New York Life List of Outdoor Adventures
New York State
When you think of New York, I bet most of you first think of New York City. However, there is so much more to New York than one crowded, diverse, and bustling city, especially for someone who loves outdoor adventures. I’m going to walk you through an ideal Life List for outdoor activities and destinations around the state of New York. You may be familiar with some of these very famous landmarks while others are lesser known places but definitely still worth a visit.
Famous New York Destinations Worth a Visit
- The Adirondacks – Did you know that the Adirondack region makes up about 20% of New York State? It is the largest natural protected area in the contiguous United States and spreads over 6 million acres. Any type of outdoor activity that you crave can be found here; kayaking, canoeing, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, skiing. If you live nearby, make it your goal to become a “46er” by climbing the 46 high peaks of the region. If you’re just visiting for a short while, select a few of the best peaks to climb including Mount Marcy, the highest point in New York.
Whiteface Mountain (5th highest mountain in NY) || source: James Hubley on flickr
- Lake Placid. Although technically part of the Adirondack region, Lake Placid is a bucket list destination on its own. Lake Placid hosted both the 1932 and the 1980 winter Olympics and may be the host again in 2026. For $95, you can experience what it’s like to ride the bobsledding track for about 1/2 a mile on the track! Besides the Olympics, Lake Placid is the site and title of a 1999 horror movie.
Lake Placid || source: Matt Champlin on flickr
- Niagara Falls. Did you forget this was in New York?! Technically it’s on the border of the United States and Canada but is only about 15 miles away from Buffalo (NY). These waterfalls are one of the top tourist attractions in the country. Referred to as “Cave of the Winds”, you can even ride an elevator down to river level down to a series of decks and platforms and stand in the falling water at the base of Bridal Veil Falls.
- Catskill Mountains. Much closer to NYC (easier for city dwellers to visit) is a smaller mountain region called the Catskills. Similar to being a ’46er’ of the Adirondacks, you can become a ’35er’ of the Catskills by climbing the 35 high peaks of this region. Come visit the Catskills for your typical outdoor adventures, or participate in “agritourism”, that is getting to experience farm life by choosing from different farm stays! You can also do some higher adrenaline adventures here including white water rafting and ziplining.
- Appalachian Trail. About 90 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through the state of New York (the entire trail is approximately 2,200 miles). From the elevation map below you can see that the trail miles through New York are among the lowest elevation points on the trail.
- Finger Lakes. The Finger Lakes are named according to the shape and orientation of the lakes; fairly aligned parallel to one another as seen in the satellite image below. If you want to challenge yourself with heights, try an aerial adventure course or zipline tour. Come to the region and play disc golf, go skiing in the winter, or participate in water sports. Two of the lakes are among the deepest lakes (over 400 feet deep) in America!
- Montauk. Although as part of Long Island this is technically in “New York City”, it’s quite far from the heavily populated areas and a long drive from Manhattan so I’m going to consider it outside of NYC. At Montauk you can visit the Montauk Lighthouse along the shore. Montauk has a plethora of outdoor activities including fishing and surfing (surfing in New York?!). Montauk is a perfect destination if you love water adventures; you can snorkel, scuba, waterski, jetski, kitesurf, and paddleboard.
Montauk Lighthouse || source: Dave Curtin on flickr
Other New York Life List Destinations
- Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. One of the “best kept secrets of Western New York”, come see marshlands, wetlands, and grasslands filled with wildlife.
- Lake Ontario. One of the Great Lakes lies along the northern border of New York. Along the coast of the lake are many parks and beaches including a couple of notable interest: Sodus Lighthouse and Chimney Bluffs State Park. By volume Lake Ontario is the 4th largest lake in the country and covers over 7,000 square miles!
Lake Ontario is lake on lower right side (view from International Space Station) || source: NASA
- Lake George and Lake Champlain. Like Lake Placid, these lakes are part of the Adirondack region but perhaps not as famous. Lake George is a long, narrow lake about 32 miles long but fairly deep. It drains into Lake Champlain and houses over 170 islands. Lake Champlain lies on the border with Vermont and provides drinking water to many of their residents.
- Waterfalls. Besides previously mentioned Niagara Falls, there are many other worthwhile waterfalls to visit around New York. You could spend a long time trying to chase down every waterfall in New York! Some waterfalls to put near the top of your list to visit include Eternal Flame Falls, High Falls Gorge (Adirondacks), Taughannock Falls, and Kaaterskill Falls (Catskills).
- Wolf Conservation Center. Not far from NYC you can attend various programs to learn more about wolves and visit some of them onsite. Check out their calendar for available daytime and nighttime programs catered to different age groups.
- West branch Angler Resort. West Branch Angler Resort is a fly fishing resort near the New York/Pennsylvania border along the Delaware River. Take fly fishing lessons or just come to relax in one of their peaceful cabins!
source: Backcountry Petite
- Rock City Park. Come visit this tourist destination for a short hike to see the largest exposed quartz conglomerate. This would make a good family outing for people who are less inclined to outdoor adventure as the hike is less than an hour and not very strenuous.
- Minnewaska State Park. On the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge there are lakes, waterfalls, and forest with huge cliffs and ledges for amazing views. Minnewaska is within 2 hours of NYC and is a great place for rock climbers to perfect their skills.
Minnewaska || source: Tony Yang on flickr
- Tupper Lake Wild Walk. Another destination deep in the Adirondacks, this one stands on it’s own for a unique adventure. The Wild Walk gives visitors a perspective they wouldn’t get just walking through the Adirondacks; it is a trail taking you up above the treetops through a series of bridges.
- Eric Canal Cruise. Take one of a few different kinds of cruise on the Erie Canal in Herkimer, New York. For only $20 they offer daily 90 minute sightseeing cruises from May to October. They also offer other cruises such as comedy cruises, party cruises, and “living history” cruises.
- State Parks. I’ve already mentioned a few but there are so many state parks around New York that you should try to visit if you have time! Some other favorites include:
- Allegany: This park is just north of the Allegheny Forest in Pennsylvania. It covers over 65,000 acres and houses over 400 campsites.
- Letchworth: This park considered to be the Grand Canyon of the East due to a gorge formed by 3 large waterfalls with rock walls over 500 feet tall.
- Devils Hole: Just north of Niagara Falls, Devil’s Hole is a popular place for fishing and overlooks the Devil’s Hole rapids.
- Thousand Islands. Located on the Ontario-New York border is an archipelago of over 1,800 islands called the 1,000 Islands. Get your fill of water sports here: fishing, boating, paddleboarding, diving and even flyboarding. Hike the many trails around various state parks and preserved areas. Or, be even more adventurous and go ziplining or whitewater rafting on the Black River!
“To be considered an island, it has to stay above water 365 days a year and support a living tree.” (source)
- Frederick Farms. Visit the beautiful sunflower fields of Frederick Farms, located in the Finger Lakes Region of New York.
- Watkins Glen. Yes, Watkins Glen is another state park but deserves it’s own entry on this life list. If you’re in the Finger Lakes Region, make sure to hit up this park as it was voted in 2015 as one of the best U.S. State Parks. Make sure to hike Gorge Trail which has 19 waterfalls during the hike of only 2 miles!
Watkins Glen || source: Suraj Bajaj on flickr
- Natural Stone Bridge and Caves. Sorry for another destination in the Adirondacks but there is so much to do there! For only $15 you can tour the cave, which has the “largest marble cave entrance in the east”. You are able to explore the cave on your own unless you opt for an Adventure Tour (summers only) or a Winter Snowshoe Tour.
- Bear Mountain. Bear Mountain State Park is within 2 hours of NYC and is a common destination for those living in the city. It’s a popular place to ski in the winter and contains part of the Appalachian Trail.
- Swimming Holes. Need to take a dip and escape the sticky New York summer humidity? There are many swimming holes in the Catskills if you’re visiting already but you can find one within driving distance from almost anywhere in the state.
> Find a swimming hole in New York <
- Howe Caverns Adventure Park. Just outside of Albany you can visit the Howe Caverns for a 90 minute cave tour with a boat ride. After your tour, visit the Adventure Park to fuel your adrenaline by ziplining, climbing the rock wall, or challenging yourself on the ropes course. There is also an “Air Jumper” and “H20GO Ball”.
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