1. Nothing but fields for miles all around.
Farming is a big thing in Upstate New York. Maybe it’s the lack of manufacturing opportunities or just a question of what to do with all this space. Farming takes up space. A lot of space. So, between villages, be ready to see cornfields all the way to the horizon.
Realistically, though, agriculture is one of those economic areas where the upstate does very well. Fields for miles might be something of an eyesore, but it’s not always corn you’ll see. There are vineyards, apple orchards, pumpkin orchards, and tree farms. All those summer and fall outings touring wine country and picking your own apples wouldn’t happen if agriculture wasn’t a thing up here.
2. The Canadian invasion.
The whole Christmas season in the US (which seems to start in July, if you didn’t know) means overcrowded shopping malls, angry shoppers, and so much consumerism that it can make your stomach turn. Adding tourists and visitors from another country, however nice, is just more snow on the proverbial pile in an already-peak season of mayhem and mandatory good cheer.
But most Upstate New Yorkers love Canadians. They’re generally friendly, hospitable, and apologize often. On the whole, they’re great folks to be around, and they descend upon Upstate New York like geese headed south for the winter as soon as the weather begins to turn. That (usual) hospitality is exactly what you need in the middle of the Christmas madness.
3. The NYC / NYS correction.
Most Upstaters don’t really care that New York City, or “the City” as it’s commonly referred to, is part of New York. The downstate is a nice area with a tremendous population that many in the more rural regions find egregious, but they aren’t dealing with it on a day-to-day basis. If you’re an Upstater on a trip, or if you’re talking to woefully misinformed family and friends, saying you’re in “New York” means NYC unless you make a very clear and direct distinction. Every. Damn. Time.
But, truthfully, everything from the Adirondacks to NYC to Niagara Falls is part of New York State. Having the City inside state borders means huge economic benefits statewide. The Adirondacks, Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes, the Catskill Mountains, and Niagara Falls are all tourist destinations that are iconic to the state as well.
Even if you’re correcting someone, you’re still showing them New York. You’re just showing them an entirely different side of the same coin, and that’s pretty damn awesome.
4. The craft brew scene.
It’s almost impossible to throw a rock without hitting some kind of specialized microbrewery in Upstate New York. The craft beer scene is a pretty big deal, and it’s flowered in most major cities across the Upstate over the past few years. You see so many that it’s difficult to keep track, much less visit them all.
A little competition never hurt anyone, especially as the Upstate’s job market pivots away from a generation of manufacturing obsolescence and grasps for something to keep dying towns fresh, unique, and vibrant. The region already has its own regional palate. Between the large restaurant scene and wine country, what’s one more way to experience that Upstate flavor?
5. Clouds for days.
Upstate summers are gorgeous: you’ll get a mix of rain and some mild thunderstorms, but it’s mostly clear, bright, and sunny with long daylight hours.
You’ll pay your dues in winter, though, and part of that is the cloud cover. When the temperature dives, those blue skies disappear behind a wall of gray clouds that never seem to end. It’s an experience you really only need to have once before it becomes old news.
The thing is, all that gray is actually awesome. The sky might seem bland at first, but it’s part of that winter season feel. When snow starts sprinkling out of the clouds like salt from a salt shaker, you know it’s really winter. Those rare few moments when the sun falls below the clouds at sunset can be spectacular sights at the end of the day.
6. Small towns everywhere.
If you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry, those 35 mph “Village Speed Limit” signs can make you grind your teeth. And it’s the same everywhere — one little village after another, all with nothing out of the ordinary to offer . . . unless you really start looking at them.
You’ll find some of the coolest homes and building styles secluded in the middle of these smaller towns. All styles of colonial architecture are nested between townhouses, Tudor- and Victorian-style homes. It’s a potluck variety that can really catch the eye if you start looking at it. Plus, most of these small towns are great places to stop off while en route to your destination. Past the drive-by facade of small town America, they’re all unique in some way, shape, or form.
7. Winter can shut down anything, anytime. Except school and work.
In other parts of the world, a light dusting of snow creates a literal state of emergency. All the milk and bread flies off the shelves. Everyone battens down the hatches and prepares for the End of Days. Not here. Snow is a way of life in Upstate New York. It’s built into the infrastructure, the economy, and the morning commute.
Barring a three-day blizzard (and maybe even then!), life goes on in rain, snow, sleet, hail, or whatever else nature decides to drop on us. But on those rare occasions when it does happen, it’s awesome. A storm bad enough to stop one of the snowiest regions in the US? That’s a justified day off. Most state parks remain open to the public year around, and most trails are accessible with the right gear and proper attire. All that fun you were planning on having? Go have it by snowshoeing, skiing, and snowman-building. No wait for summer required.
8. So many lakes.
It’s easy to find yourself exhausted by summertime activities involving lakes and waterfalls. They’re everywhere, and when the weather is good, you’ll find camping, picnicking, hiking, and family gatherings all taking place around some of the most picturesque Upstate New York scenes. Unlike many parts of the world, where going to “The Lake” would actually mean something, if you say that in Upstate New York, someone’s going to ask, “Which one?” because of the overabundance of standing water nearby.
This is awesome. Some parts of the world have very few lakes or bodies of water that are manmade. Up here, lakes are a natural formation and provide fantastic, and scenic, opportunities in a variety of places. You don’t have to take a road trip to enjoy a day on the water. Of course, if you want a more beach-esque setting, Lake Ontario is near the top of the state — and you won’t see land on the horizon when you stand on the shore.
9. The seasonal loop-the-loop.
After a while, the ups and down in each season can really start to get on your nerves. Summer is great, fall is awesome, winter suck, spring is just okay (depending on when the snow finally goes away). And then you’re back to summer and it’s rinse and repeat over and over again, like a merry-go-round that never really stops.
But it’s awesome that seasons exist in the Upstate. It’s why fall is so spectacular and summer feels like a drunken rush through paradise. There’s a feeling of immediacy as winter flourishes to spring that you don’t get when you’re closer to the equator.