Upstate New York is one of the lushest and most beautiful areas of the entire state. Known for its passionately debated boundary, this northern area of New York covers many rivers, mountain ranges, and forested areas. Along the long border, locals get a peek at Canada’s borders as well, stretching from upstate to the southeastern side of New York. Since much of the area has smaller populations, much of the land has been maintained as it naturally is, creating miles and miles of scenic drives in Upstate New York.
If you have never had the chance to drive along the Catskills or Adirondacks, this guide is the perfect way to decide where to start. Do you want to get a view of the Buffalo area? Do you want to see the vastness of the Hudson Valley? Let’s take a peek at everything that Upstate New York’s scenic drives have to offer.
Where is Upstate New York?
The actual location of Upstate New York is a hot topic among locals. According to Dictionary.com, “upstate” specifically refers to the northern area of the state. Overall, the state has 10 different regions, including the Hudson Valley, the North Country, and the Mohawk Valley regions. The north and northwest areas of the metro area of New York cover this space. Locals usually leave Long Island, New York City, and parts of Rockland County and Westchester County off this list.
With so many different cities in the area, this guide specifically includes scenic drives in Albany, Utica, Binghamton, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo.
Local Environment in Upstate New York
With so many mountainous areas, much of the upstate area succumbs to cold and snowy weather in the winter. While this seasonal weather makes the landscape even more pristine, anyone who takes these drives should be mindful of the winter weather. As the seasons get warmer with spring and summer, the dense green hue of the grass, trees, and other plant life is so vibrant that it seems unreal. Before transitioning back to the winter, most of these treats become a mosaic of red, orange, yellow, and brown leaves.
To figure out the best scenic path for you, consider the seasonal changes that happen in that area. The warm summers with shading from the trees keep you cool while wet winters give the restoration to plants in the area. Always check for local speed limits and hazard signs as you drive to take in the sights safely.
Scenic Drives In Upstate New York
Hudson Valley Drive
The scenic Hudson Valley Drive path takes you from New York City through Albany. Much of the main road takes you through vivid and lush mountain areas, making it the perfect path for the colorful changes in the seasons.
In Hudson Valley, there are many different places to stop and take a moment for the scenery to enrapture you. If you take Route 157 (Thatcher Park Road), you end up at John Boyd Thacher State Park. With an incredible panoramic view along the Overlook, the Green Mountains and the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys are easy to take in.
Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway
The Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway stretches across 88 miles, taking you by about 30,000 acres of land. As you pass by historic Dutch settlements, you also get a glimpse of nature preserves and beautiful scenery as you go by. It primarily takes you along the northern area of the mountains, which has beautiful countryside and mountain views.
To start on this drive, you’ll need to take exit 17 off I-87, which is the New York State Thruway. The path brings you through many different types of scenery, dipping as low as the Rondout and Wallkill valleys. Since the path continues into a circle, it goes as long as you want to.
High Peaks Scenic Byway
The High Peaks Scenic Byway takes you through Adirondack, giving you time to explore the area above Albany. It is one of the few paths that allows you to see the highest peaks of the Adirondacks and multiple bodies of water, like Chapel Pond and the Cascade Lakes. As you drive at 4,000-foot elevation, you follow the same path that hosts 4 million other travelers a year. The rich forests and river valleys make this drive one of the best ways to see the North Hudson area.
Road 9 in Deerhead
To fully enjoy the drive, start on Road 9 in Deerhead. The starting point puts you right near Lake George, offering plenty of options for the day ahead. During this drive, you get a glimpse of the Ausable Chasm with other majestic bridges and scenery. If you want to get out of the car, take one of the hiking trails off the road to check out Lake Champlain and nearby parks.
The stretch of this path ends in Canada, so you go as far as you want to go into Upstate New York. It offers over 70 miles of winding roads, but every moment along the road offers a new view of the beautiful park and forests along the way.
Road 9N near Lake George
If you want to see the Lake George scenic drive, take yourself to Road 9N. Many people believe that the easiest way to get to Lake George is Interstate 87, the scenic drive with Road 9N is the way to go. Through this drive, take a moment to admire the local towns with glistening lakes, hiking trails, and more. To keep going along this Road, turn to Interstate 87 for more relaxation.
Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway
Also north of Albany, the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway takes you along Route 431. It holds historical value because was originally dedicated to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1929. With multiple stops to take in the scenery, this particular drive is ideal for anyone who wants a view of the lake and mountains at the same time. The drive starts in Wilmington, crossing through an intersection on NY-86. At the bottom of the mountain, take a look at Lake Placid.
Road 73 is another tour through the Adirondacks, taking you north directly between Syracuse and Albany. This mountain range connects to the Appalachian Mountains, so there are plenty of mountain ranges to take in along this drive. Just like other paths on this list, you end up passing Chapel Pond, giving you a perfect spot to cool off. Many locals use this time to take a swim if they want to cool off. Anyone who wants a little time out of the car can also access multiple lakes and waterfall hikes, like the opportunities on the Indian Head trail and the Avalanche Pass trail.
Thousand Island Seaway
If you drive directly north of Syracuse, you reach the Thousand Island Seaway. The scenic drive lines the border between the St. Lawrence River and the state of New York. If you want to take the whole drive, you get to see Niagara Falls as well. Some people start on SR-12 in Clayton, driving northeast until they can cross the river. This drive also takes you by Boldt Castle, Alexandria Bay, and Wellesley Island State Park.
Western New York Southtowns Scenic Byway
If you want to experience Buffalo, there’s the Western New York Southtowns Scenic Byway. This scenic drive offers more than a glimpse of New York’s beauty; it also provides a path through multiple historic places, like the Quaker Meetinghouse and the Johnson-Jolls House. You can even visit the Scoby Dam to go fishing if you want a place to stay for the day.
Stretching a total of 108 miles, this byway begins just south of Buffalo, placing it outside of the upstate area until you get further north. This loop connects multiple towns, including Orchard Park, Aurora, and Ashford. It ends at the town line in Ellicottville.
Niagara Scenic Parkway
The Niagara Scenic Parkway holds a special place for anyone in Buffalo, starting in the downtown area. The whole parkway is a treasure trove of different hiking paths through areas like Whirlpool State Park and Devil’s Hole State Park. If you want a little more than nature offers, take a detour to the Village of Lewiston to grab a bite.
The easiest route includes taking I-90 to Grand Island and the Niagara River before becoming the Niagara Scenic Parkway. While the parkway is the highlight of the drive, the next 20 miles it takes to get there gives a beautiful view on the way as well. The whole path follows a river until you arrive at Niagara Falls State Park. While you could continue the drive to keep looking at the scenery, hikers like to take a break at that point to look at the waterfall.
Letchworth State Park
Along the drive, you pass natural wilderness, farmland, and rolling hills. Plus, it isn’t a road traveled by many on the way, so you only have to think about how you’d like to take in the view. Most people enjoy this view during any time of year, the changes that come with the transition from summer to autumn create an array of fall colors in the leaves.
To reach this park for a scenic walk or drive, start at Route 20A. Then, keep going until you reach Route 19 or Route 39. Along this drive, you have plenty of opportunities to eat and explore history at places like the Glen Iris Inn, built in 1914.
The Most Scenic Drives in Upstate New York
|Scenic Drive||Point A to Point B|
|1||Hudson Valley Drive||New York City to Albany|
|2||Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway||Southwest of Catskill Mountains|
|3||High Peaks Scenic Byway||North Hudson|
|5||Road 9N||Along Lake George|
|6||Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway||Wilmington to Lake Placid|
|7||Road 73||Northeast of Syracuse|
|8||Thousand Island Seaway||Syracuse to Niagara Falls|
|9||Western New York Southtowns Scenic Byway||Buffalo to Ellicottville|
|10||Niagara Scenic Parkway||Downtown Buffalo to Niagara Falls State Falls|
|11||Letchworth State Park||Livingstone County|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Paul Massie Photography/iStock via Getty Images
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