New York State is more than just its most popular destination, New York City. It’s almost as if nobody seems to notice that the state is actually the largest of the northeastern states; that it actually stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes; and that it is filled with a diverse range of natural attractions, most of which are virtually unexplored despite being around and readily accessible for the last 200 years. Everybody, of course, knows about New York City, which sits at the southeastern tip of the state and offers some of the best artistic, cultural, culinary, and entertainment-based attractions in the entire country. But within a day’s drive, every region of the state can be visited: the Adirondacks, Hudson Valley, Catskills, Capital-Saratoga, Finger Lakes, Greater Niagara, Thousand Islands-Seaway, Long Island, and Chautauqua-Allegheny. These regions offer tourists everything from beachside seascapes, to pristine lakes, to forested resort mountains, to historical war sites.
New York State was originally inhabited by Native Americans, predominantly the Lenape. The Native tribes formed the Iroquois Confederacy in 1570, a group of five Native American tribes. The first European to explore the state was Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524. He was followed by French explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1609 and Henry Hudson who worked for the Dutch and sailed up the Hudson River. The Dutch soon established trading posts along the river, founding New Amsterdam on the present-day site of New York City and Fort Nassau on the present-day site of Albany.
In 1674, the treaty of Westminster ceded Dutch colonies in New York to the British. During the late 18th century, New York was the scene of various wars between the British and the French and the British and the Native Americans. But between 1775 and 1783, the battles that took place were between the British and the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Most of the military actions took place in the eastern part of the state. After the war ended in victory for the Americans, New York became one of the original 13 states.
New York remained largely unexplored, however, until a series of canals were completed in 1825, allowing ships to travel and carry goods from Albany along the Hudson River all the way up to Lake Erie at Buffalo. This ushered in a period of economic growth, with several towns and cities like Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, Schenectady and Buffalo developing as a result of the canal system. It opened up much of the state to farming and and commerce. The growth of highways and railroads, however, led to the decline in commercial use of the canal and today it is used largely for recreational boating.
Today, outside of New York City and aside from the high-technology centers in Albany and Rochester, much of the state depends on agricultural production. The state is a major producer of apples and the Finger Lakes region is known for its wineries and vineyards – the second largest producer of wine after California. Unfortunately, many areas in upstate New York are currently in a state of economic depression, having suffered like other rust belt regions as a result of the manufacturing decline of the United States.
New York has many tourist regions that are quite different from one another. New York City, of course, provides visitors with the modern amenities and cultural and entertainment attractions of a major urban metropolis. And its neighboring Long Island is a popular weekend and summer destination for city dwellers, featuring seaside resorts like the Hamptons, which itself is a retreat for the wealthy who enjoy vacationing in the comfort of sandy beaches.
To the north of New York City is the Hudson River Valley, which encompasses the Catskill Mountains (or Catskills). Both paint a beautiful picture of dramatic bluffs, rolling green hills, picturesque rivers, and old Victorian mansions. The Catskills, in particular, is a popular resort area boasting gorgeous waterfalls, forest preserves ideal for hunting and fishing, and mountain peaks with hiking trails, campsites, and ski slopes.
At the heart of the Capital-Saratoga region is the state capital, Albany, which is situated north of the Hudson River Valley region. The main attraction in the Capital-Saratoga is the Saratoga Springs. It has long been a popular spa destination, especially in its heyday in the 19th century. This resort town is revered for its health-giving mineral springs and famous for its horse tracks like the Saratoga Race Course and the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway.
In the northeast, you’ll find the Adirondacks, a famous mountain range and national park that serves as the home of numerous resorts, hunting lodges, cabins, and hotels. Most popular of the resorts are Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, and Lake George. The Adirondacks is heavily forested making it ideal for hunting. Its creeks, ponds, rivers, and lakes are also teemed with trout, salmon, and bass, making it a great place to fish. The unique taiga habitat of the park also makes the Adirondacks a breeding ground for many birds, from various woodpeckers and warblers, to jays and chickadees, making it a popular bird-watching destination. Perhaps the biggest attraction of the region is the skiing. Lake Placid in particular, host of the 1980 Winter Olympics, features Whiteface Mountain which boasts more than 75 ski trails as well as the greatest vertical drop at 3,430 feet of any mountain in the eastern United States.
East of the Adirondacks is the Thousand Islands-Seaway region, home to islands on the St. Lawrence Sea. This region is particularly attractive during the summers when romantic cruises meander from island to island, providing spectacular views of the coast along the St. Lawrence River, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario.
The Finger Lakes region sits at the center of New York state, comprised of a dozen lakes that run north-south to form the image of fingers. The region is famous for its myriad wineries as well as the breathtaking beauty of its lakes, forests, and waterfalls, which can be enjoyed by hiking or camping in the designated parks and recreation areas.
The Greater Niagara region is capped by Buffalo, New York’s second largest city. Excursions to Niagara Falls highlight this region’s tourist offerings. The waterfalls drop as high as 2,600 feet and can be visited by a romantic tour aboard the Maid of the Mist or by helicopter or foot.
The Chautauqua-Allegheny is located in New York State’s southeastern region and is the largest wine-producing area outside of California. Its rivers and lakes provide opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. The region is also notable for its Amish communities and Native American reservations.