Safe Travels: 26 Upstate New York day trip ideas, from A to Z
Editorâs Note: This is part of an ongoing series that features things to do in Upstate New York while we still experience the Covid-19 pandemic. Before venturing out, please take proper precautions and check for any changed business hours, park hours or availability. Safe travels!
Alphabetically speaking, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Upstate New York! Here are 26 day trip ideas to take on this year.
A is for Animal Adventure Park (Harpursville; Broome County): Wonderful family fun park with all kinds of animals and birds for the little ones to get up close and personal with. This park gained international fame when they live-streamed the birth of a giraffe from here. More than a million viewers tuned in to watch April the giraffe give birth to a son, Taj, on April 15, 2017.
B is for Boldt Castle (Alexandria Bay; Jefferson County): Magnificent castle built on one of the Thousand Islands. A major tourist attraction. Built by George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria, in 1900 as a love token to his wife, Louise. When she died suddenly in 1904 Boldt stopped the construction project and left it as it is today. Since Boldtâs death in 1916, more than 50-million dollars has been spent to renovate the castle and island into the beautiful place it is today. Tours are very popular.
C is for Cross Island Chapel (Oneida; Madison County): One of Upstateâs most unusual roadside oddities. This is the smallest church in the world! It sits on piers in the middle of a pond. It measures just 28 square feet and seats only two people (plus the minister). Believe it or not, lots of people still get married at this tiny House of God.
D is for the Dunkirk Lighthouse (Dunkirk; Chautauqua County): One of several lighthouses dotting the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. This is located in far western New York and the lighthouse, first lit in 1875, is still in operation. The lens throws a 2-mile-long beam, making it one of the strongest in the state. There is also a museum here and a tour of the light keeperâs house.
E is for East Aurora (East Aurora; Erie County): Very historic village southeast of Buffalo. Within the downtown business district, you can visit a 1925 movie theater, tour the former home of President Millard Fillmore, visit the campus of the famous Roycroft Arts and Crafts movement, view stunning Louis Comfort Tiffany-stained glass windows in a towering church, and shop at Americaâs oldest five and dime store, Vidlerâs. Great little bucket list town.
F is for Fort Stanwix (Rome; Oneida County): A colonial fort located a half hour from downtown Utica. Legend has it that the first American flag flown in battle happened here on August 3, 1777 during a British siege on the fort. The story is told that using whatever materials they could find, including white shirts, shreds of red flannel petticoats, and a torn blue overcoat, soldiers flew the homemade flag in defiance of the siege. Tours are great for the whole family, and the younger ones will be fascinated by the live demonstration of colonial artillery.
G is for Grape Pie (Naples; Ontario County): With vineyards and wineries all around this village, it has become the Grape Capital of New York. Each year they celebrate the grape harvest with a community-wide Grape Festival, held every September for more than 50 years. Here they serve up hundreds of slices of Naplesâ famous grape pies. Several places sell these unique desserts and Monicaâs Pies has been written up for her superb concoctions in the New York Times, who dubbed owner/baker Monica Schenk as the âGrape Pie Queen.â
H is for Herkimer Diamond Mines (Herkimer; Herkimer County): Perennial favorite for vacationers every summer. Young and old alike enjoy heading out over the rock fields with little hammers (provided) to chip away and discover the prized Herkimer Diamond Quartz Crystals which are found here (diamond-like, but certainly not a diamond). These crystals are beautiful, and everyone gets to keep anything they find. If you wish, they have a facility here that you can take your âtreasureâ and they will fashion it into an attractive piece of jewelry while you wait. Generations have loved this place.
I is for Ithaca Commons (Ithaca; Tompkins County): Known simply as The Commons, this is a remarkable pedestrian-only Main Street in the heart of this college city. It opened in 1975. More than 100 specialty shops, cafes, bookstores, and restaurants line the Commons. This is also ground zero for most of Ithacaâs popular outdoor street festival. A fun place to visit and there is always something going on here.
J is for Jell-O (LeRoy; Genesee County): LeRoy is the birthplace of Jell-O. It was invented here in 1897 and is today so popular that it has become the generic name for any and all flavored gelatin desserts. There is a wonderful museum here which tells the story of the jiggly delight in text, video, hands-on exhibits and an art gallery. To get to the museum you follow the âJell-O brick road,â a path of bricks created in all the Jell-O colors.
K is for Kaleidoscope (Mount Tremper; Ulster County): There is a very curious oddity to explore at the plush Emerson Resort and Spa in Mount Tremper. It looks your average farm silo but wait until you see the inside of it! It is the Guinness-certified âWorldâs Largest Kaleidoscope.â Yes, it once was a farm grain silo, but was moved here and has been retrofitted to take you on an amazing sight and sound experience. The silo measures nearly 60 feet tall and 37 feet in diameter. You enter from a door at the bottom and lean against the walls of the silo (or curl up on the floor) and at showtime the silo roof dazzles with thousands of colorful mirrored prisms which dance along with the piped-in music. Is it hard to explain? Yes, so just go and enjoy this truly one-of-a-kind Upstate attraction.
L is for Lily Dale (Lily Dale; Chautauqua): The home of the Lily Dale Assembly, this lakeside hamlet has been called the âmost spiritual place in Upstate New York.â For decades all sorts of physics, seers, palm readers, fortune tellers, spiritual healers, tarot card readers, and more have come to spend the summer in the little gaily colored cottages that line the narrow roads of the small community. More than 20,000 visitors come here each summer for workshops, performances, studies in the supernatural and just to satisfy their physic curiosity.
M is for Mohonk Mountain House (New Paltz; Ulster County): The hotel was built, renovated, and enhanced over the years 1869-1910. Located high up in the Shawagunk Mountains, this resort, founded by twin brothers with the last name of Smiley, is a lavish bauble set in a rugged, woodsy environment. Surrounded by 40,000 acres of rock outcrops, pine trees, a lake and all kinds of wildlife, the hotel has all the modern amenities and then some. With 260 elegant rooms and a cavernous main dining room that serves up to 650 guests three meals a day, this has become a top venue for weddings and special occasions. Located just 90 miles from New York City, many famous people have stayed here including award-winning writers, Academy Award-winning actors, legendary sports figures, as well as 5 U.S. Presidents. The panoramic views of the Hudson Valley are gorgeous.
N is for North Pole (Wilmington; Essex County): One of the most charming and magical places in Upstate New York. Santaâs Workshop at the North Pole is considered by many to be Americaâs first theme park. It opened on July 1, 1949 and even pre-dates Walt Disneyâs parks. It is Christmas every day here and thousands come each summer to see the holiday decorations, feed the reindeer, enjoy the kiddie rides, watch the family entertainment, visit with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and (most importantly) to see the North Pole! It is a column of solid ice in front of Santaâs cottage, and it is solid even on the hottest day in July. Generations of moms and dads and grandparents have selfies taken in front of this âpoleâ from over the last 70-plus years. A delightful place to bring the kiddies. Located just outside Lake Placid.
O is for Otsego Lake (Cooperstwon; Otsego County): One of Upstateâs most beautiful and famous lakes. Author James Fenimore Cooper dubbed it âGlimmerglass.â With Cooperstown on the southern shore and the magnificent and historic Hyde Hall mansion on the northern, the lake is a marvel to enjoy. A trip around it will reveal mansions and summer homes, an opera house, three museums, a 5-star resort and golf course and a little adornment known as Kingfisher Tower. Dine at the popular Blue Mingo Grill right at the waterâs edge for a lovely meal. This is just a gorgeous lake.
P is for Pratt Rock (Prattsville; Greene County): Zadock Pratt was a wealthy businessman, politician, soldier, and banker. He also owned the largest tannery in the world here in northern Greene County. Pratt Rock is a testament to his eccentric nature. You can hike a short distance up and into a small canyon where you can view large white carvings that were chiseled by Pratt in the 1800s. It is an eye-popping sight to see. One of the carvings is a tribute to his son, George, who was killed in the Civil War. Many call this stone tribute the âfirst Civil War memorial in the U.S.â More familiar, however, is the nickname, âNew Yorkâs Mount Rishmore.â
Q is for Quaker Hill (Dutchess County): This is a stunning little hamlet high atop a mountain just outside of Pawling, N.Y. There are a few houses, each one more spectacular than the next. Elegant horse farms can be seen throughout the area and there are more than 200 miles of bridal paths for horseback riding. A tall white spired church is the centerpiece of the tiny village square. World-renown journalist Lowell Thomas, a former resident, is buried in the front yard of this church. Mr. and Mrs. Norman Vincent Peale lived in one of the large homes around the square. Former New York governor Thomas E. Dewey was also a resident here. Just a gorgeous, peaceful corner of Dutchess County to explore on an afternoon drive.
R is for Ray Brothers BBQ (Bouckville; Madison County): There are many places to get good, no, make that excellent barbecue in Upstate New York. From the iconic Dinosaur rib joint in Syracuse, to Smoke Signals on Main Street in Lake Placid, and to Brooks House of Bar-B-Q in Oneonta where they cook everything over the largest indoor charcoal grill in the eastern U.S., there are plenty of places to get your lips aâsmacking. We suggest Ray Brothers BBQ In Bouckville. They slow cook everything they make including ribs, hot links, chicken and more. This is a first come first serve restaurant that is so popular they routinely sell out of items on certain nights. The Food Network awarded them as the âBest Barbecue Ribs in New York State.â And this in a town with less than 500 residents.
S is for Spiedies (Binghamton; Broome County): An original âpeasant foodâ brought to the United States by Italian immigrants, the spiedie is today the unofficial food of New Yorkâs Southern Tier. A spiedie is simple and basic. It is a sandwich made of charcoal grilled marinated cubes of beef (or chicken, lamb and veal) and placed inside a single slice of white bread or a hoagie roll. The meat is traditionally grilled using spits (the word spiedie comes from the Italian âspiedoâ meaning spit). Many restaurants and bars serve up these popular sandwiches, and every summer a giant SpiedieFest attracts tens of thousands to a city park.
T is for TePee (Cherry Valley; Otsego County): One of the last relics from the 1950s along once-busy NYS Rt. 20. The building is an all metal 60-foot tall tepee with an amazing gift store inside. They sell Native America jewelry, toys, gift items, clothing, moccasins, and Native American artwork. There is a lunch wagon outside for you to enjoy a meal while viewing the stunning vista of the Mohawk Valley across the busy highway. This place is drenched in nostalgia and sees a steady stream of multi-generational families stopping by to re-visit the âold daysâ when this highway was the fastest east-west route in the state.
U is for USS Slater (Albany; Albany County): This is a floating military museum located at the foot of State Street in downtown Albany. The Slater, launched in 1944, is the last naval destroyer escort afloat. During World War II 563 ships like this were built and employed to guard convoys of troops and supplies traveling from the U.S. to Europe (and other destinations). This is the only one left on water and full tours are given.
V is for Vacationland (Upstate New York): The area north of the New York State Thruway and centered around the Adirondack Park was dubbed âVacationlandâ in the 1950s and 1960s for its abundance of theme parks for vacationers to enjoy. Places like Frontier Town, Land of Makebelieve, Ghost Town, Gaslight Village and others brought thousands to the region for summer vacations. You can still visit some of the few still around. North Pole in Wilmington (see this list) is a perfect example. Also Enchanted Forest in Old Forge first opened in 1956 and is now a part of this popular Water Safari park. Even older is Storytown U.S.A. This Mother Goose-themed park is now folded into the large Great Escape waterpark in Lake George. You can also find remnants of Frontierland and Ghost Town inside this park.
W is for Walkway Over the Hudson (Poughkeepsie; Dutchess County): Maybe the best, and most fun way to see the Hudson River. From above! The walkway is a former old railroad trestle, long abandoned, that has been transformed into âthe worldâs longest elevated pedestrian walkway.â It is 1.28 miles long. As you stroll from Highlands, N.Y. to Poughkeepsie, you will see all the boating activity on the river below you, the tall church spires and buildings in the communities on each shore and you can get the full impact if the beauty of the Hudson Valley as the walkway offers you unparalleled 15-mile views up and down the river. Hundreds of thousands of visitors make the âwalkâ every year.
X is for Cross-Country Skiing (Upstate New York): We get a lot of snow every year and we know how to make the most of it! From winter hiking, ice fishing, snowmobiling, sledding, trekking, and more when it snows in Upstate New York we head out into it! Cross-country skiers will find endless miles of trails (both groomed and ungroomed) to enjoy their sport on. You can find cross country trails in virtually every corner of Upstate NY. One of the best is the Pineridge Cross Country Ski Area. Located in tiny Petersburgh in Rensselaer County near the Vermont and Massachusetts border, this venue boasts miles of trails for all ages and all skill types. The views are great as Pineridge is nestled between the Taconic Mountains and the 3,500 feet tall Mount Greylock in Massachusetts. Ski rentals and all facilities are available.
Y is for Yaddo (Saratoga Springs; Saratoga County): This famous writerâs colony is located on 400-acres of land just outside the city of Saratoga Springs. Formed as a writerâs get-away in 1926, the complex has seen a steady stream of world-famous celebrities arrive and take up a temporary residence at the centerâs elegant retreat. A recent count listed over 70 Pulitzer Prize-winners who have come here including James Baldwin, Cardon McCullers, Flannery OâConnor, Philip Roth, Truman Capote and Langston Hughes. The extensive gardens at Yaddo, which includes an award-winning rose garden, are open to the public and attract over 50,000 visitors each year.
Z is for Zoo New York (Watertown; Jefferson County): This 32-acre zoo is located in Thompson Park in Watertown. It is the only zoo to specifically highlight animals native to New York State. The list of animals showcased here is extensive including bison, lynx, black bears, the rare Roosevelt elk, wolverines, turtles, as well a wide varieties of birds. Including bald eagles. Thompson Park is the smallest urban park designed by one of Americaâs most famous landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmstead. Olmstead was a co-designer of New York Cityâs Central Park.
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