When it comes to the state of New York, not too many people realize there are many sections to the state. Most people automatically think of New York City when the state is even mentioned, but to be honest, this state is so much bigger than that one small area! Infact, NYC is just a fraction of the entire state of New York.
This post is not advocating for you to ignore social distancing, self-isolations, shelter-in-place, quarantines, lockdowns, or stay-at-home orders. Please always follow CDC and state guidelines. However, when movement is no longer restricted, this will be a handy guide for fun things to do in Upstate New York!
What is Upstate New York
Upstate New York is considered the area that lies directly to the north of New York City. This is the largest area of the entire state and contains many mountainous regions. There are many cities in Upstate New York and a few notable one include Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Geneva, Hudson, Lake Placid, North Tonawanda, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, and Utica. Upstate NY excluded New York City (NYC) and Long Island.
Where is Upstate New York
When you are looking at a map of New York State, or Upstate New York map specifically, the area that is considered Upstate New York would be from the area just to the north of New York City, all the way up to the Canadian border. There are many counties within this area, and each one has multiple cities and towns. Upstate goes straight up, so do not confuse the areas of Central NY and Western NY with the Upstate NY area. As we mentioned above, this is a very large state and each region is unique! So, use the map of Upstate New York to help you figure it out what is considered Upstate New York.
Upstate New York Population
Unfortunately, the state of New York does not break down the population numbers to include anything but the people who live within the New York City area and the people who live within the rest of the state. Therefore, the population numbers for the portion of the rest of the state includes those who live in western New York, as well as the central portion of the state.
However, to give you a general idea, out of the nineteen million plus people who live in the state, just over eleven million of them live within New York City. That leaves approximately eight million people throughout the rest of the state.
Weather in Upstate New York
You might be wondering about Upstate New York weather if you’re thinking about visiting Upstate NY. New York State gets all four seasons, so you will want to plan your trip there according to the activities you want to do. The spring in Upstate New York comprises April, May, and June and it is at that time, you can experience warmer temperatures and more rain. It is important to note that you can also get snow at this time of the year in Upstate New York, so you will want to be prepared for anything!
The summer months, June, July, and August, bring really warm temperatures, making it the perfect time to visit for outdoor activities. The fall season includes September, October, and November, and those months brings cooler weather and a slight chance for snow.
The winter months of December, January, February, and March can get really interesting when it comes to the cold and the snow in Upstate New York. There are some winters that are really mild and others where you might not be able to get out to do much for days. So, Upstate New York weather is mostly predictable and you can plan your trip according to which weather you prefer most.
30 Fun Things to Do in Upstate New York
1) Go Skiing
When you are looking for things to do in Upstate New York during the winter months, you will not need to look at further than the multiple ski resorts in the area. You can easily go from one ski resort to the next during a weeklong holiday when visiting Upstate New York. This is one of the top Upstate New York attractions.
2) Go Hiking
Upstate New York is filled with mountains, and forty-six of them are considered High Peaks. While you may not want to tackle the hiking trail that leads you to destinations over four thousand feet high, there are many smaller mountains to choose from. One of the most popular mountains during the months of September and October is Prospect Mountain, because it offers gorgeous views of the leaves changing colors. This is one of the best places to visit in Upstate New York.
3) Go Apple Picking
New York State is practically synonymous with apples and you can spend hours picking at the best Upstate New York apple orchards. This is one of the best things to do with your family during the month of September, but don’t forget to grab some apple cider and cider donuts while you are at it. So, if you love apples or just want one of the best things to do in Upstate New York, this is it – Apple Picking Upstate NY – something both kids and parents would love.
4) Go Berry Picking
The months of June and July in Upstate New York bring berry picking, which while it is not as popular as apple picking, it is still a lot of fun. If you are visiting Upstate New York and have no plans for an early Saturday morning in June or July, consider visiting a local farm to pick your own blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Berry picking is an Upstate New York tradition and also one of the best Upstate New York attractions.
5) Go Swimming in a Lake
There are many lakes in Upstate New York, so during a visit, feel free to jump into any of them! The most popular lake is Lake George, but you may also enjoy Lake Pleasant, which is a little further up in the Adirondacks. This is another top attraction in Upstate New York and best things to do in Upstate New York if you’re visiting.
6) Go for a Boat Ride
Taking a boat out on the water is one of the best things to do in Upstate New York in July and August. The weather is warm; the sun is shining, and you can relax on the deck of a boat in the middle of the water. Grab a fishing pole if you wish, but make sure you get a fishing license before you try to catch anything! Boat ride top the things to do in Upstate New York with kids.
7) Walk Around Lake George
Lake George is one of the best places to visit in Upstate New York in May, June, July, and August. This charming town is filled with shops and restaurants, so you can walk around and do a little shopping and dining at the same time. There are also many events held in Lake George throughout the year, so you may want to plan your trip so you can attend Americade, the Elvis Festival, the Wine Festival, and any others. If you cannot make it to Lake George during the summer months, don’t worry! They also hold a Winter Festival every year and you can even take the Polar Plunge on New Year’s Day if you are in town! If you want Upstate New York winter getaways, a trip to Lake George would do.
8) Dine Outside at a Restaurant
There are many restaurants in Upstate New York that have outdoor seating areas, so take advantage of the nice weather and dine al fresco while you can. If you happen to visit Upstate New York during the month of February, you can still dine outside at one of the areas many Ice Bars that open for a couple weeks every year.
9) Go Kayaking
Not everyone has access to a boat, but a kayak is an excellent alternative if you want to get out on the water. There are many lakes you can kayak in or you can choose to test your skills on the Kayaderosseras Creek that runs through Saratoga County. If you love kayaking, you don’t have to worry too much about what to do in Upstate New York as there are you have so many options.
10) Visit the Home Franklin D. Roosevelt Lived in
Franklin D Roosevelt lived in Springwood from the time he was born until his death in 1945. You will find his home in Hyde Park and you can take a tour of the home during your visit in Upstate New York. Make sure you wander along the grounds too, so you can see where Roosevelt and his wife are buried. In case you are not aware, Eleanor Roosevelt had her own home after FDR died, so you may want to take a little time to visit her home called Val-Kill Cottage. This is one of the best places to visit in Upstate New York.
11) Visit the Culinary Institute of America
When you are in Hyde Park, you might want to consider stopping at the Culinary Institute of America as it’s one of the top places to visit in Upstate NY. They offer tours throughout the day, but you must reserve a spot in advance. Depending on the time of your tour, you can dine at one of the on-site restaurants either before or after. You will be amazed by the quality of the food, but you shouldn’t be, because these are the people who will be cooking for you in many restaurants around the world once they graduate.
12) Visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown
Cooperstown is in a weird spot in New York. It is on the border of what is considered Upstate New York and Central New York, but we thought it was worthy of a mention. When you are looking at Upstate New York tourism statistics, the Baseball Hall of Fame always ranks high on the list. Cooperstown may be a small town, but this area fits a lot of people, especially when the Hall of Fame is doing their induction ceremony every year. 2020 will be the biggest year yet since Derek Jeter is being added to the list of the best of the best for baseball. If you have kids that love baseball, this will make their top list of coolest things to do in Upstate NY.
13) Visit Fly Creek Cider Mill
Fly Creek Cider Mill is not too far from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, so it is a must-visit when you are in Upstate New York. There is a small cider press inside and you can watch them make fresh cider during your visit. This is also a small store that sells lots of goodies you won’t be able to resist. Out back, there is a pond with geese, so may sure you go back and sit on a bench for a few minutes to watch their antics.
14) Visit the National Bottle Museum
In the small village of Ballston Spa, there is a unique museum for all to explore. The National Bottle Museum is filled with many types of bottles, and you can see them all without the need to pay admission. However, if you want to adopt one of the bottles that appears to still be an orphan, it will cost you five dollars. We think this is one of the coolest things to do in Upstate New York!
15) Visit the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
Horse racing is popular in the city of Saratoga Springs, which is why that is where you will find the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. This museum is worthy of a visit, even if you do not know much about horse racing, because you can see what turned this city into the popular summer destination it is today. If you are looking for cool place to see in Upstate New York then head out to this museum.
16) Watch a Horse Race
Horse racing goes almost all year long in Saratoga Springs, but most people arrive to watch it during the months of July and August. During those two months, you will experience the horse racing that is also seen during events like the Kentucky Derby. The other months of the year only brings harness racing, which is completely different and not as exciting. If you are looking for the best tourist attraction in Upstate New York, most people will agree that the horse track is it.
17) Visit the National Museum of Dance
Saratoga Springs has also been known for its love of dance, especially when the New York City Ballet brings their performance to the Saratoga Performance Arts Center. This museum holds many dancing treasures, but if you time your visit right, you may find you can participate in a class or a workshop during your visit. This could be something romantic to do in Upstate New York, certainly a cool date.
18) Visit the Saratoga Performing Arts Center
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center, or SPAC as the locals call it, is a whirlwind of activity during the summer months. In addition to the ballet, you can watch the orchestra, attend the jazz festival, or watch one of many concerts. There is a large amphitheater, but you can also sit out on the lawn to enjoy the performance of your choice. If you happen to be in Upstate weekend on a weekend and asking what to do in Upstate New York this weekend, this should be your go to place.
19) Tour the New York State Capital
The New York State Capital is within the capital city of Albany and it is one of the best things to do in Upstate New York if you like to learn about the history of a destination when it comes from a government point of view. While you can walk around on your own, it is best to take a tour, so you can learn all the little details you would otherwise miss. Make this one of your weekend getaways in Upstate NY and relax and enjoy the tour.
20) Explore the New York State Museum
The New York State Museum can also be found in the city of Albany and it is not too far from the State Capital. This museum is full of many historical exhibits, but the most visited one now is the one filled with items from 9/11. The museum, as you can imagine, is a top tourist attraction in Upstate New York and for very good reasons. A trip to Upstate NY is hardly complete without a visit to the New York State Museum.
21) Visit the Wild Center
The Wild Center is way up in the Adirondacks, towards the northern section of Upstate New York. This is one of the best Upstate New York activities for young children. While you can explore the entire museum filled with replicas of wildlife and even a few live animals, the best parts are outside. It is in the great outdoors where you can lay in a spiderweb, sit inside a bird’s nest, and take walks along the trails out in nature.
22) Visit Lake Placid
Lake Placid has been home to the Olympics twice now, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it is filled with the most popular tourist attractions in Upstate New York. While you visit this Upstate New York destination, you will want to walk through the town and do a little shopping before visiting the Olympic Museum and Hockey Rinks. Lake Placid was the host for the 1932 and 1980 winter Olympics, and this took place at the Olympic village of Lake Placid. Imagine sitting in a seat, looking out over the ice of the rink where the Miracle on Ice took place all those years ago!
23) Explore History in Fort William Henry
Fort William Henry is one of the historical forts in Lake George, so you will want to plan your time in that area carefully. While this is a small fort, it is packed full of history and artifacts. You can watch, and listen, to them fire off the cannon, while also looking at different spaces of the fort to see what took place when it was occupied by soldiers. There is even a section filled with remains that were discovered in recent years. If you want the coolest things to do in Upstate New York, visit Fort William Henry.
24) Take a Ride on the Minne Ha Ha on Lake George
The Minne Ha Ha is one of the many boats that go out onto the water of Lake George. You can choose to simply do the sightseeing tour, or you can include the tour with a lunch or dinner buffet. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy this boat ride, unless you skip going up to the top deck to look out at all the different attractions along the way. Most kids enjoy this top tourist attraction in Upstate New York.
25) Visit the North Pole
Visiting Upstate New York in winter and wondering about cool things to do while you’re in that part of NY state? The North Pole has long been a popular attraction in Upstate New York and many people flock there during the month of December to visit Santa. The North Pole is where Santa’s Village is, and when you are not wandering through the different buildings and seeing Mrs. Claus, you can ride on the train and a few other rides. Make sure you get a picture with the North Pole, because it is an iconic feature of Santa’s popular park!
26) Go Camping
One of the best things to do in Upstate New York, even if you just have a weekend, is to go camping. There are so many campgrounds to choose from, but we prefer the state parks over the flashier private owned ones. Moreau State Park offers a lake which is perfect for swimming and kayaking, as well as playgrounds, hiking trails, and real bathrooms. Moffit Beach, Mills Norrie State Park, and Grafton Lakes State Park are other amazing options for camping. Upstate New York camping can be something that you could do with family, or if you like, something romantic to do in Upstate NY with a significant other.
27) Visit a Winery or Brewery
Wineries and breweries are popping up everywhere and they are quickly becoming the most popular tourist attractions in Upstate New York. Schenectady County has a new brewery trail that you can follow to taste some new brews, or you can simply go from one winery to the next throughout the entire upstate region to find your new favorite wine. While searching for a winery in Upstate NY, look for reputable companies that might even offer wine tours.
28) Visit Dino Roar Valley
Magic Forest was an old amusement park that opened back in 1963, but as with many older and smaller theme parks, it closed, and the magic was left behind. However, new life has been breathed into this destination with the new Dino Roar Valley and you can still capture glimpses of history from Magic Forest. So, after you are done seeing the massive dinosaurs, stop in to the Magic Forest section to ride the train that travels through the forest. This has got to be one of the best things to see in Upstate New York!
29) Go Golfing
Upstate New York has a plethora of golf courses and as long as you plan your trip from the months of May through September, you can easily play a few rounds when you are there. So, pack your golf kit as you head out to golf here, or just rent one when you’re in a golf course. Either way, golfing is a big deal here and you can find so many Upstate New York golf courses that will fit your needs. There are a few Upstate New York golf resorts if you want to spend a few days getting pampered in a golf resort. So find a nice gold course in Upstate NY and plan accordingly. But first, make sure to check the weather for snow and rain, something that shouldn’t be much of a problem if you visit Upstate New York in the summer.
30) Go Fishing
Above, we mentioned fishing while out on a boat, but you can also fish from the shoreline of any lake or creek. However, you will need a fishing license, even as a visitor to the state, so make sure you get one before you put that worm on your line. Fishing Upstate NY is one of the other big attractions in the state and there are so many great Upstate New York fishing spots, you just have to find them. There are even some cool fishing lodges and fishing cabin rentals in New York! So go fly-fishing, trout fishing, ice fishing, salmon fishing, or any other fishing, but make sure you have fun in Upstate New York with your family.
These are thirty fun things to do when you visit Upstate NY, so make sure that at least a few of them are on your itinerary for your trip. While you may be able to some of these activities where you live, most of them are unique to the Upstate NY area and you will be thrilled that you took the time to experience them during your visit.