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New York State Road Trip: From the Buffalo Bills to the Big Apple (And How to Do it With Kids)

Introduction: New York State is steaming with great roadside and one day attractions, making it perfect for a state wide road trip. A road trip through New York contains the perfect combination of big cities, nature escapes, small towns, waterfronts, and family friendly attractions. Starting in Niagara Falls head east and explore many great destinations including Ithaca and the Finger Lakes, then continue southbound and head towards the Big Apple.

Highlights: Feel the roar of the powerful Niagara Falls, explore the city known for spicy Buffalo Wings, visit the grand canyon of the East, explore waterfall central, explore New York’s wine region, explore one of New York’s spa town, visit the capitol city, get up close with nature in the Catskills, and explore the city that never sleeps.

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Recommended Length of Road Trip: Minimum of 1 week, although to really be able to enjoy all stops along the route 10-14 days would be best. I would recommend picking 2 or 3 of your favorite attractions from each destination to visit.

Stop 1: Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is a city located adjacent to the Niagara River and the American Falls in Western New York. It is home to one of the world’s most well known water falls-Niagara Falls.

While in Niagara Falls you will have many options to view the falls, from walking the paved trail along the falls or taking a Maid of the Mist tour allowing you to get up close to both the American and Horseshoe Falls. You can also go behind the Bridal Falls with a Cave of the Winds tour or hop aboard a jet boat and take a ride out to the Niagara whirlpool.

For a fun and educational experience visit Old Fort Niagara, which was built in 1726 and served as an essential fort to control access to the Finger Lakes region. Today you can tour the grounds and participate in living history exhibits. Explore Whirlpool State Park, where you can enjoy hiking trails and great views of Niagara River and whirlpool. For more hiking and great views along with some education exhibits on the history of the falls visit the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. Enjoy some marine life and interactive animal encounters at the Niagara Aquarium. Take an underground boat tour of the Lockport Caves and explore historical Erie Canal locks.

Where To Eat:

  • Top of The Falls Restaurant: Classic American cuisine with great views of the falls.
  • Bella Vista-A classic Italian restaurant that offers great food and live entertainment.
  • The Griffon Gastropub-A great restaurant with plenty of options, including a full kids menu with burgers, pasta, sea food, mini tacos, and mac and cheese.
  • Rainforest Cafe-The Rainforest Cafe is the perfect combination of delicious food and great entertainment. The interior is decorated as a jungle with moving animals, moving night skies, and thunderstorms.

Recommended Time: 1-2 Days

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The American Falls.

If you have time and the means to visit I would definitely recommend visiting the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. The family friendly attractions are plentiful!

DISTANCE TO NEXT STOP: 25 minutes (20 miles)

Stop 2: Buffalo

Buffalo, NY is the second largest city in the state. Although it may not be as popular as New York City, Buffalo is an adventure in itself and is full of great family friendly attractions and-of course-spicy Buffalo wings.

In Buffalo, spend the day with a variety of different animal species, let the kids play in Duplo land, and walk through an indoor rainforest at the Buffalo Zoo. View an array of plant species at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, walk along the Buffalo waterfront and enjoy live entertainment at Canalside.

Enjoy some of Buffalo’s best indoor attractions for kids, including Bounce Magic where the kids can get all of their energy out with bounce houses or the Buffalo Museum of Science, which features educational and interactive exhibits the children will love. Take a short drive outside of Buffalo and visit Six Flags Darien Lake for some thrills, excitement, and water fun. Visit the Herschell Carousel Factory Museum and learn about the history of carousel production, ride a 1916 carousel, and enjoy a variety of different interactive exhibits.

Where To Eat:

Recommended Time: One Day

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DISTANCE TO NEXT STOP: 1 hour 10 minutes (59 miles)

Stop 3: Letchworth State Park

“The Grand Canyon of the East” is a must visit for any New York road trip. Letchworth State Park is located about an hour outside of Buffalo in Livingston and Wyoming Counties. It is a 14,427 acre park along the Genesee River offering waterfall views, hiking, white water rafting, horseback riding, and hot air balloon rides. The beauty of Letchworth State Park will leave you in awe.

Top Things to Do With Kids:

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Recommended Time: One Day

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Photo by Adam Bixby on Unsplash

DISTANCE TO NEXT STOP: 57 minutes (45 miles)

Stop 4: Rochester

Rochester, New York is the third largest city in New York state after New York City and Buffalo. Rochester sits on the edge of Lake Ontario and has the Genesee River running through it. A visit to Rochester includes a mix of parks, family fun, beach life, and history, with plenty of options for the whole family.

Visit the Strong Museum, a children’s museum that is entertaining for people of all ages. The museum is home to a mini shopping market, Butterfly Conservatory, and Toy Museum that outlines the history of toys. Visit the Seneca Park Zoo to view a large number of animal species and visit the Seabreeze Amusement Park for some thrill rides. Visit the Clubhouse Fun Center for go-karts, mini golf, and arcade games.

Take a stroll along Lake Ontario at the Ontario Beach Park and visit one of the many nature parks located throughout Rochester. View the High Falls and Lower Falls of the Genesee River and take a relaxing afternoon walk through the colorful Highland Park.

Top Things to Do With Kids:

Where To Eat:

  • Tully’s Good Times-family restaurant with a full kid’s meal, American cuisine
  • Dogtown-hotdog joint, one of the top 10 in the nation
  • The Owl House-offering plenty of vegan/vegetarian options, American cuisine

More ideas for visiting Rochester

Recommended Time: One Day

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Ontario Beach Park.

DISTANCE TO NEXT STOP: 1 hour, 40 minutes (90 miles)

Stop 5: Ithaca (Fingerlakes Region)

Located on Cayuga Lake near the Finger Lakes region, Ithaca is the perfect destination for waterfall chasers as Ithaca is home to 150 waterfalls. The main draw of this area is the Finger Lakes and outdoor adventures.

Spend the day enjoying one of the several state parks in the area, such as Watkins Glen State Park, Robert Treman State Park, or Buttermilk Falls State Park. If choosing just one, I would recommend Watkins Glen State Park. The views are simply stunning and kids love it! There is also a bus that will take you to the top, and the hike down is perfect for younger children.

Let the kids get their hands dirty at the Ithaca Children’s Garden where they can climb atop a giant stone turtle. Visit the Science Center for fun, educational, and hands on exhibits or visit the Cayuga Nature Center for some outdoor learning. Lastly, don’t forget to spend some time walking the streets of downtown Ithaca, a pedestrian mall where you will find great shops and restaurants.

Where To Eat:

Recommended Time: 1-2 days

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Watkins Glen State Park.

DISTANCE TO NEXT STOP: 3 hours, 20 minutes (188 miles)

Stop 6: Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Springs is most known for two things: horse racing and mineral springs. Saratoga Springs is a picturesque town that has a rich history as the “Queen of the Spas” and played a major role in the lives of the Native Americans that occupied the area.

While in Saratoga Springs be sure to explore the various springs located throughout the area, including Peerless Spring, Empire Spring, Geyser Spring, Oneida Spring, Geyser Island Spouter, and more.

Enjoy some family fun at the Children’s Museum of Saratoga or spend the day at Brown’s Beach for some sun bathing and castle building. Take a ride on the carousel in Congress Park. And-of course-you can’t miss the Saratoga Race Course for some horse racing.

Take a stroll through downtown Saratoga where you will find plenty of ice shops, toy stores, and book stores. Go on a hunt with your kids to find all the horse sculptures located throughout the area. Learn about the history of Saratoga and the Battle of Saratoga at the Saratoga National Historic Park, where you will find a visitor’s center, monuments, and a reconstructed general’s home.

Where To Eat:

Recommended Time: One day

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Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

DISTANCE TO NEXT STOP: 40 minutes (34 miles)

Stop 7: Albany

The next stop on the list is Albany, New York State’s capitol. Albany is full of history, culture, and attractions that the whole family will enjoy.

Stroll the exterior of New York State Capitol Building or take a guided tour of the building. Visit the Children’s Museum of Science and Technology for an educational experience with hands on exhibits. Take a tour of the WW2 navy ship the USS Slater.You can also take a sightseeing cruise along the Hudson River with Dutch Apple Cruises and Tours.

Enjoy some indoor adventures at Albany’s Indoor Rockgym for some rock climbing or visit the Funplex Fun Park for a variety of different family fun attractions, including mini-golf, go-karts, batting cages, bouncy houses, bumper boats, water wars, and more.

Recommended Time: One day

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Photo by J E Fulford on Unsplash

DISTANCE TO NEXT STOP: 1 hour, 40 minutes (83 miles)

Stop 8: Catskills Region

The Catskills region is well known for its stunning mountain views, especially in the fall months. The Catskills comprise 700,000 acres of public and private land with an abundance of trails for all hiker levels, including many kid friendly trails, including Vroman’s Nose, Trout Pond, Frick Pond, and the Tanbark Trail. Take the hike out to Peekamoose Blue Hole, a natural swimming hole, for some swimming in the summer months, but be aware that a day pass is required and can be obtained ahead of time free of charge.

Also located within the Catskill Region is Howe Caverns, an underground limestone cave system. Today you can take the elevator descent down to the caves on a guided tour, complete with an underground boat ride. In the warmer months beat the heat at Zoom Flume Water Park where you will find plenty of water rides and entertainment options.

For some horseback riding and other animal encounters visit the Bailiwick Animal Park and Riding Stables. Visit Yogi Bear’s Jellystone State Park for an amazing camping experience with character encounters and plenty of kid friendly activities. Visit the site of the original Woodstock in 1969, the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, where a variety of family friendly events are hosted year round.

Where To Eat:

Recommended Time: 1-2 days

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DISTANCE TO NEXT STOP: 2 hours, 46 minutes (133 miles)

Stop 9: New York City

New York City, the city that never sleeps, will have something for everyone is your family. The largest city in New York state, New York City is known as the big apple and melting pot. It was the entry port for millions of immigrants and the diversity is still seen today.

Climb the stairs of one of the United States’s most iconic symbols, the Statue of Liberty. Kids will love taking the boat over and exploring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Explore one of the only green parts of this concrete jungle at Central Park, visit the Central Park Zoo, or catch some live entertainment. Ride to the top of the tallest building in New York City and the nation, One World Trade Center and observe amazing 360 views of the city.

Opt for some traditional family fun and thrills at Coney Island and dip your feet in the Atlantic ocean or visit the Children’s Museum of the Arts for interactive and educational hands on exhibits and classes. Visit the American Museum of Natural History to explore the history of the natural world and visit the Butterfly Conservatory.

And finally, no trip to New York City would be complete without some shopping in Time Square. Your children will enjoy visiting the M&M store or Disney Store, and there are plenty of well know brand stores as well so that you can treat yourself. If you have the time, a Broadway show would be the perfect way to end the evening.

Where To Eat:

Recommended Time: 1-3 days

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More Things to Do in New York City

DISTANCE TO NEXT STOP: 2 hours, 23 minutes (117 miles)

BONUS: Long Island

If you would like, continue on with the road trip to Long Island’s eastern most town, Montauk. Montauk is well known for it’s beaches. Spend the day relaxing, building sand castles, dipping your feet in the sand, and hunting for seashells. Climb the Montauk Point Lighthouse for some stunning ocean views.

For some ocean fun take a catamaran tour through Mon Tiki for a day or sunset cruise (note than children under 12 are not permitted on sunset tours). Join the Viking Fleet for a whale and dolphin watching tour. Explore Camp Hero State Park for some WW2 history, hiking trails, and beautiful coastline views.

Visit Putt’N’Puff for some mini-golf and then enjoy some kayaking canoeing, or paddle boarding at their dock. Visit Rita’s Stable and the kids can enjoy a petting zoo and miniature pony rides.

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Photo by Clay LeConey on Unsplash
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New York State Road Trip: From the Buffalo Bills to the Big Apple (And How to Do it With Kids)
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41 Comments »

  1. We often travel to NYC or Buffalo for football (Patriots game) and we are always in the hunt for additional activities to do, especially in Buffalo.

    If I may add an activity for NYC, there are spectacular shows on Broadway and some of them are very kids appropriate, such as Aladdin and Frozen!

  2. This looks like such a fun trip. I’d love to do this whenever I’m back in the states! I’ve been to Niagara Falls but never the New York side so I’d love to check it out 😁 I’ll definitely save this post for whenever I go!

  3. Well thanks for enlightening me! I lived in NYC for a couple of years and I’ve never heard of Letchworth State Park, or realized how beautiful Ithaca is. Makes me wish I was back in that state so that I could explore it more. I feel like I missed out. It would be glorious to explore those in the fall when he leaves are changing and it isn’t too bitterly cold. Thanks Melissa … great post.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed. NYC is full of so many great things, but the rest of the state has so much to offer as well! I would definitely recommend exploring if you are ever able to.

  4. I’ve always wanted to explore more of New York State. The Catskills are as beautiful as I imagined. I’m glad you suggested visiting the Canadian side of Niagara – it’s my preferred side, and so much more to do 🙂

  5. This is a wonderful post! I’ve been to NYC many times and I love that you highlight all these other great places in New York. I’ve been to Rochester and Albany, but have not had the opportunity to visit these other places. I love how you highlight things to do with kids. The image of Ithica and would really enjoy hiking along those magnificent waterfalls! Thanks for the inspired and insightful article!

  6. We did something similar a few summers ago. We visited Buffalo and Niagara, then Rochester, Finger Lakes, and Saratoga Springs before hitting NYC. We didn’t see Albany or the Catskills, but we are not too far, so maybe in the future. I love the recommendations of what to do in each area.

  7. Living in Toronto, a visit to NY State is an easy road trip for us. Although, we only visited the US side of Niagara Falls for the first time last year! We will definitely have to add Letchworth State Park on our list for another road trip in the future. We did only a small stop in the Finger Lakes region one year on our way to Philadelphia. We stopped at Watkins Glen. But I now see there is so much more to go back for. And Saratoga Springs would be a great spot for the hot springs. Definitely saving this one for future travel planning. (LD Holland)

  8. I had no idea the drive to New York had so many places to stop. I live an hour from the Buffalo/Niagara border, so I have been to Niagara and Buffalo multiple times, but a visit to Letchworth State Park certainly sounds like it would be worth the drive. Also Ithaca. This would be well worth a shorter road trip for me. Thank you.

  9. OMG so many stops during the New York State road trip ! I had only thought about New York City and Niagara Falls before reading this. But Letchworth State Park looks so Gorgeous,it may be looking beautiful in Falls. All these places are perfect for shorter weekend trips too.

    • Most people do, but they don’t realize how many great places there are. I grew up in NY and really didn’t realize how much there was myself until the last few years when I really starting exploring. Letchworth State Park (and all the state parks in the area) are gorgeous in the fall.

  10. I’ve never explored the state beyond New York city and that is clearly a mistake. I’m particularly interested to visit Buffalo, didn’t really register on my brain that it’s the home of buffalo wings! If also love to see them bridal areas like Watkins glen!

    • There is so much more to see! (Although NYC is great too!). Buffalo is a great city-I visit often as my sister lives there. And Watkins Glen is a gorgeous area. I would recommend it if you get the chance!

  11. This sounds like a really great itinerary that I would certainly like to do. I desperately want to visit Niagara Falls and you’ve included some excellent suggestions. I’d like to take a boat ride or two to experience the falls properly. New York is also on my list but what a good suggestion to visit Buffalo and Ithaca on the way. Possibly a waterfall themed trip if Ithaca has 150 of them!

    • NY is a great state for waterfalls-there are so many of them throughout the state, especially in the Ithaca area. Niagara Falls is an absolute must-it never gets old no matter how many times I visit!

  12. Everyone always forgets that there is SO much more to New York than just the city & Niagara Falls. A road trip through the beautiful parts of the state sounds delightful! thanks for sharing.

  13. I love this guide Melissa! A trip to New York is high on my list when things will get back to normal and since it would be my fourth time, this itinerary would allow me to see more of the area, Letchworth State Park, for example, looks stunning! Well done also with the layout, I really like it.

  14. I am so looking forward to a road trip in New York. I have actually been looking for family-friendly things to do in New York. We planned to visit US for 6 weeks in the Summer and I have been creating an itinerary that will work for the kids, this is surely handy.

  15. We have plans for visiting US for the first time next summer and New York is a city right up there. Your post is so helpful for me to plan and I would now definitely include a road trip now which I had not thought of. I hope things become normal as far as the virus is concerned.

  16. NYC is definitely is everyone’s wishlist, ours too! A road-trip of the New York state with NYC as starting point is something I hope to do in future. I’m super happy that you’ve written it special mention on how to do it with kids, coz with our toddler, we need that guidance! Ithaca Falls is totally gorgeous, totally my kinda place to go! Wouldn’t miss it!

    • I hope you can make it-it is a great experience for all ages. There is so much to do with kids, I’m sure your toddler would love it. Ithaca is a great place or nature lovers-so many beautiful waterfalls.

  17. We frequently travel to NYC and buffalo for football (patriots fan here) and we are always in the hunt for additional activities to fill the weekend, thanks for sharing these!

  18. Your pictures look gorgeous! I would love to visit Letchworth State Park… It looks so beautiful, I bet the best time to do this trip is in the fall! New York state is a must-visit!

  19. I love exploring the Niagara Falls region. My partner is from Syracuse and has family in Buffalo so we spend a lot of time in upstate New York.

  20. Those are such lovely stops along the way. And plenty to do as a family – from nature, hiking to just fun parks. Catskills region was something new that I came across. The natural swimming hole, the yogi bear park – now those bring out the kid in me too.

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