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Top Things to Do on the Way to Niagara Falls from NYC (2 Scenic Routes)

Top Things to Do on the Way to Niagara Falls from NYC (2 Scenic Routes)

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The journey from the bustling streets of New York City to the awe-inspiring beauty of Niagara Falls is a quintessential American road trip.

While the main attraction is undoubtedly the majestic falls themselves, this route through the Finger Lakes region adds an extra layer of enchantment to your adventure.

Discover the best of both worlds as we explore the remarkable experiences awaiting you on this picturesque route. 

In this blog post, I’m sharing the two most picturesque routes from NYC to Niagara Falls:

  • One route stays in the state of New York, and takes you directly upstate at the beginning of the journey
  • The second route takes you through Pennsylvania for the first part of the journey before reaching the Finger Lakes region

From charming small towns to natural wonders, here are some of the best things to do on the way to Niagara Falls from New York City.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click through and make a purchase I may make a small commission. I only share information about things I know, love and trust!

Things to Do and Places to See on the Way to Niagara Falls from NYC (road trip itinerary)

If you drive straight to Niagara Falls from NYC, it will take you 7.5 hours, or closer to 8.5 or 9 hours with stops for fuel, bio breaks and food. 

To follow this road trip itinerary, I’ve broken it down into four sections, so that you can choose how long you want to spend on each section.

Depending how long you have, you can make this drive in two full days, or take your time and spend a full day or 2 for each portion of the road trip. 

Section 1: NYC to Hudson Valley or Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania

Leaving from New York City, you have two options for beginning your road trip. 

Option 1: New York City to Hudson Valley

Walkway over the Hudson

Start your journey by departing from New York City and head north on Interstate 87 (I-87).

Stop at the Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre open-air museum featuring contemporary sculptures amid beautiful landscapes and rolling hills.

Just an hour north of New York City, this art haven sets the tone for the artistic journey ahead.

Explore the charming town of Cold Spring along the Hudson River, known for its quaint shops 

and scenic views.

Don’t miss crossing the Walkway Over the Hudson, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, for stunning views of the Hudson River.

Capture picturesque moments as you walk or bike across this iconic structure.

A charming town in the Hudson Valley, Rhinebeck offers historical sites, eclectic boutiques, and farm-to-fork dining experiences.

Wilderstein Historic Site, near Rhinebeck
  • Visit the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome for a glimpse into vintage aviation
  • Tour the Wilderstein Historic Site. A beautifully preserved Queen Anne-style mansion, which offers a glimpse into the region’s history and Victorian architectural heritage.

If you have time, stay overnight in a cozy bed-and-breakfast in the Hudson Valley, or treat yourself to a lovely getaway. 

For a luxury stay, book a night at the Mirbeau Inn & Spa in Rhinebeck. 

The Danskammer Bed & Breakfast is a charming heritage home with views of the Hudson River (with a perfect 5-star rating). 

Inside tip: this is a great spot for visiting area wineries, including Benmarl Winery with magnificent views of the valley, wine flight tastings and their flagship sangria. 

Option 2: New York City to Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania

Begin your road trip by leaving New York City and heading west on I-80 into Pennsylvania.

Explore the scenic Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a beautiful natural area along the Delaware River with opportunities for hiking and picnicking.

If you love waterfalls:

  • don’t miss the short hike to Buttermilk Falls.
  • If you’re craving a longer hike, Bushkill Falls is nearby with a 100-foot waterfall as your reward at the end of a one-hour hike. 
  • Dingmans Falls have boardwalks that are stroller and wheelchair accessible
Dingmans Falls

Continue driving through the Pocono Mountains region, known for its lush forests and outdoor activities.

Spend the night at a cozy cabin or lodge in the Pocono Mountains, like the Lakewood Luxury Cabin.

Or choose the perfectly rated 5-star Maurrocks BnB for a tranquil escape. 

Inside tip: for a truly unique experience in this area, schedule a goat hike at Fustercluck Farm!

As you depart and make your way west, cross into the beautiful Endless Mountains region of Pennsylvania, known for its rolling hills and scenic vistas. 

You’ll then enter the Finger Lakes region of New York State. 

Tip: If you’re traveling as a family, schedule a stop at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, NY. 

Section 2: Finger Lakes

As the halfway point, it’s worth making a stop in the Finger Lakes region for at least 2 nights (more if your schedule allows)! 

Nestled in the heart of New York State, this picturesque region is a haven for those seeking a perfect blend of outdoor adventures, world-class wineries, and charming small-town vibes.

You can spend a day touring wineries, go hiking to waterfalls in pristine state parks, or stroll through quaint small towns full of history.

World-Class Wineries

Our fun day touring area wineries on our wine tour cruise.

This area is known for its vineyards and wineries.

Explore the wine trails and indulge in tastings at renowned wineries where the serene lakes and rolling vineyards provide a serene backdrop.

Our favorite way of discovering area wineries was taking a winery boat tour!

  • We got to enjoy being out on the water, learn about the history and geography of the area from our guide and brought to the most scenic wineries.
  • We chose Captain Jim’s Wine Cruises on Cayuga Lake and he personalized the wineries we went to based on the type of wine we like and the vibe we were looking for.

Incredible State Parks

The famous Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen

A natural wonder nestled in the Finger Lakes, Watkins Glen State Park boasts a stunning gorge trail with cascading waterfalls and vibrant flora.

Hike through this enchanting landscape and be captivated by its beauty. 

The Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park is one of the most beautiful and must-see attractions on a road trip from NYC to Niagara Falls. 

To do this hike, plan to spend 2 hours here. If you want to spend less time with little elevation, no need to go all the way to Jacob’s Ladder.

Charming & Historic Small Towns

If you prefer to stroll the streets and learn about history of the area, explore the small towns of the Finger Lakes, each with its own unique character.

Places like Seneca Falls, Skaneateles, and Canandaigua offer picturesque streets, historic sites, and local shops where you can find handmade crafts and artisanal products.

Or try Ithaca, a young college town home to Cornell University and endless gorges and waterfalls that are all walkable from town. 

Stop in the town of Seneca Falls, known for its historical significance and Women’s Rights National Historical Park.

Overnight in a charming lakeside cottage or inn in the Finger Lakes region. 

The view from our private patio at Lakeside Resort

We loved our stay at Lakeside Resort just 5 minutes outside of Watkins Glen, with incredible views of Seneca Lake.

  • They have a great restaurant onsite and nightly campfire socials for all the guests to mingle!

If you have time, spend one more night in the Finger Lakes region. 

We like the Argos Inn in Ithaca, a boutique hotel with an artsy vibe and a fantastic bar. 

Or the enchanting pet friendly William Henry Miller Inn, also located in Ithaca. 

The next morning on your way out, stop at the Penn Yan Diner for the most adorable breakfast you’ve ever had. 

Tip: watch for horse carriages on the road, as this is Amish Country!

Section 3: Letchworth State Park

Upper Falls at Letchworth State Park

Before reaching Niagara Falls, make a small detour to Letchworth State Park, the “Grand Canyon of the East.”

Admire the majestic waterfalls and hike along scenic trails or make quick pit stops at any of the scenic overlooks for breathtaking vistas.

The Upper and the Middle Falls are worth seeing. You can drive to both and enjoy scenic lookouts, no need to hike.

If you’re just stopping for the views and to use the washrooms, plan to spend 15 to 30 minutes here.

Alternatively, you can stop for lunch at the Glen Iris Inn, which is located at the Middle Falls. 

Continue your journey towards Niagara Falls.

Section 4: Niagara Falls

Congratulations, you’ve reached Niagara Falls! 

If you have time, I recommend dedicating a day each to exploring Niagara Falls from both the American and Canadian sides.

Tip: If you only have one day to explore, I recommend this 1-day tour which brings you to both sides of the Falls (American and Canadian) to experience the best of both worlds. 

Niagara Falls, New York (American Side)

Starting with the US side of Niagara Falls take the Maid of the Mist boat tour to get close to the falls.

Tip: we like the Maid of the Mist (American) boat tour instead of the Hornblower (Canadian) boat tour, because the American boat is electric! The Canadian boat is diesel. 

The Maid of the Mist is one of the most touristy things we’ve ever done, but it was absolutely worth it.

It’s quite surreal to be at the base of the falls to really experience the power of it all.

Don’t miss scenic views on Goat Island and the Cave of the Winds attraction is a must-do!

Tip: you will get absolutely soaked during the Cave of the Winds walk, but it’s an incredible display of the powerful waterfalls. 

Enjoy the evening illumination and fireworks display at the falls at 10pm each evening. 

Where to Stay in Niagara Falls, New York

We stayed overnight at the DoubleTree by Hilton, which offered great rates, had riverview rooms and was only 15 minutes to walk to the Falls. 

Niagara Falls, Ontario (Canadian Side)

I recommend also spending a day on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, as you get a much better view of Horseshoe Falls (the main waterfall). 

Journey Behind the Falls is also an interesting experience where you descend 125 feet to explore tunnels and viewing platforms situated behind the powerful cascade of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

Tip: we found we barely got wet on this experience, so if it’s a chilly day or you’re not interested in getting soaked, choose Journey Behind the Falls.

If time allows, consider visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada for its wineries and historic charm, only 25 minutes from Niagara Falls. 

Where to Stay in Niagara Falls, Ontario

We stayed in two different spots in Niagara Falls, Canada.

The Niagara Falls Marriott Fallsview Hotel is one of the best hotels with rooms with views of the falls. We had a room on the 12th floor with a perfect view of Niagara Falls. 

The Cadillac Motel was the perfect budget option, our room was $70 and was ultra-clean and came with free parking.

It was only a 10-minute walk to area attractions like Clifton Hill and the Falls.

Is it Worth Going to Niagara Falls from New York City?

Visiting Niagara Falls from New York City can be a memorable experience, but it depends on your interests, available time, and budget. 

If you have the flexibility to allocate several days to the trip and a strong desire to witness the falls’ majesty, it can be a worthwhile addition to your itinerary. 

However, if you have limited time and are primarily interested in the city’s urban offerings and have a couple extra days to explore outside of NYC, I would skip the trip to Niagara Falls. 

Alternative Destinations

If you’re interested in natural beauty but prefer to stay closer to New York City, you might explore alternatives like the Hudson Valley, the Catskill Mountains, the Finger Lakes or the Adirondacks, which offer stunning landscapes and outdoor activities without the long journey.

In my opinion, these areas are far more beautiful than Niagara Falls if you only have one or 2 days to explore beyond NYC.

What is There to See Between New York and Niagara Falls?

Here’s a list of some of the main attractions between New York City and Niagara Falls, including famous places and worthwhile stops:

  • Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, NY – Outdoor sculpture park with contemporary artworks set in a picturesque landscape.
  • Hudson Valley, NY – Scenic region known for its charming towns, historic sites, and stunning river views.
  • Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, Central Valley, NY – Shop at over 200 designer and brand-name stores in this popular outlet mall.
  • Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, Poughkeepsie, NY – Explore the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge for stunning river views.
  • Culinary Delights of Hudson Valley, NY – Savor farm-to-table dining and local wines in this foodie paradise.
  • Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, NY – Historic Victorian castle resort offering outdoor activities and serene lake views.
  • Animal Adventure Park, Harpursville – More than just a zoo, these animals are very well cared for, and visitors can pet and feed animals including giraffes and furry cows.
  • Finger Lakes Wine Country, NY – Discover picturesque vineyards and wineries along the wine trails.
  • Watkins Glen State Park, NY – Hike the stunning gorge trail with cascading waterfalls and lush greenery.
  • Letchworth State Park, NY – Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” this park features breathtaking waterfalls and canyons.
  • Seneca Falls, NY – Explore this historic town with ties to the women’s suffrage movement and visit the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.
  • Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY – Discover the art and history of glassmaking with live demonstrations and exhibits.
  • Taughannock Falls State Park, Trumansburg, NY – Witness one of the highest waterfalls east of the Rockies and enjoy hiking trails.
  • Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, Seneca Falls, NY – Birdwatching and wildlife observation in a protected wetland area.
  • Six Flags Darien Lake – Between Rochester and Buffalo, this amusement park is only one hour east of Niagara Falls 
  • Buffalo, NY – Visit the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, Buffalo History Museum, and savor the city’s famous Buffalo wings.

Can You Do a Day Trip from New York to Niagara Falls?

At about 400 miles, it’s going to take you just over 7 hours driving time to reach Niagara Falls from New York City. 

While it’s entirely possible to drive this distance in one day, once you start driving through scenic upstate New York and then eventually reach the falls, you won’t want to rush and miss out on all the beauty of the area. 

On your journey to and from Niagara Falls, you’ll pass through these gorgeous areas worth stopping for: 

  • The Hudson Valley is a postcard-perfect landscape defined by rolling hills, meandering rivers, and lush forests.
  • The Finger Lakes region is magical and like nowhere else in the USA. 
  • Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains is a region known for its lush forests and outdoor activities.

Day Trip Itinerary 

However, if you only have one day to visit Niagara Falls from New York City, I suggest you leave no later than 6:00am.

This will have you arrive in Niagara Falls by 2:00 pm (accounting for a couple quick breaks along the way). 

If you don’t mind being back home late you would have time for one tour/activity.

I recommend the Maid of the Mist or the Cave of the Winds. 

Each of these will take about an hour (accounting for buying tickets, lineups and the actual experience). 

Then you could have a bit to eat at the Top of the Falls restaurant, which serves great food and has views of the falls from both inside and the outside patio. 

Make the most of your time with this 3-hour tour of all the Niagara Falls highlights, which conveniently begins at 2:00pm!

You could depart Niagara Falls by 5:00pm and be home by shortly after midnight.