7 Best Road Trips in New York State, USA

13th September 2021

New York, the concrete jungle. While many people visit the Big Apple, and rightfully so, there are so many other things this beautiful state has to offer. Explore New York with this guide to the best road trips in New York State. Whether you only have a long weekend or a two-week vacation, you will be able to explore the nature of this state outside of the city. Make your way to Niagara Falls or head further north to see the fall foliage on Lake Placid.

Not sure where to go in New York or where to spend your time? Let these New York road trip itineraries inspire your wanderlust and see all the best this state has to offer you. If you know where you are flying into, this guide also has some East Coast road trip tips in New York and will be helpful in deciding the best places to stop along the way to your destinations.

Whether you are based in New York City or flying into JFK, these are the best road trips in New York State.

1 – New York City to Niagara Falls 

Niagara Falls road trip

Highlights: Kaaterskill Waterfalls, Emerson Kaleidoscope, Green Lakes State Park, Catskill Scenic Byway, Buttermilk Falls State Park, Taughannock Falls, Finger Lakes, Birkett Mills, Montour Falls, Eternal Flame Falls, Niagara Falls 

Duration: 7 days

Best Season: Summer and Fall

Most of Upstate New York is full of green landscapes and natural waters, this route will give you the best New York road trip for those who love waterfalls and a bit of hiking. Once you get out of the city, you will make a two hour journey north for your first stop to see the Catskill mountains, there are a few iconic towns to stay in this area, like Woodstock. 

During the summer months, you will be able to enjoy the Kaaterskill Waterfalls and visit the Emerson Kaleidoscope which is the world’s largest kaleidoscope. Spend a morning hiking to Overlook Mountain for some breathtaking views before you head west to your next destination.

From Woodstock head to Syracuse for a day. You can either take the route through Albany along the Hudson River, or I’d recommend going a bit out of the way to drive the Catskill Scenic Byway. Here you will be able to explore the Green Lakes State Park featuring two glacial lakes amidst the forest. This is truly something you can’t miss on this New York Natural Wonders Roadtrip. 

There are a few stops on your way from Syracuse to Finger Lakes, I recommend taking your time on this part of the road trip as there is much to explore. Our end destination is Niagara Falls, but there are some smaller waterfalls on the way. 

Here you will find Buttermilk Falls State Park in Ithaca with plenty of hiking trails and the ability to swim in the Buttermilk Falls, it is easy to spend a full day here. After spending some time here, you will make your way to the main attraction of this area – Taughannock Falls, the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rockies. 

Leaving the Finger Lakes will be hard, but what awaits you will be worth it. This will be the longest part of your road trip, it’s about a three-and-a-half hour drive to Buffalo. A few stops along the way you can make include Montour Falls, Birkett Mills, which is known for making the world’s largest pancake in 1987 and Eternal Flame Falls. 

We are approaching the end of this roadtrip with some time in Buffalo, make sure to enjoy some Buffalo wings here and then finish your journey to Niagara Falls, 30 minutes from Buffalo. As one of the most famous destinations in the world, you will be able to feel the water on your face from the force of the falls. There are many ways to witness this wonder of nature, get up close and personal on a boat or stand on the bridge. Either way, your jaw will not leave the floor for a while.

2 – New York City to Lake Placid 

Lake Placid road trip

Highlights: Lake Placid, Hunters Mountain Adirondack Mountains, Olympic Site,

Duration: 5 days

Best Season: Summer and Fall

Heading from NYC to Lake Placid is one of the best New York road trips. The best time of year for this road trip is in Autumn when the leaves are changing and you can see all of the fall foliage. However, it will still be beautiful any time of year. 

Head out of the city to Poughkeepsie, about a two-hour journey. Walking over the Hudson River Walkway is what this town is most famous for as it’s the longest footbridge in the world at 1.3 miles long. You will then continue on to Hunters Mountain. Take the chairlift all the way to the top. These views keep going all the way to the Massachusetts mountainscape. Stay the night nearby and wake up for a sunrise hike on Mount Utsayantha. You can also drive this but if you have the time and the enthusiasm, you will not regret this hike. 

After a morning of hiking and grabbing some food, continue your journey onto Albany, with a stop at John Boyd Thacher State Park for some memorable views of the Adirondack Valleys.

Make sure to take your time on the last or your journey as it comes with some relaxation and stunning landscapes. Make your way to Saratoga Spa State Park where you can really enjoy yourself in their hot springs and being amongst the Adirondack Mountains. 

On your way from the hot springs, the route will take you to Prospect Mountain Highway where you will have some incredible views of Lake George. You won’t need to stop here, just enjoy the scenery all the way to Lake Placid. Explore the area, take in the foliage and visit the olympic sites on your last stop on this East Coast road trip.

3 – New York City to New York City 

new york to new york road trip

Highlights: Lake Placid, Hunters Mountain Adirondack Mountains, Olympic Site, Kaaterskill Waterfalls, Emerson Kaleidoscope, Green Lakes State Park, Catskill Scenic Byway, Buttermilk Falls State Park, Taughannock Falls, Finger Lakes, Birkett Mills, Montour Falls, Eternal Flame Falls, Niagara Falls 

Duration: 10 days

Best Season: Summer and Fall

If you are starting your road trip in the big city and need to end up back there, here is the perfect circular road trip from New York City. For this road trip you can combine the above trips to Lake Placid and Niagara Falls.   

Starting your journey from NYC head north to Albany making stops at the Hudson River Walkway, Hunters Mountain, Mount Utsayantha and John Boyd Thacher State Park. Spend some time in the Adirondack Mountains as you continue your journey to Lake Placid. This part of your journey should take three to four days.

Once you reach Lake Placid, explore the Olympic village from 1980. After rejuvenating yourself in this serene part of the state, you will start your journey to Niagara Falls. Straight through this is about a seven-hour drive. Split the drive into two days with a night in Syracuse. Stop in Alexandria Bay to explore the thousand islands and the Boldt Castle. From Alexandria Bay, drive to Syracuse for the night.

Today you will reach Niagara Falls with a stop in Rochester if you like museums, if not then no worries, grab a coffee, and continue onto the Falls. Spend a couple of nights in Buffalo as it’s only a 30-minute drive to the falls and you can enjoy the city and go on a boat tour of Niagara Falls.

I am not sure you can ever get your fill of the Falls but unfortunately, it is time to head back to the city. Spend your last four days driving through the finger lakes and Catskill mountains. Make some stops at Montour Falls, Birkett Mills, and Eternal Flame Falls as you head to the Finger Lakes and onto Albany. Some of your major stopping points should be Kaaterskill Waterfalls and Woodstock and then back to the bright lights. 

If you are a nature enthusiast and enjoy the great outdoors, follow these Other Great Road Trips in New York State. Ditch the city and spend all of your time exploring the natural wonders of the state with these best New York Road Trips. 

4 – Albany to Buffalo 

Albany to Buffalo

Catskill Scenic Byway, Buttermilk Falls State Park, Taughannock Falls, Finger Lakes, Birkett Mills, Montour Falls, Eternal Flame Falls, Niagara Falls 

Duration: 5 days

Best Season: Summer and Fall

Journeying from Albany to Buffalo is a scenic route through the finger lakes with multiple waterfalls for you to see. From Albany follow the Hudson south to Catskill mountains, enjoy the scenic byway on your journey to Ithaca to the Finger Lakes. 

This might feel out of the way but will give you the best views and even better hikes. Make sure to explore Buttermilk Falls State Park for a swim and Taughannock Falls, the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rockies. Spend a day at Cayuga lake before the three-and-a-half hour journey to Buffalo to spend some time at Niagara Falls and enjoy the art galleries in the city. 

5 – Albany to Lake Champlain 

Albany to Lake Champlain 

Highlights: Lake Placid, Hunters Mountain Adirondack Mountains, Olympic Site, Lake Champlain, Saratoga Springs

Duration: 3-5 days

Best Season: Summer and Fall

If you only have a long weekend this is the best road trip in New York State for you. Starting in Albany you will be able to travel to the most northern part of the state to enjoy the serene Lake Champlain. 

Stop in Saratoga Springs to relax at the beginning of your trip in their famous hot springs and then on to Lake Placid for the night. This is only about a two-hour drive, so you will have plenty of time to relax, make sure to explore the Olympic Village while you are here. Enjoy the simplicity of the Lake before completing your journey to Lake Champlain the next morning.

6 – Western Upstate New York

Jamestown State Park

Highlights: Niagara Falls, Jamestown State Park

Duration: 5 days

Best Season: Summer and Fall

If you are based around Rochester, this is the perfect circle road trip in New York for you. Start your journey to Niagara Falls and Buffalo, go on a boat tour, enjoy the city, and spend some time taking in the most famous waterfall in the world. 

After two nights, you are going to head down the coast of Lake Erie to Jamestown for some hiking, camping, and fresh air as it is home to New York’s largest State Park. Spending two nights here will leave you refreshed for the city again. 

After some time in nature, head back north to Rochester to complete your road trip through the western part of New York.

7 – The Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes

Highlights: Buttermilk Falls State Park, Taughannock Falls, Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake

Duration: 3-5 days

Best Season: Spring and Summer 

The Finger Lakes are pretty central to any of the larger cities in Upstate New York. Wherever you fly into it, you can grab your rental car and start your road trip to be on the water within three hours. 

With lake front hotels, wineries, and plenty of outdoor activities, the Finger Lakes is the perfect place to explore for a week. There are a total of 11 lakes that make up this region and many of them are worth exploring. The most popular lake is Cayuga, with its pristine glacial waters and length of the lake, it brings in visitors year after year

From the lakes there are plenty of opportunities for day trips to Ithaca, Syracuse, and Rochester. The best time of year to visit the lakes is from May to September, peaking in July and August.

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Spare the trouble of planning and buckle up, because we’ve compiled the eight best road trips in New York State for you to choose from! 

Spare the trouble of planning and buckle up, because we’ve compiled the eight best road trips in New York State for you to choose from! 

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