Although you and your family live in New York State, you’ve never been to Niagara Falls. You’re in New York City, and you figure the route to Niagara can’t be that challenging.
What do you need to know before planning a road trip?
Taking a road trip from New York City to Niagara Falls requires you to drive from one side of New York to the other. The trip is a little over 410 miles and takes about six and a half hours to complete.
As you can see, road-tripping to Niagara Falls needn’t be an extensive drive. Ahead, I’ll recommend a concise route for you to take, including stops along the way.
I’ll also tell you how long it will take to reach the gorgeous Niagara Falls from NYC, so make sure you check it out!
The best route from New York City to Niagara Falls
Per what I mentioned in the intro, both your starting point of New York City and your destination of Niagara Falls are within the same state, which is the great state of New York.
That does make your road trip a lot easier in a lot of ways, as you’re sticking within state lines the entire time.
However, you’re not driving straight across New York so much as you are crisscrossing it.
Since your entire trip is approximately 417 miles, you can either break up the drive into one day or two (that’s what I recommend).
Here’s how to get to Niagara Falls from New York City.
New York City to West Point
The first part of your route is driving to West Point, which is about an hour and a half from New York City if you can get out of the city limits without hitting crazy traffic.
From NYC, you’ll drive straight north past Yonkers but not quite to Poughkeepsie.
West Point is on the Hudson River’s west bank. It’s a United States military post, and more so than that, the oldest of all the continuously operated posts.
When General George Washington was still alive, he called West Point a highly valuable strategic point when plotting his troops’ moves in the American Revolution.
West Point to Callicoon
From West Point, it’s time to continue deeper into New York to Callicoon, a small hamlet in the Town of Delaware in Sullivan County.
The drive between West Point and Callicoon takes about an hour and a half. During this time, you’ll drive northwest past Middletown, Monticello, and Honesdale.
Callicoon welcomes visitors with beautiful natural attractions as well as museums and historical monuments.
Callicoon to Binghamton
Once you and the kids are ready to progress, you’ll leave Callicoon and drive to Binghamton by continuing northwest through New York State.
This is another hour and a half drive forbidding heavy traffic.
Binghamton offers plenty to entice families to stay for a while, from the Phelps Mansion Museum from the Gilded Age to Recreation Park with a carousel from the 1920s.
The city also features the Discovery Center at the Southern Tier and the Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park.
If you’re looking to break your trip up into two days, then I would suggest finding a lodging option in Binghamton. You won’t regret it, as you’ll have more time to explore the city tomorrow.
Binghamton to Elmira
It’s your choice whether you drive straight to Elmira or take a rest first, but either way, I hope you’re feeling refreshed for the next leg of your journey.
From Binghamton, you’ll drive for less than an hour (without heavy traffic) to Elmira, heading west.
The Chemung County city of Elmira has appealing art museums and lovely expanses of greenery through public parks. You and the kids can take a load off after a long drive.
Elmira to Letchworth State Park
I hope you’re not too tired yet, as your next destination is quite a fun one. It’s Letchworth State Park in Castille between Wyoming and Livingston Counties.
From Elmira, you’ll drive northwest for an hour and a half until you get to the park.
Letchworth State Park is one of many New York state parks. It spans an incredible 14,427 acres, which is approximately 17 miles.
The entire park takes you along the expanse that is the Genesee River, including across three waterfalls and a plunging gorge.
While you’re here, you’ll find there’s lots for you and the family to do. Between May and October, the Middle Falls, which drop a precipitous 107 feet, are illuminated at night.
If you and your family are history buffs, then Letchworth State Park is a fun place to spend an afternoon.
The park features a well-preserved cabin once owned by Nancy Jemison. The grave of relative Mary Jemison is on the park grounds as well.
The Seneca Indian Council House, which has since been restored, is near the Glen Iris Inn while the William Pryor Letchworth Museum by Middle Falls features a variety of interesting artifacts from Native Americans as well as regional settlement displays.
In the winter, the park is still open for such cold-weather activities as hiking, snowmobiling (in designated areas only), snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
The rest of the year, you and your family can take a break at Letchworth’s picnic shelters and tables complete with grills.
These picnic areas are spaced out across the park, and some picnic shelters are by reservation only. Bring your own gas!
The Genesee River is available for whitewater rafting, but only for more experienced rafters, as it’s considered Class II to Class III waters. If your kids will go rafting and they’re under 18, you need to be with them.
Towards the north section of the park near the Highbanks Recreation Area is a swimming pool that’s open during the summer months between June and September. A lifeguard is available then.
The trails throughout Letchworth State Park are worth talking about as well. Some trails are short, and others go on for 20 miles for all levels of difficulty and hiking experience.
Of course, you can also camp at this state park!
Letchworth State Park to Buffalo
Perhaps you decided to sleep under the stars at Letchworth State Park for the night. I certainly cannot blame you there!
Now it’s a new day, and it’s time to round out your road trip by driving to Buffalo.
From Letchworth, you’re looking at an hour-long drive without traffic. The route continues diagonally northwest.
Buffalo is one of the biggest cities in the entire state of New York. This Eerie County city is on Lake Erie’s eastern side and is also within the vicinity of the Niagara River.
With museums, zoos, and botanical gardens, Buffalo is a wonderful place to spend some time with your family.
Buffalo to Niagara Falls
From Buffalo, the drive to Niagara Falls takes about 30 minutes. You’ll drive north to get there.
Congratulations, as the Falls await!
How long does it take to drive to Niagara Falls from New York City?
Even though your entire road trip is contained to New York State, I’ve made no bones about the fact that this isn’t a very fast trip.
Your drivetime from New York City to Niagara Falls is six hours and 36 minutes.
That drivetime assumes two things: 1.) that you skip any stops (which I don’t recommend), and 2.) that you don’t run into any traffic.
Congestion in the city is a given, and even once you stay further and further from NYC, there is no guarantee that your route will be traffic-free.
Add at least a little bit of extra time to your route for the traffic, and even more time for having fun between stops!
Recommended destinations on the road to Niagara Falls
I hope I’ve inspired you to take the scenic route and smell the roses as you drive from New York City to Niagara Falls.
After all, besides the Falls themselves, there’s plenty to see and do throughout New York State as a family.
Let’s go over some of these activities now.
West Point Destinations
- Bear Mountain State Park
If you and the kids are eager to explore more New York state parks, in nearby Bear Mountain, you’ll find Bear Mountain State Park between Orange and Rockland counties.
The park, which is situated on the Hudson River’s west bank, is 5,205 acres.
The historical sites here will make any history fan’s eyes come alive. There’s Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate as well as the George Washington Headquarters, the Warner House, Constitution Island, and two homes of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Vanderbilt Mansion, and the Val-Kill Cottage.
In the summer, when Bear Mountain State Park is the most active, you and the kids can rent a boat and go canoeing or kayaking, explore the tidal wetlands known as Iona Island (which is 270 acres), or hike to the top of the Perkins Memorial Tower.
There, you can see the Palisades, Harriman State Park, and the Hudson River from expansive 360-degree views!
You can also partake in the walking and hiking trails, swim in the Bear Mountain pool, or let the kids spin on the Merry-Go-Round at the pavilion.
Bear Mountain State Park has its own onsite zoo as well as a Trailside Museum, which is open each day between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
- West Point Museum
Teach your family the history of this historic part of New York at the West Point Museum, a military academy museum.
The three main exhibits are as follows: Small Weapons (showcasing pistols, light machine guns, shoulder arms, polearms, swords, clubs, and axes over time), Large Weapons (which includes a tank from World War I!), and History of West Point.
West Point Museum is open on Tuesdays through Sundays.
- Bull Hill
Referred to by some as Mount Taurus, Bull Hill is a mountain overlooking Cold Spring. It’s located in nearby Putnam County.
The 1,420-foot mountain is near the Hudson Highlands, a series of mountains.
The 5.4-mile closed-loop hiking trail is a surefire way to get some exercise while exploring nature!
- Museum at Bethel Woods
When you arrive in Callicoon, a stop at the Museum at Bethel Woods is a must.
This museum is dedicated to all things 1960s, including the classic Woodstock music festival.
The exhibits change by the year but offer both indoor and outdoor displays to gaze upon with the family. You’ll be transported to a different time.
The Museum at Bethel Woods hosts live entertainment. The museum also has several restaurants.
The Green Room is a pre-concert restaurant accessible from the Market Shed gates.
The menu includes two types of flatbread as well as yummy desserts like tiramisu, authentic New York cheesecake, or chocolate mousse.
If you’re not seeing a show, then between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., you and the children can dine at Yasgur’s Farm Café.
This establishment serves breakfasts like muffins, parfaits, and croissants.
For lunch, you can order grab-and-go meals like ham and cheese sandwiches, salads, burgers, or grilled cheese. Cookies, brownies, candy, and popcorn are also available all day.
- Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum
In nearby Livingston Manor is the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum, a nonprofit museum that’s all about fly fishing against the backdrop of the beautiful Catskills!
A visit here is a great way to connect with nature while spending time indoors, such as on a rainy day in New York.
- Crystal Lake Wild Forest
When the weather clears up, take the kids to the Crystal Lake Wild Forest in Roscoe, which is only about 30 minutes from Callicoon.
The forest has a moderate 1.3-mile hiking trail and is also available for fishing, paddling, and boating. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are great activities to enjoy in the winter.
You and the family may witness a variety of local wildlife as well, including porcupines, bobcats, bears, and deer.
- Ross Park Zoo
Another great way to see some animals in New York is to visit Ross Park Zoo in Binghamton.
The fifth zoo in the United States, Ross Park Zoo first opened its doors in 1875!
The extensive variety of birds runs the gamut, including peafowl, turkey vultures, snowy owls, green aracari, cinereous vultures, chickens, black vultures, barred owls, African penguins, and barn owls.
The range of mammals onsite offers everything from alpine goats to Amur leopards, red pandas, sand cats, Shetland sheep, cougars, two-toed sloths, and Flemish giant rabbits.
The Ross Park Zoo is also a great way to teach your kids about such endangered animal species as snow leopards, red wolves, golden-headed tamarins, and black-and-white ruffled lemurs.
Wild encounters are available at the zoo as well.
- Recreation Park + Carousel
Recreation Park is a public park on the West Side of Binghamton.
It features one carousel of six designed by Allan Herschell, an amusement ride creator. The carousel is still ridable to this day.
Go for the carousel and stay for the walking paths, the playground, the swimming facilities, the sports courts and fields, the monuments and statues, and the bandstand.
- Roberson Museum & Science Center
Immerse the family in the fun of science at the Roberson Museum & Science Center. The museum is also an intersection of science, history, and art.
Thus, the exhibits here are not what you’d normally see in a science center. Those exhibits change all the time, so plan for a second visit!
Roberson Link’s Planetarium at the science center has room for 50. Some of the shows you and the kiddos can see here include Sunstruck, Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure, Mayan Archaeoastronomy, and Distant Worlds: Alien Life?.
- Arnot Art Museum
In a Greek Revival home that was once owned by the esteemed Arnot family, the Arnot Art Museum stands on property that was originally built in 1833.
The museum updates its artistic exhibits by the year, so it’s still not too late to see what’s left on the calendar for this year!
- Eldridge Park
Eldridge Park first opened in 1926 as an amusement park. Today, it’s more about carousel and amusement ride preservation.
The park is 15 acres and still offers attractions, although maybe not in the same vein as the original Eldridge Park.
You can find a dog park, picnic areas, a 1.4-mile paved walking trail, a skate park, and sports fields.
When the weather turns warm, a small amusement park on the grounds opens that’s perfect for the young’uns.
The park includes a carousel from the 1890s with a Brass Ring Feeder that really works (only about 19 other US carousels have the same distinction).
Kids and teens can ride the Tilt-a-Whirl and paddleboats or go mini golfing.
For very young kids, the Thunderbirds plane ride, the mini train, Turtle Chase, kiddie boats, and pony carts are appropriate entertainment.
- National Soaring Museum
A museum dedicated to all things aviation, the National Soaring Museum showcases motorless flight history in all its glory.
Through the Harris Hill Soaring Corporation, you and the kids can ride a real hang glider!
The sailplane rides are available all year long.
- Tanglewood Nature Center & Museum
For a fun lesson in animal conservation, an afternoon at the Tanglewood Nature Center & Museum will certainly be an experience the kids won’t forget.
Tanglewood attracts more than 35,000 visitors every year, as both the nature center and museum are free.
You and the children can stroll along the trails and learn about various New York animal habitats, from steep slopes to deciduous forests, vernal pools, ponds, and wetlands.
The museum is where you’ll find animals like arthropods, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
- Explore & More – The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum
Explore & More is not your average museum. This place, which is known as the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Children’s Museum in full, offers an extensive variety of hands-on exhibits encouraging play, play, and more play!
Here are the exhibits in full:
- Farm to Fork: Where does food come from? The kids will be able to answer that question once they play with pretend produce at the Farm to Fork exhibit.
- Building Buffalo: Learn about the history of architecture in Buffalo at the Building Buffalo exhibit. Kids can also build their own version of the city, of course.
- Lighting Buffalo’s Imagination: Kids can become well-versed in STEM at Lighting Buffalo’s Imagination, an exhibit that asks kids to explore their sense of imagination and discovery.
- Playing Together: Pretend to be a sports star and learn the value of teamwork at the Playing Together exhibit.
- Car Wash: Yes, the kids will get a little wet, but they’ll also understand how a car wash works in the most fun way possible at the eponymous museum exhibit.
- Driving Buffalo’s Dreams: Another car-related exhibit, kids can design the vehicle of their dreams and then use a projection screen to “drive.”
- Moving Water: How does water travel? Children will explore New York’s waterways in the Moving Water exhibit, which is complete with a multi-story waterfall.
- Being Good Neighbors: Get to know the people who call the Niagara area home at the Being Good Neighbors exhibit, which mimics a real street but on a child-sized scale.
- Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
The Buffalo and Erie Botanical Gardens in Buffalo’s South Park was first created in 1900.
You and the kids can get lost here all day as you venture through exhibits and areas such as Tropical Plants, the Healing Garden, the Patio Garden, the History Room, the Outdoor Children’s Garden, the Asian Rainforest, and the Panama Cloud Forest.
- Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve
Another splendid taste of nature in Buffalo is the Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve.
The preserve is under 300 acres with ponds, wetlands, and forested areas.
Plenty of creatures live here that are a treasure to witness, including great blue herons, pileated woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, waterfowl, beavers, mink, and white-tailed deer.
Reinstein pink water lilies–the trademark of the museum and also its namesake–hardwoods, fungi, ferns, and wildflowers are also not to be missed.
Things to do around Niagara Falls with the Family
When you and the children have had your fill of Niagara Falls, don’t turn around and go home yet! Stay for a while and witness these must-see destinations.
On the Niagara River is Goat Island, a tiny island between Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Niagara Falls.
The viewing points such as Terrapin Point allow you to see Niagara Falls from a very unique vantage point. Be sure to snap lots of photos!
Niagara Wax Museum of History
For a fun footnote on your trip, the Niagara Wax Museum of History offers artifacts and photos from historical times, but that’s not why everyone visits.
Instead, that’s for the full-sized wax figures of some of the greatest names in history.
Oppenheim County Park
Over in Wheatfield, Oppenheim County Park is 92 acres and features a seasonal splash park, a tennis court, playgrounds, volleyball courts, basketball courts, and fishing.
Planning a road trip from New York City to Niagara Falls is a fun trip through New York State that will delight the kids to no end. Now that you know how to get there and what to do to keep the trip entertaining, I hope you plan to go soon!