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.
The long, warm summer is the time to get wet in New York State’s lovely lakes © Image Source / Getty Images
June to August is the best time for outdoor activities
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. Every June, the Department of Environmental Conservation hosts Outdoors Day activities during the month to encourage everyone to step outdoors.
June also brings the opportunity to show up and support the LGBTIQ+ community at Long Island Pride. Music fans should make a beeline for Syracuse and Rochester to soak up the tunes at the New York State Blues Festival and the Rochester International Jazz Festival.
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. If you’ve had your fill of sunbathing, why not take advantage of one of the many music festivals happening around the state, such as Oswego Harborfest or the Great South Bay Music Festival.
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.
September to November is the best time for leaf-peeping and seasonal celebrations
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, as the first hints of fall color hit the forests. Visitors combine leaf peeping with visits to the Naples Grape Festival and the Hudson Valley Hot Air Balloon Festival. 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 in October 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.
As the final autumn leaves fall in November 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.
If you can’t make it to New York’s downhill ski resorts, there’s always cross-country skiing in Central Park © ferrantraite / Getty Images
December to February is the best time for fun in the snow
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.
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. Bring the whole family to the Westchester Winter Wonderland to get in the holiday spirit or watch twinkly lights brighten dark skies at the Winter Lights Festival in Ithaca.
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. Cure the post-holiday blues with a trip to the Long Lake Winter Carnival, which is full of family-friendly fun.
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 like the Empire State Winter Games and the Lake George Winter Carnival brightening up dark days in 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 waterfalls – 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.
March to May is the best time for visiting historic New York landmarks
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. Garden shows pop up in warmer parts of the state in March as a showcase for the blossoming spring.
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.
April is also 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.
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.