10 Reasons Why New York State Should Be in Your Travel Plans

David Landsel, March 24, 2016
Fares from Washington DC:

    It's a vast expanse of varied terrain containing some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, from mountain peaks and deep gorges to remote, protected oceanfront and placid shoreline along not one, but two Great Lakes. There are historic hot springs, charming small towns and world-class wineries, just to mention a few more reasons to come here, though relatively few travelers ever do. Where is this magical place, you ask? Why, New York, of course. Not the city, that spotlight-thirsty Marcia Brady you may have already heard of, but the state, it's oft-overlooked sister Jan.



    Geographically (and politically) remote from what's easily one of the world's favorite destinations, the vast majority of visitors don't even think about the state, which is a mistake – from Lake Ontario on up to the Adirondacks and all the way out to the beaches of Fire Island, the Empire State more than deserves its own spotlight. Never been? Make this the year you fix that. Here's where to start.



    Hike – and splash – your way through the Catskill Mountains

    From shadowy cloves to sparkling, high-elevation lakes to the windswept summits of the range's highest peaks, the Catskills manage to be awfully wild, considering their proximity to the epicenter of the country's largest population center. Good luck getting a cell signal as you disappear down a back road inside the vast Catskill Park, 700,000 acres of beauty inside a firm boundary set in 1885 where new development remains rare. Not that the park is all straight up wilderness – some of this has to do with its importance to New York City's vast watershed (its largest bodies of water are actually reservoirs, most with heavily restricted access) but there are so many mountains to climb, so many creeks to crawl and so many other lakes to canoe, you probably won't even notice. ( visitthecatskills.com)



    Eat and drink your way through the Hudson Valley

    If you thought a place like California's Sonoma County – somewhat rustic but always vibrant, brimming with good food and drink, rich in scenery and difficult to leave – could only exist on the West Coast, you haven't seen the best bits of New York's vast Hudson Valley. Sure it may not be able to keep up the year-round pace of a place located along the temperate Pacific Ocean, but Columbia County, northern Dutchess County and Ulster County in particular have been found out for their low key rural charm, which has only heightened as more city refugees and weekenders stake their claim among the valley's historic orchards and farm fields. Not content to sit still, they're renovating old stone houses and wooden barns, experimenting with cheesemaking and butchery and distilling – if you can eat it or drink it, someone's probably producing it somewhere around here. You could go crazy trying to take in all the valley has to offer – it's a lot of driving around, too – but for the in-a-nutshell day out, you could do a whole lot worse than Rhinebeck, one of the most perfect towns in the region, crammed with plenty to see and do (and eat and drink). Just north of town, look for the farm stand operated by Montgomery Place Orchards, where they're reviving antique apple varietals going all the way back to America's very beginnings. Warning: You'll never want to eat supermarket apples, ever again. ( travelhudsonvalley.com)



    Discover that for everything wrong with our second city, there's something else very right

    The map says you're in New York, but Buffalo is in many ways the capital of its own planet, one slightly less popular during the winter than, say, Mars. Come summer, however, New York's second city will charm you, offering up the country's largest garden festival, old-timey frozen custard stands, architecture walks and outdoor cultural events of all kinds. To boot, there's a quiet sort of cool drifting into town, of late – breweries, coffee shops and one very good bakery & cafe have popped up in the area between busy Elmwood Avenue and the Buffalo River. See any real estate you like? Run home, empty out your piggy bank and it's yours. (Okay, Buffalo real estate isn't that cheap, but for visitors from some parts of North America, starting right across the Peace Bridge in expensive Ontario, the prices can be mind-blowingly low.) ( visitbuffaloniagara.com)

    Vacation in style in the Shawangunk Mountains

    Located atop the geographically unique (and hopelessly scenic) Shawangunk Ridge, cropping up and out of the Hudson Valley just west of the busy college town of New Paltz, the Mohonk Mountain House might be one of the country's greatest hotels, but it's really just one of the many things that make this mini-mountain range between the Hudson River and the Catskills so special. For starters, there are the resort's expansive private lands – including one of the purest, most beautiful lakes you could ever hope to find anywhere, let alone near New York City – abutted by the also privately-maintained Mohonk Preserve, which connects you to the equally impressive Minnewaska State Park, with its own lakes, ponds and miles of trail to explore. Whether you splash out for a weekend stay or just pop in for a meal before hitting the trails (reservations are required, call ahead), Mohonk is a must. (mohonk.com)



    Fall foliage – and the best of the Riesling harvest – in the Finger Lakes

    From classic cute in Skaneateles to the quiet charm of Hammondsport, there's really no way to or no place to do any season incorrectly in what's become one of the East's most impressive wine destination. For first-timers, that's often a problem. Where to begin? How about the fall? The foliage is typically on point, it's harvest season – you can't really fail. Begin with a two-hour drive and tasting tour west of Seneca Lake, which brings you straight to the best of the Finger Lakes' famous Rieslings. Start with the pioneering Hermann J. Wiemer and Dr. Konstantin Frank, then move on to the newer Ravines Cellars and Anthony Road. ( fingerlakes.org)



    Slow down your summer – or any season, really – on Fire Island

    The Hamptons get all the attention, sure, but Fire Island loyalists wouldn't have it any other way. No traffic jams here – mostly accessed by ferry from Long Island, much of the developed island is pedestrian-only, with some villages even banning bicycles on public pathways, keeping life at a pace that's almost unthinkable in a place where people from New York City go on vacation. Best of all, open spaces on the island (and there are many of them) are generally under the care of the National Park Service, meaning pristine wilderness (and nearly-empty beaches) aren't far away, pretty much anywhere you go. Hike the Sunken Forest, climb the historic lighthouse, grab lunch and a bottle of Long Island rosé at the local market (or in some places, the wine shop) and head for the beach – whatever you do, just get here, even if only for one very memorable summer day. ( nps.gov/fiis/index.htm)



    Scale the state's highest peak – or simply grab a chair with a view – in the Adirondacks

    Like so many places in the state, there's really no wrong time to visit the Adirondacks, but there's nothing quite so memorable as ditching the mean, sultry streets of Manhattan on the sweatiest August day you can find, setting a course due north for one of the wildest mountain ranges east of the Rockies. It'll take some time, but as you leave the flatlands in your rearview mirror and begin your drive up, the air will change, the temperature will plummet, you'll breathe deeper, everything around you is now unspoiled, rugged and extremely northern – much further north, it would seem, than the four or five hours it takes you to get here from the George Washington Bridge. Whether you post up in civilized Lake Placid, bunk at the rustic Adirondack Loj hostel and tackle the challenging hike up Mount Marcy (at 5,343 feet, the highest in the state) or simply grab a chair – you know which kind – and stare out at a lake for awhile, it's summer, you're here, you win. ( visitadirondacks.com)



    Grab some (Belgian) beers and catch a game in Cooperstown (or go to the opera, whatever)

    New York is full of charming small towns that mostly decline to make their cuteness a whole thing, unlike those thirsty showboats over in New England, ahem, but few top the home of America's Pastime for perfection. The drive takes hours from anywhere, or so it seems, through bucolic countryside and rustic villages and scenic nowheres. Just when you've had enough, out of the blue, here is suddenly is Cooperstown, a shrine not only to baseball, but also to America at it's very best. Start – of course – at the Baseball Hall of Fame, catch a game at Dreams Park, check out the annual series at Glimmerglass or just waste an afternoon in a rocking chair on the porch of the historic Otesaga resort, preferably, if you can scare one up, with a pint of local beer – the legendary Ommegang, one of the country's best Belgian-style brewers, isn't far from town. ( thisiscooperstown.com)



    Channel the spirit of Woodstock – in Woodstock

    "Woodstock wasn’t actually in Woodstock, you know," say the stiffs who turn up their nose at the sometimes fusty hippie commune just two hours north of Manhattan, ignoring the fact that without the town, home to some of the oldest art colonies in North America, there never would have been a world-famous festival. Yes, Woodstock was a thing before the 1960s and remains just as much one today, in recent years attracting a wave of new converts, bringing along with them new shops, fancy restaurants, and cool new places to stay. For a while now, one of the most talked about events in the town has been the occasional Midnight Ramble, held on the property of rock 'n' roll legend Levon Helm. Helm passed on a couple of years ago, but the Ramble – much like the town, no matter what you throw at it – isn't going anywhere. ( woodstockchamber.com)



    Go deep at Letchworth State Park


    Dramatic waterfalls, sheer cliffs climbing high above the swift waters of the Genesee River, lush forest both in and above – a few more pine trees and you'd swear you were in the Northwest and not a short drive from Rochester. More than a couple of gorges east of the Rockies like to call themselves the Grand Canyon of the East – Letchworth earns it, reaching heights of up to 600 feet. Hike some of the loveliest trails in a state park, anywhere and make sure to stop for lunch – or, during the summer season, spend the night – at the Glen Iris Inn, the former home of William Pryor Letchworth, a notably philanthropic businessman who once owned what's now part of the park. ( nysparks.com/parks/79/details.aspx)

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