scenic drives new york new 02

15 Incredible Scenic Drives New York State Has to Offer

Today I’ll be giving you my list of the 15 best scenic drives in New York and these are all stunning places I’ve personally gone through, in some cases multiple times.

Although I live in NYC, I’ve discovered that the further you go outside of it, the more beautiful the scenic drives get and that’s why a majority of this list covers places throughout the state in general instead of just the city.

Here is a list of the 15 best scenic drives in NY:

  1. Palisades Parkway
  2. Hudson Valley Drive
  3. Interstate 87
  4. Road 9N Lake George
  5. Road 23 Catskills 
  6. Road 9 Adirondacks
  7. Road 14 and 96A in Finger Lakes
  8. High Peaks Scenic Byway
  9. Road 73 in the Adirondacks
  10. Henry Hudson Drive
  11. 7 lakes drive at Harriman State Park
  12. Hawks Nest scenic drive
  13. Route 44 near Lake Minnewaska
  14. West Side Highway
  15. FDR Drive

Palisades Parkway (it’s a great upstate NY scenic drive):

palisade parkway scenic drive near new york state

  • Recommended route: Start at the GW Bridge and head towards Bear Mountain State Park
  • Distance: 50 miles

I generally access this parkway from the George Washington Bridge after exiting Manhattan (NYC). If you live in the city and enter this road, right away, you’ll feel like you’re in another world. Do note, that when you first enter it, you will be in New Jersey, but after about 30 minutes of driving north, you’ll be back in New York State and this road is scenic from the NJ end too but as you enter the NY area, it gets better because you will start to see more mountains. This parkway is located a top a pretty high elevation and runs right next to the Hudson river for many, many miles.

Hudson Valley Drive (another awesome upstate NY drive):

hudson valley scenic drive in new york state purple heart memorial bridge

  • Recommended route: Start in upper NYC and head towards Bear Mountain Bridge
  • Distance: 40 miles

Hudson Valley Drive technically starts once Palisades Parkway finishes and it will take you through beautiful scenic roads, and passing by awesome parks like this:

If you’re coming here from NYC and heading north, once you finish Palisades Parkway, you will cross the Bear Mountain Bridge and afterwards take a left to start road 9W (the Hudson River Valley drive).

If you stay on the same road and continue heading north, you will also continue alongside the Hudson River and cross more beautiful places and if you’re into hikes, you may want to check out Breakneck Ridge which is close to Purple Heart Memorial Bridge. It is one of the best hikes near NYC residents take and having personally done it too, I like it because it’s short and challenging. It also gives you a great view of the Hudson River.

Interstate 87 from NYC to Canada:

interstate 87 scenic drive in new york state

  • Recommended route: Start in exit 14 on I87 and head towards the Canadian Border
  • Distance: 300+ miles

This is a common road I take whenever I travel north on road trips or hikes. And some of the most beautiful spots I’ve found in New York State were in great part thanks to this scenic road. Here are some of those places I’m talking about on Interstate 87:

And that mountain above is called Poke o Moonshine. It’s located in the Adirondacks. Interstate 87 stretches 100’s of miles from NYC to Canada, so you’re looking at 8 hours or more of beautiful, scenic drives, all through the western end of New York State. While you travel on it, the most beautiful areas you will see are in the Catskill regions, followed by the Adirondacks a few hours later. 

Road 9N (the Lake George scenic drive):

lake george scenic drive in new york state road 9n

  • Recommended route: From Saratoga Springs to Hague
  • Distance: 50 miles

While Interstate 87 will take you close to Lake George, if you really want to see it and enjoy the scenic drive on it, you’ll want to take road 9N, which stretches all the way along the lake itself for about 30 miles. On this road, you’ll find beautiful towns, beautiful views of the lake, entertainment areas, very nice hiking trails, overlooks and more, starting from the first town you enter. Then there’s the tons of towns, camping spots and scenery that stretch for as long as Lake George stretches for. Afterwards, I’d turn towards interstate 87 to continue the scenic drives (it runs parallel to 9N).

Road 23 into the Catskills:

catskills scenic drive in new york state

  • Recommended route: Start in Palenville and head towards Lexington NY
  • Distance: 50+ miles

There is one of the most scenic drives in the Catskill Mountains that stretches for over an hour that will take you into the heart of the Catskill Mountains and driving through towns like:

  • Tannersville
  • Hunter

And other nice spots, along which are trails to beautiful waterfalls the Catskills and popular hiking trails like Devil’s Path, Hunter Mountain, North South Lake and more. This road will have many access areas where you can park your car and go into a river for a swim, especially areas like these that I personally visit every time I’m there.

To access this road, you have to exit from Interstate 87 on exit 20 and head into the mountains (just put Hunter into your GPS and it’ll take you there). You will see a sign for the scenic byway as you enter what is known as Catskill Park and the road for the next 20 minutes is truly memorable. You’ll pass by very beautiful waterfalls, drop offs and plenty of other places that I list in my Catskill adventure article above.

Road 9:

ausable chasm road 9 scenic drive new york state

  • Location: From Poke o Moonshine Mountain to Plattesburgh NY
  • Distance: 70+ miles.

You’ll want to start on Road 9 the moment it hits Lake Champlain (after Lake George) and that’s when you’ll find a lot of amazing scenery on that drive. I’ve included a list of the best ones to see on the NY end, but one of the best highlights of that drive is a section of Road 9 that takes you through areas like Ausable Chasm.

The picture you see above is of Ausable Chasm and it’s taken on a bridge that is on road 9. Just as well, there is a park entrance into Ausable Chasm itself right by that bridge which you can check out if you’re interested (and I highly recommend you do). There are many scenic hiking areas inside Ausable Chasm to explore.

Road 14 in Finger Lakes NY:

finger lakes scenic drive in new york state

  • Recommended route: Start in Watkins Glen and head north towards the end of Seneca Lake
  • Distance: 70 miles

In the western areas of New York State lies an extremely beautiful area known as Finger Lakes, where you will find many scenic drives, hikes and places to see such as Watkins Glen State Park. I personally traveled through Seneca lake (Road 14) during my Appalachian Mountain road trip and one can argue it’s as long as Lake George if not longer (with better views too). The other side of the lake has road 96A you can travel through as well and you’ll see nice places like Hector Falls there, one of the best waterfalls in New York State in my opinion.

Overall Finger Lakes itself is one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever seen, and not just in New York State, but everywhere I’ve been for that matter. That says something and let me tell you, you need to see Watkins Glen State Park if you go there. The right picture to the right shows off some of it (there’s much more). It’s truly one of the most beautiful, and easily accessible places I’ve seen. Parking is easy, access to the park itself is free. And the nature there is just next level.

High Peaks Scenic Byway:

high peaks scenic byway drive in new york state adirondack mountains 01

  • Recommended route: Start in the town of Underwood and head towards Lake Placid
  • Distance: 40 miles

If you already traveled past Interstate 87 through the Adirondacks, then you’ll want to make your next trip through this region through the High Peaks Scenic Byway. It takes you deeper into these mountains (north west).

Along the way are a plethora of viewing areas, hiking stops, swimming holes and many more adventures to explore, but of course, the scenic drive is itself the main attraction to explore here. My personal recommendation is to drive on the High Peaks scenic byway during autumn as it offers some of the best fall foliage in New York by far and it takes about 40 minutes to drive through.

Road 73:

adirondack mountains scenic drive in new york state

  • Recommended route: Road 73 is amazing and is actually the same Highpeaks scenic byway above, so 8 and 9 on this list are the same thing. Sorry for the mistake.
  • Distance: 40+ miles

Since the Adirondacks are so huge and apparently part of the Appalachian Mountains, there are MANY roads you can take there. While I can’t comment yet on High Peaks Scenic Byway, I can comment on Road 73 which a friend of mine and I took during our 2 road trips through it. We had originally planned to visit a place called Mount Marcy but a few turns here and there had us driving through Road 73 and while on it, we spotted some awesome sights, including a very beautiful lake we later learned was called Chapel Pond (above):

It is right off the road and you can actually swim there, which we did a few years later when we revisited it on a 2 day trip outside of NYC. There are also beautiful Adirondack waterfall hikes to see on this road, as well as lakes and access to many hikes in this region such as Indian Head trail and Avalanche Pass trail.

Henry Hudson scenic drive:

henry hudson scenic drive near new york state

  • Recommended route: Start in Fort Lee Historic Park (south of the GW Bridge) and head towards Palisades Interstate Park
  • Distance: 20 miles

This scenic drive is officially in NJ but it’s very close to NYC. As you get off the G.W Bridge from Manhattan, you will have the option to travel on the Palisades Parkway or enter the park right near it which is called Fort Lee Historic Park and in this park is where you’ll find the Henry Hudson road. While this path puts you into New Jersey officially, I could honestly not make this list and not include it because it’s just so close and so awesome.

Seven Lakes Scenic Drive at Harriman State Park:

seven lakes scenic drive harriman state park near new york

  • Recommended route: This is the main drive inside Harriman State Park
  • Distance: 30 miles.

I can’t believe how long it took me to explore Harriman State Park, considering how it’s only a 1 hour drive from where I live. But I did and the main road I used to drive through this park is called 7 Lakes Scenic Drive. I highly recommend this drive if you live near NYC or are just driving north through the state. It takes about 20 minutes to drive through this path, but it’ll basically take you through the entire park.

Additionally, the 7 Lakes scenic drive is the main road that goes through this park and helps you see the best things this park has to offer. Just like the name suggests, this road will take you through the park and have you cross 7 of the main lakes in it, each of which has their own trails, stops and beautiful, simple hikes people can do. Whether it be a scenic drive or a nice day trip, this is a short, but very scenic and beautiful drive to take!

Hawks Nest:

hawks nest scenic drive new york state

Hawks Nest scenic drive is a short route running parallel to the Delaware River (not far from Delaware Water Gap), but it’s located in New York State officially.When I first saw pictures of this drive, I thought they were actually associated with the High Peaks scenic byway in the Adirondacks, but a some quick research proved I was wrong.

And after seeing how beautiful this drive was, I knew I had to see it for myself and I did a few days ago. The good news is that Hawks Nest is a beautiful drive, but the bad news is that it’s very short and unless you’re planning to do other activities nearby, like kayak on the Delaware River, camp or drive through there, there’s not much else to see.

I would only recommend going through this path if you’re passing through or looking to see other beautiful parks nearby like High Point State Park. Otherwise, this scenic drive’s beauty quickly fades and the photo you see to your right is really the only part of that drive that’s worth looking at. Everything else is pretty boring after that (although the town east of Hawks Nest is pretty nice).

Route 44 near Lake Minnewaska:

lake minnewaska scenic drive in new york state 01

  • Recommended route: This drive is in upstate NY right outside Lake Minnewaska. 
  • Distance: 10 miles

Lake Minnewaska State Park is one of my favorite and best state parks in New York, but since we are talking about scenic drives in the state, one to keep in mind is the main road which leads you towards this park and it is stunning. It’s route 44 and it stretches for about 15 miles, takes you to the entrance of this park and also has you cross some amazing views of the southern Catskill regions of New York.

There are zigzag turns, scenic overlook stops, trailhead stops and much more to see before you even enter the main entrance to the park. One suggestion I’d like to make is coming here during the spring-fall seasons because Lake Minneswaska is an awesome place to see fall foliage in New York. To do this drive, simply set your GPS to Lake Minnewaska State Park and it’ll have to take you past this road to see it. If you plan to visit the park and like it, I also recommend you visit Mohonk Preserve which is right next to it (there is a decent scenic drive there too).

West side highway:

west side highway scenic drive nyc 01

  • Recommended route: Start at Battery Park and head all the way to the GW Bridge
  • Distance: 40 miles

If you visit NYC and want to find a great scenic drive there, the West Side highway is probably one of the best. It starts from Battery Tunnel (south Manhattan) and continues until you reach George Washington Bridge.

The first part (if you begin in the south) will have you go through the the city areas and you will find a lot of parks to your left. After that you’ll see a lot more of a mix of green areas, good views of the Hudson River and the city together. As you get closer to the George Washington Bridge, it’ll be even more green but now you will have more elevation on the road.

FDR drive:

fdr drive scenic drives in new york city 02

  • Recommended route: It also begins in Battery Park but because it’s on the eastern side, it goes around the other end of the island (it also circles back to the GW Bridge like the west side highway).
  • Distance: Also 40 miles

Just as the West Side Highway is the best way to see the western end of NYC (specifically Manhattan), the FDR drive is where you’ll get the best views of eastern Manhattan and NYC overall.

That one also starts near Battery Tunnel, but you will head to the east highway (FDR drive) and that will have you pass many bridges and in my opinion it gets really good around the upper Manhattan area where you will cross more beautiful, higher bridges and just get better views. The only problem with this drive (and the West Side Highway drive) is traffic and unfortunately being that it’s NYC, this is common.

And so these are the 15 best scenic drives in New York!

Depending on the time you have, I’d say the best one to do out of all these (if you don’t have much time) would be Henry Hudson Drive and if you have a few days, obviously go crazy and go as far north as possible on 87 and enjoy the sights, or if you go west, the drives in Finger Lakes are a must too.

Related (more beautiful scenic drives across the US):

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