Winter is almost here and it's time to start planning your next adventure in New York State! Will you opt to head outdoors for snow-related activities like skiing the greatest vertical east of the Rockies or ziplining over snow-covered pines? For less extreme activities, get into the holiday spirit during a Victorian stroll or experience a brilliant light show. Whatever you choose, take advantage of the winter wonderlands and check out these must-do activities on our New York State Winter Bucket List!
Remember to social distance and wear a mask as required by state guidelines. Call ahead and check websites and social media to make sure attractions are open and available.
The skiing at Whiteface Mountain (pictured) in New York’s Adirondacks is simply superlative. Offering the greatest vertical drop east of the Rocky Mountains, as well as terrain that is both family– and beginner-friendly, 2020 is the time to experience skiing and riding at Whiteface. A newly renovated base lodge offers plenty of space for après-ski gatherings, as well as a Taste NY Cafe. While visiting the Adirondacks, don’t miss a stop at the Olympic Sports Complex in nearby Lake Placid, two-time Winter Olympics host. Go cross-country skiing or experience the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of riding a bobsled. This February, don’t miss the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. Festivities kick off February 13-23, 2020 and include free skating and skiing with Olympians, pond hockey tournaments, learn-to-curl workshops, the lighting of the 1980 Olympic cauldron, and more.
Go Through the Looking Glass in Corning (Finger Lakes)
Credit: @corningmuseum on Instagram
The Corning Museum of Glass is a must-visit this winter. Offering live glass blowing demonstrations and make-your-own glass experiences, this hands-on museum brings the history of glass alive in exhibits such as Glass Innovation in Automotive Design, In Sparkling Company: Glass and Social Life in Britain During the 1700s, and many more. Discover the 3,500-year-old history of glass right here in the Finger Lakes. After touring the exhibits, make your own special glassware to take home!
Luckily, there’s no prerequisite to participate in après-ski festivities. You don’t need to spend the day waiting in lift lines or hurling yourself down a steep slope in order to enjoy the atmosphere that prevails as the sun sets in ski towns across New York State. This winter, head to Becks Tavern next to Gore Mountain for German-inspired fare. Gore offers night skiing, and cross-country skiing for those who prefer to leave their heels free. At Bristol Mountain (pictured) in the Finger Lakes, they’ll host freestyle aerial championships, and some stellar après-ski festivities at Satellite Lounge this winter season. Hunter Mountain has a reputation for being a hot spot for winter fun, and the Jagerberg Beer Hall and Alpine Tavern at the base of the ski resort is a favorite après-ski spot for locals and visitors.
Fly over the landscape in a snow kite (Long Island)
Credit: @nykitecenter on Instagram
Forget skiing and snowboarding: snowkiting (pictured) is winter’s most exciting adventure sport. Use the power of the wind to fly across snow-covered fields. NY Kite Center on Long Island offers intro classes for $200 that cover learning how to read the wind and fly, how to rig your kit, and stay safe. All gear is included in the lesson.
Speaking of learning how to fly, the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City is a must-visit. Discover the history of aviation and space flight in the place where so many airfields once stood that it became known as the “cradle of aviation.” See over 75 air and space craft, including a Blue Angels aircraft, hot air balloons, the 13th Lunar Module, and an extensive Apollo artifact collection featuring spacecraft and more. Museum rates are $16 for adults and $14 for children and seniors. Open Tuesday-Sunday, from 9:30 am–5 pm.
Whether you’re keen to participate in an amateur sporting event or love watching world-class athletes race, winter in New York has a competitive side. The Adirondacks, home to Lake Placid, a two-time host of the Winter Olympics, offers a series of unique winter sports events this year. The thrill of bobsled and skeleton competitions made way for Lake Placid in 2019 with the BMW World Cup Bobsled and Skeleton, and lugers hurled down icy tracks at the Viessman World Cup luge event. Head to Central Park on January 26 for the Central Park Winter Jam. Learn how to ski, go sledding, and more.
Go snowmobiling through winter wonderlands (Various Regions)
Discover the wintry landscape on a snowmobile as you glide along the more than 8,000 miles of snowmobile corridor trails that crisscross New York State. Head to the Adirondacks’ Tug Hill area for hundreds of miles of groomed trails, as well as trailside restaurants and hotels that cater to the winter sledding community. In the Catskills, a more backcountry sledding experience awaits. Rip Van Winkle Ranch in Hunter offers snowmobile rentals, and guided excursions. Discover the endless miles of sledding this winter in New York State.
Credit: @holidayvalley on Instagram
At Holiday Valley (pictured), you can ski or snowboard, sure, but for a unique experience, go for a ride on the Sky Flyer Mountain Coaster! This rollercoaster-like ride through the woods is breathtaking in winter. Anyone 16 and over can ride solo or with another rider aged 3 and up on the coaster, first heading up the hill, then zigging and zagging down it on the rails, controlling the speed as you go. Another thrilling way to experience the rush of hurtling downhill in winter is snow tubing at Plattekill Mountain in the Catskills. The new Conveyor Carpet Lift will take you and your tube up the slope, and for just $27, you can slide down the trail for three hours (anyone three feet tall and up can tube).
Aquarium of Niagara (Greater Niagara)
Meet the Humboldt penguins, slap high-fives with the seals, and get an up close look at exotic fish and other sea life at this institution devoted to the rehabilitation and showcasing of marine animals. The Aquarium of Niagara offers special encounters with penguins and seals, as well as plenty of programs aimed at entertaining and educating the whole family about these lovable, colorful creatures. No trip to the Niagara Falls area is complete without a visit to see the eels, clownfish, and even a reef shark at this fun-filled aquarium.
Explore Buffalo’s Corner Taverns (Greater Niagara)
There’s nothing like a local tavern for connecting with the heart of a city. In Buffalo, corner taverns are anchors of history, keeping alive tales of Prohibition, Polish-American culture in the city, and more. They are true hidden gems. Discover 10 taverns, each with their own history and atmosphere. Visit Ulrich’s 1868 Tavern, the city’s oldest watering hole, where relics from a bygone era include a spittoon and the menu honors the bar’s German heritage. Become a member at Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle for $10 and join a 120-year-old tradition while enjoying Polish beer and vodka. More than a bar, each corner tavern has a story to tell. Don’t miss them.
Head to the mountain with the most skiable acreage in the state at Gore Mountain (Adirondacks)
There’s something to be said about a mountain that offers more skiable acreage than anywhere else in the state. Namely, what are you waiting for? Gore Mountain in North Creek boasts 110 trails across four mountains, offering ample terrain for beginner and intermediate, as well as expert skiers. It’s one of those ski mountains where you might not ski the same trail twice in one day. The North Creek Ski Bowl at Gore Mountain is lit for nighttime alpine skiing and riding, as well as cross-country skiing. Warm up in The Yurt, then head back out for wintry fun.
Pretend it’s summer at an indoor waterpark (Finger Lakes)
Whether you’re visiting Greek Peak Mountain Resort to go skiing, or to relax, the resort’s Cascades Indoor Waterpark (pictured) provides a tropical escape in the heart of winter. Fun for all ages, the park features a whitewater wave pool and three water slides for older kids and adults, and plenty of attractions for little ones. Camp out in the indoor/outdoor hot springs or swim laps in the pool and enjoy the feel of warm water and fresh, cool air.
Skate or ride across the ice (Various Regions)
One of the most exhilarating experiences to be had in winter is ice skating on Buffalo’s Canalside, or at the Empire State Plaza when reflecting pools transform into outdoor skating rinks. Canalside Buffalo (pictured) offers outdoor ice skating on the canal, ice bike rentals, ice bumper cars, and curling. Glide up and down New York’s largest outdoor rink, then hit up the fun family-friendly dining at Snack Shack for a wintry experience. In the Capital Region, Empire State Plaza offers a fairytale setting for family-friendly ice skating. Open from noon–8 pm, there is no fee to use the ice, and skate rentals are just $3 for kids, and $4 for adults. Learn to Skate Clinics are offered throughout the winter.
Go ice fishing on a lake (Various Regions)
As Lake Ontario freezes it becomes an ice fishing village with fishing huts dotting the horizon. Other shanties, as they're called, pop up throughout the Finger Lakes, such as on Skaneateles Lake (pictured). Ice fishing season opens in December, and anglers stake their patch of ice to fish for panfish, perch, and pike. If you have always wanted to go ice fishing but didn’t know where to start, book a trip with an ice fishing guide to walk you through the set-up, tricks, and techniques you’ll need to know, as well as provide you with all the gear you need. You’ll still need to get a fishing permit yourself, however.
Snowshoe through the Saratoga Spa State Park (Capital-Saratoga)
Winter in the Saratoga Spa State Park is a time of bare beauty, when the National Historic Landmark opens for snowshoe and cross-country skiing explorations on 12 miles of trails. Find equipment rentals at the Park Office and go experience this summer destination when winter’s snow transforms the landscape. Rentals are $5 for a half-day and $10 for a full day. Park office is open 8:30 am–4:30 pm.
Zipline over snow-covered trees (Catskills)
Hunter Mountain’s New York Zipline Adventure Tour is a favorite adrenaline junkie sport any time of the year. Home to one of the longest, fastest, and highest zipline tours in North America, this is an adventure that’s designed to take your breath away. The Summit SkyRider Tour and Mid Mountain Tour are only offered on weekends in the winter. The SkyRider tour begins 600 feet above the ground, and riders can reach speeds up to 50 miles per hour. The tour covers nearly five miles of ziplines and takes about three hours, so dress warmly and bring goggles to protect your eyes from the cold air. The Mid-Mountain Tour offers a tamer experience, with six ziplines transporting fliers through the forest canopy, across four suspension bridges, and down one exciting rappel. See the Catskill Mountains as a bird would! Open on winter weekends. Mid Mountain Tour is $89 per person and the SkyRider Tour is $129 per person.
Explore secrets of ancient Egypt, the traditions of American Indian tribes, and more at museums across New York State (Various Regions)
Dive into the rich culture and history, as well as interactive fun, offered at museums across New York State. From Old World masters found on museum walls in the Adirondacks to a 3,000-year-old mummy hiding out in the Capital Region, there are exciting exhibits to see this winter. Visit the Albany Institute of History and Art's Ancient Egypt exhibit to see artifacts including the mummy of Ankhefenmut, a priest and sculptor from the Ptolemaic Period. At the Hyde Collection Art Museum and Historic House (pictured) in the Adirondacks, the small-but-impressive permanent collection includes a Picasso, a Rubens, and a Rembrandt. Visiting exhibits in 2020 include a show of etchings by Francisco Goya, and an examination of Dox Thrash’s work chronicling the development of black artists.
Mush across the ice and snow on a dogsled (Various Regions)
Dogsledding is one of the most unique winter activities available in New York State. Feel like you’re soaring across the world when a team of specially trained sled dogs carries you across the surface of a frozen lake or through snow-covered forested paths. Thunder Mountain Dog Sled Tours in the Adirondacks offers rides across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake in downtown Lake Placid. Call of the Wild Dog Sled Tours offers an “Alaskan experience in Northern New York,” including multi-day excursions. Prices vary.
Go cross-country skiing (Various Regions)
There are nearly 200 well-maintained places to go cross-country skiing in New York State. From Allegany State Park in Chautauqua-Allegheny, to The Fields Sculpture Park at Omi in the Hudson Valley, discover the thrilling joy of gliding over snow-covered fields on Nordic skis. If you’ve never been cross-country skiing before, sign up for a lesson! At Lake Placid’s Olympic Sports Complex, you can learn how to pace your skiing and chat with coaches who likely taught or skied with local Olympic biathletes. For a real New York State winter adventure, head to Central New York’s Osceola Tug Hill X-C Ski/Mtn Biking Center to experience the highest snowfast east of the Rockies and over 20 miles of groomed trails. The Tug Hill State Forest offers ample cross-country skiing trails, as well as waterfall features. Rentals are available at most ski centers, and night skiing, as well as full moon ski parties, should definitely top your bucket list!
Experience a Winter Carnival (Various Locations)
Credit: @justin_michael_photography_ on Instagram
These are not so much once-in-a-lifetime experiences as they are traditions that are meant to be enjoyed every year. One of the crowning events of the season is a 10-day extravaganza in the Adirondacks, the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. Slated for January 31–February 9, this annual fete features fun for the whole family. Wander through the life-sized ice palace, see who can toss a cast-iron frying pan the farthest during the Women’s Fry Pan Toss, and enjoy nightly entertainment at several venues throughout town. Syracuse Winterfest is a party where all ages are invited. Enjoy dozens of indoor and outdoor events, cook-offs and tastings, as well as dazzling fireworks. The 12 days of fun kick off February 13. Long Island Winterfest offers five weekends of wine and beer tasting, live music, art exhibitions, theatrical performances, and more. From Bryant Park Frost Fest to the Lake George Winter Carnival (pictured), discover the variety of festivals and events that help make winter fun!
Go climbing (Various Regions)
Credit: @basilt on Instagram
Whether you’re looking for an ice climbing guide, or for new walls to conquer, there are plenty of destinations across New York State that offer climbing for all abilities. Book a guide and hit the ‘Gunks (pictured) for a winter climbing 101 course and master the basics. Or experience the thrill of backcountry adventure when you book a guided excursion with Alpine Adventures in the Adirondacks. Go ice climbing with knowledgeable locals, and spend the day learning the ins and outs of hardware, climbing techniques, and the unique ice features of the Adirondacks. If scaling icy rocks outside doesn't sound appealing, head to Niagara Climbing Center or the Hudson Valley’s BC’s Climbing Gym for indoor rock climbing.