7 Best Getaways in Upstate New York
In the popular imagination "Upstate New York" calls to mind blissful vacation spots and remote countryside, even if the area also includes industrial cities like Rochester, Utica, and Syracuse. Many Manhattanites consider "Upstate" to be the regions just north of the New York metropolitan area, while others say it's anywhere beyond the reach of the Metro-North Railroad line.
No matter how you define it, the "Upstate" area covers most of the state and includes a wide variety of places to visit for a getaway. For the purposes of this travel guide, Upstate New York refers to the areas north of Kingston.
Bucolic scenery and pristine wilderness sites draw many visitors to Upstate New York. Tranquility and awe for nature's splendor are found in the wide-open spaces, dense woodlands, and babbling freshwater streams. Since the 19th century, Upstate New York's breathtaking waterfalls and soaring mountain peaks have inspired artists. The beautiful landscapes still dazzle visitors today.
From the resorts of the Catskills and the artsy towns of the Hudson Valley to the rugged forests and rivers of the Adirondack Mountains, Upstate New York offers something for everyone. Plan a fabulous getaway to one of the Empire State's idyllic locations with our list of the best getaways in Upstate New York.
1. The Catskills
Forested rolling hills, gurgling brooks, and flower-filled meadows define this lovely pastoral region. At the heart of the Catskills, the 700,000-acre Catskill Park is protected as "Forever Wild" land. The park's pristine rivers provide drinking water for New York City.
For decades, the Catskills were synonymous with summer vacation. New Yorkers have been drawn to the region's wide open spaces and beautiful scenery since the 19th century. The fresh air and slow-paced country towns provided a welcome escape from the sweltering heat and congestion of New York City.
In its heyday (1950s and 60s), hotels and all-inclusive resorts flourished; there were over 500 accommodations in the region. At that time, the Catskills had many Jewish family resorts where Jewish comedians made a name for themselves. For a taste of the "Borscht Belt" (Jewish family resort) culture, watch the film Dirty Dancing or episodes 3, 4, and 5 of Season two in the Netflix series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Although the legendary Jewish resorts (The Concord, the Nevele Grande Resort, and Grossinger's) have all been shuttered or torn down, it is still possible to find resorts in the Catskills that offer a similar vacation experience complete with social events and recreational activities. Some resorts include meals and entertainment along with accommodations.
A Borscht Belt relic of the 1960s, Scribner's Catskill Lodge has been modernized with minimalistic contemporary-style decor to suit today's guests. The hotel features a gourmet restaurant with sweeping mountain views. A variety of on-site activities keep guests busy throughout the year.
In the shadow of Windham Mountain, Christman's Windham House is a historic inn set on a 300-acre property. The resort includes inviting hotel accommodations, two golf courses, tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, restaurant, and complimentary breakfast.
The Sunny Hill Resort has been welcoming guests since the 1950s and still delivers a classic Catskill vacation experience with meals, daily activities, social events, and entertainment. The 600-acre resort property includes a lake, outdoor swimming pool, spa, tennis courts, basketball court, softball field, bocce ball court, and 18-hole championship golf course.
The Great Northern Catskills area boasts the highest mountain peaks of the Catskills and the most dramatic scenery. Here, you'll find fabulous hiking trails, ski resorts, and iconic nature sights. Kaaterskill Falls, the state's tallest waterfall, and other picturesque spots like Kaaterskill Clove and the Sunset Rock overlook were painted by the Hudson River School artists.
Relaxing weekend getaways and outdoorsy summer vacations are the main reason to plan a trip to the Catskills region. The top things to do in the Catskills include outdoor activities, like fly-fishing, camping, canoeing, and kayaking.
Besides outdoor recreation and sightseeing, tourists will enjoy visiting the Catskills' cute small towns. A few tourist favorites include Livingston Manor, built up along the Willowemoc Creek in Sullivan County; Tannersville in the Great Northern Catskills near fantastic hiking trails and ski resorts; Phoenicia, a tiny hamlet at the heart of the Catskills; and Woodstock, a charming village brimming with art galleries, locally owned shops, artisan boutiques, and top-notch restaurants.
2. Hudson Valley
The Hudson Valley offers New Yorkers a dose of nature without being far from culture. Amidst apple orchards and wooded rolling hills, you will find picture-perfect small towns that offer the finest cappuccinos at trendy cafés, gourmet restaurants that serve farm-to-table cuisine, world-class museums, art galleries, elaborate gardens and sculpture parks, and fancy boutiques.
One of the top weekend getaway destinations for New Yorkers, the Hudson Valley begins around Yonkers and extends north to Troy in Rensselaer County. The valley spreads out in length for about 150 miles, sandwiched between the Catskills and the Berkshire Mountains. Both mountain ranges provide stunning scenery, which was captured by the Hudson River School artists of the 19th century.
The Hudson River School Art Trail indicates the beautiful locales that Thomas Cole and other celebrated artists painted. Tourists can visit these sites to admire the natural splendor and get a sense of how the artists created magnificent landscape paintings.
This pastoral region is also home to several National Historic Landmarks and Historic Sites (Lyndhurst, Olana, and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site). Thomas Cole was the founding father of the Hudson River School of art.
Many of the Hudson Valley's top attractions are just outside the New York metropolitan area. The quaint riverside towns of Cold Spring and Beacon in the Lower Hudson Valley are easy day trips from New York City (less than a two-hour train ride or drive). Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow are colonial-era villages just 30 miles north of Manhattan (less than a one-hour ride on the Metro-North Railroad).
The Lower Hudson Valley (Cold Spring, Beacon, Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow) is not really considered Upstate New York. Most people consider that Upstate New York begins somewhere in the Middle Hudson Valley.
Highlights of the Middle and Upper Hudson Valley include New Paltz, a historic village near popular hiking trails; Kingston, a bustling town full of shops and restaurants; Hudson, an 18th-century seaport, now a hub of art galleries, cafés, artisan shops, upscale boutiques, and gourmet restaurants; Catskill, an artsy small town that is home to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site; and the 17th-century village of Kinderhook, birthplace of U.S. President Martin Van Buren.
3. Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls ranks as one of the top tourist attractions in New York State. This dramatic, awe-inspiring nature site is found along the border of the United States and Canada. Three separate waterfalls comprise Niagara Falls: American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls, which is largest (both the widest and the tallest).
The best way to view Niagara Falls is from the Observation Tower or by taking a boat tour. Hornblower boat rides take passengers into the basin of Horseshoe Falls for close-up views. Maid of the Mist boat tours begin at the Observation Tower, cruise past American Falls and into the Horseshoe Falls basin.
The Niagara Falls State Park is open year-round. Tourist information is available at the Visitor Center, along with a film screening about the history of Niagara Falls. The park also has hiking trails, an aquarium, and several restaurants.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Niagara Falls, NY
4. The Adirondacks
Visitors marvel over the rugged natural beauty and tranquility of the Adirondack region, the largest nature preserve in the continental United States. This vast unspoiled wilderness features freshwater rivers and streams, serene lakes, rolling hills, and mountain peaks.
Tourists flock to Lake George during summertime, for boating, fishing, and sunbathing. For those seeking luxury accommodations, The Sagamore Resort on Lake George is a good choice.
Boat cruises on Lake George give visitors a chance to admire the lakeside scenery while listening to commentary about the sights. The Lake George Steamboat Company provides boat tours on three different historic steamboats. The company offers sightseeing cruises, as well as lunch and dinner cruises.
Another top place to visit in the Adirondacks is Lake Placid, which has a historic village and is home to some of the region's top resort hotels. The village of Lake Placid has a charming Main Street with many locally owned shops and restaurants. There are also hiking trails and cross-country ski trails in the area.
Saranac Lake delights leaf peepers in autumn with its colorful fall foliage. In the winter, Saranac Lake draws visitors for snowshoeing and ice fishing. The vibrant town of Saranac Lake is full of shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Plus, various venues host live music concerts year-round.
During wintertime, the Adirondacks are blanketed with snow and become a top destination for downhill and cross-country skiing. Gore Mountain is one of the top ski resorts in New York. Farther north near the Canadian border, the Titus Mountain Family Ski Center has 50 trails for downhill skiing.
Quaint towns are scattered throughout the Adirondacks, including Warrensburg near Lake George; Corinth, which stands along the banks of the Hudson River and is an all-season destination for outdoor sports; and North Creek, a good base for skiing at Gore Mountain.
5. Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes region enchants visitors with its dreamy bucolic scenery and soul-soothing environment. This quiet countryside of lakes, vine-covered rolling hills, lush forests, and farmlands is dotted with picturesque small towns. The region also boasts excellent restaurants, a wide selection of accommodations, and great shopping.
A popular tourist destination in the Finger Lakes region, Skaneateles is a postcard-perfect village overlooking the pure, deep blue waters of Lake Skaneateles. Dating back to the Revolutionary War, the village stands out for its handsome 19th-century mansions. One of these historic houses has been converted to the Sherwood Inn, which features exquisitely restored and decorated guest rooms.
Another upscale accommodation in Skaneateles is the Mirbeau Inn & Spa Skaneateles. Reminiscent of a French château, this lavish resort hotel is nestled on a country estate with grounds inspired by Monet's Garden in Giverny, France. The four-star hotel includes a gourmet farm-to-table restaurant and a full-service spa with pool, saunas, and steam rooms.
Visitors will appreciate the walkable downtown of Skaneateles. The charming tree-lined streets are lined with many restaurants, art galleries, shops, and hotels. The area also has hiking trails.
Culture hounds will want to visit Corning, an attractive small town with dozens of shops, art galleries, and gourmet restaurants. The town has been a center of artisan glassmaking for decades. Not to be missed, the Corning Museum of Glass wows visitors with its stunning glass sculptures, glassmaking demonstrations, and hands-on glassmaking classes.
Corning is also home to the Rockwell Museum, affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute, which tells the story of the American experience through its assortment of American paintings and Native American art. Highlights include masterpieces by Albert Bierstadt, William Robinson Leigh, and other renowned American artists. The museum also has an interactive art studio for kids and a gift shop that sells traditional handcrafted items.
For nature lovers, the spectacular 215-foot Taughannock Falls in Taughannock Falls State Park is a highlight of the Finger Lakes region. A top tourist destination in New York State, the park features hiking trails, cross-country ski trails, picnic areas, playgrounds, campsites, and cabins. Within the park, Cayuga Lake has a beach, marina, and boat launch.
Another natural attraction in the Finger Lakes is Watkins Glen State Park, appreciated for its dramatic canyon scenery. A meandering stream and multiple waterfalls traverse the amazing landscape, which features a deep ravine. Hiking trails wind past the waterfalls and above the gorge, allowing visitors to admire splendid views. The park has campsites, playgrounds, picnic areas, a gift shop, and an Olympic-size swimming pool.
Watkins Glen State Park is located near Seneca Lake. The town of Seneca Falls has many historical buildings and is home to the Women's Rights National Historical Park.
Accommodation: Best Resorts in the Finger Lakes Region
6. Saratoga Springs
There's something in the water in Saratoga Springs, which could explain the cheerful mood of this fashionable resort town. Saratoga Springs bubbles with energy just like its celebrated sparkling water, sold in distinctive blue bottles.
For centuries, the local mineral springs have attracted visitors who come "to take the waters" for health reasons. George Washington was an advocate of the mineral waters' healing properties. By the mid-19th century, the spas at Saratoga catered to distinguished guests like J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts.
Today visitors can still soak in the famous mineral waters at the Roosevelt Baths & Spa, located within the Saratoga Spa State Park. For a truly pampering experience, stay at The Gideon Putnam resort near the spa.
Besides its mineral waters, Saratoga Springs is also known for horse racing. Thoroughbred horse racing enthusiasts flock to the city during the race season, from mid-July through Labor Day.
The Saratoga Race Track facility is the oldest in the country, dating to 1863. Designed in lavish Victorian-era style, the facility features picnic areas and full-service dining options. During the races, many people dress to impress! Some women wear formal attire and elegant hats.
Saratoga Springs has a lovely downtown area that bustles with activity. Upscale restaurants and high-end boutiques line Broadway for several blocks. Built in 1877, The Adelphi Hotel graces the Broadway Historic District and offers guests four-star amenities including plush, recently renovated guest rooms and a gourmet restaurant.
7. Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River
Bald eagles soar overhead, and rainbow trout flourish in the pristine waters of the Upper Delaware River, a protected wilderness area in a tranquil valley that borders Pennsylvania. The Upper Delaware River Valley is also home to black bears, beavers, and white-tailed deer.
The gently flowing Delaware River is a premier fly fishing destination in the Northeast. The chance to cast to brown trout, rainbow trout, and smallmouth bass draws anglers year-round, and especially during the springtime (April, May, and June), which is the high season for fly fishing. Other things to do include canoeing, rafting, and kayaking.
Tourists are delighted by the idyllic scenery of rolling hills and peaceful riverfront villages. To admire the landscape, take a drive along Route 97, which is considered one of the most scenic routes in the state. This thoroughfare affords stunning views of fall foliage in the autumn.
Some of the most charming country towns in the Upper Delaware River Valley are Hancock, a good place to stay near fly fishing spots; Callicoon, a lively town that dates to the Victorian era and has a year-round weekly farmers' market; and Narrowsburg, a riverside village with many shops and restaurants.