A road trip across New York sounds like a strange prospect.

You try to picture that in your head and you’ll probably see an SUV packed in with luggage and kids trying to navigate the busy streets of a big city.

New York State Region Map

But that’s only because people don’t realize that New York state actually has so much more to offer than just the famous city that juts out from its bottom corner. There are a lot of beautiful things to see in the state.

It’s full of forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, small towns and it’s just the ideal size for a two or three-day road trip with your family. You’re never too far from a town where you can stop for the night, but there’s still plenty to see and do outside of the towns and cities themselves.

If you are planning on taking your family on the ultimate New York road trip, then your best course of action is to put together an itinerary of all the stuff your family wants to see and then base the route you take on that.

So let’s take a look at some of the best places you should consider throwing onto that list:

Niagara Falls

This is one of the most famous places in the entire country and it’s a spot where many people like to start their New York road trip. Depending on the rest of the places you decide to stop at, maybe this will be a good launching point for you too.

Niagara Falls is in the far North of the state, right on the border of Ontario, Canada. While the falls themselves are a beautiful sight and it’s well worth hanging out at one of the numerous viewing points and soaking it in, there’s actually a lot more to do there.


There’s an adventure theater where you can get a 30-minute video experience on the history of the falls. You can get a tour of the cave of the winds behind the Bridal Veil Falls which is an awesome experience.

Going on the Maid of the Mist boat trip will give you a thrilling up-close look at the falls and there are high-tech electric boats used now which are really cool. And you can also see some sharks, stingrays, and seals at the aquarium of Niagara if you’re interested in that.

Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park is just south of Seneca Lake, and it’s the perfect place to take your family on a hike. It’s a sprawling, diverse area with a lot of interesting things to see and trails to cover.

Depending on the time of year you visit, there are tours and guided hikes of the park that you can enjoy, but you can just do your own thing too. There are camping sites, playgrounds and picnic areas so it’s great for families.

It’s also full of stunning natural wonders and some man-made ones too. You can get a good look at the 400-foot deep gorge at the center of the park with the Glenn Creek stream running through its center.

You can check out the Sentry Bridge, Cavern Cascade, spiral tunnel, Rainbow Falls, and on top of all of that, it’s just an ideal spot to enjoy a walk in the woods with some views of rock pools and waterfalls.

Alexandria Bay

In Alexandria Bay, you will find the massive archipelago known as 1000 islands, which is where you can enjoy several water-based experiences. The area actually stretches into the Southern edge of Canada too, and there are all kinds of ways to see the islands.

There are a variety of different kinds of boats that you can get a tour on from traditional ferries to canoes and you can even rent your own houseboat if you’d like to stay in the bay for a couple of days.

The islands are also known for their castles. The most famous of which is the Boldt Castle which is located on Hart Island and had once belonged to George Boldt, the proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC.

It’s been abandoned for over 70 years but has been partially reconstructed and visitors are allowed to explore the ruins and the other structures on Hart Island. There is also the Singer Castle on Dark Island, which has a royal suite that you can spend the night in if you’d like.

Howe Caverns

This is actually the second most-visited natural attraction in New York, trailing just behind Niagara Falls. It’s a massive system of underground caves that were only discovered by humans in the 19th Century.

Today, the caverns have been adapted to offer a unique, tourist experience while not interfering with any of the natural beauty. You can follow the stream running through the entire system and you can see the crevices and the rock formations all with the help of installed lighting, stairs, and pathways.

It’s best experienced as part of a tour, during which your guide will point out various points of interest and give some historical context for what you’re seeing. Howe Caverns also has a museum as well as an adventure park with zip lines and climbing walls.

Road Trip Tips

So once you’ve decided on where you want to go and what you want to see and you’ve put together your route, it’s time to get going. And it’s always worth being prepared ahead of time, especially if you’re unfamiliar with road trips.

Here are a few useful tips:

  • Know Your Rest Stops. Driving for long periods of time can get exhausting and being exhausted behind the wheel is dangerous. Pick out some rest spots along the route that will give you time to recharge every couple of hours.
  • Split the Workload. If possible, try not to force one person to do all of the driving. If you have two or even three in your family who can legally drive then split driving duties up evenly between you all.
  • Pack Healthy Snacks. It’s important to stop for meals on the journey, but you should have some snacks to eat in the car too. The occasional candy bar or soda is fine but you don’t want your kids on a sugar high when they have to stay seated, so fruit or nuts are a better bet.
  • Keep Kids Entertained. Kids can get pretty bored just sitting in the car and waiting to arrive at the next destination, so you need to give them things to do. Reading or listening to music is good if they can do that, or you can get the whole family involved in some road trip trivia games.
  • Pack Light. If you’re just going on a road trip, you don’t need to bring that much stuff with you. All it does is weigh down the vehicle and take up time while loading and unloading. Just bring the bare essentials.

As I said before, the great thing about New York state is that there are so many different things to see in a manageable space. You can fill up a road trip easily, and then come back and enjoy another one at another time with a whole different set of destinations.

Contributed/written by: Norma Spencer

About Author

Site administrator and lover of all things waterfalls, outdoors and nature.

Principle photographer for Waterfalls of New York State and overall "nice guy".

Send me an email if you have any questions!!

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