Go Chasing Waterfalls—and More—in Picturesque New York State
Above the looming skyscrapers, the hurried streets and the neon signs of Broadway, there's a whole other New York that's so unlike its infamous namesake city, many visitors might think they're not in Kansas anymore, so to speak. This area is largely—but not entirely—referred to as Upstate New York, and the regions north of the City that Never Sleeps, though starkly different, are anything but sleepy.
Speckled with bodies of water, mountain ranges and vast forests; rich in cuisine and heady with wine, brews and spirits; and infused with history that predates European colonization, the more pastoral parts of New York have much to offer—including miles upon miles of natural beauty for groups to soak up.
Niagara Falls is a great jumping off point for your group itinerary—though we recommend that figuratively and not strapped inside a barrel! Begin your day in Niagara Falls State Park, where your group can take in the glory of the falls, as well as explore The World Changed Here Pavilion, with a combined museum and movie. An elevator ride plunging 175 feet into the base of the Niagara Gorge grants entry to Cave of the Winds, a series of walkways that lead up underneath the Bridal Veil Falls. Those who dare can ascend to the Hurricane Deck, where they'll be within feet of the crashing waters. The Maid of the Mist Boat Ride and the narrated Niagara Scenic Trolley are also favorite activities within the park.
Nearby is Platters Chocolate Factory. Here, groups can take a tour, taste the area's celebrated sponge candy and pick up delicious souvenirs at the adjacent sweets shop. Roaming Table Food Tours in Lewiston combine history with delicious cuisine, while Old Fort Niagara—an 18th century French castle that's the oldest, continuously occupied military site in North America—presents a variety of living history demonstrations.
As you work your way east, dip down to the Finger Lakes region, which is characterized by a group of 11 lakes, all running north-south, that lend themselves to the area's descriptive title. If you're up for more cascade gazing, Watkins Glen State Park at the south end of Seneca Lake is home to 19 waterfalls, plus a series of gorges. Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway is also a draw. This 87-mile drive circles the longest and second deepest of the Finger Lakes, and features numerous attractions along the way.
Finger Lakes is also known for its many trails, including the Canandaigua Wine Lake Trail and the Rochester/Finger Lakes Craft Beverage Trail. There's even a Barn Quilt Trail that runs primarily between Canandaigua and Honeoye Lakes. While in the region, don't miss Genesee Country Village and Museum, considered the largest, most comprehensive living history museum in the state, with 600 acres encompassing the historic village, art gallery and nature center.
Next up is Thousand Islands—a collection of 1,800 islands in the St. Lawrence River, between the U.S. and Canadian borders. Thousand Islands is a true destination with plenty of sights and activities for groups to enjoy. Among them are Boldt Castle and the Boldt Yacht House, located on Heart Island and only accessible by water. Uncle Sam Boat Tours and Clayton Island Tours both offer guided, scenic cruises that include stops at the castle, as well as other popular destinations on the route. See "Millionaire's Row," the St. Lawrence Seaway shipping channel, Rock Island Lighthouse and more, depending on your choice of tours.
Antique Boat Museum is also an itinerary booster, with its collection of unique boats, archives and artifacts, as is the Sackets Harbor Experience, which includes a three-hour driving tour of downtown and two different routes that each feature historic military attractions. Note that many of the area's outdoor and water-related offerings operate seasonally, so plan accordingly!
As your carriage takes you southbound, a stop in Lake George is a must for groups. Nestled within the breathtaking Adirondacks, this city on the shores of "The Queen of American Lakes" will charm groups with its blend of recreation, history, culture and natural vistas. Take a lake cruise with Lake George Steamboat Company, hark back to 18th-century life at Fort William Henry Museum, or explore the works of world-famous artists at The Hyde Collection Art Museum & Historic House—just to name a few of the top group options. Motorcoaches can also drive the Prospect Mountain Memorial Highway, open from late May through Veterans Day, to the summit of Prospect Mountain, which offers spectacular overlooks of The Narrows, Lake George and The Eagle's Eye.
You could also give your group an experience to remember with Revolution Rail Co. Railbiking at the Hadley Railroad Station—a short ride from Lake George. Also open only in the warmer months, this one-of-a-kind activity involving people- and pedal-powered carts on old rail lines gives passengers up-close, open-air exposure to the beauty of the area. Complete the day by heading back to Lake George for refreshments and tastings at one of Adirondack Winery's three locations.
Just when you thought New York couldn't possibly give you more ... If you continue toward the northernmost tip, you'll reach the expansive Hudson Valley—a 10-county region that runs along the iconic Hudson River. There's so much to do and see within this stretch, groups could easily spend a week discovering nationally renowned sites and quaint hidden gems, crossing back and forth over the river to each location.
Though impossible to name them all, following are some highlights, many of which are in its heart: Dutchess County. There are the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site and its Library and Museum, as well as a number of historic mansions, including Vanderbilt, Olana, Clermont, Lyndhurst and Staatsburgh State Historic Site. A visit to The Culinary Institute of America is highly recommended, as are strolls through Innisfree Garden and Dia Beacon contemporary art museum. Also of interest is the United States Military Academy at West Point in Orange County.
Hudson Valley is recognized not only as the one of the first wine regions in the country, it's also known for its maple syrup—and, it's home to the legendary village of Sleepy Hollow, the towering Catskill Mountains, and the state capital of Albany—a booming city within an otherwise mostly sylvan setting.
Written by Allison Kay Bannister, Contributing Writer for Groups Today.
This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb '22 issue of Groups Today.