The Best Things to Do in New York State

The ultimate bucket list of things to do in New York State (in all seasons)

New York State has a lot to offer (photo from Pixley Falls State Park)!

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New York State

We bring in people from all over the country to our photo studio at work (which is just across the border in PA). One day I met one of them (from NYC), and he introduces himself and says, “I’m from New York!”

No, sir, you are not from NY! I’m from NY.

(I mean, well, technically he is from NY, buuuut if you mean NYC, you can’t just leave it at that!!!!!)

When you live in NY (state), it can get a little annoying when you say “I’m from NY,” and everyone assumes you can see the Statue of Liberty from your house.

I live 8 hours from New York City…

And while New York City is cool and all, and definitely worth a visit, there are so many other beautiful places and fun things to see across the rest of the state.

So here is your guide to all the best things to do in New York State (not city)!

Check out the top 3 state parks in New York:


The New York State Bucket List

This list will start at the northwest corner of New York (Niagara Falls) and proceed west to east across the state (more or less) from there.


Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls seems to be the best known spot in NY besides the city, so I figured we could start here (it’s also one of the farthest spots from NYC).

The Niagara River actually runs along the border between the US and Canada, so you can visit the falls from either side. While the activities on both sides are similar, the views are far better on the Canadian side.

  • It’s easy to travel between countries here, so be sure to bring your passport to check out the Canadian side of the falls.

  • Check out my list of all the best things to do in Niagara Falls.


Eat Buffalo Wings

Buffalo

The city of Buffalo, NY is the birthplace of wings (and home to the Bills!), so this is the place to come for the authentic wing experience.

  • Everybody will make fun of you if you prefer your wings boneless with ranch. Because that’s just wrong. Except… that’s how I prefer my wings…

The Anchor Bar is the place with the chicken wing “story” on the menu, so it’s the first place to check out. But then try out the wings at other places as well, such as Duff’s, or check out Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen’s favorite at Bar-Bill’s!

Other things to do in Buffalo:


National Comedy Center

Jamestown

This is my hometown!!

And also (not biased at all!) one of my favorite museums. Home to the National Comedy Center, the Lucy-Desi Museum & Playhouse, and the world famous “Scary Lucy” statue, there are a lot of great things to check out in the area.

Other things to do in/near Jamestown:


Griffis Sculpture Park

East Otto

I love art that you can climb on. Not the kind of art that is fancy and uptight that you stare at in a stuffy gallery and wonder what it means. The kind that is outside in the real world, just for fun, just waiting for you to let out your inner child and come and play.

That’s what’s so great about Griffis Sculpture Park! It’s a whole park just full of crazy statues that you’re supposed to climb on.


Rock City Park

Olean

If you’ve ever seen “A Goofy Movie,” Rock City Park reminds me of something that Goofy and his son Max would see along their classic U.S. road trip.

As you drive down the long road into the park, you are welcomed by sign after cheesy sign assuring you that what you are about to see if one of the greatest sites in the U.S.

And it really did impress! The rock formations at the top of the trail were such an unusual site. Too bad all I have are these goofy cell phone pictures… I did buy myself (Jason bought) a “rock buddy” in the classically cheesy road side gift shop!


Sprague’s Maple Farms

Olean

You can’t visit New York State without trying some real maple syrup, and Sprague’s Maple Farms is definitely the place to go to try it! They have a HUGE restaurant filled out with woodsy decor, and animatronic animals that will periodically pop up and delight the kids (or you!).

In addition to the restaurant, there’s the country gift shop, the caramel corn kitchen, the playground, the walking trails, and the sugar shack, where they make the syrup.

We usually go during the fall, when we get free hayrides up to the sugar shack, and free apple cider donuts! But they have special events all throughout the year, so be sure to check them out!


Letchworth State Park

Castile

You can go to Letchworth State Park any time of the year, and it will be beautiful, but fall is my favorite season to view it.

This is a huge park, known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” and consistently voted the nation’s #1 state park. It’s good for hiking, picture taking, picnicking, or hey, why not, hot air ballooning!


Strong Museum of Play

Rochester

This is another super fun museum, located in Rochester, NY. One of those interactive museums where you’re actually allowed to touch stuff instead of just reading a plaque about the cannonball that may have belonged to George Washington’s second cousin.

While Strong Museum of Play is certainly a great museum for families, it’s not just for kids! So if you’re a grownup (in age) and have no kids as an excuse, don’t be afraid to check it out.

Other things to do in Rochester:


Visit a Finger Lakes winery

Finger Lakes Region

The new Finger Lakes Visitor Center in Geneva, NY.

If you’re not into wine, you can get wine flavored ice cream in the Finger Lakes! Or just… ice cream.

I love driving through the Finger Lakes region. We always took the longer way through the Finger Lakes to get to our church camp in central NY (also, it saved on tolls!). We liked to stop at Geneva and get ice cream at the shop on the lake.

Now, I am not the type of person you want to be giving you advice on wine tasting. The more like fruit juice it tastes like, the more I like it!

But there are so many incredible wineries (with incredible views) in the Finger Lakes region, that you really should put one (or two) on your bucket list. Just… don’t ask me which ones… (sorry!)


Corning Museum of Glass

Corning

Ever cooked on your stove with Corningware? Surprise! That was made in Corning, NY.

Although I admit, personally a museum about glass and dishes sounds, on the surface, a bit boring. But glass is quite the opposite of boring. It’s insane!

There are so many unique exhibits to see at Corning Museum of Glass, as well as glass blowing demonstrations and make your own glass classes.


Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen State Park is pretty close to Corning. You may be familiar with it because of the race track in Watkins Glen. But there is also an incredible state park here, with fairytale bridges that look like they were built by the elves.

You can park at either the top or the bottom of the gorge trail, and hike both ways or take a shuttle back to your car.


Waterfall Chasing

Ithaca

I love taking photos in my pretty pink sundress

While there are a number of impressive waterfalls all across the state, the area around Ithaca is just overflowing with them.

Seriously.

You’ll see this motto everywhere:“Ithaca is gorges!” And since the town itself is super cute, it’s a great place to base yourself for some waterfall chasing.

Ithaca is also a super dog-friendly city, so it’s a great place to bring your dog on vacation with you!

  • Pictured: Taughannock Falls. Pronunciation: Tug-awn-ick… or something like that…!


Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls is famous for a number of reasons. Most specifically for the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention, and the inspiration of the small town Bedford Falls in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

There is a Women’s Rights National Historic Park and a small It’s a Wonderful Life Museum,” but the real highlight of the town is to walk along the canal, where you can even cross the “It’s a Wonderful Life” bridge.

You can visit any time of year, but my choice would be around Christmas time for the It’s a Wonderful Life” festival.


Harriet Tubman National Historical Park

Auburn

After the Civil War, Harriet Tubman moved to central NY, where she advocated for women’s rights alongside Susan B. Anthony.

You can visit her residence, the home for the aged that she founded, and more at the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, NY that honors this incredible woman.


The World's Longest Mini Golf Hole

Cortland

Who knew that you could stop at a small town in central NY and play the world’s longest hole of miniature golf (par 14)?

In addition to the 459.5 ft. hole, several of the holes have “spinners” on them, which give you different instructions, such as hit the ball with your foot or choose an opponent to stand as an obstacle for you (that one doesn’t work so well when your opponent moves out of the way!).

Plus, it’s pirate themed. You can’t beat that!


Castle Hunting

Thousand Islands

You don’t have to go to Europe to see castles. In fact, the more than 1800 islands that run along the border between Canada and the US are teeming with mansions and castles. And the scenery’s not too bad either.

The best time of year to visit the Thousand Islands is in the summer, as many things are not open in the off season.


Burrville Cider Mill

Watertown

I haven’t been to the Burrville Cider Mill myself, but my friend who used to live here claims they have THE BEST apple cider donuts in the world, and I always trust the locals’ opinions of where to find the best donuts.

They also have a lovely waterfall flowing next to the mill. It’s a great place for some good old fashioned apple cider.

Be sure to visit this place in the fall!


Baseball Hall of Fame

Cooperstown

Fun fact: the game of baseball was founded in the little tiny town of Cooperstown, NY!

If you love baseball, I’m sure this is already on your bucket list. I, personally, just don’t find any interest in the sport. BUT, I’ve often found that visiting a museum about something I don’t care about makes me actually care about it (like the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville).

And while I personally can’t attest to the Baseball Hall of Fame, if it’s anything like the Football Hall of Fame, it will be entertaining enough for all the members of your family.


Explore Ausable Chasm

Ausable Chasm

One of the first organized tourist attractions in the US, and one of the coolest things to do in New York State, Ausable Chasm is a 2-mile long canyon carved by the Ausable River.

Today you can hike through the chasm, float down the river, go white water rafting, explore the cave, rappel off the sides of the chasm, or just enjoy the beautiful scenery. It’s a great place for thrill seekers, nature lovers, families, or just about anybody.


The Olympic Complex

Lake Placid

While Lake Placid itself is a beautiful getaway destination, its appeal is augmented by the fact that the winter Olympics were held here… twice! And that you can now pretend to be an olympian and go bobsledding down the mountain.

Or something like that.

I have not been to the Lake Placid Olympic Complex yet, but maybe someday I will ride the cliffside coaster down the bobsledding track or the Skyride gondola to the ski jumping sites (and watch other people jump).


Mine for Garnet

North Creek

The first time I heard of the garnet mine in North Creek was when my best friend called me for help re-planning her “baby moon.” Due to covid, most of the things they had been looking forward to doing, including picking out a garnet “birthstone” for their soon to be born baby, were canceled.

As it turns out, the baby was born a month early, so picking out the garnet birthstone wouldn’t have worked anyway…

But whether or not your birthday is in January, treasure hunting in the garnet mines sure sounds like a cool experience! And there are plenty of other great things to do in the area as well!

Other things to do near North Creek:


Howe Caverns & Secret Caverns

Howes Cave

My family took a trip to the Catskill Mountains when I was 13. I had gotten in the habit of picking up travel brochures at every rest stop (usually if they had pretty colors or horses on the front). On this trip I picked up a kitschy brochure for a 100 ft. underground waterfall.

13 year old me really wanted to go, but… being 13… I wasn’t in charge of the trip planning. So I still have yet to visit the underground waterfall at Secret Caverns, but from what I can tell, it will be a perfectly cheesy, American road trip experience.

It also happens to be rather close to Howe Caverns, which are the second most visited natural attraction in NYS (behind Niagara Falls). If they’re beating out the likes of Letchworth and Watkins, they must be pretty impressive.


Vanderbilt Mansion

Hyde Park

One of the few things I remember from 7th grade social studies is that the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina has so many bathrooms, you could use a different one every day of the month and still not use them all.

Turns out, the Vanderbilts have quite a few houses, too. And while the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park might not have as many rooms (only 54), it is certainly an impressive sight to see. The grounds are also open to explore, and would make for some lovely family photo backdrops.


F.D. Roosevelt Home

Hyde Park

Just down the road from the Vanderbilt Mansion is another historic site, so these two can easily be visited on the same trip.

The F.D. Roosevelt Home is another impressive house and beautiful grounds, rendered even more important due to its former owners. Learn about the life of the longest serving president in U.S. history while walking the trails Roosevelt himself used to walk.


Things to Do Across New York State

These are things to do in New York that you can experience at more than one location across the Empire State:

Explore the Erie Canal

Did anyone else have to sing the song in their fourth grade play, or is that just us New Yorkers?

Either way, I’m sure you’ve heard of the famous canal that spans the state. There are multiple places to visit the Erie Canal across New York. I mean, just look at this map!!!

Just look at all the things to do!!! Erie Canal road trip anyone??

Just look at all the things to do!!! Erie Canal road trip anyone??

Here are some highlights:

Lockport

Take a cruise down the canal and explore the Erie Canal Discovery Center in Lockport, NY, near Buffalo.

Pittsford

Stroll along the waterfront, grab a gelato, or take a cruise on the Erie Canal in Pittsford, NY, near Rochester.

Syracuse

Be sure to check out the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, NY and the nearby Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum and the Canal Town Museum in Canastota.


Ride a Mountain Coaster

Lake Placid isn’t the only place in New York State where you can ride a mountain coaster (although it is the longest in the U.S.).

Ellicottville

Ride the Sky High Mountain Coaster at Holiday Valley in Ellicottville.

Cortland

If you’re in town to play mini golf, head over to Greek Peak Mountain Resort and ride the mountain coaster too.

Lake Placid

The longest mountain coaster in the U.S. is at the Olympic complex in Lake Placid.


Visit a Sunflower Field

This is a summertime bucket list activity, and there are a number of sunflower fields across the state to choose from! Gather ginormous sunflowers, or just take some magical photos, as you walk through these incredible fields.


Take a Fall Foliage Train Ride

I think fall is the best time to visit! The weather’s decent (usually!) and the foliage is gorgeous (usually)! Plus it’s apple cider season.

If you’re here in the fall, enjoy the scenery from the safety of a train ride (as opposed to looking out the window while you’re driving, which I do…).

  • You can also go on other train rides throughout the year, such as the North Pole train ride or the Easter Bunny Express.

Arcade

Near Buffalo, ride the Arcade & Attica Railroad.

Utica & Thendara

In central NY, rent a railbike and and bike along the tracks, or book a haunted ride on the train on the Adirondack Railroad.

Kingston

In the eastern side of the state, ride the Catskill Mountain Railroad.


Apple Picking

If you come in the fall, you’ve got to go apple picking (and eat apple cider doughnuts)! There are places all over the state to go apple picking in the fall.

  • Check out my list of fall specific activities to do near western NY (or just to give you fall activity ideas for anywhere!).


Shop at Wegmans

If we ever move, we have to make sure it is somewhere with a Wegmans nearby! Wegmans is THE BEST grocery store you will ever shop at in your life!

Seriously (in my professional opinion)!

Plus, it’s more than just a grocery store. Be sure to check out the Wegmans café for lunch or dinner.

See why Wegmans is the best:


and finally…

New York City

Because yes, NYC is a New York State bucket list item.

So please enjoy these pictures of the Statue of Liberty and… um… 3 year old me picking my nose.


So that is my list of all the best things to do in New York State. Obviously, this list is not entirely exhaustive; there are so many great things to do in NY!

If you have any ideas of things to do in NY that you think need to be on this bucket list, be sure to share them in the comments below.

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