Top 10 things to do in New York State
- White water kayaking or rafting in Letchworth State Park -also known as the Grand Canyon of the East. Located in the Finger Lakes region, the expert guides at Adventure Calls lead people of all abilities down the Genesee River, one of the few rivers in the world to flow in a northerly direction, ending up in Lake Ontario. Not that I was thinking about that as I tried to negotiate my way around rapids and rocks. This kayaking experience is about so much more than adrenaline, as the scenery is exquisite. When the waters calm, you have time to lie back and take in the dramatic scenery, look up at the rich woodland towering hundreds of feet at the top of the canyon, the eagles and vultures soaring around it, breathe in the smell of pine and wild herbs and even take time to body surf through stretches of water and jump into waterfall pools. I didn't want the day to end.
- Hiking in the Adirondack Mountains with Karen Delaney of High Peaks Mountain Guides. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the Adirondacks with 46 high peaks, a lot of super fit outdoorsy types running around the hub of Lake Placid knowing where to go and what to do. So, Karen and her husband, Brian, both expert mountain guides, triathletes, and all round great people took me in hand and reassured me that all is possible here. Get a group together to cover the costs of their guiding service, join one of their events, check out their shop, stay at their downtown lodging and pick their brilliant brains. The Delaneys deliver an enthusiasm for the outdoors which is infectious, inspiring and impulsive, which is what the Adirondacks are all about.
- I needed some convincing that fishing was for me, until the moment I saw my rod twitch from the depths of Lake Ontario in the 1000 Islands Seaway Region. Captain Greg Gerhrig of K & G Charters calmly guided me through reeling in my catch, which took twenty minutes of 'drawing back' and reeling down' to eventually pull in a twenty pound Chinook Salmon. And when the giant finally landed I felt like a kid again, my sense of achievement creating a beamer from ear to ear. This is not a cheap day out at nearly $500, but divided between friends and taking into account that you are allowed to keep three fish this is actually great value. And you can have the fish smoked and shipped from nearby town of Pulaski. I am well and truly hooked.
- Native American Indians are most famous in New York for running casinos. But Ganondagan offers a superb alternative, capturing the lifestyles of the Seneca Indians who lived here in the 17th Century. This is a place with a mission that stretches way beyond a 'folk' or 'historic' centre. It is about the Seneca's living culture, with ethno-botanical walking trails, explanations of the matriarchal society, the reintroduction of traditional Iroquois white corn and a stunning elm bark long house - all symbols of their Seventh Generation philosophy in life which is to "Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground". So, if you want to learn about sustainability, this Seneca home is the place to go. I also found it to be a place of poignant beauty.
- Buffalo was a revelation. Infamously in the 'rust belt' region of the States where post-industrial decline hit hard, it is now booming and buzzing. And doing so in a responsible way led by a dynamic network of socially responsible and environmentally aware young Buffalonians. I took a fascinating kayaking tour past empty mills into the now derelict 'silo city', used their ingenious social bike scheme, took the tram down to the newly developed Canalside, and mellowed out at the sustainable and sumptuous Burchfield Penney Arts Center celebrating Charles E Burchfield, visionary artist and conservationist. I also ate fine local produce for breakfast at Five Points Bakery and dinner at Merge . For details of Buffalo's extensive network of cycling lanes click here. As the local blog Buffalo Rising shows, this rusty pin is starting to shine brightly again.
- Griffis Sculpture Park in Cattaraugus County is family-run parkland scattered with sculptures from the hand of the late sculptor Larry Griffis Jr, whose mission in life was to share the joys of experiencing art in nature. His vision is now thriving in his not to be missed Park, with 250 sculptures scattered around 400 acres of ancient woodland, wild flower meadows and lakesides. Sometimes sculpture parks can be too contemporary and alienating for my taste, but Griffis' work of bathing beauties basking by the water, Amazonian women striding through the forest and nudes in the woods make this a wonderfully sensual and serene experience.
- Manhattan's Highline gave me a high, and its Greenway made my day. The former is the genius work of residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond who fought, alongside their community, to protect the elevated freight train track that runs through the city and convert it into a green dream. Still funded by donations, this work of art is industrial regeneration at its finest. The creators should be awarded freedom of the city for the very fact that they gave their citizens a feeling of freedom within it. You can access the Highline using the Greenway, a cycle route that goes around all of Manhattan, clinging to the Hudson River on west side and the East River on the East side. When I caught a kayak trip on the Hudson River en route, I thought my 'I love New York's green heart' might just burst.
- Verona Beach State Park on Oneida Lake, Central New York, is like stepping onto a fifties movie set. They should only allow Esther Williams bathing suits and James Dean lookalikes to keep the vintage vibe alive, with its gingerbread style cottages, family run beach businesses, and sunset views to mirror the closing sequence of any romantic movie. Lake Oneida is the largest inland lake in New York State, so it really does feel as if you are at sea here. You can camp in the State Park or find a cabin to rent. Verona Beach is the quiet neighbour to the livelier Sylvan Beach, where generations of New Yorkers come back year after year to enjoy the amusements, fairground and, most importantly, the legendary Eddie's Restaurant.
- It is often the people who make the place, and this is definitely the case at Wellness: Té Lodge in Taberg, Central New York. The name is derived from the Sanskrit 'Namaste' meaning 'greetings onto you' , the owners adapting it to 'wellness onto you' in the hope that guests will feel revived by nature that surrounds them here. There is indeed something healing and calm about this place, a haven for families with Fish Creek running through its sixty acres. You can swim and tube in the river, chill out in one of their Norwegian style cabins, go birdwatching in their biodiverse grounds, or just chill on their wooded walking trails, ideal for snowshoeing in winter too. Generous and warm hosts, Christophe and Karen Marin-Gerlach are French and Norwegian respectively and their den of natural deliciousness has been informed by their joint cultural heritage as well as their innate passion for conservation. Still in its nascence and growing organically, it is sure to keep blossoming for a long time to come.
- Chippewa Bay in the 1000 Islands Seaway may be one of the furthest spots from New York City, but it is worth the trip. It is much quieter than the neighbouring Alexandria Bay where power boats and jet skis upstage the motor free water users. There is something about kayaking through this archipelago of islands which are scattered across the St Lawrence River, a shipping line with freight ships in the distance showing Canada just beyond, that just rocked my boat. Riverbay Adventures is the perfect family-run set up, where you can rent kayaks, get maps of the islands, hints on where to land and where not to (many of the islands are private or used for goose and duck hunting in season)and information on the best swimming or fishing spots. They have cabins to stay in too, so you can fall out of bed into a kayak.
Find more information on the regions of New York State