New York is one of the original U.S. colonies and has some of the most famous tourist attractions in the country: New York City, the Statue of Liberty, and Niagara Falls are only a few of the famous landmarks. While it is true these are extremely important parts, they just comprise a fraction of what makes New York unique. If you decide to delve deeper into what New York has to offer, you’ll discover a whole host of hidden gems awaiting you.
Check out our list of the best hidden gems in the state of New York:
1. Hyde Hall Covered Bridge, Cooperstown
Cooperstown, located in Otsego County, is home to the oldest existing covered bridge in the state and country! The Hyde Hall Covered Bridge is a must-see for those historic places enthusiasts, and is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. The surrounding greenery enhances its timeless beauty and the town adds charm to the visit.
Built in 1825, this bridge is 53 feet long and incorporates the Burr arch design patented back in 1817 by Theodore Burr – it is one of only two remaining authentic Burr arch truss bridges in the state. Stop in at Cooperstown to see this surviving piece of our history. Make a day trip out of it and spend some time wandering the shops on Main Street while you’re there. You’ll find the quaint town almost as charming as the bridge it is so proud of.
2. The Tepee, Cherry Valley
A local roadside attraction, The Tepee is located near Cherry Valley in Otsego County. Built in 1954, it stands 50 feet tall and 42 feet in diameter, towering 4 floors over the surrounding land. The Tepee is on the National Register of Historic Places and continues to hold a gift shop and food stand for those in need of a chance to stretch their legs and experience a bit of old time American fun.
Harking back to the days of family vacations and roadside attractions, you can buy Native American handcrafted items, including pottery and jewelry. The Tepee stocks items only made locally and within the U.S., and is dedicated to continuing its legacy in the area. As you pass through Cherry Valley, take a moment to enjoy nature and visit this longstanding staple of the community.
3. Storm King Art Center
Storm King Art Center is an open air museum located close to the Storm King Mountain. Founded by Ralph Ogden in 1960, he opened his estate to the public and began this unusual museum with his collection of sculptures brought back from Europe. The museum collection gradually expanded and soon covered the landscape around his home.
Following a redesign to match the changing museum exhibits, the current display fuses art with nature, creating a harmonious environment. Rent a bicycle and take a ride around the museum grounds, or go on a guided tour ride! Open to the public except in winter, being surrounded by nature enhances the unique experience of walking through the sculpture displays at the Storm King Art Center open air museum.
4. Old Forge Lake Cruises
Old Forge is a hamlet at the gateway to the Adirondacks. Years ago, there were no roads north of the Old Forge community, and people continued their journeys up north via the waterways. An unincorporated community, it’s a perfect destination during the summer months. Although now roads have been built that continue north, the best way to tour Old Forge Lake and the surrounding lakes is still by boat!
Take a cruise to appreciate the beauty of the Adirondacks and keep the historic waterways alive! Retrace the old steamer routs on a boat and bring your camera for some great shots of the lake and mountains. You’ll have a greater appreciation for the natural beauty after learning a bit about its history as you travel the way those who had lived here had previously.
5. Newtown Battlefield State Park
Newtown Battlefield State Park is an important landmark of the American Revolutionary War. The Battle of Newtown was fought here in 1779 between the American forces led by John Sullivan and the Iroquois Native Americans who had sided with the British. The Americans won the battle decisively, and it has since been preserved as a turning point in Sullivan’s campaign and an important part of the U.S.’s history.
Nature has since reclaimed the battlefield, with trees sprouting where soldiers once fell. A white column of granite has been erected on the top of the hill on which the battle took place, there for any who wishes to come and remember. Enjoy revisiting history while enjoying the peaceful surrounding woods. It’s important to never forget the sacrifices made by our ancestors.
6. Cayuga Lake
Cayuga Lake is the longest lake on the Finger Lakes, and just marginally smaller overall compared to Seneca Lake. Located in Ithaca, New York, there are several communities lining both shores if you wish to make a weekend out of this visit. The area is locally known for some a mysterious occurrence that has been going on for years on both Cayuga and Seneca Lakes that are called the Guns of Seneca: loud, cannon-like booms echo through the area. As of now, people have not been able to explain why.
Come visit this lake to see if perhaps you hear the ghost cannon firing invisible shots, or just to have a pleasant lakeside vacation. You should also try a glass or two of the local wine – Cayuga Lake is listed on the American Viticultural Area, and boasts more than a dozen wineries, four distilleries as well as a cidery and meadery. Ample outdoor and indoor (drinking) fun can be had here at this secluded New York lake!
7. The Safe Haven Museum and Education Center
The Safe Haven Museum preserves and educates people on a very important and often forgotten part of U.S. History. It recounts the story of the 982 Jewish (mostly) refugees who were brought to the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego through the government’s “Safe Haven” program.
This was the U.S. government’s only official activity to rescue or assist Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and refugees were brought from Italy and other parts of Europe. Some were not even Jewish in an attempt to allay anti-Semitic fears that sadly existed during those days. If you find yourself in Oswego, stop in for a few hours to browse the exhibits. Experiencing museums keeps reminding us of how far the world and how we should not forget what we have overcome.
8. Corn Hill, Rochester
While not internationally known, Corn Hill is the oldest residential neighborhood in Rochester and was founded in 1812. It is said that early Native Americans grew corn in the area that is now called “Corn Hill”, something that would have been visible from the Genesee River on which Corn Hill was located. Today you can visit the Corn Hill Preservation District to see the original neighborhood, which still is reminiscent of colonial times!
Walk along Clarissa Street, a famous and historic street integral to the lives and spirit of Corn Hill over the passing decades. Have a drink here and talk to the locals, or continue on to the Gazebo at Lunsford Park. If you’re here in July, you should attend the yearly Corn Hill Arts Festival to learn about colonial Corn Hill and enjoy the art exhibits! You’ll be retracing the steps of some of the original Rochester settlers.
9. The Scythe Tree, Waterloo
Rooted in the historic town of Waterloo, this tree has its own interesting story. It is said that in 1861, James Johnson returned from the fields, hung his scythe in the nook of this cottonwood tree, and went to fight in the Civil War. Tragically, Johnson died in North Carolina and never returned home. The scythe was left there by his parents, who always held out hope that he would one day return home. This local tradition was revived in 1918 when the Schaffe brothers enlisted to fight in WWI and hung their scythes in the tree before leaving for war. They were fortunate enough to survive, but also did not retrieve their scythes.
Today, the tree has grown around the scythes and continues to stand exactly in the spot visited by Johnson and the Schaffe brothers before they left for their respective wars. You can still spot the rusted scythe blades sticking out of the trunk, now about 10 feet up in the air. Visit this fascinating landmark that has seen so many wars and continues to remind us of the losses suffered at times of war. Much like how the tree has grown around the scythes, it can be interpreted as a tribute to human perseverance in the face of loss.
10. Grimes Glen
Located in Naples, New York, Grimes Glen is at the end of a 1 mile creek walk. It is open to the public and boasts 3 tall waterfalls, perfect for an afternoon hike. Follow the sign for Grimes Glen once you reach the end of Vine Street. Park your car and follow the trail across the bridge to reach the waterfalls.
You’ll reach the first waterfall quickly, a tributary that falls into the left side of the gorge called French Hill Falls. A bit further down is the second waterfall, with water cascading down 60 feet. We suggest enjoying the glen here and not continuing further, as the third waterfall is more remote. However, if you’re a climber, there are ropes along the steep walls that will lead you to the third, more remote waterfall. Regardless, the first two are so beautiful if you decide not to continue on.
11. Adirondack Animal Land
Adirondack Animal Land is the largest zoo in upstate New York, located in Gloversville. Set against the backdrop of the foothills of the stunning Adirondack Mountains, the zoo is open from May to Labor Day, so stop by if you are in the area during this time.
Home to more than 500 animals and stretching over 80 acres of farmland, you have the chance to get up close and personal with several animals, such as giraffes and monkeys. There is even a replica of a Western Town complete with a jail and mine! Feed the deer or ducks, and top off the day with a Safari Ride! You’ll come away informed and entertained.
12. Lucifer Falls
Located 10 miles west of Ithaca in Robert H. Treman State Park, Lucifer Falls can be found in the rugged Enfield Glen gorge. There is a comfortable paved trail and staircases built by the Civilian Conservation Corps members that lead you along the gorge, making the hike beautiful and not overly challenging.
A hike that is especially beautiful in fall, take the Rim Trail to Lucifer Falls to see the water cascading down the face of the rock. It is a beautiful and serene hike, enhanced by the sound of the rushing water. Be sure to also check out the rest of the park while you are there if you have the time – it is perfect for an afternoon picnic or a full day trip.
13. Cornell Botanical Gardens
These botanic gardens, formerly known as the Cornell Plantations, are located close to Cornell University in Ithaca, and consist of 25 acres of botanical gardens and 150 acres dedicated to the F.R. Newman Arboretum. These gardens date back to the founding of the university in the mid-1800s, and have been continually maintained and expanded since then.
Come visit this beautiful area specializing in trees and shrubs native to New York State, and boasting an especially well-known herb garden. The Arboretum has several stunning tree collections, such as their chestnuts, oaks and maples. The botanical gardens are open to all daily for no entrance fee, and is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon if you find yourself in Ithaca.
14. Ausable Chasm
A sandstone gorge located near Keeseville, the Ausable Chasm is a lovely nature attraction in the Adirondacks region. The Ausable River runs through the chasm before emptying into Lake Champlain and is partially fed by Rainbow Falls. Even the names sound beautiful, don’t they?
Either start on your own and explore the chasm rim, or sign up for guided tours to explore the rock formations. You can also explore the chasm on a raft! There are endless outdoor activities awaiting you here. Come visit the aptly nicknamed “Little Grand Canyon of the East” and soak in the beauty of the rock formations. It is well worth your time.
15. Montgomery Place, Bard College
Directly adjacent to Bard College Campus is this magnificent 380 acre estate. Montgomery Place overlooks the Hudson River and is a designated National Historic Landmark nestled in from of the Catskill Mountains. Come visit this impressive mansion and admire a piece of early American history.
Tour the mansion grounds to see the historic farm, orchards, farmhouse and accompanying buildings that occupy the estate. Walk the gardens and follow the network of paths that connect the buildings through quiet wooded trails boasting views of the Catskills and river. Tours are available seasonally only on Saturdays, but be sure to stop through if you find yourself in Barrytown.
16. Southwick Beach State Park
Southwick Beach State Park lies along a stretch of sandy beach on Lake Ontario and contains a long sandy beach stretching 3,500 feet. It is located in a rare, freshwater coastal barrier environment of beaches, sand dunes ad marshes, and is filled with wildlife and fun activities for visitors of all ages.
The park boasts extensive campgrounds with both tent and trailer sites, picnic areas and fields. There are lifeguards stationed at the swimming areas in the summer, and in winter, you can ride a snowmobile through the park! Bring your hiking boots to hit the trails that extend out to the nearby Lakeview Wildlife Management Area, or take a boat out on the lake to complete your relaxing nature vacation.
17. Camillus Erie Canal Park
Located in Camillus, this town park preserves a 7 mile stretch of the Erie Canal and holds the Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The section of the old canal stretches from Warners Road to Newport Road, and is worth the walk to better understand the historical importance of the canal.
Located along the canal is a replica of Sims’ Store, a mid-1800s canal store that used to stand nearby. Now it is a museum and gift shop where you can learn more about the Erie canal or buy a keepsake. Nearby you will also find a set of lock gates from the Old Erie Canal and an aqueduct that was in use from 18925-mid 1840s. Stop by and stretch your legs to see a bit of what is left of the original Erie Canal.
18. Whitaker Park, Black River Valley
Whitaker Park is one of the hidden gems of Black River Valley, and was originally owned and maintained by Daniel Whitaker. He left the extensive property to his daughter, who donated it to the town upon her death, leaving the beautiful gorges and maintained recreational grounds to the public’s enjoyment.
Head out here for a rural camping experience, or to pass the day. The ballfields, pavilions and picnic areas are open to the public; the area is filled with trails that lead you through the gorgeous and to beautiful vistas of the valley. Relish in this secluded park and take some time to recharge from your busy life.
19. Bannerman Castle on Pollepel Island
Pollepel Island is located on the Hudson River and was first discovered by Dutch settlers. It was even used as a line of defense by the American forces during the American Revolutionary War. It is most famous, however, for Bannerman’s Castle, an old military warehouse built on the island.
Take a boat out to the island to explore this historic structure. The castle was originally built by Francis Bannerman, who used it as a place to store military supplies. Bannerman passed away and in August 1920, several tons of shells exploded, destroying part of the complex. The island is mostly in decay now, but is still accessible for intrepid kayakers who want to explore lesser known areas of the Hudson Bay.
20. Zoar Valley Swimming Hole
The Zoar Valley Swimming Hole is located in the Zoar Valley State Multiple Use Area, which spans over 2927 acres of Cattaraugus County. The swimming hole is one of the best-kept secrets in the states and an excellent and beautiful place to cool off during the hot summer months.
Hike down to the confluence of the Cattaraugus Creek and Genesee River. Have a nice swim and enjoy the surrounding nature. After you swim, dry off and explore the winding trails and explore the park. You can also take a canoe and paddle further down the river to continue exploring nature.
21. Whiteface Mountain Steps
Not for the faint of heart, the steps to the peak of the Whiteface Mountain lead you to a spectacular view. If you find yourself in Wilmington with some time to spare, take the drive out to the mountain, and skip the elevator once the road ends to scale the mountain.
The steps up are an adventure – it starts with a series of stairs, which eventually lead you to a hike up the rocks as you get closer to the top. It doesn’t take that long, and the view once you reach the peak will make you proud of your accomplishment as you gaze down into the valleys, peaks and lakes. Of course, if you are too tired and want to take the elevator, the view is just as lovely.
22. Stonecrop Gardens
Located in Cold Spring, Stonecrop Gardens was originally the private residence of Frank Cabot, and did not open to the public until 1992. Situated 1,100 feet about sea level in the Hudson Highlands, the expansive gardens cover about 15 acres and are filled with diverse plant life – thanks to the former owners who were horticultural enthusiasts.
Come visit this corner of the highlands to tour the grounds that include a woodland, water gardens, a grass garden, raised stone beds, as well as cliff rock gardens. There is also a conservatory and Alpine House that boasts a remarkable facade and pond leading up to the house. Snap a photo of this postcard-ready image and enjoy this beautiful and peaceful garden during any season.
23. Sodus Bay Lighthouse
Sodus Bay Lighthouse was built on Sodus Point and is located on Lake Ontario. The original lighthouse was replaced by a new one in 1869, and has since been excellently preserved by the town of Sodus Point, New York. Formerly operated from 1834 to 1901, it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Stop by to appreciate the beautiful vista at this historic lighthouse. If you happen upon it during the summer, there are concerts offered here! You should spend some time at the maritime museum, maintained by the Sodus Bay Historical Society. It is a quaint and beautiful piece of New York State history.
24. Giant Ledge, Shandaken
Located in Phoenicia, Giant Ledge is a great day hike and popular with locals. As you reach the first ledge, you’ll see why it is such a hit! Perfect for a later afternoon hike and especially lovely in the autumn, this slice of Catskill heaven is a 3.2 mile roundtrip up to the first ledge. If you’re feeling energetic, the whole loop to see all 5 ledges is about a 4 mile long.
There are even a few campsites tucked back behind the ledges if you get there early enough to claim them and want to sleep outdoors with a gorgeous view. If you’ve hiked, camped, taken a million photos of the views and still want something to do (provided you are an experienced hiker), keep going and head up to Panther Mountain for more gorgeous vistas to give you that “I’m on top of the world” feeling.
25. Boldt Castle
Located on Heart Island in the Saint Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands region, Boldt Castle is open to the public between May and October. If you find yourself in the Town of Alexandria, take a boat out to the mansion first built by American millionaire George Boldt, who intended to construct an elaborate house to rival the largest homes in the nation. It was left unfinished and abandoned upon his wife’s unexpected death until it was acquired by the state to turn into a public space.
Take a ferry, private boat or bout tour from places like Alexandria Bay, Cananoque, or Rockport. Your entrance fees contribute to the upkeep and maintenance of the buildings. Explore the extensive mansion and the island and snap some pictures of the river and the opposite shores. It feels a bit like a sleepy, enchanted castle.
26. Eternal Flames Falls
A small waterfall located in Chestnut Ridge Park in western New York, Eternal Flames is an usual attraction: behind the waterfall is a grotto that emits natural gas, which can be visible at almost any time of the year when the flame is lit!
Follow the access trail up to the falls to see this natural phenomenon in person, and bring your camera! The 30 foot high cascade is gorgeous, especially in early spring, and is accessible without paying an admission’s fee. The hike is short, only about a mile round trip, and snakes through some lovely terrain. Do take care though, as the path can be challenging at times. It is well worth it to see the flames hidden behind the falls though!