out. Why not hike for the day and then move on to the best things to do in Buffalo, NY.
- Distance: 22 minutes from Buffalo
- Location: Orchard Park, NY
- Entrance Fee: FREE
2. Lockport Town & Caves
This historic town on the Erie Canal prides itself on their history and you can see that in everything they do. Head underground for an epic boat tour through the caves. Check out how the locks work on the Erie Canal firsthand, and explore the locally owned restaurants for a taste of the area. Try a wine tasting at Flight of Five Winery in the old Lockport City Hall building while watching the canal locks in action. Finish off your day at a local favorite, Lake Effect Artisan Ice Cream with WNY-specific flavors.
- Distance: 35 minutes from Buffalo
- Location: Lockport, NY
- Entrance Fee: $27.55 + tax for the Cave tours
- Tours: The Lockport Cave and underground boat ride tour guides you through the town, the history there, and the influence of the Erie Canal.
3. Niagara on the Lake, Canada
Another place I often visited as a child was Niagara on the Lake, and it has grown since then. We went for the parks, the history, and the quaint shops, but it offers so much more. Often called Canada’s prettiest town, Niagara on the Lake has grown into quite the tourist destination with wineries and theater despite it holding on tightly to its small-town historic charm. It was also the first capital of Ontario in the 18th century. Consider this 7-hour guided tour, if you love bikes, wine, and food.
- Distance: 45 minutes from Buffalo
- Location: Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
- Entrance Fee: $4-$6 bridge toll depending on which bridge you take
- Tour: Bike, wine, and dine along Niagara on the Lake
4. Letchworth State Park
Letchworth State Park, the Grand Canyon of the East, draws travelers from all over to basque in its wonder, including three impressive and majestic waterfalls. Encompassing 14,000+ acres along the Genesee River, these waterfalls in Western New York are well worth the trip. To put it in perspective, it takes 30 minutes to drive through the park road, it’s almost the same size as Manhattan. Hike the trails equally 66 miles throughout the park or pick one like Trail one to see the best of the river and waterfalls.
- Distance: 1 hour from Buffalo
- Location: most popular entrance is in Castile, NY
- Entrance Fee: $10
5. Wilson-Tuscarora State Park
Wilson-Tuscarora State Park is a hidden gem in the heart of Western New York. Situated on the shores of Lake Ontario and Twelvemile Creek, this park offers a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. Here, you can enjoy the sandy beach, a creek for kayaking, picnic areas, hiking trails, a fishing pier, and more.
In the winter, the park is a popular destination for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. With its beautiful natural setting, Wilson-Tuscarora State Park is the perfect place for a day trip from Buffalo, year-round.
5. Chautauqua, New York
Why not wine and dine your day away in Chautauqua Wine Country? Whether you spend the day at the institution with your family or friends where everyone experiences their own individual day to share over dinner or you set out on a tour of some of the best wineries Western New York has to offer, Chautauqua is a great place to plan a road trip with your friends. You can feel the focus on arts and freethinkers in everything this town has to offer. While not as wonderful as East Aurora when it comes to charming small towns in Western NY, Chautauqua is definitely on the list.
- Distance: 80 minutes from Buffalo
6. Ellicottville, New York
One of the best day trips from Buffalo, NY is driving down and finding out all the things to do in Ellicottville. Locals know Ellicottville as ski country, but there’s so much more. Between visiting the newly expanded brewery, one of the best breweries in Buffalo, NY and their winery with some of my favorite sweet wines (Snow Fox in the cobalt blue bottle is divine), Ellicottville has so much more to offer other than skiing. Main Street keeps its small town charm and offers an eclectic array of shopping and restaurants to suit breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Distance: 50 minutes from Buffalo
7. Corning, New York ★
One of my favorite memories as a child was a weekend family trip to Corning, NY. We stayed at a quaint hotel that turned railway cars into hotel rooms and always visited The Corning Museum of Glass. The museum has changed quite a bit since I was a child, but the experience is the same awe inspiring day filled with amazing art and information on how glass is made and used (like the screen protector on your phone). If you love art, the Rockwell Museum isn’t only an art museum, but a community center all about the American spirit as seen through the eyes of American artists. Get your glass museum tickets and finish off the day with amazing BBQ from a local favorite Nickel’s Pit BBQ.
- Distance: 2 hours from Buffalo
8. Watkins Glen, New York
Another of my family’s favorites was taking the hike through Watkins Glen State Park. Anytime we had guests staying for vacation we always drove them out to Watkins Glen (more so if they’re Nascar fans!). The hike through the gorge and under some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Finger Lakes which are especially beautiful in the autumn, but you’re also right in the middle of Seneca Lake Wineries and several breweries to finish off your hike. There are 27 wineries on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail all sharing the Seneca Lake tradition of relaxing and inviting places to rest. If you’re hungry Nickel’s Pit BBQ has another location here in Watkin’s Glen or try one of the other amazing restaurants like the BluePointe Grille or The Great Escape Ice Cream Parlor for dessert.
- Distance: 2 hours and 21 minutes from Buffalo
- Location: Watkin’s Glen NY
- Entrance Fee: $10 per car to enter the park
- Tours: Seneca Lake Wine tasting tour will take you to four of the 27 wineries along the shores of Seneca Lake.
9. Niagara Falls, New York
One of the most common questions when deciding to visit the wonder that is Niagara Falls is Canadian versus American side of Niagara Falls. There’s a lot that each side offers for the tourist and are both equally amazing.
New York State: With tours like the Maid of the Mist and the Cave of the Winds within the wonderful park setting, the New York side of the falls is a once-in-a-lifetime view. Both tours get you up close and personal with the falling water of the Horseshoe Falls (shared with Canada) and the American Falls. The state park has a number of trails and paths to walk in a park-like setting while enjoying Goat Island and Three sisters islands along the river, and then the three falls, Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and the American Falls.
Canadian Side: Most will tell you that there’s more bang for your buck on the Canadian side, which is true, but you lose the beautiful and tranquil park like setting. This trip would require your passport, but it’s worth it with the view of all three Unique Waterfalls in the USA from one vantage point. With Niagara Falls, NY suffering a little in regards to the economy, the Canadian side has obviously invested more in tourism and provides a more glamorous and tourist-oriented experience.
- Distance: 30 minutes from Buffalo
- Guide: 34 Unique Things to Do in Niagara Falls
10. Erie, Pennsylvania
Lake Erie offers a unique climate for growing grapes and the Erie Wine trail follows along into Erie, PA. While a short road trip from Buffalo, NY, Erie lends well to a day trip or a weekend overnight easily with all the area has to offer. Visit the Maritime Museum, the Botanical Gardens, or go on a wine tour and sip away the afternoon.
- Distance: 1 hour and 30 minutes from Buffalo
11. Presque Isle, Pennsylvania
One amazing place to spend the day if you’re an outdoor enthusiast or love water sports is Presque Isle. This peninsula near Erie became a state park and is 3200 acres of trails, beaches, and a marina that juts out into Lake Erie. Whether you like to swim or boat, watch birds, hike, or even cross-country ski, Presque Isle is a local favorite and a great place to travel for the day.
- Distance: 1 hour and 40 minutes from Buffalo
- Location: Erie, Pennsylvania
- Entrance Fee: FREE
12. Toronto, Canada
A quick hop over the border and you can see one of the more beautiful cities outside of the United States. This large metropolis, the capital of Ontario province, offers more than just a day’s worth of activities. With art galleries, Ripley’s aquarium, and the Royal Ontario museum you can easily pack your day with educational and inspiring walks. There are parks, markets, and even a castle to explore. There’s something for everyone in Toronto.
- Distance: 2 hours from Buffalo (without traffic) a passport is needed for the border
- Entrance Fee: $4-$6 bridge toll depending on the bridge.
13. Geneva, New York
At the opposite end of Seneca Lake from Watkins Glen you’ll find another treasure in Geneva. Known for the National Lake Trout Derby, Geneva is the Lake Trout Capital of the World. Every street corner is packed with art, music, architecture, and history. It’s one of the treasures of the Finger Lakes region. You can swim, hike, boat, and take a picnic in Seneca Lake Park or take in a live performance at the Smith Opera house built in 1894.
- Distance: 1 our and 40 minutes from Buffalo
- Location: Geneva, NY
- Entrance Fee: $8 per car fee for Seneca Lake State Park
14. Penn Yan, New York
On the eastern branch of Keuka Lake, you’ll find Penn Yan, another cute town in the Finger Lakes region. The historic downtown area of Penn Yan might be one of the best day trips from Buffalo, New York and a great way to spend your afternoon exploring the locally owned shops and restaurants, including many Amish eateries. This area is thought to have one of the largest horse-and-buggy communities in the state of New York. Here, you can explore the outdoors (like kayaking or hiking Seneca Mills Waterfall), the wineries, and farm-to-table restaurants of the rest of Penn Yan.
- Distance: 2 hours from Buffalo
15. Allegany State Park
This huge park, one of the best hiking spots in NYS, stretches for close to 65,000 acres. Divided into two regions, the Red House Area and the Quaker Area, Allegany offers camping, swimming, hiking, biking, and skiing over the winter. Enjoy the outdoors on one of their shorter nature trails to learn about the park’s biodiversity or head over to one of the more moderate hiking trails. You can even check out their pretty waterfalls, even if they’re not as awe inspiring as those in Letchworth.
- Distance: 1 hour and 10 minutes from Buffalo
- Location: Salamanca, NY
- Entrance Fee: $6 per vehicle
16. Canandaigua, New York
When you’re thinking about day trips from Buffalo, the most romantic or relaxing trips are found in the Finger Lakes. Canandaigua lives up to its Native American translation as the Chosen Spot. At the northern end of Canandaigua Lake, you can expect plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy combined with a historic town that keeps its feel with locally owned shops, galleries, and restaurants. Visit the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park ($15) to ponder the Victorian life or check out the Ontario County courthouse where Susan B. Anthony stood for trial in 1873 for voting. And of course, there are the wineries for an excellent afternoon away.
- Distance: 25 minutes from Buffalo
17. Crystal Beach (AKA Bay Beach)
On the shores of Lake Erie, across the lake from the city of Buffalo, there’s an almost forgotten playground. Crystal Beach was named for the incredibly clear waters there when it was founded. There was even a steamboat ferry in the 19th- and early-20th centuries that carried patrons over to Canada from Buffalo to spend the day at the beach and enjoy the side shows. It functioned as a full amusement park from 1890 until 1989. Now you can visit the waterfront park and spend the day swimming at the wonderful beach with shallow waters.
- Distance: 30 minutes from Buffalo
- Location: Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada
- Entrance Fee: $5 day pass, $4-$6 bridge toll
18. Rochester, New York
One of the best cities in Upstate New York, Rochester is home to the Genesee River (offering a weekend’s worth of activities on its own) and some amazing craft breweries that land on the list of the best things to do in Rochester, NY. Spend the day at the Strong Museum of Play, the George Eastman Museum, or the Rochester Science Museum to start. Walk Highland Park and the Seneca Zoo, or take a tour of one of the many historic districts and people that have called Rochester home (Frederick Douglass or Susan B. Anthony).
- Distance: 70 minutes from Buffalo
19. East Aurora, New York
Main Street in East Aurora is one of the most recognizable streets in Western New York having been featured in a growing list of films with its iconic architecture. With exotic and locally owned restaurants and a historic theater. Dine on some amazing food at the historic Roycroft Inn while soaking in some more history and then explore the Roycroft Campus and learn about one of the few remaining 19th century art guilds. Finish off the day with a fine meal and craft brew at the 42 North Brewing Company or the East Aurora Brewery.
- Distance: 22 minutes from Buffalo
- Entrance Fee: Roycroft Campus Tours start at $20
Where to Stay
Should you decide to expand your time in the region, here are some unique places to stay!
- Corning – the Rosewood Inn offers a nice location amongst the museums if you want to make a weekend of it. Think of a family-style setting in a Victorian home.
- Penn Yan – Los Gatos Bed & Breakfast is located near all the attractions with a wonderful atmosphere.
- Geneva – This stunning boutique resort, Geneva on the Lake, is surrounded by local activities, scenic gardens, and has its own restaurant
Heather Menz has called the Buffalo area home for over 35 years. With a degree in archaeology and a keen interest in history, she has explored sites that are both easy to find and those hidden deep in Buffalo and Rochester’s history. As part of an active and outdoors-oriented family, she has traveled and hiked much and learned more about all that the Western New York area has to offer.