The Most Beautiful Places in Upstate New York
Plan a getaway to see these must-visit destinations IRL.
Upstate New York is probably already on your fall travel radar for everything from leaf peeping to apple picking, but there’s a lot more to it than that. For your next escape from NYC—from bird sanctuaries and hiking on a treetop trail, to secret sidewalks or nature preserves—add these locales to your itinerary. Because your favorite cozy sweater is long overdue for an appearance on the ‘gram.
A two-hour car ride from NYC, Falling Waters Preserve in Ulster County is a small and lesser known nature preserve that’s devoid of the usual crowds that frequent popular trails. When here, expect to soak in the verdant environment and truly forest-bathe (shinrin-yoku, in Japanese) in its expanse of trees as far as the eye can see. When hiking the Father Charles Jorn trail, you’ll stumble across a waterfall cascading down rock ledges before walking a bit further to the coastline for a mini beach and foliage views across the Hudson River. The preserve has fishing available and there are historical signposts on the trail detailing the remnants of an icehouse that once stored ice blocks harvested off the Hudson for pre-refrigerator-era shipment to NYC. Once you’ve had your fill, drive 10 mins to the Village of Saugerties, a charming and walkable locale, for food and drink, independent shops, a historic lighthouse, and more discoveries.
Amazing Airbnb nearby: Glasco Woodstock
Ruth Reynolds Glunt Nature Preserve
Located on a sandbar in the Hudson River, this nature preserve in the Village of Saugerties is small but teeming with biodiversity: nesting bald eagles, ducks, and invasive species like the Eurasian water chestnut. With a spanning marshland and fairly deep sandy trail, bask in the serenity of the area with only the chirps of birds and the buzzing of insects to accompany you. Ten minutes away is the piece de resistance of the preserve, Saugerties Lighthouse, which is a structure atypical of conventional lighthouses that also doubles as a tiny accommodation for weekend stays. From the river deck, take in views of boaters and kayakers navigating the Hudson River and in the right season, gorgeous fall foliage is visible across the river. If interested, the Saugerties Conservancy manages the lighthouse and can be reached for accommodation information. The preserve is currently open.
Amazing Airbnb nearby: The Barn in Tivoli
The glass collections at this offbeat museum are intriguing, but it’s the striking 100,000-square-foot Contemporary Art + Design Wing that has visitors planning a trip to the Finger Lakes for more than just wine and waterfalls. Live glass-blowing 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 of glass making across the world. Stay for the make-your-own-glass projects available to everyone. The museum is open with advance ticketing.
Amazing Airbnb nearby: The Hand-Built Hilltop Cabin
You'll sweat in places you didn’t know you could while hiking 19.7 miles of Devil's Path, but it’ll be worth it for the thrilling views from summits like Twin Mountain, Indian Head, and Plateau Mountain. Pack light and plan your hike with lots of water, waterproof boots, trekking poles, and a strong back, because you’ll need the latter for the very steep ascents and perilous descents on the trail. With over 14,000 feet of elevation change, this trail is considered by many to be the toughest hike in the Northeast recommended for experienced outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking season here is advised for between May and October.
Amazing Airbnb nearby: The Echo Hill Escape
Head to Derby, a tiny Lake Erie-based hamlet, for the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Graycliff, designed for the Martins, who were his benefactors. Go on a Landscape tour of the property highlighting its gardens, a pond, and the first floor of the main house. Built between 1926 and 1931, the restored property sits at the edge of the lake where the 70-foot limestone cliffs served as inspiration for Wright’s work.
Amazing Airbnb nearby: The Luxurious Lakeside Retreat
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. Located in Cattaraugus County, the sculpture park hosts annual summer events with art, food, and drum circles, but if you prefer a bird’s eye view, watch drone footage of the park on their website, showing acres of (fall) foliage and a pond. Rent a bike from Tom’s Pro Bike in Buffalo.
Amazing Airbnb nearby: The Ellicottville Chalet
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. Hike, bike, horse-back ride along the 66 miles of trails, soar in an air balloon, or kayak down the roaring Genesee River. There are also winter activities like snow tubing and skiing, and camping is permitted with advance registrations in certain seasons. Add this one to your New York State sight-seeing bucket list.
Amazing Airbnb nearby: Nunda Ranch
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 the big lakefront homes from the early 20th century would rather 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 nearby: The Lakeside Escape
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 National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). In a new era of digital nomadism and workations, it’s not the mountains that’s calling, but this romantic 250-acre historic estate. The myriad book nooks are intoxicating; the farm-to-table restaurant alone merits the two-hour train ride; the 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. Out of office or not, don’t be surprised to find yourself dabbling with a pen, pouring out pent up thoughts onto paper, and sipping an old-fashioned like it’s your job.
Amazing Airbnb nearby: Oak Hill House
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 for expert and amateur ornithologists to view grassland birds. Among the more than 100 species that breed here are snowy owls, red-tailed hawks, Northern Harriers, and the state-endangered short-eared owl. Furthermore, the IBA does a great job of protecting grassland, biodiversity, and mitigating climate change by not releasing carbon during grassland fires. 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. If you prefer, there are guided bird walks and tours available for reservation depending on the season.
Amazing Airbnb Nearby: Out on a Limb - A Magical Treehouse
While the Gorge Trail may be the most popular attraction (think 200-foot cliffs, 19 waterfalls, and the 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. The Gorge Trail closes for the season in the third week of October.
Amazing Airbnb nearby: The A-Frame Oasis
Head to this 81-acre playground for nature lovers teeming with white pines and biodiversity. Nestled 45 feet up in the Adirondack forest at The Wild Center (the first LEED-certified museum in New York), this permanent High Line-inspired Wild Walk exhibit is open for reservations and is the only elevated tree-top trail in the state. Tower above ground from the special human-sized nest that gives a literal bird’s eye view of the forest canopy, take in the spectacular panorama from atop a four-story white pine (the tallest trees in the Adirondacks) while on the lookout for bald eagles, make like a superhero and suspend yourself on a web from the treetops, or row the Raquette River with a licensed guide. Don’t forget to spy the Snags—towering remnants of white pines struck and snapped off by lightning—that are home to biodiversity of the area.
Amazing Airbnb nearby: Eagles Lair Lodge