Every passing month highlights a new facet of New York State, drawing millions of visitors to its hills, islands, forest, lakes and festivals.
Some come for scenic hikes in the Adirondacks or the rolling hills of the Catskills, while others gather to listen to the roar of Niagara Falls or find calm escapes on the shores of the Finger Lakes. For some, it's all about the coastal beauty of the Thousand Islands; for others, it's the glamorous allure of the Hamptons and the beaches of Long Island.
Wherever you go in New York State, each season has its own delights. Summer is the sweet spot for outdoor enthusiasts, with endless forest trails and sandy shores, while the fall appeals to those looking for cozy experiences – the smell of fresh apple cider, wrapping up warm to peep at fall colors, and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot.
Winter is for days out on the ski slopes and fireside chats in log cabins, while spring brings its own gentle charm with blooming gardens and perfect temperatures for exploring historical sites. There's no wrong season for a New York State vacation – here's our guide to the best times to visit.
Summertime is the best time for outdoor activities (June–September)
The great outdoors opens its arms wide in the summer months – unofficially running from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This is the peak season for travel and the most expensive time to visit New York State, though the balmy weather lends itself to cost-effective camping.
No matter where you go in the state, temperatures are primed for outdoor adventures. In the Finger Lakes, daytime highs range from a pleasant 70ºF to a balmy 90ºF, and visitors flock to the region's 11 scenic lakes for swimming, sailing, kayaking, fishing and paddle boarding.
Along the eastern shore of Long Island – including in the posh townships of the Hamptons – the beaches fill up as daytime temperatures reach annual highs, with the warmest weather in July and August. Those who prefer getting active will find hiking trails decked out in greenery across the state, especially in the mountainous regions of the Adirondacks, Catskills and the Hudson Valley.
Wherever you are, try to see a portion of the 750-mile Empire State Trail, which opened to cyclists and hikers in 2017. The route stretches from New York City to Rouses Point on the border with Canada, and from Buffalo to Albany, linking some of the state’s most notable sites.
Summer is filled with festivals celebrating anything and everything, from food to music, and even pirates. However, nothing captures the spirit of the state quite like the Great New York State Fair, held at Syracuse’s New York State Fairgrounds at the end of August. Sampling the fair's Italian sausages is a New York rite of passage, even upheld by former presidents.
Come in fall for leaf-peeping and seasonal celebrations (September-November)
There’s no denying that New York State is at the top of its game in fall – the state even has an army of volunteer leaf peepers monitoring its fall foliage from mid-September through November. While crowds congregate at apple and pumpkin farms, hotel rates fall through October before dipping to seasonal lows as November hits.
Summertime warmth is replaced by crisp fall air in late September and a warm coat becomes a necessity in the evening, while wooly hats and scarves make an appearance from November. In the northern and western parts of the state, early signs of the lake effect – when cold air from Canada hits the flat expanse of the Great Lakes – bring an extra chill to areas around Lake Ontario.
But alongside cooling temperatures come celebrations of the season – fall foliage cruises on the Hudson River and in the Thousand Islands, and the ultimate toast to Halloween at the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze in the Hudson Valley and Long Island, with more than 7000 hand-carved pumpkins in wacky formations, including a mock-up Statue of Liberty.
Best places to visit in New York state
Winter is the best time for fun in the snow (December - February)
Winter weather affects this state of 54,5455 sq miles in different ways depending on where you travel. As a rule, upstate areas get their first snowfall in November, while Long Island and areas closer to New York City may not see any flakes until late December or even January.
January tends to be the chilliest month, with temperatures hovering in the 25ºF to 30ºF range during the day and plummeting into the teens or single digits at night. But once the flakes blanket the area, it’s serious snow business, especially in the northern regions.
Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton and Albany compete annually for the honor of receiving the Golden Snowball – awarded to the city with the most snowfall. Seasonal averages range from 60.2 inches in Albany to 123.8 inches in Syracuse, compared to a modest 20 to 35 inches in Long Island.
And these snowy cities aren’t afraid to get out and frolic in the icy conditions, with winter festivals and carnivals running from December through February. This is also prime season in New York's ski resorts, with keen crowds gathering at resorts such as Gore Mountain and Whiteface Mountain.
For those who aren’t inclined to hit the slopes, there are opportunities for snowshoeing, ice-fishing, dog sled tours and hikes to frozen waterfall – from Niagara Falls to the cascades in Letchworth State Park, known as the Grand Canyon of the East. Outside of New York City, hotel prices dip to their lowest in January.
Spring is the best time for visiting historic New York landmarks (March - May)
Spring can be a time of uncertainty when it comes to the weather. There's a gradual thawing accompanied by bouts of rain and even some late flurries of snow. Temperatures hover in the 50s and 60s, though colder and warmer days are common.
Hotel rates rise steadily from winter lows, getting noticeably higher as the warmer weather hits. This is the season to search for deals on accommodation, especially in muddy April and the warming month of May, when pollen counts can be high, discouraging some visitors.
With the variable weather conditions, crowds tend to be scant, so it’s a great time to visit landmarks that usually have long queues. Now is the time to visit top-tier regions like Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes or the Hamptons, or plan an itinerary around the state’s national historic sites following some of the New York Path to History routes.
Spring is also a great time to visit New York City, before the summer crowds descend, and while there are still accommodation deals to be had.
January is for winter sports
As the days start to grow longer after New Year, winter sports enthusiasts find their footing, whether it’s skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or even zip-lining over snow-covered slopes at Hunter Mountain and other New York ski resorts.
Key events: Long Lake Winter Carnival (Long Lake), Salmon River Winter Festival (Pulaski), Discover NY Ski Day
February is for sliding around ice festivals
Winter celebrations take over the Empire State, as locals find myriad ways to get into the snowy spirit of the season. Snow and ice fairs pop up everywhere from the mountains and lakes and all the way out to Long Island.
Key events: Empire State Winter Games (Adirondacks), The Ice Festival (Port Jefferson), Long Island Winterfest (Long Island), Lake George Winter Carnival (Lake George), Saranac Lake Winter Carnival (Saranac Lake), Syracuse Winterfest (Syracuse)
March sees the snows begin to melt and early blooms
A mix-and-match of a month, March hangs on to the winter fun, while garden shows in warmer parts of the state showcase early signs of blossoming spring.
Key events: Plantasia Garden and Landscape Show (Hamburg), Holiday Valley Winter Carnival (Ellicottville), Capital Region Flower & Garden Expo (Troy)
Head to the race track in April
Rev up those engines! April is the start of the race season at Watkins Glen. Sure, there'll be some April showers in the picture, but spring is a prime time to embrace the outdoors, whether that means race days, going for a forest run or tasting local delicacies at a town fair.
Key events: Watkins Glens International Race Track Opening Weekend (Watkins Glen), Easter Bunny Express (Kingston), CNY Maple Festival (Marathon), Countryman Challenge 5K Obstacle Race (Queensbury)
Beat the crowds by coming early in May
The fifth month just might be the state’s best-kept secret. Before the summer crowds converge, mild weather takes a steady hold, making this the ideal time of year to get out on the trails, taking time to smell the flowers.
Key events: Rochester Lilac Festival (Rochester), Hudson Children’s Book Festival (Hudson), Albany Tulip Festival (Albany), Bethpage Air Show (Jones Beach)
June is serious hiking weather
Everything is better outdoors in June. This is the best time to hit the hiking trails in the Adirondacks and Catskills. The Department of Environmental Conservation hosts Outdoors Day activities during the month to encourage everyone to step outdoors.
Key events: Belmont Stakes (Elmont), Long Island Pride (East Meadow), Mattituck Lions Club Strawberry Festival (Mattituck), New York State Blues Festival (Syracuse), Rochester International Jazz Festival (Rochester)
Head to the beach in July
It’s the middle of summer and the heat is on, as music festivals and sporting events fill the calendar. Many take advantage of the fine weather to chill on the state’s beaches, from Coney Island to Montauk.
Key events: Oswego Harborfest (Oswego), Glimmerglass Festival (Cooperstown), Great South Bay Music Festival (Patchogue), Saratoga Race Track Opening Day (Saratoga), Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (Cooperstown)
August is for summer festivals and concerts
The dog days of summer bring a wide variety of events, showcasing the amazing diversity of New York State. It all culminates at the Great New York State Fair, famed as much for its annual butter sculpture and sausages as for its agricultural credentials.
Key events: Lucille Ball Comedy Festival (Jamestown), Bill Johnston’s Pirate Days (Alexandria Bay), Hudson Valley Ribfest (New Paltz), Spiedie Fest (Binghamton), Great New York State Fair (Syracuse)
Leaf peeping season begins in September
September strikes the best of both worlds, as the summer heat dials down and crisp autumn air starts to make an appearance. The first hints of fall color hit the forests, especially in the northern part of the state, as crowds start to make their way to farms and state parks to peek at the foliage.
Key events: Hampton Classic Horse Show (Bridgehampton), Hudson Valley Hot Air Balloon Festival (Union Vale), Niagara County Peach Festival (Lewiston), National Buffalo Wing Festival (Buffalo), Naples Grape Festival (Naples)
October is pumpkin throwing season
Fun in the great outdoors is the name of the game in fall, whether that means frolicking in the fallen leaves, hiking along colorful forest trails or even throwing pumpkins around at the Punkin’ Chunkin’ Festival in Clayton.
Key events: Hudson Valley Garlic Festival (Saugerties), Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze (Croton-on-Hudson), Montauk Fall Festival (Montauk), Punkin’ Chunkin’ (Clayton)
Head indoors for November
As the final autumn leaves fall and trees bare their branches, upstate regions see their first snowfall, while Long Island and areas closer to New York City just feel a chill. But by the month’s end, the whole state is chock-full of holiday spirit.
Key events: Adirondack Stampede Rodeo (Glens Falls), Holiday Valley Beer and Wine Festival Weekend (Ellicottville), LuminoCity Festival (Manhasset), Shimmering Solstice at Old Westbury Gardens (Old Westbury)
Get into the holiday spirit in December
Break out the hats and scarfs and let the holiday season fill you with warm and fuzzy feelings. From traditional carolers to bright illuminations, the Empire State pulls out all the stops to spread the holiday cheer. Visiting New York City for Christmas and New Year is a travel institution, but rates shoot higher than the fireworks – it's cheaper to head upstate for the holidays.
Key events: Saratoga Victorian Streetwalk (Saratoga Springs), Westchester Winter Wonderland (Westchester), Winter Lights Festival (Ithaca), A Frosty Fest (Ulster Park), Dickens Christmas (Skaneateles), Lake Placid Village Stroll (Lake Placid)
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