What to do in Upstate New York: the best outdoor activities, historical sites, and cultural fun!

Upstate New York is a vast and diverse region that has something to offer everyone. If you’re not sure what to do in Upstate New York, we have so many incredible ideas for you!

From the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains to the picturesque Finger Lakes, Upstate New York is home to some of the most stunning scenery in the country. The region is also rich in history and culture. There are a variety of museums, art galleries, and performing arts venues to choose from. And of course, no trip to Upstate New York would be complete without exploring some of the best children areas.

Best Things to do in Upstate New York 

From small towns to natural beauty, my favorite things about New York State include the great outdoors, rich historic sites, and many other unique experiences. 

Outdoor activities

Upstate New York is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. With its mountains, lakes, and forests, the region offers endless opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, boating, mountain biking, and more. Please practice leave no trace principles when visiting these amazing outdoor areas in Upstate New York! 

Here are just a few of the many outdoor activities you can enjoy in Upstate New York:

  • Hiking and backpacking in the Adirondack Mountains: The Adirondack Park is home to over 2,000 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy day hikes to challenging multi-day backpacking trips. Some of the most popular hiking destinations in the Adirondack Mountains include Mount Marcy, the tallest peak in New York State, Cascade Mountain, and Algonquin Peak. Check out our full list of easy Adirondack hikes if you’re not quite up to the 46er challenge.  

Great towns to visit if you’re interested in exploring the Adirondack mountains include Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Old Forge, and Lake George! Staying in any of these popular mountain towns puts you right in the heart of the great outdoors.

Read Next: Fun Things to do in Old Forge

  • Camping and fishing in the Catskills: The Catskill Mountains are another popular destination for outdoor recreation. The Catskills offer a variety of camping options, from rustic back country primitive campsites to full-service campgrounds close to incredible hiking trails and quaint mountain towns. The region is also home to a number of lakes and rivers, which are perfect for fishing, swimming, and boating.

    Popular towns to explore in the Catskills include Windham, Tannersville, and Woodstock. With ample access to a variety of incredible outdoor activities, you can’t go wrong with a visit to this region of the state!
  • Exploring the Hudson Valley Region: The Hudson Valley region is the perfect day trip distance for those who live in New York City and on Long Island. It’s full of incredible Natural Wonders such as Minnewaska State Park, the Mohonk Preserve, and Bear Mountain State Park. The Hudson Valley area is also known for its climbing. The Gunks, or Shawangunk Mountains, are ranked among the top 10 places to climb in the United States.

    The Hudson Valley Region is an incredibly underrated location for nature lovers. Amazing overnight and weekend getaway locations include New Paltz, Cold Spring, and Sleepy Hollow. Planning a quick staycation in any of these towns will be a memorable one!
  • Canoeing and kayaking on the Finger Lakes: The Finger Lakes are a chain of 11 lakes that run through the heart of Upstate New York. The Finger Lakes are a great place to go canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. The region is also home to a number of incredible State Parks. We recommend Buttermilk Falls State Park, Watkins Glen State Park, and Letchworth State Park for incredible gorge trails and waterfalls.

    Staying in popular areas such as Ithaca, Canandaguia, and Skaneateles puts you right in the heart of all the amazing outdoor activities the Finger Lakes region has to offer. 
  • Visit Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls State Park is an incredible place to visit all year round. Enjoy views of the largest waterfall in North America from this park’s hiking trails, delectable dining options, and thrilling attractions. Explore the Cave of the Winds, take a ride on the Maid of the Mist boat tour, and eat the the Top of the Falls Restaurant.

    If you have the ability to cross the border, we recommend staying on the Canadian side of the falls for at least one night. Canada has more attractions and more hotels and restaurants than the New York side. Additionally, many claim that the view from Canada is best!

Read Next: A Weekend in Niagara Falls

Photo Credit: Brittanica

Historical sites

Upstate New York is home to a number of important historical sites. From the Erie Canal to the Saratoga National Historical Park, Upstate New York has something to offer history buffs of all ages.

Here are just a few of the many historical sites you can visit in Upstate New York:

  • The Erie Canal (Waterford, NY): The Erie Canal is a 363-mile canal that connects the Hudson River to the Great Lakes. The canal was built in the early 1800’s and played a vital role in the development of the United States. Today, the Erie Canal is a popular tourist destination, with visitors coming from all over the world to boat, bike, and hike along the canal.
  • Fort Ticonderoga (Ticonderoga, NY): Fort Ticonderoga is a historic fort that was built during the French and Indian War. The fort played a key role in the American Revolution, and it was captured by the Continental Army in 1775. Today, Fort Ticonderoga is a museum that offers visitors a glimpse into the life of a soldier during the American Revolution. Other noteworthy forts in Upstate New York include Fort Stanwix, Fort William Henry, and Fort Ontario.
Photo Credit: eriecanalway.org
  • John Brown Farm State Historic Park (North Elba, NY): The home and final resting place of abolitionist John Brown is full of history and beautiful scenery. This historical picnic area is great for an easy hike or snowshoe adventure. It’s also full of information about the liberation of slaves from the South.  
  • The Saratoga National Historical Park (Stillwater, NY): The Saratoga National Historical Park is a park that commemorates the Battles of Saratoga, which were two major victories for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The park offers visitors a variety of exhibits and programs that tell the story of the Battles of Saratoga and their importance in the American Revolution.
  • The Women’s Rights National Historical Park (Seneca Falls, NY): The Women’s Rights National Historical Park is a park that commemorates the women’s rights movement. The park includes the homes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, two of the leading figures in the early women’s rights movement. The park also offers visitors a variety of exhibits and programs that tell the story of the women’s rights movement.
Photo Credit: I Love NY

Arts and Culture

Upstate New York is home to a thriving arts and culture scene. With its many museums, art galleries, and performing arts venues, Upstate New York has something to offer everyone.

Here are just a few of the many arts and cultural attractions you can visit in Upstate New York:

  • Dia Beacon (Beacon, NY): Dia Beacon is a contemporary art museum housed in a former Nabisco box factory. The museum features large-scale installations and exhibitions by renowned artists such as Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, and Sol LeWitt.
  • Fenimore Art Museum (Cooperstown, NY): Connecting people to culture through landscape paintings, American Indian artifacts, folk art, and more in a stunning 1930’s neo-Georgian mansion. Dine and enjoy the grounds during your visit and don’t forget to explore the incredibly beautiful town of Cooperstown.
  • Storm King Art Center (New Windsor, NY): Storm King Art Center is a 500-acre outdoor sculpture park with over 100 sculptures on display. The sculptures are set against the backdrop of the Hudson Highlands, making for a truly stunning experience.
Photo Credit: Skidmore College
  • The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery (Saratoga Springs, NY): The Tang Museum is a contemporary art museum located on the campus of Skidmore College. The museum features a rotating schedule of exhibitions, as well as a permanent collection of over 11,000 works of art.
  • Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse, NY): The Everson Museum is a museum of American art located in downtown Syracuse. The museum has a collection of over 9,000 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and photographs.
  • Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute (Utica, NY): The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute is a museum and performing arts center located in Utica. The museum has a collection of over 30,000 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. The performing arts center hosts a variety of concerts, plays, and dance performances throughout the year.

Kid-Focused Activities

Upstate New York is a great place to visit with kids, with a variety of kid-friendly activities to choose from. Here are a few of our favorite ideas. 

  • Strong National Museum of Play (Rochester, NY): The Strong Museum is a museum dedicated to the history of play. The museum has a variety of exhibits and activities for kids of all ages, including a giant indoor playground, a life-size Monopoly board, and a collection of vintage toys and games.
  • Sciencenter (Ithaca, NY): A hands-on museum designed for the curiosity in all of us! Get excited about science through a variety of engaging and educational exhibits and programs. With an outdoor play area and a section designated to the real littles among us, this is a great location for families to explore.
  • The Wild Center (Tupper Lake, NY): The Wild Center is known for its Wild Walk, a trail of treetop bridges, tree houses, and stunning views. This fun twist on a Natural History Museum includes nature trails, canoe rentals, a living river exhibit, native animals talks, and more. The whole family will enjoy a day learning about the Adirondacks at the Wild Center.

Read Next: Wild Center Review

  • Enchanted Forest Water Safari (Old Forge, NY): Known as the largest Water Park in New York, Water Safari is home to over 50 attractions. Located in the quaint Adirondack Mountain Town of Old Forge, this epic location can provide days of fun for the whole family.
  • Six Flags (Darien Lake or Lake George, NY): If you’re an amusement park family, you can visit two different Six Flags locations in Upstate New York. Located on opposite ends of the state, Six Flags Darien Lake and Six Flags Great Escape are both great places to make family memories. 

Fun Seasonal Things to Do in Upstate New York

Upstate New York is a beautiful place to visit year-round. New York is known for a variety of seasonal activities that you don’t want to miss. From rushing spring waterfalls, to the New York State Fair, and all the fall foliage in between, Upstate New York is an incredible seasonal destination. Here are a few ideas:


  • Visit a Spring Festival: Upstate New York is home to a number of floral-themed festivals in Upstate New York. Look each year to see when the Tulip Time Festival in Holland, NY, and the Lilac Festival in Rochester, NY are occurring. These festivals are a great way to see the tulips in bloom and enjoy the spring weather.
  • Visit a maple syrup farm: Upstate New York is a major producer of maple syrup. Many maple syrup farms offer tours and tastings, so you can learn about the maple syrup-making process and try some delicious maple syrup products.
  • Go White Water Rafting: With snow melt and April showers, the Spring is the best time to go white water rafting. Some of the best rafting occurs between the Catskills and the Finger Lakes Region along the Pennsylvania border. You can also find white water rafting opportunities in the Adirondack Park as well.
  • Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls: Or do! This is the best time of year to experience New York State’s waterfalls. There are seemingly endless waterfalls in Upstate New York! Check out Pixley, Chittenango, and Mine Kill Falls in Central New York. Other incredible waterfalls include Kaaterskill, OK Slip, and Bash Bish Falls.


Summer in New York is a dream! It’s hot and lush. New York is a great summer location full of vibrant greens, sunshine, and incredible bodies of water. 

  • Spend time in the 1000 Islands Region: It’s best to visit the Northern border of New York, the 1000 Islands Region, in the summer. Take a boat ride on the St. Lawrence River and discover historic buildings such as the incredible Boldt Castle. The area is also home to two cute towns, Clayton and Alexandria Bay, which are both great places to hang out and spend some time.
  • Visit a water park: There are a number of incredible water parks in Upstate New York, such as Roseland Water Park in Canandaigua, Zoom Flume in East Durham, and Splash Down Beach in Fishkill. These water parks are a great way to cool off on a hot summer day. If you’re just itching for winter waterpark adventure, visit Kartrite in Monticello, Cascades in Cortland, and the Great Escape Lodge in Lake George.
  • River Floating: This laid-back summer trend is a great way to enjoy the sunshine and the great outdoors while relaxing with friends. Head to Ausable Chasm to float the Ausable River alongside other incredible summer activities. You can also float the West Canada, Sacandaga, and Delaware River throughout the state!
  • Attend a summer festival: There are a number of summer festivals held throughout Upstate New York. The largest of these festivals is the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse, which takes place in late August. Taste of Buffalo in Buffalo, NY is another incredible festival. With endless food vendors, rides, and free concerts, between the two, these festivals are a great way to experience the local culture and try some delicious food from the best local restaurants.


Autumn in Upstate New York is incredible. It may be one of the best places in the country to view fall foliage, but there’s so much more to New York in Fall.

  • Go leaf peeping: Upstate New York is known for its beautiful fall foliage. Some popular places to go leaf peeping include the Adirondack Mountains, the Catskill Mountains, and the Finger Lakes Region. A scenic drive or a good hike are the best ways you can experience fall colors!

Read Next: Easy Fall Hikes in the Adirondacks

  • Visit a pumpkin patch or an apple orchard: There are several pumpkin patches and apple orchards all over Upstate New York where you can pick your own fruit and enjoy other fall activities such as hayrides, corn mazes, and tasty fall treats.
  • Attend a fall festival: There are a number of fall festivals held throughout Upstate New York, such as the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze in Croton-on-Hudson, NY, and the Apple Hill Harvest Festival in Warwick, NY. These festivals are a great way to celebrate the fall season and enjoy some delicious food and drinks.
  • Scenic Lift Ride: A scenic lift ride is an incredible way to experience Fall colors in New York. There are lifts and gondola rides available throughout the state. Hunter Mountain’s scenic Skyride in the Catskills, Bristol in Rochester, Holiday Valley in Western New York, and the Cloudsplitter Gondola in the Northern Adirondacks will all share the awe-inspiring foliage of New York’s autumn.  


The winter months in New York State can be dreary. Some days are cold and snowy while others are mild and rainy. Despite the fickle weather, there is a lot we can do to enjoy our time!

  • Hit the slopes! Skiing and snowboarding: Upstate New York is home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the East. Some of the most popular ski resorts in Upstate New York include Gore Mountain, Whiteface Mountain, and Belleayre Mountain. We have a full list of Adirondack Ski Resorts, however, we prefer the small-town ski areas such as Greek Peak, Oak Mountain, and Holiday Valley. 

Read Next: Best Ski Areas in the Adirondacks

  • Go cross-country skiing: Upstate New York is home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the East. These popular resorts can, however, be quite expensive. We encourage you to give cross-country skiing a try! Locations like Cascade Ski Center, Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center, and Mt. Van Hoevenberg offer lessons and guided tours along with rentals. 
  • Go ice skating: There are a number of places to go ice skating in Upstate New York. Check out Winham Mountain in the Catskills, the Olympic Village in Lake Placid, and the Canalside Ice Rink in Buffalo, NY. The Canalside rink in Buffalo even offers themed events during the winter to keep things fun!
  • Attend a winter festival: There are a number of winter festivals held throughout Upstate New York, such as the Lake Placid Winter Carnival and the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. These festivals are a great way to celebrate the winter season and enjoy some fun activities such as snowmobiling, ice carving, and dog sledding.

No matter what time of year you visit Upstate New York, you’re sure to find something fun to do.

New York is a popular place to visit for all travelers. From New York City and Central Park to quaint Main Street mountain towns, there is truly something for everyone. 

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