When you hear New York, crowded streets, towering skyscrapers, and the magic of Broadway may be the first things that come to mind. However, New York is much more than the metropolis that is New York City. Just a short drive north of the five boroughs is a majestic wonderland of natural beauty.
Go for thrilling hikes or kayaking trips in the summer or embark on a ski expedition during those frigid winter months. Whenever you need a break from the concrete jungle, upstate New York has lots of gorgeous scenery to help you reconnect with nature.
These are a few of the must-see sights when you head upstate and leave the city behind!
Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen State Park is the crown jewel of upstate New York and one of the most stunning places in the United States east of the mighty Mississippi River. Situated in the Finger Lakes region south of Seneca Lake, the hikes within the gorge will take your breath away. In my humble opinion, Watkins Glen earns the title of most beautiful spot in all of New York.
The stream gently cuts through the rocks and creates dozens of cascading waterfalls to form a serene landscape pulled from a fairytale. The main trail through the gorge is only around one mile but could take a complete day to finish. Along every turn, you will be left in awe of the trees above the crevice and the peaceful flow of the water downhill.
If you want to verge off the main trail, there are several paths leading to other scenic locations within the gorge. Throughout the park, you will find wonderful areas for a picnic or to camp overnight.
The most famous shot of the park comes at Rainbow Falls Bridge with Cavern Cascade flowing into the stream above the trail. There is a shuttle that operates on busier days and is a convenient option to ride around to the other side of the gorge after a lengthy hike.
The lush mountain scenery and quaint villages of the Adirondack region have much to offer any type of visitor. Those seeking peace and serenity can take a lovely boat ride on the astonishing Saranac Lake or the picturesque Lake George. Each marvelous lake and its village are the definition of a sleepy small town to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.
Thrill seekers are in luck as well with many adventurous outdoor activities in the widespread mountains and rivers. Hikers can explore the maze of scenic hiking trails to encounter endless natural beauty. Ditch the land and enter the boat for intense whitewater rafting through the Hudson River Gorge.
The gorgeous region has even hosted the Winter Olympics on two occasions (1932 and 1980) and visitors can make the trip to the Lake Placid Olympic Complex.
It’s hard to believe this incredible stretch of land is only a two-hour drive from New York City. A peaceful escape for nature lovers, the region offers countless hiking trails, camping sites, and wildlife.
No matter the season visitors make the trip to the Catskills, there is much fun for everyone. Cyclists can zoom through numerous biking paths, and aquatic enthusiasts can take a dip in a refreshing lake or canoe downstream on the river. Those who love the snow can arrive during wintertime to hit the slopes at ski resorts adjacent to the mountains.
For unbelievable views of the Hudson Valley, take the Hunter Mountain Scenic Skyride to reach one of the highest peaks of the Catskill Mountains. The chairlift has room for six passengers and makes a terrific outing for the entire family. To spend the night beneath the stars, consider spending the night at North-South Lake State Campground. Located in Haines Falls, the site offers hiking, fishing, boating, kayaking, swimming, and other recreational activities.
Whether you are searching for family-friendly getaways in the outdoors or some alone time from the hectic city, the Catskills are a dream come true.
Letchworth State Park
New York’s state park system enchants nature lovers once again with the untouched beauty of Letchworth State Park. Only a 1-hour drive from Buffalo, Letchworth has garnered the nickname “Grand Canyon of the East” for its steep gorge and gushing waterfalls.
Make sure your camera is fully charged before heading out since there are three epic waterfalls that each boast images worthy of a postcard. The Genesee River snakes through the gorge and plunges over rocky cliffs nearly 600 feet deep in some places. For daredevils, try a hot air balloon ride that takes you above the misty falls and an unbelievable photo opportunity.
Although the three enormous falls of the Genesee River are the star attraction, there are several other cascades to check out during your visit. Dozens of hiking trails wander through the forest, and a trip in the fall reveals tons of eye-popping foliage. If hiking is not your thing, there are lots of cycling and horseback riding trails when the weather is warm. Letchworth is a fantastic place for a winter getaway that offers cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.
Letchworth State Park is not only one of New York’s most popular state parks but is often considered the best in the United States. In fact, it took home the USA TODAY Readers’ Choice Award for Best State Park in the United States in 2015.
Although the park is about a 5-6 hour drive from the “Big Apple,” feasting your eyes on this impressive canyon is worth it.