When it comes to New York State, many only think of New York City: an immense urban metropolis. However, the vast State of New York also expands into flowing hills, roaring rivers, breathtaking mountains, cute towns, and rushing waterfalls. Beneath all its natural beauty also lies important facets of history, tied deeply to the land and its people. Want to experience this for yourself? Here are 31 of the uniquely best places to visit upstate New York.
31 Upstate New York Getaways & Best Places to Visit
It’s no surprise that the State of New York is enormously vast and spans against several state borders. Thus, the places listed below are broken down by New York regions: Central New York, the Catskills, the Hudson Valley, the Adirondacks, the Finger Lakes, Thousand Islands, Niagara Frontier, and Chautauqua-Allegheny. So you can choose the area that’s best for your Upstate New York Vacation!
Please note: we realize that the exact definition of Upstate New York varies depending on who you ask. For the sake of simplicity, we’re following the New York City definition: which is literally everything “up the state” and above NYC.
Read More of Our New York Travel Guides
- 17 Best Hikes from New York City
- A First Timer’s Guide to the Majestic Finger Lakes in New York
- 27 Refreshing Day Trips from New York City
- 17 Best Spots to Go Glamping in New York
- 31 New York Waterfalls to Explore
- Gorgeous Lake Vacations in Upstate New York
- Charming Small Towns to Visit in Upstate New York
- NYC Weekend Getaways
CENTRAL NEW YORK
Green Lakes State Park (Hidden Gem)
Experience the sight of two beautiful glacial lakes at Green Lakes State Park in Central New York, near the Erie Canal Towpath. Hike some of the many miles of trails near Green Lake and Round Lake and enjoy beautiful views, especially in the autumn. In the summer, swim at the state park’s beach, practice your swing at the golf course, and go camping. When winter arrives, the park offers snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
You cannot swim in the areas pictured above. It’s not only unsafe (people have drowned) it’s also detrimental to the coral reef which makes this lake so divinely beautiful. Lastly, remember to leave no trace. That means no garbage, staying on the path, and being considerate of other visitors.
The trail around the lake is flat and easy, so if you’re still feeling adventurous, head over to Chittenango Falls (listed below) just 15 minutes away. For some local grub, consider the Dark Horse Tavern which is just a 12-minute drive away from the state park.
If you want to spend the night nearby, consider staying right in Lafayetteville (the town where Green Lakes State Park is located) at The Craftsman Inn which offers spacious apartment suites and a cute restaurant on site.
Chittenango Falls & State Park
Wondering where to go upstate New York to see a waterfall? Look no further than Chittenango State Park. Here, a 167-foot waterfall towers above the river; onlookers can catch a glimpse from the top of the falls, or from a footbridge across the way. There are many short hikes throughout the park’s area, and more ambitious hikers can combine trails to make longer routes. After a hike, and a few photo ops, have a picnic and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Chittenango Falls is just a 15-minute drive from Green Lake State Park (listed above). The perfect day trip filled with: hikes, New York lakes, cute towns, and waterfalls. And if you love antiques, head over to Syracuse Antiques Exchange in Syracuse, just 25 minutes away.
Herkimer Diamond Mines
For gemstone collectors, one of the most unique upstate New York getaways can be mining your very own treasure! Contrary to their name, Herkimer Diamonds are not really diamonds. They are 500,000 million-year-old surface quartz crystals and are abound in this area. Native Mohawk people knew about these crystals and used them for jewelry, tools, and later trade. At Herkimer Diamond Mines, miners can keep anything they find. After, they can learn to craft jewelry and other gifts with the quartz.
Herkimer Diamond Mines has partnered with KOA camping resorts to really make the mines a destination. After a day of mining and crafting, visitors enjoy dinner at the Canteen or the Miner’s Table. Then, they settle into tents or camping cabins along West Canada Creek. So you can easily make a New York weekend getaway out of this special experience.
Please note: All land in New York is either private property or government-owned. Collecting any minerals from the government is illegal, and any private property requires permission in advance.
Cooperstown, New York
Tucked against a tree-filled backdrop, Cooperstown’s downtown area is cozy and quaint. Within walking distance are Lakefront Park, local boutiques, and restaurants. Here are some of the top attractions, to name a few:
National Baseball Hall of Fame: Most famously, Cooperstown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum boasts 300,000 visitors every year. Visitors enjoy art, photography, historical artifacts, and stories celebrating the rich history of baseball. Don’t miss the Babe Ruth exhibit, or “Diamond Dreams”, focused on the women who contributed to the sport. Another exhibit, Viva Baseball, honors the influence of Latino (including Dominican) players in baseball’s history and today.
Otsego Lake: Otsego Lake lies at the north end of town in Glimmerglass State Park. Take a boat tour, or follow winding paths to stunning views of the lake. Or, hike Sleeping Lion trial to Hyde Hall Mansion museum, which overlooks Otsego Lake.
Farmer’s Museum: The Farmer’s Museum honors the traditions of rural upstate New York. They hold traditional events, like maple sugaring Sundays, livestock shows, and a harvest festival. At Christmas, horse-drawn wagons pull guests through the snowy grounds for a Candlelight Evening. The night is complete with a complimentary wassail and local ciders enjoyed around a bonfire.
Fenimore Art Museum: The Fenimore Art Museum includes many important permanent collections. These include the Thaw Collection of American Indian Art, a Folk Art exhibition, an exhibition of American Fine Art, and “Coopers of Cooperstown”, which commemorates the literary tradition of Cooperstown’s founding members.
Phoenicia, New York
One of the best upstate New York towns for some rejuvenating nature is Phoenicia. In contrast to the big city, Phoenicia seems another world away, hidden in the High Peaks region of the Catskills. This makes the town the perfect spot for a very relaxing spa getaway. The Emerson Resort & Spa is nearby, as well as Phoenicia Belle Bed and Breakfast. The area also offers hiking, tubing, or rafting on the Esopus Creek River, and Rail Explorer excursions.
New Paltz, Minnewaska State Park & Mohonk Preserve
Some places in upstate New York are truly beautiful, and New Paltz is the perfect example. From the small, artistic town vibe to the Dominican restaurant at the end of Main Street, this is a special place. The downtown area is expansive, and nearby Huguenot Street takes visitors back in time to visit America’s history.
- A rare dwarf pitch pine
- An ice cave, formed in such a unique way that it maintains ice even in warm summer months
- The Verkeerderkill Waterfall
- A literal labyrinth of climbing, ducking, and squeezing in tight places
- Sam’s Point Visitor Center
- Panoramic views at Gertrude’s Nose
- Artist’s Rock trail (pictured above)
With all this to see and more, the New Paltz area is truly breathtaking.
Woodstock & Kaaterskill Falls
Woodstock maintains its warm hippie reputation to this day. Upon arriving, you may be lucky enough to hear some live music in the downtown area as we did. Travel along Tinker Street to view museums and galleries, or take classes at Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild.
Some of our favorite upstate NY tourist attractions are around here, like Kaaterskill Falls (pictured above). The falls are the highest cascading waterfall in New York. The bottom of the falls are typically crowded, so arrive early to avoid crowds. However, the top of the falls also has a beach area and is often missed by tourists. Also, visit Overlook Mountain, a challenging uphill journey with ruins to explore and a museum at the summit.
THE HUDSON VALLEY/CAPITAL AREA
Saratoga Springs has many more upstate NY tourist attractions than just horse races. There is also the rejuvenating Saratoga Springs Spa State Park, Yaddo Gardens, the Saratoga Winery, and the Saratoga Farmer’s Market. Visitors can also charter a cruise at the Adirondack Cruise and Charter Company, or take part in a floating classroom experience. Additionally, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is also located here in Saratoga Springs.
For foodies who love flavorful cuisine and a good cocktail, grabbing dinner Boca Bistro is a must; it is one of the best restaurants in Upstate New York! Finally, Caffe Lena is a true hidden gem. Catch live music or take music classes here, at the longest continuously operating folk music venue in the United States.
Hudson, New York
Hudson, New York is often regarded as the Brooklyn of Upstate New York. For many, it’s a once historic port town turned expensively hip and a little snobby. And for some, it’s a sweet respite from the hustle and bustle of living in New York City, just two hours away.. You decide where you fall along that line!
While visiting Hudson, visitors can stroll through the downtown restaurant scene on Warren Street, Hudson’s main street. Stop at Hudson Wine Merchants for wine tasting, and WM Farmer and Sons for steaks and seafood. You’ll want your camera for capturing the beautiful 100+ year old buildings as you stroll.
Hudson also offers many museums and art galleries, like:
- Carrie Haddad Gallery
- Riverfront Antiques and Design Center
- John Davis Gallery
- Basilica Hudson, a non profit arts and culture center in a reclaimed industrial factory
- Hudson Underground Gallery
- FRG Objects and Design/Art
- Rose Gallery Fine Art
Don’t miss taking a ferry boat tour to the Hudson/Athens Lighthouse. In the summertime, the experience is picturesque, especially as the sun sets in the summertime.
Kingston, New York
As New York’s original capital, Kingston is one of the upstate New York places you don’t want to miss. The town was a battleground during the American Revolution. Traces of this heritage are found throughout the town via Dutch and colonial influence.
This quaint New York getaway is divided into three sections:
- Uptown, where tourists and locals alike enjoy the Kingston Farmer’s Market every Saturday from May to November. We also highly recommend Rough Draft Bar and Books, which offers draft beer, baked goods, and books to read while indulging.
- Midtown has a distinctive creative vibe and is home to the Ulster County Center for the Performing Arts, or as the locals say, UPAC.
- Lastly, the Rondout, or waterfront area, hosts the Hudson River Maritime Museum. The museum has a special feature- a boat building school, where students can learn how to build and restore wooden boats.
While you visit Kingston, you’re sure to work up an appetite. So, check out Village Coffee and Goods for breakfast (and grocery needs!), Opa! Gyros Greek Restaurant, and the Kingston Bread and Bar (be sure to arrive early).
Beacon, New York
Beacon, New York sits in the Hudson Highlands, one of the upstate New York places to visit along the Hudson River by train. This makes Beacon the perfect day trip from NYC. Or, if you visit for a New York getaway weekend, be sure to book a room with mountain views at the Roundhouse. When you’re not enjoying the view, stroll the cute main street and enjoy the distinctive art scene of Beacon. Stop into one of the many local restaurants and boutiques.
Enjoying the beauty of the area is simple here, too. A short drive will take you to Hudson Highlands State Park, where you can catch a glimpse of some gorgeous waterfalls on different hiking trails. Similarly, kayak to Pollepel Island to view the breathtaking Bannerman Castle. Don’t forget to visit the Dia: Beacon Museum (a MUST and by the downtown area), or the Hudson Beach Glass glassblowing studio and museum.
Finally, stop by the local flea market. However- plan ahead. Beacon’s flea market tries to support local businesses by not offering food and drink; if you need refreshment, you must leave the market and visit a local cafe or restaurant. The Roundhouse Restaurant overlooks a beautiful waterfall (pictured above).
Soul Fire Farm (Hidden Gem)
Located 30 minutes east of Albany in Petersburg, NY, Soul Fire Farm is a “BIPOC-centered community farm committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system.” At their farm, they offer hands-on workshops and courses on farming, as well as volunteer opportunities. We got to spend the day learning how to weed, forage, and tarping fields to reduce tillage. During their activities, they make an active effort to foster community, reflection, and decolonized education. All very important things in our American society, where most farm owners are white and most farmworkers are brown due to American history. This is one of the most meaningful and best things to do in Upstate New York!
The Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes region of New York is comprised of 11 long lakes in the shape of skinny fingers; hence their name. There are thousands of special things to see in this region. Here is a guide for first-time visitors going to the Finger Lakes. Below are the top attractions you can’t miss.
Corning, New York (Hidden Gem)
Wondering where to go upstate New York? Look no further than the Finger Lakes. One of the classic upstate New York getaways, Corning offers many museums, galleries, restaurants, and also boutiques. All this and more is set along the picturesque Chemung River. A few attractions to pop into while in Corning are:
- The Corning Museum of Glass is the biggest glass museum in the world. Dedicate at least several hours to explore the exhibits, historical wings, workshops, and much more. Plan at least two hours here, in addition to any workshops you might take. (Pictured above). Buy your tickets here.
- Rockwell Museum houses unique multicultural American art. As an artist, the Rockwell Museum is personally, one of my favorites in the world due to the diverse representation of American art. Visitors shouldn’t miss the classic paintings and sculptures by Robert F. and Hertha Rockwell (the museum founders).
- Downtown Corning where you can visit boutique shops like Connor’s Mercantile and Pip’s Boutique.
- Dippety Do Dahs, where you can purchase extremely unique desserts, including beer and wine ice cream.
- Nickel’s Pitt BBQ – for some class American food with a southern twist. A must-visit for meat-lovers. As a “chicken wing connoisseur”, I can personally attest to their Parmesean Buffalo chicken wings!
During your stay, book a yoga class at Crystal Heart Yoga, and relax after a long day of touring.
Ithaca, New York
Ithaca, NY, home of Cornell University and Ithaca College, is a liberal, progressive small town on Cayuga Lake. While you visit, have a glamping adventure at Firelight Camps on La Tourelle Resort and Spa Grounds. Hike or bike the Cayuga Waterfront Trail, or crawl the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail.
Additionally, we loved visiting the Ithaca farmer’s market, where you can purchase a wide variety of local goods. While shopping, keep an eye out for Handwork, Ithaca’s Artisan Cooperative. Here, find unique creations for purchase by talented local artists. The perfect way to support the local community while sprucing up your home interior with art, flowers, and other decors.
Buttermilk Falls State Park (Hidden Gem)
The Buttermilk Falls State Park is one of our favorite places to go upstate NY. Many lovely hiking trails lead to natural pools, streams, unique rock formations, gorges, and waterfalls. Visitors can even swim at the bottom of Buttermilk Falls; but only when a lifeguard is present. Be sure to pay attention to any notices regarding trail conditions, Covid-19 restrictions, and other important news when you enter the park.
If you want more than a day trip to this beautiful spot, camp here in a tent or in a cabin. Buttermilk Falls State Park has both historic and modern cabins to choose from.
Watkins Glen State Park & Town
If it’s your first time visiting the Finger Lakes, then the small upstate New York town of Watkins Glen is likely the best town to stay in, due to its perfect proximity to major attractions. Watkins Glen also has many fantastic restaurants, craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries. Should you try a glass of wine in this region, be sure to try a Riesling; the area is renowned for it!
Nearby Watkins Glen State Park has 19 waterfalls, gorges, hiking, and more natural wonders. Its most iconic attraction is the Rainbow Bridge (pictured above), which is a relatively flat walk about a mile from the entrance. Additionally, more adventurous hikers can walk the North and South Rim of the glen. We recommend the South Rim trail, as you can look down at the creek as you hike. Keep in mind, there is no alcohol or pets allowed on the Gorge Trail.
Geneva, New York (Hidden Gem)
Geneva, NY is an upscale, adorable upstate New York town. In the summer, Geneva’s Linden Street is closed on weekend nights to offer a special local fair in a cool, urban vibe.
Our top place to stay in is the Vinifera Inn, located inside the Belhurst Castle. Be treated like royalty at the Isabella Spa, and spend a lazy afternoon meandering the gardens. Finally, Kashong Conservation Area has over 83 acres of nature trails. So, be sure to explore the fields and deep, spring-fed gully. In the winter, ski the area!
For a local and cultural experience in Geneva, reserving a spot at FLX Table is a must. This experience brings strangers together over a multi-course dinner by a renowned chef and master sommelier.
Auburn, New York
Auburn, NY has its fair share of local charm, fabulous foods, and wonderful wineries, but the main attraction in Auburn is much more historically significant. Here, Harriet Tubman used her home as a safe haven for family, friends, and others seeking refuge in the North. Harriet Tubman National Historical Park has three properties. In addition to her home, you can also visit the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, and nearby Zion Church.
Skaneateles, New York (Hidden Gem)
When looking into upstate New York getaways, Skaneateles, NY is the perfect destination. This small town hidden gem offers iconic places to stay such as the Skaneateles Suites Boutique Hotel, Mirbeau Inn & Spa Skaneateles, or consider renting a waterfront vacation home. The walkable downtown area is located at the foot of Skaneateles Lake and offers cute restaurants, boutique artisanry shops, historic sights, and much more.
While in Skaneateles, you can head to Carpenter Falls, a massive 90-foot waterfall with a dramatic drop.
Additionally, the John D. Barrow Art Gallery shows historical paintings of the area. You can even “borrow” a painting from this art gallery to showcase in your home. Biking is also popular here, with a 32-mile road circuit. Finally, Last Shot Distillery offers a number of award-winning spirits you will definitely want to try.
Letchworth State Park
Known as the Grand Canyon of the east, the Genessee River flows through three waterfalls, as high as 600 feet. In addition to waterfalls, the park has 66 miles of trails, horseback riding, biking, skiing, guided tours, white water rafting, kayaking, and hot air balloon experiences.
Camp here in the summer, or stay in a winterized cabin during colder months. Snowmobiling is also popular here in the wintertime. Remember: before exploring Lake Letchwork State Park, check their website for any alerts.
Buffalo, New York
Buffalonians are proud of where they’re from, and we can see why. There is so much more to Buffalo, NY than wings! Firstly, Buffalo has an impressive museum scene. Some of the top upstate NY tourist attractions are:
- Buffalo Museum of Science
- Buffalo History Museum
- Albright-Knox Art Gallery
- Burchfield Penney Art Center
- Children’s Museum
- Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
Furthermore, Buffalo has some exceptional breweries. Some of our picks include Big Ditch Brewing Company, Buffalo Brewing Company, and Froth Brewing Co. While you indulge, be sure to travel along the Buffalo Wing Trail, and enjoy the local flavor from where it originated.
Niagara Falls, New York
Another one of the best upstate New York getaways is to Niagara Falls. Guests are able to experience the Falls in a variety of ways; hiking, boating, biking, or even while dining. Maid of the Mist takes tourists as close to the falls as possible. See the Falls while you dine at Top of the Falls restaurant. Niagara Falls State Park, encompasses all of these great options and much more. Once you’ve explored the American side, you can also cross to the Canadian side, so bring your passport and be sure to check up on current Covid-19 guidelines.
Lake Placid, New York
On the hunt for fresh mountain air and majestic views? Lake Placid and the surrounding area have 2,000 miles of marked hiking trails in the Adirondack Mountains. Additionally, the region boasts 46 High Peaks, many of which are well over 4,000 feet. Some of these trails include climbable fire towers that offer a spectacular view from the top. This view is even better in the fall, so be sure to check the foliage report. If you’d like to explore this region for 1-2 hours, we suggest Balanced Rocks. Or, looking for a longer excursion? Hike to Lake Tear of the Clouds, the source of the Hudson River.
Lake Placid was once an Olympic site, so part of the culture surrounds winter sports. You can try out a toboggan chute, or the Lake Placid Bobsled Experience. You can also catch live luge and bobsled/skeleton events each winter. At the end of your day, enjoy one of the many local farm to table options for dinner. Finally, rest your head at Warner’s Camp– a renovated 1800’s guesthouse. Or, stay at the Haus on Mirror Lake, with a rustic yet modern vibe.
Lake George, New York
Coined the “birthplace of the American vacation“, Lake George, NY is considered one of the most popular places to visit upstate New York for families and outdoor lovers. Especially in the summer. Here are some of the many activities to consider:
- Dinner cruises on Lake George
- Hiking trails throughout the region, most notably on Prospect Point
- Relaxing on the beach
- Diving to 3 submerged heritage preserved shipwrecks
In the fall, this region attracts a multitude of “leaf peepers”. This affectionate name is given to the tourists who visit to catch the height of autumn foliage colors. There are many ways to experience the fall colors, but one of the most unique is taking a white water rafting trip through the forest. In addition, other fall activities in Lake George include the Adirondack Balloon Festival and the Adirondack Film Festival.
Should you visit during the winter months, plan ahead for the fun mountain snow! You can still enjoy this beautiful area at Gore Mountain Ski Center, an indoor waterpark, or ice fishing on Lake George itself.
Saranac Lake & Lake Clear (Hidden Gem)
Saranac Lake is a hidden gem region in the Adirondacks, located just a 15-minute drive from Lake Placid. Its location makes it the perfect destination to add to your Adirondacks itinerary. Here you can enjoy several hikes, lake excursions, go fishing, boating, cycling, paddling, and much more.
In the winter, this area turns into a blissful winter wonderland where the powdery snow piles up several feet in the area. In the winter you can walk on the frozen lake, go ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and most popularly? Snowmobiling at Charlie’s Inn!
Don’t miss Lake Clear Lodge & Retreat for the perfect winter getaway filled with dinners, horse-drawn sleds, and speakeasy experiences. This lodge alone is worth the trip up to this stunning New York hidden gem.
For delicious eats, grab a bite at The 1892 Bar & Grille and Charlie’s Inn.
THE THOUSAND ISLANDS ARCHIPELAGO
Alexandria Bay, New York
The Thousand Islands Archipelago is made up of 1,864 islands! These islands, all varying in size, lie along the St. Lawrence River between the US-Canadian border. Located on the mainland, across from these islands, the village of Alexandria Bay has a tradition steeped in maritime history. One of the best ways to experience this is to book a boat tour. The crystal clear water allows you to see down to 80 feet in some places, which reveals shipwrecks below the depths. You can get even more up close and personal to these shipwrecks through diving excursions.
Alexandria Bay has many properties on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the most notable, a 120 room mansion on Heart Island, is a replica of a Rhineland castle. Visitors can only access Boldt Castle by boat, so be sure to plan ahead by booking a tour or bringing your own personal watercraft. This unique property is also one of the must-see places in upstate New York!
Chautauqua Lake, New York
Beautiful Chautauqua Lake is perfect for boating excursions, kayak and paddleboard rentals, or sailing. Visitors can also enjoy a Jamestown historical tour of the Chautauqua Belle. In addition, this historic steamboat is a wedding and special event venue.
After a day on the water, visitors can refresh at the Southern Tier Brewery. The brewery has distinctive offerings, like a Nitro coconut truffle imperial milk stout, or a strawberry dream milkshake IPA.
Another one of the best upstate New York tourist attractions is the National Comedy Center in Jamestown. This museum celebrates the artform and craft of comedy. It also shows off important artifacts and writings from important comedic national treasures, like Lucille Ball- whose hometown is Jamestown!
From the top of a 46 High Peak to the depths below Buttermilk Falls, the best of upstate New York is hidden in its natural wonders and small towns. So, experience the best places to visit upstate New York on your next trip.