Each distinct season has its appeal, but the best time to visit New York State is late summer through fall, during August's long, languid days when lake waters are warm, through the time when the annual fall foliage color show begins. Truly, though, there is no wrong time to make your way upstate. Time your visit based on your interests, whether you're dreaming of a ski vacation in the Catskills or Adirondacks, a springtime visit to see Albany's famous tulips or Rochester's magnificent lilacs, or a Fourth of July fireworks display over Niagara Falls. If a visit to the Big Apple is in your plans, the best time to visit New York City is during the December holidays, when Christmas magic is brought to life.
This guide will help you make any time the best time to see and experience New York State's many natural and constructed wonders.
Weather in New York State
New York's weather varies, both within the state and with each turn of the calendar page. Temperatures and humidity peak in the summer months, with highs edging up into the 90s F. Most days are more pleasantly warm in the high 70s to mid-80s F. Expect cooler temperatures in the mountains.
Fall is the prettiest season wherever you roam. With the heat and stickiness of summer gone, it would be the ideal time for outdoor activities even without the bonus of vibrant colors, which begin to appear in late September and peak in progression, starting in the higher elevations and northern regions of the state and ending in late October on Long Island and in New York City's parks. Daytime temperatures are typically in the comfortable 60s to low 70s F, with nighttime temperatures dipping lower.
In the winter, snowfall is particularly heavy in the snow belt along Great Lakes Erie and Ontario. The city of Buffalo, on Lake Erie's eastern shore, is known for getting socked with snow. The Tug Hill Plateau, a region tucked between Lake Ontario and the Adirondack Mountains, gets the most snow of all: an annual average of more than 200 inches. There's no shortage of snow for skiing and snowmobiling in the Adirondacks, and you'll actually find terrific skiing in practically every region of New York. Winter temperatures are predictably in the low teens to low 30s F.
Spring is New York's most variable season, with temperatures running anywhere from the 30s to the 60s F in April, then trending warmer in May. While it's mud season in the mountains, this is a lovely time to watch the landscape turn green and flowers bloom in the river valleys. As snow melts, the state's waterfalls, from mighty Niagara to the cascades of Watkins Glen, are at their most dramatic.
Tourist Attraction Availability
Although the vast majority of New York's top attractions are open year-round, it's important, as you're planning your trip, to be aware that some destinations are seasonal in nature. For example, Saratoga Springs's famed horse-racing track operates only from mid-July through Labor Day weekend. In summer resort towns, the number of available activities dwindles during the winter off-season. In Lake George, for example, Fort Ticonderoga, the Lake George Steamboat Company, and Six Flags Great Escape shut down, but there's still fun to be found at Six Flags Great Escape Lodge & Indoor Waterpark. New York also has destinations that are at their most alluring in winter including Lake Placid, which twice hosted the Winter Olympics. And don't overlook ski resorts in the summer, as many have added off-season enticements like ziplines, mountain biking trails, chairlift rides, and festivals. Late summer and fall are the best times to visit if you want to be sure museums, tours, and sights are likely to be open.
Popular Events and Festivals in New York State
It's home to the city that never sleeps, so you can be sure there's always something happening in New York State as well, particularly during the warm-weather months. Plan ahead if you'll be visiting a city or town during a major event, as accommodations may be scarce and rates at a premium. Be aware of the calendar of official state holidays, too, as long holiday weekends tend to get more people on the road to upstate destinations.
A few iconic annual events that should be on your bucket list if you love New York include:
- Lilac Festival, Rochester (May)
- Tulip Festival, Albany (May)
- Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend, Cooperstown (July)
- Finger Lakes Wine Festival, Watkins Glen (July)
- Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, Jamestown (August)
- The Great New York State Fair, Syracuse (late August-early September)
- National Buffalo Wing Festival, Buffalo (September)
- Adirondack Balloon Festival, Queensbury (September)
- Naples Grape Festival, Naples (September)
- The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, Croton-on-Hudson (September-November)
New York in the Summer
Fans of the "Hamilton" musical know that going upstate for the summer has appealed to city dwellers for centuries. This means New York visitors will find a wealth of well-established and storied vacation spots, from the Hamptons and Long Island's beaches to Adirondack great camps like The Point that are more luxurious than rustic. Most of the grand hotels in the Catskills (think "Dirty Dancing") are no more, but boutique inns are renewing interest in funky destinations like Woodstock and, across the river, Hudson. This is also the season to celebrate America's summer pastime with a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown or to treat the kids to a theme park vacation: The planned 2021 opening of LEGOLAND New York will put Goshen, New York, on the summer vacation map for many tri-state families.
New York in the Fall
Many regions of New York State are at their most stunning when fall colors erupt, and you'll love snapping photos against a backdrop of red, orange, and gold. Take an autumn day trip, enjoy a scenic country drive, or plan to stay a while to really appreciate the season's splendor. The Hudson River Valley, with its historic homes and walking bridges like Hudson River Skywalk and Walkway Over the Hudson, is a popular destination for “leaf peepers,” and you'll want to make reservations well in advance for peak mid-October weekends. Foliage begins to turn earlier in the Adirondacks and far northern parts of the state than it does in southern New York, so you may want to time your trip for late September or early October if you're bound for the mountains. Fall is harvest season, too, and a perfect time for a stay in New York's Finger Lakes wine-growing region.
New York in the Winter
You may find some bargains on hotel packages and airfares to New York State airports during the slower months of January to March. Of course, those months come with the greatest possibility of snowy weather, so 'tis the season to embrace outdoor winter sports or to snuggle by a fire with the one you love. Choose Lake Placid as your winter vacation destination, even if you don't ski. Thanks to its history as an Olympic Games host, Lake Placid offers the public the rare chance to experience bobsledding and to skate on Olympic ice. The Lake Placid Toboggan Chute is exhilarating fun, too.
New York in the Spring
Spring is a shoulder season in New York, and if you can get away in that window between optimal skiing and flowers in bloom, you'll score the best deals of the year on hotel and bed-and-breakfast room rates. What will you do? If you've never been to Niagara Falls—go! Open 24/7/365 and illuminated every night, the falls are a rush to see, and you can even experience the wild water from one of Niagara Jet Adventures's enclosed jet boats. Spring is also an uncrowded time to visit museums and attractions in cities like Rochester, Buffalo, and Albany. Another idea: Download the Official New York State Craft Beer App, and start visiting craft breweries and collecting stamps on your virtual passport to earn free beer gear in time for summer barbecues and picnics.