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A fun weekend getaway in Upstate New York (especially during the Fall!) can be enjoyed on almost any budget. There’s no need to spend an arm and a leg to have a good time, with plenty of things to do that are cheap or even free, whether you’re looking for an escape within a couple of hours of New York City or to venture further away. You’ve got many options from the Hudson Valley to the Adirondacks and beyond.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in New York state, a getaway to Niagara Falls is a place where you can check off a bucket-list experience without breaking the bank. The main reason to go is the view, and many lookouts don’t cost a thing. Enjoy hiking scenic trails, catching the year-round Falls illumination, and there are free summer fireworks shows too. It’s also possible to get a discount pass for the main attractions. The Discovery Pass offers discounted admissions throughout Niagara Falls State Park and the region, with as much as a 35 percent discount on the Observation Tower, Maid of the Mist, Discovery Center, Cave of the Winds, and the Aquarium of Niagara. You’ll get unlimited rides on the Niagara Scenic Trolley, a three-mile guided state park tour that stops at all attractions.
New York’s capital offers lots to do, including a famously beautiful park. The 80-acre Washington Park is filled with tranquil walking paths, ponds, wooded glens, monuments, memorials, and statues. Plus, in May, there will be thousands of colorful tulips to enjoy while summer brings free professional theater productions to the Park Playhouse. Other highlights include tours of the Capitol Building, walking trails at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, and panoramic views of the Catskills, Adirondacks, and Hudson River Valley from the 42nd floor of Corning Tower.
Nestled in the heart of the Hudson Valley, Saratoga Springs is not only famous for its horseracing (something that can be enjoyed for a low admission price), it’s home to over 20 public mineral springs that are spread throughout the city. Most are naturally carbonated, straight out of the ground, and have a unique flavor profile. Taking a self-guided tour to sample them can be a lot of fun and won’t cost a thing. There are parks and gardens to stroll through, a farmer’s market for cheap and tasty local eats, and two public pools in Saratoga Spa State Park.
Charming Hudson is located in the Hudson Valley, right along a scenic stretch of the Hudson River. It’s known for its appealing downtown with many artisan-focused boutiques, antique shops, and retailers selling handcrafted home goods, while farm-to-table eateries, including the renowned James Beard Award-winning Fish & Game, are tucked in between. There are scenic hillsides to explore and trails to hike, while the Thomas Cole National Historic Site offers the chance to learn about one of the country’s first and most influential landscape painters.
Enjoy fabulous scenery, recreational activities, historic landmarks, and plenty more to do in Rochester. If you’re here during baseball season (April through September), grab some cheap seats at Frontier Field and cheer on Major League Baseball’s Rochester Red Wings. There’s a mini-golf course for a little friendly competition and free parks covering 12,000 acres with historical, natural, zoological, horticultural, and geological experiences to enjoy too. When the weather is right, don’t miss Ontario Beach Park, which sits along Lake Ontario’s northwest side, offering sunbathing, swimming, boating, and a century-old carousel.
Less than two hours from New York City, New Paltz is a fantastic weekend getaway from the city if you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature while enjoying one of its many outdoor adventures. Lemon Squeeze is one of the top hiking trails in the state, with the entire trek taking about four hours to complete and leading to awe-inspiring valley views. Afterward, pick up tasty sandwiches from Main Street Bistro for a lakeside picnic at Mohonk Preserve. Other options include bird watching at Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary and picking apples at Dressel Farms.
Located in the heart of the Catskill Mountains along Esopus Creek, Phoenicia offers a ton of fun that includes some of the best fly fishing on the east coast, rapids for tubing thrills during the warmer months, and some of the best fall foliage in New York state. Be sure to check out the mind-bending 56-foot-tall Kaatskills Kaleidoscope, the world’s largest. You can take in a Kaleidoshow, a visual and sound experience, for cheap. Just southeast of town, Mount Tobias offers scenic hikes and other adventures at no cost. Simply exploring the downtown is fun, with art galleries and quaint shops offering everything from rustic antiques to trendy trinkets.
Ithaca sits at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes region, known for its sparkling lakes, lush forests, and vineyard-covered hills. There are plenty of free and cheap things to do, including waterfall hopping with numerous cascades from the famous Ithaca Falls in the Ithaca Falls Natural Area to Taughannock Falls in nearby Taughannock Falls State Park, one of New York’s best state parks. The seasonal weekend market is always a good time, with crafts, produce, baked goods, street food, wine tastings, and live music. Visitors can also take the Sagan Planet Walk, a to-scale replica of the solar system that kids will especially love, bouncing between the moon, the sun, and more while tracing the path of the stars.
You can get to Long Beach in just an hour by train from New York City and it’s one of the cheapest weekend getaways from the city. Once you arrive, you’ll feel as if you’re worlds away. Enjoy a five-mile-long stretch of beach along with the thriving local arts and music scene, which includes the Arts in the Plaza Festival. It features locally handcrafted works of art and live music on Saturdays between Memorial Day weekend and Halloween. The Shoregasboard Food Truck Market offers lots of tasty, cheap eats, including famously delicious tacos, while the boardwalk is an excellent place for a seaside stroll to burn off all those calories.
Lake George is the focus in the town of Lake George, the perfect place to spend a warm day, with picturesque beaches and pristine water to splash around in, or rent a lakefront cabin for a fun weekend away. Usher Park Beach and Shepard Park Beach are both free of charge. Shepard even hosts free concerts in its amphitheater almost every night throughout the summer. Bring a cooler, a blanket, or lounge chairs and enjoy the entire day here. Or, if you’re up for a hike, head to Sleeping Beauty Mountain and look forward to plenty of rewarding views. In town, it’s fun to window shop and people watch while walking along Canada Street, which also offers delicious cheap eats at places like Taqueria Paloma.
Located in the enchanting Finger Lakes region, Geneva is surrounded by tranquil countryside with many lakes, vineyards, forests, and farmland. A small town with a rich farming history, there are many breweries, wineries, and restaurants that grow their own products or source them locally, while Seneca Lake State Park at the north end of Seneca Lake is the place to be for enjoying the outdoors. Picnic, swim, hike or bike the trails, let the kids have fun at the playground and sprayground with its more than 100 water spray jets, and so much more. History enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Johnston House and Rose Hill Mansion, which are open to the public for a low admission price. Several breweries and wineries host tasting rooms for inexpensive samples, and some include live music to enjoy with it.
Narrowsburg and the Upper Delaware River Valley
The Upper Delaware River Valley is a nature lover’s dream, a protected wilderness area inhabited by white-tailed deer, beavers, and black bears. Watch for the bald eagles that soar overhead and enjoy some of the best fly fishing in the northeast on the Delaware River. Rainbow trout flourish here, but you can also catch brown trout or smallmouth bass year-round, although springtime is prime time. Kayaking, rafting, canoeing, and glamping are all possible here, along with scenic drives that deliver breathtaking views of colorful foliage in the autumn. Narrowsburg, a riverside village, is one of the top spots for enjoying it all, with a wide range of eateries for nearly all budgets, fun shops to explore, walking trails, and museums. Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History is a re-creation of a colonial fort staffed with period-dressed re-enactors, while accurate displays provide an extraordinary glimpse of life during the country’s early years, both inside and outside the walls of the fort.