Perhaps because New York City is -- despite the giant green oasis of Central Park -- the ultimate in asphalt adventure, New York State doesn't quite get its due as an outdoors destination. But New York is much more rural, mountainous, and crisscrossed with water than many people realize, and it's a splendid, incredibly diverse state with terrain and opportunities to satisfy the most discriminating outdoors enthusiasts. New York is, after all, where the American Conservation Movement began, and the state has benefited from the active presence of committed environmentalists like native son Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the U.S.
New York has 176 state and 24 national parks. Niagara Falls State Park was designated the first state park in the U.S., and state parks and forest preserves in the Adirondack and Catskill mountains were declared "forever wild" by the New York State Constitution. Adirondack Park (www.visitadirondacks.com), totaling more than 6 million acres of public and private lands -- roughly one-fifth of the state -- ranks as the largest park in the country.
From Long Island and Great Lakes beaches to Adirondack lakes and Catskill rivers, visitors have myriad opportunities for water fun, including swimming, boating, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. The Catskill region is famous among anglers as one of the fly-fishing capitals of the world.
The rugged mountains and dense forests that dominate upstate New York beckon avid hikers, mountain bikers, and winter-sports fans. In the Catskills, 35 peaks reach 3,500 feet, while in the Adirondacks, more than 40 mountains rise above 4,000 feet. Lake Placid has hosted the Winter Olympics, and ski mountains in the Catskills draw enthusiasts from across the Northeast, as do the hundreds of miles of terrain for cross-country skiing.
In warm months, New York State plays host to professional golf and tennis championships, including the U.S. Open, and an impressive roster of public and private courses make the state one of the nation's best for golf.
The website of the I Love New York Travel and Tourism board -- www.iloveny.com/Outdoors/.aspx -- contains exhaustive listings of parks, outfitters, and facilities for outdoors adventure.
When You Don't Go It Alone -- The New York State Outdoor Guides Association (NYSOGA) offers licensed guide services for guided wilderness trips -- whether your interests are hunting, fishing, rock and ice climbing, or cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Contact NYSOGA, 211 Saranac Ave., #150, Lake Placid, NY 12946 (tel. 866/4-NYSOGA; www.nysoga.com).
New York is blessed with thousands of miles of rivers and streams, as well as 500 miles of the New York State Canal System, hundreds of lakes, and the Long Island Sound. From Saratoga Lake to the Delaware River and the 11 scenic Finger Lakes, there are plenty of great opportunities for boating enthusiasts.
On the New York State Canal System (www.nyscanals.gov), you can cruise the waterway's 57 locks. The canal system stretches more than 500 miles and is normally navigable from May through mid-November. There are four canals, all easily accessible by boat. From the south, the Hudson River opens onto the Erie Canal; farther north is the Champlain Canal. The Erie Canal travels east to west, with access to the Great Lakes from the Oswego Canal or the western end of the Erie Canal, with access to Lake Erie. The Cayuga-Seneca Canal connects with the Erie Canal in central New York, allowing access to the Finger Lakes region.
You can rent an authentic, old-fashioned canal boat for a few days or a week. For more information on tour boat and cruise operators, canal passes, boats for hire, and the many sites and attractions (including state parks, canal villages, museums, and urban cultural parks) along the canal system, contact the New York State Canal Corporation, 200 Southern Blvd., P.O. Box 189, Albany, NY 12201-0189 (tel. 800/4-CANAL-4; www.nyscanals.gov). The organization puts out the Cruising Guide to the New York State Canal System, which you can purchase by calling tel. 800/422-1825. Individual counties also put out canal-specific tourism brochures. See chapters 12 and 14 for additional regional canal information.
Several cruises and riverboat tours are offered along the majestic Hudson River, passing some of the great estates, historic river towns, and even West Point Military Academy. Another option is to rent a houseboat in the Thousand Islands and sail the St. Lawrence River, which makes its way around an estimated 1,000 to 1,800 small islands. For more information, contact the Thousand Islands International Council (tel. 800/8-ISLAND; www.visit1000islands.com/visitorinfo).
Fans of regattas may want to check out the annual New York YC Regatta, which celebrated its 150th year in 2004. Lake Champlain, on the New York/Vermont border, plays host to a number of regattas throughout the season.
The free New York State Boater's Guide is available from New York State Parks Marine and Recreational Vehicles, Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12238 (tel. 518/474-04545). You may also want to visit www.nysparks.state.ny.us/boating/resource.asp, where you'll find a link to the New York State Boater's Guide, a reference guide detailing the rules and regulations for boating in New York State.
New York State has more than 500 public and privately owned campgrounds across the state. Above all, the wilderness, forests, lakes, and rivers of the Adirondack and Catskill mountains offer the best backwoods camping in the state. The Hudson Valley and Finger Lakes regions, while not as remote, also offer fine camping with easy access to towns and regional attractions. The Adirondack Camping Association (www.adirondackcampgrounds.com) is a good resource for campsite information in that region. Ausable Point Campground (tel. 518/561-7080) sits on a stunning patch of land overlooking Lake Champlain, with 123 sites. But to really get away from everyone, reserve a spot on one of the Saranac Lake Islands, Saranac Lake (tel. 518/891-3170), and prepare to canoe there. Detailed listings of campgrounds large and small are available at tel. 800/CALL-NYS or www.iloveny.com/WheretoStay/CampgroundRV.aspx, www.nysparks.com, and www.gocampingamerica.com.
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) operates 52 campgrounds in the Adirondack and Catskill state parks and publishes the free booklet Camping in New York State Forest Preserves. For camping reservations and additional information, call tel. 518/457-2500, and for reservations, contact Reserve America (tel. 800/456-CAMP; www.reserveamerica.com). Guidebooks include what some consider to be the bible of New York camping, The Campgrounds of New York: A Guide to the State Parks and Public Campgrounds (North Country Books), and Adventures in Camping: An Introduction to Adirondack Backpacking (North Country Books).
Canoeing, Kayaking & Rafting
New York State has thousands of miles of waterways for canoeing, kayaking, and rafting. In the Adirondacks alone, there are 1,200 miles of rivers designated wild, scenic, and recreational -- little-changed since first used by Native Americans. One of the most popular routes is the Adirondack Canoe Route, which begins at Old Forge and flows 140 miles through the Fulton Chain of Lakes to Raquette Lake and north to the Saranac Lakes through Long Lake and then on to Tupper Lake, or east to Blue Mountain Lake. Nick's Lake is excellent for beginning paddlers; the north branch of Moose River is more challenging. Another great spot for canoeing is the St. Regis Canoe Area near Saranac Lake, with 57 interconnecting lakes and ponds. For information about canoeing in the Adirondacks, contact the Department of Environmental Conservation, Preserve Protection and Management, 50 Wolf Rd., Albany, NY 12233-4255 (tel. 518/457-7433; www.dec.ny.gov), the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks (www.protectadks.org), or the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council (tel. 518/846-8016; www.visitadirondacks.com). The Delaware River in the Catskills is one of the longest (73 miles) and cleanest free-flowing rivers in the Northeast, and it's excellent for tubing, rafting, kayaking, and canoeing. The historic Hudson River, especially in the Mid-Hudson Valley around Cold Spring, is excellent for kayaking. For information, contact the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (tel. 570/685-4871; www.nps.gov/upde), which has a 24-hour River Hotline recording from April to October: tel. 845/252-7100.
Guided white-water rafting trips of varying difficulty, lasting a single day or even less, are available on several New York State rivers. White water is the most challenging in the springtime, although some companies offer rides throughout the summer and fall. In western New York, excellent rafting is done on Cattaraugus Creek through Zoar Valley or the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park. In the Adirondacks, the Black River near Watertown is best for advanced rafters, while Indian Lake is considered "the Whitewater Capital of New York State." Moose River is another favorite of experts, while the Sacandaga River is a long and serene trip through the Adirondacks with an exciting finish.
A detailed list of canoeing, kayaking, and rafting operators is available on www.iloveny.com. You can also visit the DEC Bureau of Public Lands website at www.dec.state.ny.us, or call tel. 518/402-9428.
The trout streams and rivers of the southwestern Catskills, such as Beaverkill and the Delaware River, are among the best in North America -- or the world, for that matter -- for fly-fishing. For additional information, contact the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce (tel. 800/642-4443; www.delawarecounty.org) or Sullivan County Visitors Association (tel. 800/882-CATS; www.scva.net).
The Hudson River is very good for striped bass and trout fishing from mid-March to the end of May. For more information, visit www.hudsonriver.com/stripers.htm.
At the eastern end of Long Island, Montauk is a sport-fishing capital known for its shark fishing (peaks in late June). Sport-fishing boat rentals and charters are available. For a list of fishing charters and outfitters, see www.montauk-ny.worldweb.com. Charter fishing on Lake Ontario, a celebrated freshwater fishery, brings in large chinook and Atlantic salmon, as well as brown, rainbow, and lake trout; walleye; and smallmouth bass. Contact the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council (tel. 800/338-7890).
The Thousand Islands isn't a world-class fishing area for nothing. Grab a charter in tiny Clayton -- the river serves up walleye, pike, perch, muskellunge (get your muscles ready -- these grow up to 35 lb.), and bass. In Eastern Lake Ontario, you'll hook onto salmon, lake trout, steelhead, and walleye. For information on fishing charters and guides, see www.visit1000islands.com.
State fishing licenses are required for anyone age 16 and over for fishing in New York freshwater. Many tackle shops and fishing outfitters issue them, as do town clerk offices. Call tel. 518/357-2049 or visit www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/fishing.html for more information on fishing in New York State, and www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/365.html for specific information on permits. Guidebooks on fishing in New York State include Flyfisher's Guide to New York (Wilderness Adventures Press); Gone Fishin': The 100 Best Spots in New York (Rutgers University Press); and Good Fishing in the Catskills: A Complete Angler's Guide (Countryman Press).
New York State boasts a preponderance of courses routinely rated by golfing magazines and organizations to be among the country's best. There are more than 600 public and private golf courses, many in gorgeous natural settings. Some of the nation's most prestigious golf tournaments, including the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, are routinely held in New York (most recently, the 2009 U.S. Open was held at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale). Championship status has been awarded to James Baird and Rockland Lake North in the Hudson Valley, Saratoga Spa and Battle Island in Fulton, Chenango Valley in Binghamton, Green Lakes in Fayetteville, Beaver Island in Grand Island, and Montauk Downs and Bethpage on Long Island.
But throughout the state, in the Catskill region, Long Island, Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, Adirondacks, western New York, and the area around Saratoga Springs, there are dozens of superb courses for golfers of all abilities. Many of the large resort hotels in regions like the Catskills and Adirondacks have their own golf courses, many of them quite good.
For information about golfing in state parks, contact New York State Parks (tel. 518/474-0456; www.nysparks.state.ny.us/golf). For complete listings of courses across the state, visit www.iloveny.com/Outdoors/Golfing.aspx and www.golfguideweb.com/newyork/newyork.html. Golf fans and those looking to play extensively on a trip to New York would do well to consult the New York State Golf Association (www.nysga.org), which maintains a ratings list of courses.
Hunting, especially big-game hunting, is big with New Yorkers upstate and more than a few visitors. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that 700,000 New Yorkers and more than 50,000 nonresidents hunt in the state for a large variety of wildlife, including big game, small game, game birds, and fur bearers. Small- and big-game licenses are required in New York State.
For information on hunting in the Adirondacks and Catskills, the two principal hunting destinations, check out the information on seasons, regulations, and more at tel. 518/402-8924 or www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/hunting.html.
Elmira, in the southern Finger Lakes region, is where the first 13 national soaring contests in the U.S. were held, which is why the city is sometimes called "the Soaring Capital of America." You can hop aboard a glider or soaring plane at the Harris Hill Soaring Center (tel. 607/734-0641 or 607/734-2752; www.harrishillsoaring.org), which offers soaring rides over the rolling countryside of Chemung County, and check out the National Soaring Museum (tel. 607/734-3128; www.soaringmuseum.org) in Elmira. If you're more interested in motorized flight, you can take to the air in a PT-17 warplane at the National Warplane Museum (tel. 607/739-8200; www.wingsofeagles.com), in Horseheads, near Elmira. For amazing balloon rides (Apr-Oct) over one of the state's most beautiful parks, contact Balloons Over Letchworth (tel. 585/493-3340; www.balloonsoverletchworth.com) for a trip high above Letchworth State Park.
The sheer white cliffs of the Shawangunk Mountains, colloquially called the 'Gunks, near Minnewaska Preserve in the Catskill/Hudson Valley region, allow for some of the best rock climbing on the East Coast -- but this is probably not the place for beginners. Experienced rock climbers will delight in more than 1,000 technical climbing routes. For articles, route suggestions, and information on climbing, see www.gunks.com or www.mohonkpreserve.org. There is also good rock climbing in and around Lake Placid and Lake George in the Adirondacks; contact the Adirondack Mountain Club in Lake George (tel. 518/668-4447; www.adk.org) for locations and outfitters.
Skiing & Winter Sports
Though New York may not be in the league of Vermont or New Hampshire for classic East Coast skiing, it has a considerable number of downhill skiing areas and quite respectable mountains appealing to expert skiers, novices, and families. You'll find the east's only Olympic mountain (and its greatest vertical drop) at Whiteface Mountain, Wilmington (tel. 877/SKI-FACE; www.whiteface.com), just outside of Lake Placid. The top downhill areas overall are in the Catskills region. Hunter Mountain in Hunter (tel. 888/HUNTER-MTN; www.huntermtn.com) and Windham Mountain in Windham (tel. 518/734-4300; www.windhammountain.com) have plenty of good trails for practiced skiers, but now also cater to beginners and families. Belleayre Mountain in Highmount (tel. 800/942-6904; www.belleayre.com) has the highest skiable peak and longest trail in the Catskills, while Plattekill Mountain (tel. 800/NEED-2-SKI or 607/326-3500; www.plattekill.com) is a small '50s-style resort. There are also good skiing mountains in the Adirondacks and near the Hudson Valley and Finger Lakes regions. Lift tickets are in line with those of most ski resorts in the Northeast (that is to say, not inexpensive), though many offer very good ski packages, especially for beginners.
Cross-country trails are scattered throughout the state, from the grounds of historic homesteads to state parks. Rural areas like the Adirondacks, Catskills, and Finger Lakes couldn't be better for Nordic skiing, but virtually anywhere you go in upstate New York, you'll find trails. Sections of the massive 559-mile Finger Lakes Trail (tel. 585/658-9320; www.fingerlakestrail.org) are equipped for cross-country skiing.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.