Things to do in Upstate New York
When you think of New York, you think of the city. Before I moved to New England, I had no idea that New York was a State. In fact before I moved here I had never visited the states for even a holiday. I am lucky enough that I live 2 hours 30 minutes from NYC! I’m very happy to learn that there is a lot more to New York State than just The Big Apple. Here’s what I got up to on this little adventure.
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We started off with the 3 hour drive to our first destination, Howe Caverns just outside of Albany. From the outside you would have no idea that this massive cave sits 156ft below. The tour was 90 mins long and we had a guide, it included a boat ride along a little lake that sits at the bottom. There were a lot of cool features to look at and even a place where people get married! The water was very still so it made the rock walls look like they went down for miles in the reflection. It was fairly cold being underground so you have to dress in warm clothes. If you are making the trip to Albany this place is definitely worth stopping at
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Albany is the Capital of New York State. We stayed here for 1 night and I feel like that was all we needed. If you were planning on doing a lot more near Albany then this is definitely the place to stay as there are so many dining options and a fantastic nightlife. One of my favourite kinds of Cities are the ones where the architecture is diverse. I love buildings and structures that are unique or can even look out of place.
We ventured towards the capitol building, all capital cities have a capitol building and they are usually very grand! Behind the building was West Capitol Park which had a nice little pond and some bright flowers. There were some really cool buildings here too.
The walk down to Washington Park was lovely, the weather was beautiful as we enjoyed some of the last hot days of Summer. There was a beautiful Lake and a building that sat next to it. The water was so peaceful it looked like glass.
We decided to have dinner outside as the sun was setting and it was really magical. This is a city I will definitely visit again.
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Herkimer Diamond Mine
After we left Albany we headed 1.5 hours drive away to Herkimer Diamond mine. I can’t say I’ve ever had any kind of urge to do prospecting but the idea of finding big rocks to smash with a hammer was sounding more and more fun. The place was classed as a resort as you can camp there. This was the first time i’d seen anywhere getting ready for Fall, it was early September! Fall is my favourite season by far so I was very excited. Had to pose in this cute little garden they had on site.
Next it was time to go into the quarry and look for diamonds. Now these diamond are not going to be worth millions (if you find any). It was only about $14 to go in and that included the renting of the hammer. You basically go in and find rocks and begin smashing them up (my favourite part). We watched a video beforehand on what to look for and how to use the hammers. This was so much fun. Did we find any huge diamonds? No… But we did find some teeny tiny ones and some minerals. We then had lunch at the cafe on site which was delicious. I’m so glad we did this, it was worth it, we were there for about an hour and a half. They had a little shop onsite so if you didn’t find your own own minerals, you could purchase some!
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Letchworth State Park
One of the main reasons why I loved this place is because it reminded me so much of Yellowstone in the way you navigate through it. This state park was full of lots of little stops, you could either drive to them or hike. The most impressive features are the waterfalls. They were huge! I loved Upper falls the most, you walk down a natural stone staircase to a stunning waterfall with a red railroad trestle above it. There was a long hike along the canyon to see all 3 waterfalls, we stopped at a little ice cream shop on the way as it was a really warm day. The landscape here is stunning and it’s hard to believe it exists when you are driving through the small towns on your way there. This was located nicely on the way to our next place, so it was the perfect stop off on the long journey to Buffalo from Herkimer. If this state park is not on your travel list, it is a must so get it added on!
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The weather wasn’t brilliant when we went to Fort Niagara but it was still a great place to visit. It is mostly outdoor so keep that in mind if you are going to visit in the colder months. There were lots of cool features here other than just the fort so you will need to set aside a few hours to explore this place. I absolutely loved looking out and seeing the Toronto skyline on the horizon, it was beautiful. It was easy to forget that you were looking across a lake and not the sea because it looked so far away. This place is full of history and such a beautiful place to walk around.
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If you’re going to go to Niagara you have to visit Niagara Falls. Due to COVID, we were only able to visit the American side. I believe that the Canada side is the best which makes sense as you get the see the full falls from a much better angle on their side. But the US side was decent for a view of the Canadian falls, the only way to see the American falls is from Canada or on one of the tour boats that take you along the water below (which we did do, scroll down for pictures). Somehow we managed yet again to book our trip on labour day without realising. It did work out okay but it was VERY busy because of this, although i’m unsure if it’s always this busy generally. If you are going to travel to Niagara Falls during COVID, wear a mask and be aware that 80% of the people were very inconsiderate and did not wear masks or obey the 6ft rule. If you’re reading this Post-COVID (aren’t you lucky) then you just need to be aware that people will stand right on top of you and get in your personal space. I suppose this is not unheard of in a tourist place. We looked at the falls and then wandered around the full loop of the state park.
Just in case you were wondering, the sunset at the falls is not something to miss. If you park in the state park, you get a ticket that allows you to go and come back as you please. The Park was much quieter at night and the falls are all lit up. It was kind of magical and definitely worth going back for.
Before we left Niagara to the next place, we did Maid of the Mist. This is a boat that takes you right next to the falls. This was so hard to get to do. We went the first day and they were sold out, the worker told us to get tickets you have to go online and get one but it doesn’t guarantee you will get on… which made no sense. Then you are supposed to get there when the booth opens at 7.30am. So we did this… queued for 3 hours and made it on the boat. You get given a ‘free’ rain jacket which is basically a plastic bag. Please bring your own reusable rain jacket, you can get them cheap. The ones they give you are so bad for the environment. It was pretty amazing and i’m glad we did it, even if we did queue for hours!
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We had a quick stop in Seneca Falls, which was the site of the Seneca Falls Convention part of the Women’s Rights Movement. This little town was adorable and we were only there briefly to stretch our legs after a long drive. There were lots of museums dedicated to the women’s rights movement and the women who lived here.
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There was a lovely hike here which had a stunning waterfall. There were many different hikes you could do to get to this viewpoint and this was the one we chose to do. It was easy and not too long. If you didn’t want to hike, you can drive up to the viewpoint and get a picture.
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Cornell Univeristy/Ithaca Falls
I have made it my life mission to try and visit all the Ivy League Schools while I’m living in America. So far I have visited 5/8 as most of them are located in the New England area. They’re usually worth the visit because of how grand the campus is. I can honestly say that so far, Cornell is my favourite and I would love to be a student here. It had the biggest campus I’ve ever seen and the most incredible landscape. A huge river and lake divides the campus down the middle which results in a beautiful gorge with nature and waterfalls galore. Ithaca was one of my favourites! Even if you can just drive through, I strongly recommend you visit this stunning University!
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Green Lakes State Park
I think this place was my favourite. While we were in Syracuse, it was labour day which means everything was closed or closing when we tried to go out to dinner. We found a place called Shaughnessy’s Irish Pub, which by the way had amazing food! Our server had a chat with us when she heard out British accents (I cannot remember her name, sorry) and told us about this place near where she lives called Green Lake. She gave us a lot of advice on where to go and i’m so thankful because as I stated earlier, this has to be one of my favourite places ever. It was so beautiful, we decided to do the trail that went around the whole lake. It’s also somewhere you can visit at different times of year as the temperature can change the water colour. When we went (end of Spring) it was a beautiful Green, but I believe it can be more blue. Apparently this type of lake is pretty rare and all the trees that fall in end up looking really creepy and ashy due to the plant life living in there. It is considered a deep lake, the depth is sudden so when you look in it can look a little unsettling because it’s really clear. If you are in the area I strongly recommend this stop, there’s even a little beach area dedicated for swimming and a place to get food/drinks. You are not allowed at all in the other water areas of the lake because the water is dangerous (and deep).
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So there you have it. There is so much more to see in Upstate New York. We dedicated 6 days to this trip which was perfect for what we wanted to do. I will be going back to explore the rest at some point, it’s so close to us so how can I not!
Thanks for getting this far, check out my Instagram for more up to date photos of my adventures…📷