With the mention of "New York" many often think of Times Square and the hustle and bustle of one of the world's busiest cities. Beyond the city life, New York State's vast upstate countryside is home to The Adirondacks, expansive forests and its fair share of notable national parks.

From the Statue of Liberty to Niagara Falls, these are our top historic parks and monuments. 

An old war cannon remains at Saratoga National Historical Park, Stillwater, New York
Outdoors lovers will appreciate the Saratoga National Historical Park's 100-mile challenge © Enrico Della Pietra / Shutterstock

Get your history fix at Saratoga National Historical Park

The Saratoga National Historical Park in Stillwater, NY holds activities and attractions for travelers during any season. The significance of the property dates back to the Battle of Saratoga. During a fall evening in the 1770s, American forces defeated the British army, forcing them to surrender and locking in crucial foreign support.

Although the park is known for its rich history (including the Schuyler House, Saratoga Monument and Victory Woods), it’s also a popular destination for cycling at any level. 

Serious hikers and bikers can take part in the 100-mile challenge in the park. Anyone can join, all you need to do is just log your miles (walking, hiking or biking) in the park and once you hit that magic number you’ll earn “a special reward” and some serious bragging rights. 

For some spectacular views of the Hudson River Valley, climb the 188 steps to the 155ft stone Saratoga Monument, on a clear day visitors can see for miles. It’s especially beautiful during autumn. 

Hudson River Valley’s top experiences

A view of Niagara Falls on a sunny day from the New York side
The New York-side view of Niagara Falls © Marcio Jose Bastos Silva / Shutterstock

Get a little misty at Niagara Falls State Park 

We could talk about the beautifully landscaped state park (the country's first) which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1880s or the picturesque hiking trails and kitschy trinkets you'll find in the city of Niagara Falls, but let's be real, it's all about that stunning natural wonder.

With 150,000 gallons of water per second plunging more than 1000ft, Niagara Falls is truly a sight to behold. Though some believe the Canadian side offers better views, the New York side is pretty darn impressive.  

Hop on the all-electric Maid of the Mist ferry to get that up close and very wet view of the falls (don't worry, you'll get a poncho). The seasonal schedule changes from week to week so be sure to check the site before you head out.  

For a somewhat drier option, visitors can head to the base of the Niagara gorge and take the elevator to the Observation Tower (or the steps to the Crow's Nest) for unobstructed panoramic views of the falls and the surrounding area.  

And if you're curious to see what the Canadian side has to offer, it's an easy walk across the Rainbow Bridge – just be sure to bring your passport.

Pay your respects at the African Burial Ground National Monument

A sacred space in Lower Manhattan, the African Burial Ground National Monument is the largest known burial ground in North America for both free and enslaved Africans, according to the National Parks Service website. As the city developed and grew, the resting place was essentially forgotten until the remains of 419 Africans and 500 artifacts were found in 1991.

It's estimated that more than 15,000 Africans were laid to rest in these hallowed grounds from the 1690s to the 1790s. The re-discovery shed light on the little-known lives of Africans (both enslaved and free). 

The African Burial Ground was designated a New York City and National Historic Landmark in 1993 and a National Historic Monument in 2006.  

The visitor’s center is located on the first floor of the Ted Weiss Federal Building in Lower Manhattan. The center is home to five public pieces of artwork featuring work from Frank Bender, a forensic artist and other talented individuals; there’s also educational exhibits and a 20-minute video.

The outside memorial, known as “The Ancestral Chamber” is a granite structure with one entrance resembling the bow of a ship while the other entrance is a spiral platform that descends into a granite courtyard. There are African symbols etched into the structure. 

The park is free to visit with ranger-led tours available

Jumping fountains in the summer at Castle Clinton National Monument, a circular sandstone fort Battery Park, New York City
The Castle Clinton National Monument was originally built to protect New York Harbor from the British in 1812 © Shanshan0312 / Shutterstock

Enjoy NYC views at Castle Clinton National Monument

Although the Castle Clinton National Monument was originally developed to keep people out, it ironically now invites millions of people in to visit. Located at the south end of Manhattan in Battery Park along the water, the monument represents where New York City began. 

Originally built to protect New York Harbor from the British in 1812, Castle Garden (as it was known back then) has been used as an opera house, entertainment center, an immigrant processing center and the home of the New York City Aquarium (relocated to Coney Island in 1941).    

Visitors can tour the circular red brick building with a park ranger year-round to learn about the history of the monument and its role in shaping New York City. 

Sightseers can even hop on one of the ferries leaving from the area to go to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Get groovy at Governors Island National Monument

Governors Island, located less than a mile off the tip of southern Manhattan, has become one of the most popular spots for New York City events. From huge music concerts like the Governors Ball to Urban Farm tours, Governors Island has come a long way since being an outpost to protect New York City from naval attacks.

Relics of its military history can still be explored with self-guided tours of Castle Williams (erected in 1811) and Fort Jay (erected in 1796). Governors Island was a major command headquarters of the US Army from 1794 to 1996.  

Today, visitors can rent bikes, wall climb, play mini-golf and even zipline high above the island. Public art like Cabin by Rachel Whiteread, Not For Nutten by Duke Riley and the Yankee Hanger by Mark Handforth are scattered throughout the island. Complete the evening by relaxing in the vibrant, fragrant Lavender Field on Governors Island.

The Stone Cottage at Val-Kill, the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site in Dutchess County, New York
The Stone Cottage at Val-Kill served as First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt's meeting place for friends, media and visitors to New York © Linda Harms / Shutterstock

Stroll the trails at the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site

Nearly two hours north of Manhattan in the small town of Hyde Park sits the beautiful home of American political figure and former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Affectionately called Val-Kill, the stone cottage served as a meeting place for friends, media and visitors to New York. It became a National Historic Site in 1977. 

Today, visitors can explore the beautiful trails and gardens dotted throughout the property. Use the pond to take reflective photos of the home from the bridge before taking a tour of Val-Kill Cottage and Stone Cottage on the grounds. The only way to visit is via a guided tour. 

New York’s best road trips 

Tour the Women’s Rights National Historical Park

The significance of the fight for civil rights needs no explanation. It paved the way for women’s rights and in Seneca Falls, New York you can visit the Women’s Rights National Historical Park marking the legacy of the first Woman's Rights Convention in 1848. The park tells the story of the fight for women's equality and civil rights, and is significant when it comes to issues women still unfortunately face today. 

Visitors can take ranger-led tours of the historical park, visit the Wesleyan Chapel, the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention held in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s House – a prominent figure in the women’s rights movement and the M’Clintock House – where the Declaration of Sentiments was drafted. 

But it’s the 100ft flowing bluestone water wall at Declaration Park where the text of the Declaration of Sentiments is etched alongside the signatures of the women in attendance that provides a scope to the importance of this site in American history.   

USA, New York State, New York City, Aerial view of city with Statue of Liberty at sunset
The Statue of Liberty Museum is worth the visit, detailing the fascinating history of the statue and the place to find Lady Liberty’s original torch © Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Take a ferry to the Statue of Liberty National Monument

Is there a more iconic site that represents New York than the Statue of Liberty? A symbol of hope and freedom, Liberty Enlightening the World has been welcoming millions since officially opening to the public in 1886. 

Visit Lady Liberty on the 12 acres of Liberty Island in the New York Harbor. Reserve tickets online to avoid the massive lines – the more access you want, the more you’ll have to pay.  Guided ranger tours or self-guided audio tours are available. Don’t forget to check out the Statue of Liberty Museum where you’ll see Lady Liberty’s original torch and a life-sized replica of the statue’s face in its original bronze form. 

New York’s best hiking trails

Get presidential at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site

In Oyster Bay, New York, the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site was home to Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, until he passed away in 1919. Nicknamed his “Summer White House,” the house is 83 acres of picturesque views and well-crafted buildings. Tour the home and the grounds before enjoying a picnic, taking in the scenery and the beautiful architecture in Sagamore Hill.

On a clear evening, visitors can enjoy the sunset from Theodore Roosevelt's piazza. Stroll around Eel Creek and Cold Spring Harbor, a trail that leads to amazing waterfront views and salt marshes. Hike through the woodsy trains and explore the forest in Sagamore Hill.

The path to the Fire Island Lighthouse, Fire Island National Seashore, Long Island, New York
Fire Island National Seashore is a peaceful refuge on the edge of Long Island © Michael Rega / Shutterstock

Escape to Fire Island National Seashore

Take in the crashing waves, sand dunes and nature views on a visit to Fire Island National Seashore in Ocean Beach. Throughout history, Fire Island has been a staple for plant life and wildlife, offering visitors to the shore peace and divine solitude. While there, take a walk to the lighthouse with your feet in the sand for a serene break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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The interior of Harriett Tubman's home is closed to visitors but all are free to stroll the grounds © Zack Frank / Shutterstock

Tour the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park

The Harriet Tubman National Historic Park in Auburn, New York celebrates Harriet Tubman's astonishing legacy, forever enmeshed in American history. In her lifetime, Tubman saved nearly 300 people from a life of slavery. In the mid-1800s, Tubman led her family from Canada to Auburn, New York, where she continued to push for equal human rights until she passed away in 1913. 

Visitors can pay their respects at her gravesite which is located a short distance from the church Tubman attended for 20 years – Thompson Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. There’s also a visitor center and the Tubman Home for the Aged. Though the interior of Tubman’s home is closed to visitors, you can stroll the grounds and check out the exterior of Tubman’s residence. 

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