I bet the first image that comes to mind when you think of New York State is one of sky-high buildings and bustling streets, but what if I were to tell you there’s a whole lot more to the Empire State than New York City?
Even though the Big Apple is an amazing destination worth visiting, the rest of the state is a wonderland of incredible bucket-list-worthy sights. From quaint historic towns to incredible state parks for a day spent out in nature, here’s the ultimate list of amazing destinations in New York state you’ve got to check out!
This post is part of our series Discover the USA
Distance from NYC: 218 miles – approx 3 hours 40 minutes
Situated in the heart of Adirondack Park, Lake George is an outdoor adventure-packed destination not to be missed. The summer brings an abundance of nature trails to explore, white water rafting opportunities, lake beaches or take a serene cruise on Lake George. Thrill-seeking families will want to seek out Six Flags Great Escape.
Lake George is equally as spectacular to visit in the fall and winter. As the weather turns, enjoy the spectacular fall foliage display. Then as we hit freezing, the coldest months bring not just a skiers and snowboarders’ paradise but ice skating rinks, ice fishing, and captivating ice castles!
If you only have time for one side trip out of New York City, this is the best all-rounder destination for families in New York State.
We have a great detailed guide here from a local on the best things to do with kids in Lake George and the Adirondacks
2. Lake Placid
Distance from NYC: 290 miles – approx 4 hours 40 mins
Lake Placid may be pretty small, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for with gorgeous scenery, an enticing history, and amazing outdoor activities.
During your visit to Lake Placid, you’ll get the chance to hike among its many trails, ride a mountain coaster, and even try your hand and fat-tire biking. If you visit Lake Placid during the winter, you’ll be treated to world-class winter sports, including skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating.
Moreover, aside from the gorgeous nature that surrounds the town, make sure you also spend some time strolling through this gorgeous alpine locale, where you’ll find locally-owned eateries, small boutique shops selling all things handmade, and gorgeous outdoor cafés meant for people-watching while taking in that fresh mountain air.
3. Robert G. Wehle State Park
Distance from NYC: 313 miles – approx 5 hours
Located on a peninsula in the Thousand Islands Region, Robert G. Wehle State Park is a gorgeous strip of land that offers forest hikes galore as well as an incredibly scenic shoreline (17,000 feet of it, to be exact!).
Robert Wehle, who the park is named after, donated his land to NYC Parks after his death. He was a conservationist, dog breeder, and sculptor. If you’re up for trying out a unique activity, make it your mission to find all of his sculptures scattered around the park!
4. Whirlpool State Park
Distance from NYC: 412 miles – approx 6 hours 30 mins
What if I were to tell you there’s a lot more to Niagara Falls than meets the eye?
Here’s a little secret most visitors to the falls don’t know about: If you head downstream, you’ll stumble across a pretty unknown state park where you can get personal with the gorge the Niagara River flows through!
Known as Whirlpool State Park, this hidden gem in New York State allows visitors to get first-hand views of the rapids that feed the falls as well as the Niagara Whirlpool. To get there, you must hike through some pretty steep stone steps, but once you get to see the river with your own eyes, it’ll be worth every drop of sweat!
5. Allegany State Park
Distance from NYC: 358 miles – approx 5 hours 40 minutes
Home to over 65,000 acres of pristine valleys, alluring lakes, and sandy beaches perfect for a swim, Allegany State Park doesn’t lack when it comes to picture-perfect scenery.
The main thing to do at Allegany? Hiking and biking, with dozens of miles available for visitors to choose from during the warmer months. Camping is the hot activity here, with lots of campsites on offer as well as rustic cabins if you need a little more comfort.
Once the weather gets chillier, the state park becomes a mecca for fun in the snow activities, with cross-country ski trails available all over as well as a ton of snowmobiling paths!
6. Robert H. Treman State Park
Distance from NYC: 228 miles – approx 4 hours
A gorgeous 1110-acre park in the Finger Lakes region of New York, this is an area of distinct rustic beauty that every New Yorker should visit at least once!
Most famous for its gorgeous waterfalls, the 115-foot-high Lucifer Falls is the most famous, but just one of 12 you will pass as you descend Enfield Glen gorge.
Hiking the Gorge and Rim trails will take you on a spectacular 5.9-mile loop, including the Lower Falls, a popular deep diving point in the summer! There are many easier waterfall hikes around Finger Lakes too, if you’re traveling with kids.
7. Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park
Distance from NYC: 64 miles – approx 1 hour 10 minutes
Located only 60 or so miles north of Manhattan, Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park is a perfect destination if a day spent out in the outdoors with the kids is what you’re after.
Featuring over 100 miles of trails to choose from, hiking at this mesmerizing state park is a real treat, especially when you consider many of the trails here intersect with the Appalachian Trail, giving hikers an opportunity to experience a section of this famous journey!
A year-round park, winter brings the opportunity to try your hand at cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
Enjoy your camping? There are dozens of state parks in New York open for year-round camping, find a complete list of campgrounds in New York State here.
Distance from NYC: 68 miles – approx 1 hour 20 minutes
A bustling food stage, mouth-watering cocktails, and a thriving art scene – that’s Beacon in a nutshell.
Located in Dutchess County, Beacon is a wonderful destination to head to if you want to escape the city but still want to enjoy the best a city has to offer. Set just an hour and a half away from Manhattan, this mesmerizing town offers just about everything you could possibly wish for in a getaway: delicious food, art galleries, bakeries, and tons of hot spots for a night out.
A must when visiting Beacon is strolling through its historic downtown, where you’ll get to see the eye candy of its red-brick Victorian-era buildings, most of which were repurposed and turned into museums, boutique shops, and eateries.
If you’re into history and nature, make sure you hike the Mount Beacon Incline Railway Trail, a path that will take you through the historic railway route and up to the top of Mount Beacon!
9. Orient Beach State Park
Distance from NYC: 108 miles – approx 2 hours
Set on the easternmost tip of the North Fork region in Long Island, Orient Beach State Park is a wonderland when it comes to gorgeous coastal views and marine adventures. During your visit to this unique state park, you’ll get to explore a maritime forest, walk through saltwater marshes, and experience various activities like swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing.
If you’d rather not get wet, hiking is another favorite activity here, with gorgeous trails on offer that will have you exploring an incredibly rare maritime forest with prickly-pear cacti, black-jack oak trees, and red cedar that marine animals cohabit peacefully with.
If you’re traveling over summer, make sure to time in a stop at one of Long Island’s incredible sunflower fields along your way. Waterdrinker family farm is superb, or try the Manor Farm sunflower maze. It’s also a great part of the state to visit for wine tasting.
10. Fire Island
Distance from NYC: 62 miles – approx 1 hour 40 mins + ferry
Sticking with Long Island, another unmissable spot for nature lovers, or those simply after a serene escape is Fire Island. Known as being one of the best beaches on the East Coast, the sand bar of Fire Island boasts over 31 miles of beach frontage between Babylon and Center Moriches.
Cars are not allowed on Fire Island, adding to its quaint appeal so be prepared to get around on bikes and little red wagons. Each little community along the island has its own distinct little personality, so jump on the Fire Island Ferry and enjoy the shops, galleries and little restaurants. Walk the piers, throw in a fishing rod and visit Sunken Valley – though admittedly dipping your toes in the Atlantic waters is for the brave!
Plot out your route to these fabulous New York nature spots
Have you ever been to any of the wonderful destinations in New York State? If you have, let me know all about your time there in the comment section below!
More from New York and the East Coast USA
Don’t miss our guides to:
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- 4 Outdoor spots you’ll love in Brooklyn
- The Best Parks and Playgrounds in New York City
- Best Family Beaches on the US East Coast
- Fall Train Trips on the East Coast
- 16 Brilliant Day Trip Ideas from Boston
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