Travel. Travel can be that therapeutic break you often need from a mundane routine or a stressful lifestyle. Us city folk are always on the move, trying to meet deadlines and keeping up with a fast-paced life. New York City, in general, is known for being one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world, and one of the most populated ones.
However, contrary to popular belief, there is a lot more to the State of New York than just the Big Apple. The New York State has many hidden gems and breath-taking spots that are not plagued by concrete buildings and city lights. These amazing towns and communities represent the more peaceful, picturesque side of the state that one should make an effort to discover every once in a while.
As you read on, we’re going to highlight some of the most beautiful vacation spots in upstate New York, whether you’re a solo traveler or taking your whole family along with you. There are many fun and exciting things to do in Upstate, NY. Upstate New York tourist attractions vary from popular and touristy to secluded and quiet.
In this list, we’re giving you options to choose from as you plan your next getaway to one of the many upstate New York attractions. Whether it’s for a few days, a whole week, or even if you’re looking for some spots for fun day trips in Upstate NY, you’ve come to the right place!
Table of Contents
- What You Can Find in Upstate NY
- Best Vacation Spots in Upstate New York
- Finding Sanctuary in Upstate NY During Fall
What You Can Find in Upstate NY
Upstate NY is like a hidden treasure trove, bound to surprise you as you discover more and more of it. Beautiful landscapes and untouched nature on one side, vast water bodies and wildlife on the other. And in the center of it all in clusters, you will also find a vibrant and upbeat community of people, culture, and entertainment. It truly is that perfect mixed bag of everything one would want to experience on vacation, and New Yorkers are rather lucky to be so close to all of it.
Best Vacation Spots in Upstate New York
1. Saratoga Springs
About a 3-and-a-half-hour drive from NY city, you’ll find the fascinating town of Saratoga Springs. This place is absolutely rife with a rich history and fascinating stories, and a community that truly makes you feel at home. It is located north of Albany and is most famously known for an abundance of natural springs that can be found all over the area.
While this isn’t all of the attractions at Saratoga, it certainly should be on your travel itinerary when you get here. Undoubtedly, Saratoga has some of the best things to do in Saratoga Springs NY during weekends
There are some truly interesting things to do in Saratoga Springs NY during weekends, as a visit to the horse races that people come to witness from all over the country, or the National Park that is a haven for nature and wildlife. During the fall season, Saratoga is an absolute delight. The weather is perfect, and it’s the right combination of rampant city life and relaxing countryside life.
When you’re here, you absolutely cannot miss the fantastic performances at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, or even the Roosevelt Baths and Spa, which is the most popular spot here for relaxation and rejuvenation. Some other things you can check out are the Broadway walk area where you’ll find umpteen restaurants and bars to have a great time, the History Museum, Children’s Museum, and the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery.
Things you can do here:
- Watch live music, dance, and theatre performances at the SPAC
- Go hiking and Camping at the State National Park
- Relax for a whole day at the Roosevelt Baths and book an exclusive package
- Attend one of the horse races at the Saratoga Racetracks and also enjoy the buffet spread
- Explore the beautiful green landscape at the Yaddo Gardens
- Go boating and fishing at the Saratoga Lake
- Take a tour of the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, Saratoga Automobile Museum, and the National Museum of Racing
- Try wine tasting at the Saratoga Winery
- Go hiking and camping at the Bog Meadow Brook Nature trail or the Geyser Creek Trail
2. Cold Spring
If you’re only looking to get away for a short span of time, maybe for the weekend or a few days, then you can try an upstate New York fall destination that isn’t too far away – Cold Spring. If you drive for only a little over an hour from the city, you’ll reach this quaint and peaceful town. In the ‘National Register of Historic Places,’ you’ll find this small Putnam County town mentioned, consisting mainly of the beautiful 19th-century architecture and small-scale markets.
So, why exactly should you visit this spot with your family, and that too during fall? Because of how ultimately peaceful the entire trip will be. Yes, there are markets, people, shopping spots, fun restaurants, and picnic spots to explore, but it still lacks that hustle and rush of the city, which is excellent! You’ll find some beautiful BnBs here to stay at, and you can choose a number of activities to indulge in – golfing, biking, boating, kayaking, or just hiking through the forests.
A trip to Cold Spring really won’t cost you much either, but you’ll surely go back home feeling refreshed and de-stressed.
Things you can do here:
- Enjoy the river view and hiking at the Hudson Highlands
- Take a tour of Boscobel House and Gardens
- Take an adventure tour of these places – Bull Hill, Pollepel Island, Breakneck Ridge Trail, West Point Foundry, and the Storm King State Park
- Climb to the highest peak in the Hudson Highlands, known as Beacon Mountain
- Also explore the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum and the Putnam History Museum
3. Lake Placid
Apart from the famous movies that have been shot here and around this spot, Lake Placid is actually popular for its untouched, pristine locations and beauty. Found in Essex County in North America, Lake Placid has been a popular destination for many decades. During the fall season, the temperature and nature here are just ideal, especially for adventure seekers.
You’ll find many hikers, bikers, and climbers, exploring the hills, rocks, and natural water bodies all day.
While Lake Placid is a good 5-hour drive from NY city, it truly is worth the effort. Here, you’ll find a number of picturesque camping spots, where you can light a bonfire and soak in the peace and quiet of nature. And of course, you’ll also wake up to a gorgeous fall sky.
Then, go ahead and get yourself an Olympic Sites Passport! It’s like an all-access pass that lets you enjoy the exciting things to do inside the Olympic Village here. Once in, you can try the Bobsled, the Ski Jump Complex, and also check out the Museum in the Olympic Center where you can discover so many interesting facts about Lake Placid’s Olympic history. You can also experience the Cloudsplitter Gondola Ride, the Castle at the Whiteface Mountain Peak, the High Falls Gorge, and also the beautiful Mirror Lake where you can go boating.
For a small town of not more than 3,000 people, Lake placid always has visitors who are looking to explore its many hidden traits.
Things you can do here:
- Discover the beautiful Mirror Lake and surrounding areas, and also go boating and camping
- Watch live games at the Herb Brooks Arena
- Go skiing at the Jackrabbit Trail
- Go climbing up the Whiteface Mountain to get the most gorgeous view of the lake
- Relax for a day the Lake Placid Beach
- Hike through Cobble Hill or Mount Jo, or just go wine tasting at the Goose Watch Winery
4. City of Ithaca
You’ve definitely heard of Ithaca before as a suggestion for a vacation destination, and over time Ithaca has become widely popular. Only a 4-hour drive till this beautiful city, Ithaca is a much-loved destination for fall activities in Upstate NY. Ithaca is found in the Finger Lakes region and is itself situated on Cayuga Lake.
If you’re someone who truly appreciates the serene beauty of lakes surrounded by nature, Ithaca should definitely be on your list!
You absolutely cannot miss seeing the dramatic Ithaca Falls, and also Buttermilk Falls State Park which has umpteen hiking trails, camping grounds, and waterfalls. There’s also the famous Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the fascinating campus and gardens at the world-renowned Cornell University. Since you won’t be too far from the Finger Lakes area, you can also visit the many beautiful lakes and gorges nearby.
Ithaca and all of the surrounding areas are rife with State Parks, wildlife, amazing lakes, walking and biking trails, and also a slew of wineries where you can go wine tasting and also carry back some delicious and well-aged bottles back home. For a wholesome and adventurous upstate New York fall vacation, Ithaca can be just the right choice!
Things you can do here:
- Explore the beautiful gallery at the Herbert Art Museum
- Take a tour of waterfalls and visit – Ithaca Falls, Buttermilk Falls, Triphammer Falls, Wells Falls, Taughannock Falls, and Cayuga Falls
- Discover the Sciencenter, Museum of Earth, and the History Center in Tompkins County
- Take a tour of the world-famous Cornell University campus
- Go wine tasting at the Six Mile Creek Vineyard or the Ports of New York Winery
- Hiking, trekking, camping, and adventure games at any of these sites – Cass Park, Robert H. Treman State Park, Cascadilla Gorge Trail, or Cayuga Lake
5. Sleepy Hollow
A very short drive away from NY city is the quietly famous town called Sleepy Hollow. While the name suggests otherwise, this town isn’t dull or lacking things to do. Sleepy Hollow has often been at the center of many horror stories and tales of Halloween, but those are of course just stories. The town has a peaceful and calm vibe, exuding both mystery and beauty through its many spots.
You can check out the Rockefeller Estate called Kykuit, which was once the estate of businessman John Rockefeller. The beautiful home looks grand both on the outside and inside, complete with a large golf course, terrace gardens, and fountains all over. Here you’ll find a rather impressive 20th-century art collection and sculpture gallery.
Another Rockefeller area is the state park reserve, which is 1,400 acres in area. You can try out horse riding, fishing, biking, hiking, and also find the perfect spot for a relaxing picnic.
And if the Halloween stories really do fascinate you, you can also take a tour of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and the Headless Horseman Monument, which brings all those children’s tales to life and is, of course, not something you’ll experience just anywhere. For a different and fascinating Upstate NY fall trip, Sleepy Hollow might seem like an unlikely choice, but we’re sure you’ll enjoy your time here!
Things you can do here:
- Take a tour of the Halloween houses, museums, and conventions
- Bike riding, fishing, and hiking at the Rockefeller State Park
- Taste and purchase from the most exquisite bread collection at Rockland Bakery
- Spend a relaxing day at the Nyack Beach State Park
- Explore the beautiful architecture at the Union Church of Pocantico Hill
This unusually named town is a little over 4 hours by road from NY city, but it provides that passage into a quaint and quiet country like that is a far cry from the city rush. For families that want to explore a rather relaxing option for fall in upstate NY, Skaneateles is a simply wonderful choice.
You can pick up a bicycle and go around exploring the fascinating streets in this area. The Skaneateles Lake is a popular destination for people to enjoy the view and also camp out for the night (or a few nights). There’s an abundance of nature around Skaneateles, like the Carpenter Falls, Emerson Park, Baltimore Woods Nature Center, Erie Canal Park, and the Bahar Preserve.
Skaneateles is often referred to as the “Gem of the Finger Lakes” and rightfully so. A boat trip organized by the Mid-lakes Navigation will show you the true beauty of this small but fascinating town. And if Lavender is a fragrance that you like, you should surely check out the Lockwood Lavender Farm and pick up some of their signature lavender products. Anyela’s Vineyards is also a lovely little spot to taste that famous Finger Lakes wine.
During the fall in upstate New York, Skaneateles can make the perfect weekend getaway for you!
Things you can do here:
- Explore the exclusive art collection at the John D Barrow Art Gallery
- Take a day trip to go boating and fishing at the Skaneateles Lake or Mid-Lake Navigation
- If you love hiking, then Charlie Major Nature Trail is a must-see
- Enjoy an exquisite fish steak with chips at the famous Doug’s Fish Fry
- Get closer to nature at the Bahar Preserve, where you can also go camping
- Explore the beautiful Carpenter falls and the nearby scenic landscapes
Another wonderful destination that is only 25 miles from the city of New York, Tarrytown is a delightful place with many hidden things to offer. Fun day trips in upstate NY aren’t too rare to come by, and Tarrytown surely is in the top 3 of that list. Found in the Hudson River Valley, not too far from Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown is all about large buildings of heritage, gorgeous locales, lush parks and nature, and an idyllic setting that is just what you need when you’re trying to escape the concrete jungle.
At Tarrytown, you can explore the Tarrytown Lakes park, which is the perfect dose of some outdoor adventure. Here, you can go walking, biking, canoeing, and also ice skating in the colder seasons. This is a great place to bird watch as well. The Tarrytown Lighthouse is a landmark destination here, featured in many travel pages and journals. It’s not just about how great the view is from this spot, but also the lovely scene of ships and the bridges.
If you walk into the Tarrytown Music Hall, you’re very likely to end up witnessing one of the local talents entertaining the crowds. It’s the perfect old-school feel that’s hard to find in the digital age. Right from theatre and film to music and dance, all of it can be witnessed at the 850-seater hall.
Apart from this, you can also explore the Tappan Zee Bridge, Patriots Park, Sunnyside, and also the sports bars and lounges in the city center. All-in-all, Tarrytown truly brings together the feel of the old world with the enthusiasm of the current times.
Things you can do here:
- Take a tour of the massive Gothic Revival Lyndhurst Mansion which is also a major landmark
- Visit the old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow which is one of the oldest buildings here
- Enjoy a relaxing day at the Tarrytown Lakes Park and the Tarrytown Lighthouse
- Grab tickets for any of the live shows that are happening at Tarrytown Music Hall
- Explore the Patriots Park, enjoy a lovely lunchtime picnic, and take lots of pictures
- Check out the famous Tappan Zee Bridge and watch the amazing sunset here
8. Lake George
The Adirondack Mountains can be found a few hours north of the city of New York, and at the southeast base of the mountains, you’ll find the scenic little town of Lake George. You’d be surprised to see how much happens here, given that it’s just a little piece in a massive State. You can find a variety of stays here, both luxurious and affordable.
There are also some options for entertainment, there are enough options for a frugal experience or a lavish night out. While there isn’t a distinct nightlife here, there are plenty of options for dining with a view or even adventure sports.
You can relax with a view of the Million Dollar Beach, which is crowded but never too crowded. You could explore the Fort William Henry Museum for interesting anecdotes on history, and go wine tasting at the Adirondack Winery. You should definitely enjoy a luxurious dinner at the Sagamore Resort, which is beautiful even to stay at. For some adventure, choose to go either whitewater rafting or boating near Lake George, or just enjoy hiking at any of the nearby trails.
Things you can do here:
- Get on a public cruise or rent a private yacht to sail across Lake George
- Go shopping, food tasting, play some mini-golf – all of this and more at the Lake George Village
- Try any of these adventure experiences – hiking, zip-lining, navigating through rapids, hot air balloons, and so on
- Enjoy a group activity day at the famous Six Flags Great Escape amusement park and recreational center
- For a more relaxing time, visit any of the amazing beaches
9. Alexandria Bay
In the Thousand Island Region of NY, you’ll find the scenic town of Alexandria Bay. A true representation of how beautiful Upstate NY can be, the waters here are clear and inviting, and that’s why you’ll find most of the crowd at sea. Getting here is a little more tedious and could take close to hours, so you could take a flight instead to save some time.
During the fall season, this region is absolutely delightful. You could sail across the waters or simply relax by the beach as you soak up the sun. There are also some historical buildings with beautiful architecture that are worthy of being on postcards. The area of Alexandria gives you the feel of 1700 British Columbia, but still packs in the American spirit in the music and markets near the bay.
Getting till here might not just be a short road trip, but the journey is truly worth it. The Thousand Islands region is often known not just for its cluster of nearby islands, but also for how it almost feels like you’re in a whole other part of the word. The exotic vibe and the relaxed environment is what makes this place the right choice for those who simply want to leave their busy lives behind for a few days.
Things you can do here:
- Take a boat trip to the Heart, Wellesley, and Thousand Islands
- For a more adventurous time, try jet skiing at one of the at the many beaches here
- Remember to visit the Keewaydin State Park and observe nature and wildlife
- Take lots of pictures if you decide to visit the Scenic View Park and Kring Point State Park
- If you have a taste for history and beautiful architecture, you can check out the Boldt Castle and Boldt Yacht House.
About a 6-hour drive from the city of New York, Albion is a rather small but yet fascinating town in the county of Orleans. It is located between the Niagara Falls and Rochester, just south of Lake Ontario. The quiet yet unusual community of Albion will tell you many stories of its glorious history, and especially the cobblestone buildings. Some of these buildings have been around for decades, and just a little outside of Albion you’ll find the Cobblestone Historic District which is a collection of such magnificent structures.
The Cobblestone Museum used to be a church and is also the largest cobblestone structure in North America. At this open-air museum, visitors can explore the cobblestone methods of construction used in the late 1800s, and also check out four wooden structures from the 19th century.
But this sweet little town isn’t all just about its fascinating architecture. You can enjoy a fun evening at any of the diners and pubs, and also enjoy the stage and live shows at the entertainment centers. The perfect mix of history, nature, and modern living can be found in Albion, which is what makes it such a great option for a short fall vacation.
Things you can do here:
- Explore the Cobblestone Museum and take a day tour
- Enjoy a delicious meal at any of these popular restaurants – Tillman’s Inn, Village House, Carlton Hojack Station
- Go wine tasting and discover the beautiful Salamaca Estate Winery
- Book an adventurous skydiving experience with WNYSkydiving
11. Altamont (Albany)
Just a 3-hour road trip from the city of NY will lead you to the spirited town of Altamont in Albany County. Known for its abundance of orchards and fruit farms, right from apples to cider, the entire town is just fresh from the air to the food. In the early 18th century, Altamont was known as Helderberg and by the 19th century, a settlement known as Knowersville was set up here. It soon became a popular summer vacation spot for New Yorkers and was later on renamed as Altamont.
The Home Front Café if one of the most famous spots in Altamont. Here, the spirit of World War II lingers on like it happened only recently, with décor on streets to themed restaurants all related to honoring veterans.
You could indulge in tours of the abundant apple orchards or choose to go the adventurous way and try out something more adrenaline-inducing. At Altamont, both families and single people will find fascinating things to explore. And there are plenty of country-side restaurants where you can unwind and simply sock in the old-town vibe.
Things you can do here:
- Check out the brewery at the Indian Ladder Farms
- Go hiking across the famous Indian Ladder Trail found at The John Boyd Thacher State Park
- Enjoy an evening of fun and entertainment at the Altamont Fair
- Go rock climbing and camp out for a night or two at the Thacher Park
- Relax and have a picnic at the Bozenkill Park
- Explore the Wolf Creek Falls Preserve and Christman Sanctuary
- Sip on delicious wine at the Altamont Vineyard and Winery
- Discover the Mine Lot Falls and Winn Preserve
12. Athens (Greene)
Not too far away from the county of Albany, Athens is a historically rich town that has so much to offer! It is home to one of the oldest communities in the Hudson Valley, and also many historic buildings. This is an extremely close-knit community, with festivals and celebrations happening throughout the year.
The land on which Athens is today was once purchased from native Americans in the 1600s, and the community used to go by the name of Loonenburgh. It became a village only in 1805 but, to this date, continues to be a very small town with a small population.
Whether you’re fond of picnics in green, open spaces or riding a boat across a scenic river, there’s something to cater to every interest here.
Things to do here:
- Go boating and take beautiful pictures at the Hudson Athens Lighthouse
- Take a tour of Olana State Historic Site, Fireman’s Firefighting Museum, and the Thomas Nicole National Site
- Drive across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge
- Go trekking and hiking at the Catskill Creek
- Explore the beautiful landscapes of the Greenport Conservation Area
- Climb up the scenic Mount McGregor
13. Cape Vincent (Jefferson)
If you’re a lover of lakes and scenic views, then Cape Vincent is the absolute place to be during the fall season. About a five-and-a-half-hour drive from New York, you’ll find the beautiful and vibrant town of Cape Vincent, which is situated in Jefferson County. Here you’ll see the amazing point where the lake meets the river, and Canada is also in very close proximity.
Food, weather, atmosphere – all of this and more make Cape Vincent such a desirable place to be. This quaint town was first discovered by French missionaries in the 17th century, and modern settlements were made only in the early 1800s. by 1895, Cape Vincent was incorporated as a village, at a time when the Thousand Islands were already brimming with tourists.
Cape Vincent is home to several structures that are mentioned in the National Register of Historic Places. This includes the Tibbetts Points Light, the Warren Wilson House, the James Buckley House, and many more.
Things you can do here:
- Get an amazing view of the point where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River from the Tibbetts Point Light
- Go camping and fishing at the Burnham Point State Park
- Try wine tasting at the Cape Winery area
- Explore the castle and historical spot at Carleton Island at St. Lawrence River
- Try a delicious and authentic meal at Aubrey’s Inn and any of the other local diners
- Take a tour of the aquarium at the Cape Vincent Fisheries Station
- Hop onto a ferry and take a day tour to the Wolfe Island area
14. Chatham & Hudson (Columbia County)
In the County of Columbia, both Chatham and Hudson are two of the busiest towns. And while their population is far less than New York City’s, they still manage to maintain a thriving and lively community.
Let’s start with Chatham. This is a business town where many small and family-run businesses operate. So why would this be a good fall vacation destination? Because of the beautiful old-town streets and architecture that transport you back to another time. Right from the museums to the pubs, the community has managed to retain the same spirit and environment from decades ago.
There’s also a whole section of undiscovered nature, where you can go hiking and camping. There are so many unique retail stores here where you can shop for exquisite items, right from fine art to household stuff. But if you choose to be closer to nature, you can –
- Camp out at the Ooms Conservation Area at Sutherland Pond
- Explore wildlife at the M. Powell Sanctuary
- Check out the beautiful Luykas Van Alen House
- Go trekking through the Borden’s Pond Conservation Area and Schor Conservation Area
And not too far away from Chatham, you’ll find Hudson. Another superbly antique community that has retained the beauty and charm of the yesteryears, Hudson is home to a large number of shops selling exquisite collectibles.
Here are things that you can do:
- Check out the iconic Olana, a Persian style mansion situated at a hilltop, and was once the home of Frederic Church
- Explore the Antique Warehouse close to the Hudson River, near the train tracks. Here you’ll find an array of amazing antique stores and collections
- Enjoy a hearty meal at the Mexican Radio – one of the famous eateries here that serve delicious Mexican food
- Discover the art and performance installations at Time and Space Limited (TSL), which is an exclusive gallery
- Get closer to nature at the Taconic Orchards where you can also buy fresh fruits and vegetables
Finding Sanctuary in Upstate NY During Fall
The fall season is a wonderful time to travel, because it’s neither too hot nor too cold to go anywhere. Especially in upstate, NY, many families and travelers choose the fall season to head out and explore all these gems that we’ve mentioned. You should definitely have a list of upstate New York places that you can cross off whenever you have the chance to (even if it’s for a day trip!)
Taking a road trip is possibly the best way to enjoy each of these experiences because you get to witness some of the most scenic views while you get to your destinations. Away from the city life and getting closer to the untouched beauty of these small, offbeat vacation spots, you’re surely going to make some cherished memories.
We hope this list gave you just the motivation you need to book your next vacation!