It’s tempting to stick with the things you know and love when traveling in New York State. And, yes, Niagara Falls, Lake Placid, the Adirondacks are all terrific. But think beyond the tried and true, and you’ll come up with some hidden gems, whether it’s a flight of stone stairs to the top of a mountain, a hard-to-find swimming hole or an abandoned castle in the middle of the Hudson River. Here’s a look at 10 spots that are probably not on your radar — but should be.
Eternal Flame Falls
Let’s get this straight, the flame that usually burns in a small grotto under this 35-foot waterfall in Erie County does go out. Fed by a mysterious source of natural gas, the flame is often relit by hikers. Find the falls in the Shale Creek Preserve section of Chestnut Ridge Park. It’s only about a half-mile hike, but the trail can get muddy during the rainy season.
INFO Eternal Flame Hiking Trail, Orchard Park; 716-858-8355; eri.gov
Zoar Valley Swimming Hole
This spring-fed swimming hole is part of the 3,000-acre Zoar Valley Multi-Use area near Buffalo. Fair warning — you have to climb to the top of the falls before you can jump into the water. The area also offers spots for kayaks and rafts (when water levels are high, rapids can be up to Class 4). The area is free and open year-round, sunrise to sunset. It’s managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which notes that not all areas are public and warns visitors to carefully read signs identifying private property.
INFO 10112 Valentine Flats Rd., Gowanda; 716-372-0645, dec.ny.gov
This abandoned castle on Pollepel Island in the middle of the Hudson River started out as the home and storage facility for munitions dealer Frank Bannerman. Now owned by the New York State Parks Department, the castle was in disrepair until the mid-90s, when local citizens formed a trust to restore the building. Visitors can tour the ruins and gardens after taking a 30-minute boat ride from Beacon (note a 72-step staircase from the dock). The schedule also includes movie nights (“Collar,” June 17, “Somewhere in Time,” June 30) and plays (“Nunsense,” July 19-23, “Dracula,” Sept. 20-24). Tours are Friday through Sunday in June, Thursday through Sunday, July through September; the dock is at 2 Red Flynn Dr., Beacon. Tickets are $40, $35 for children under 12.
INFO Dock located at 2 Red Flynn Dr., Beacon; 845-831-1001, bannermancastle.org
Herkimer Diamond Mines
Not only can you find diamonds (well, OK, double-terminated quartz crystals but called diamonds because of their natural faceting and clarity) in these aboveground mines, but you can take them directly to the artisan center and have them set in a keepsake piece of jewelry. The mines are open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is $18, $14 for children 5-12 (4 and under free). Stay nearby at KOA’s glamping resort, where you can rent a rustic cabin (no bathroom) starting around $165 in July, or the deluxe version (bathroom with shower and patio) starting around $365.
INFO 4626 State Route 28, North Herkimer; herkimerdiamond.com, 315-891-7355
Stairway Ridge Trail
If you’re challenged (as opposed to terrified) by the idea of climbing what amounts to 27 flights of steps (some human-made, some natural), this hike is for you. Yes, there are handrails (replaced in 2020), but it’s still quite the trek. Your reward? Magnificent views from the summit of the fifth-highest mountain in the United States, including Whiteface Castle, Lake Placid and on a clear day, maybe even Canada. You can get to the steps with a 10-mile hike (start in Wilmington), or eliminate that part of the journey and drive straight to the base of the steps from the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway.
This festival is pulling out all the stops for its 20th anniversary season with a world premiere of “Illinois,” a musical based on the concept album of the same name by Sufjan Stevens. Described as an “ecstatic pageant of storytelling, theater, dance and live music,” the show is written by Pulitzer-winning playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury (“Fairview”) and dancer Justin Peck, who also directs and choreographs. It runs June 23-July 2 at Bard College’s Fisher Center. Tickets are $29.50-$84.50. The festival also includes a new production of the opera Henri VIII July 21-30 and the Bard Music Festival exploring the work of Vaughan Williams Aug. 4-6 and Aug. 10-13.
INFO 30 Campus Rd., Annandale-on-Hudson; 845-758-7900, fishercenter.bard.edu
Storm King Arts Center
On 500 acres of rolling Hudson Valley hills, you’ll find one of the nation’s largest museums of contemporary sculpture, with more than 100 installations from artists including Alexander Calder, Maya Lin and Roy Lichtenstein. The center is open Wednesday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (last entry at 4 p.m.) Tickets are released in two-week blocks (tickets for June 28 through July 10 will be available June 7; admission depends on number of people in vehicle, for example, two people, $46, children under 5 are free.)
INFO 1 Museum Rd., New Windsor; 845-534-3115, stormking.org
Wolf Conservation Center
Spend the night camping with the wolves at this center, which works to protect the endangered animals that once inhabited most of the United States and play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. No worries — the wolves are separated from the guests, but you’ll be able to see the two “ambassador” wolves, Alawa and Nikai, as well the red and Mexican gray wolves that inhabit the center until they can safely be released back into the wild. Weekends through October you can rent a tent for $340 that holds up to four people; singles can bring their own tent for $150 (reservations required).
INFO 7 Buck Run, South Salem; 914-763-2373, nywolf.org
This is not your grandma’s ice cream. It’s all about fermentation here, think blueberry thyme kombucha sorbet or vegan roasted banana ice cream. Announcing the seasonal flavors at this unique shop is a major event. This summer’s big draw is a probiotic ice cream concoction made with avocado, nettle and wild herbs — in other words, ice cream that’s not all that bad for you.
INFO 318 Warren St., Hudson; 908-718-7952; eatculturecream.com
National Bottle Museum
Where would we be without bottles? This museum makes sure we have an answer to that question, with extensive exhibits on the use and production of glass bottles (millions of which were manufactured by hand for the mineral waters of Saratoga County). Current exhibits include soda bottles, fruit jars and an extensive collection of highly collectible uranium glass. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and late many first Fridays; $5 adults, $4 seniors, children free.
INFO 76 Milton Ave., Ballston Spa; 518-885-7589, nationalbotlemuseum.org