The Most Beautiful Places in Upstate New York

Get outta town and explore them all.

The Upper Falls at Sunset
The Upper Falls at Letchworth State Park | Jim Vallee/Shutterstock
The Upper Falls at Letchworth State Park | Jim Vallee/Shutterstock

As we carry on in this strange there-but-not-quite-there stage of the pandemic, we may still be baking zeitgeisty loaves of banana bread but we’re not holding ourselves hostage either. With the COVID vaccine rollout underway, big vacations are on the horizon and now is the time for easy escapes to help us remember that just because the future feels uncertain, it doesn’t mean weekends have to be.

From bird sanctuaries and hiking on a treetop trail, to secret sidewalks or finding safe haven at a historic estate, getting lost in the most beautiful places of upstate New York—from the Catskills to Rochester—has never been better. And while the State of New York has returned to a new normal, check the following destination websites for the latest updates and stick to the CDC’s recommendation to wear masks and continue social distancing.

Washington County Grasslands Important Bird Area

Fort Edward 
Fly the coop to this 13,000-acre bird sanctuary near the historic Hudson River town of Fort Edward. A year-round birder’s paradise amidst picturesque farmland and rolling hills, the critical grassland habitat is a riveting experience, even for those who don’t know Barry. Among the more than 100 species that breed here, expect to see snowy owls, red-tailed hawks, Northern Harriers, and the state-endangered short-eared owl. This offbeat refuge is a local secret, so it’ll likely be just you and the raptors as you walk the 1/2-mile trail and take in 360-degree views from the observation deck.
Amazing Airbnb Nearby: Out on a Limb - A Magical Treehouse

Troutbeck

Amenia
Follow in the footsteps of Hemingway, Hughes, Thoreau, and Emerson, by visiting the Troutbeck, a timeless cool kids club for creatives, forest bathers, and those who appreciate laid-back luxury (especially when it’s affordable). Since 1765, the property has served as a country inn, a tavern, and the site of two meetings that would lead to the formation of the NAACP. Today, in a new era of workations, it’s not the mountains but this romantic 250-acre historic estate that’s calling. The myriad book nooks are intoxicating; the farm-to-table restaurant alone merits the two-hour train ride; the new wellness facility is like a shot of serotonin; and the activities are top-notch in any season—think tennis, swimming and riverside hammocks in summer and axe-throwing, falconry excursions, and après-ski in winter. But the true beauty of Troutbeck is how quickly you’re able to simply relax. And out of office or not, don’t be surprised to find yourself dabbling with a pen and sipping an old-fashioned like it’s your job.

The Wild Walk

Tupper Lake
Head to this 81-acre playground for nature lovers. Nestled 45 feet up in the Adirondack forest at The Wild Center (the first LEED-certified museum in New York), the permanent High Line-inspired Wild Walk exhibit is open for reservations and is the only elevated treetop trail in the state. Journey up from the forest floor to tower high in the air with a (literal) bird’s eye view from their special human-size nest, and take in the spectacular panorama from atop a four-story white pine (the tallest trees in the Adirondacks) while on the lookout to spot bald eagles.
Amazing Airbnb nearbyEagles Lair Lodge

Letchworth State Park, hot air balloons
Gary Glaser/Shutterstock

Letchworth State Park

Castile
Try your hardest not to over-Instagram when you visit Letchworth State Park, known as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” It harbors three spectacular waterfalls, where you’re guaranteed to see rainbows. Whether you hike along the 66 miles of trails, take an air balloon ride, or kayak down the roaring Genesee River, this is one for the New York sightseeing bucket list.
Amazing Airbnb nearbyNunda Ranch

Frank Lloyd Wright's Graycliff

Derby
Head to Derby, a tiny Lake Erie-based hamlet, for a private behind-the-scenes Gardens and Grounds tour or Master Architectural tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Graycliff. Built from 1926-1931, the newly restored property sits at the edge of the lake, where the 70-foot limestone cliffs served as inspiration for Wright’s work. For those seeking some alone time, self-guided tours to roam and adventure on your own are also available.
Amazing Airbnb nearbyThe Luxurious Lakeside Retreat

The Devil’s Path

Catskills
You'll sweat in places you didn’t know you could sweat while hiking Devil's Path, but it’ll be worth it for the thrilling views from various summits like Twin Mountain, Indian Head, and Plateau Mountain. With over 14,000 feet of elevation change, this 25-mile trail is considered by many to be the toughest hike in the East.
Amazing Airbnb nearbyThe Echo Hill Escape

The Corning Museum of Glass, Upstate New York Museums
Courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass

Corning
The glass collections at this offbeat museum are intriguing, but it’s the striking 100,000-square-foot Contemporary Art + Design Wing that has out-of-towners (and non-glass gurus) planning a trip to the Finger Lakes for more than just wine and waterfalls. Live glassblowing demos are available daily, and current exhibitions include a showing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Corelle, in addition to the museum’s ongoing Innovation Center and the Jerome and Lucille Strauss Study Gallery with objects spanning 3,500 years.
Amazing Airbnb nearbyThe Hand-Built Hilltop Cabin

The Secret Sidewalk

Rochester
A mile west of Ontario Beach Park, in the little hamlet of Charlotte, is the most idyllic street you’ve ever seen. Though it’s technically Rochester, it feels like you’ve landed in Monet’s Garden at Sainte-Adresse in northwestern France. The Secret Sidewalk is a public walkway, but the residents who live in those big lakefront homes from the early 20th century would prefer their slice of paradise remain off the tourist checklist, so keep your cool, don’t take selfies, and just enjoy your Abbott’s Frozen Custard with the rest of the locals.
Amazing Airbnb nearbyThe Lakeside Escape

Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen
While the Gorge Trail, which reopens for the season in late-May, may be the most popular attraction (think 200-foot cliffs, 19 waterfalls, and jaw-dropping Rainbow Falls Bridge), you can’t beat the beauty and solitude of the woodsy rim trails. The 2.6-mile out-and-back South Rim Trail has views overlooking the canyon, waterfalls, sculptures, and a stone arched bridge. Post-hike, grab a pint of Lake Life IPA and pulled pork nachos from Grist Iron Brewery.
Amazing Airbnb nearbyThe A-Frame Oasis

Griffis Sculpture Park

East Otto
In the 1960s, artist Larry Griffis got the idea to create what would become the first sculpture park in the United States while watching his children romp through the ruins of an emperor’s villa in Italy. Today, visitors can bike 10 miles of trails, cruising around woods, fields, and ponds—not to mention over 250 sculptures arranged by themes like animals, nudes, and castles. Rent a bike from Tom’s Pro Bike in Buffalo ($50/day with saddle bag, flat pedals, cycling computer).
Amazing Airbnb nearbyThe Ellicottville Chalet

Need to get away this summer? Book yourself a spot on our first-ever Thrillist Caravan trip to the Finger Lakes!

Lauren Matison is a freelance travel writer who hopes you have a beautiful day.
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