New York State’s spectacular landscapes and scenic beauty have always inspired. New York also has a proud, longstanding history of preserving nature AND making it accessible to residents and visitors alike. In fact, New York is seen by many as the birthplace of the modern environmental movement.
From Niagara Falls to the Adirondacks and south to New York City and Long Island’s beaches, you can immerse yourself in New York’s natural history from scenic wonders to museums and nature-inspired designs for buildings.
Below are ideas to help you get started on your Natural History Path Through History!
Long Island’s beaches are consistently rated among the best and most beautiful in the nation, and can be experienced at state parks like Montauk Point
and Hither Hills
in Montauk, Robert Moses
in Babylon and Jones Beach
Long Island’s elite took full advantage of the island’s natural beauty in creating their opulent Gold Coast mansions. The development of the picturesque landscapes of Bayard Cutting Arboretum
State Park in Great River began in 1887, with the assistance of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. With tours of the grounds and main house, it continues to serve as an oasis of beauty and quiet today.
The mansion at Old Westbury Gardens
in Old Westbury is set within a 200-acre picturesque landscape including some of the most beautiful gardens in the world.
Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park
Montauk Point, Hither Hills, Robert Moses and Jones Beach
Old Westbury Gardens
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New York City:
in Manhattan was the first landscaped public park in the United States, championed by Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant to provide families of the well to-do and working-class city dwellers with an open green space to escape crowded urban life. For the 38 million people who visit every year, there continues to be a myriad of things to see and do within the park’s 843 acres, from guided tours to sports activities, a zoo and a historic carousel.
Even beyond the natural history it expertly presents, the American Museum of Natural History
on Manhattan’s upper west side is historic itself as a scientific and cultural institution. Created in 1869 with the support of notables like Theodore Roosevelt, J. Pierpont Morgan and then New York Governor John Thompson Hoffman, it was involved in expeditions between 1880 and 1930 discovered the North Pole and explored unmapped areas of Siberia. Today it is known for exhibits like Dinosaur Hall, the Hall of Biodiversity, the Hall of Planet Earth, the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the New Hayden Planetarium.
In the late 19th century, prominent civic leaders and financiers including botanist Elizabeth Gertrude Britton and industrialists Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt and J. Pierpont Morgan so believed in creating a public garden of the highest class that they matched public funds to create the New York Botanical Garden
. The living plant museum still awes today with 250 acres of gardens and landscapes across a National Historic Landmark site. Smaller but equally historical and beautiful sites exist in the other boroughs, like the Brooklyn Botanical Garden
and Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Gardens
in Staten Island.
The nearby Bronx Zoo
opened in 1899 and is now one of the most famous and largest wildlife conservation parks in the nation, with naturalistic habitats like the Jungle World, Tiger Mountain, Wild Asia and Congo Gorilla Forest among historically landmarked buildings and monuments.
American Museum of Natural History
Brooklyn Botanical Garden
New York Botanical Garden
Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Gardens
Find other exciting attractions in the New York City region
The galleries of the Hudson River Museum
in Yonkers display works by Hudson River painters as well as traveling exhibitions and works by regional artists. The museum also features the Hudson Riverama environmental exhibition, particularly appealing to children.
in Annandale-on-Hudson is a tranquil spot built in 1804 by Janet Livingston Montgomery, widow of the first general officer killed in the American Revolution. Visitors can take self-guided tours of the 368-acre National Historic Landmark and its formal gardens, landscaped grounds, woodland walks, waterfalls and views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains, as well as the neo-classical style mansion.
Olana State Historic Site
in Hudson was the home of Frederic Church, renowned painter of the Hudson River School, which made lush New York landscapes a central focus of its work. The house incorporates exotic architectural elements and the surrounding area inspires visitors with picturesque gardens, a lake and unrivaled panoramic views of the Hudson Valley. Church's art and collections are displayed along with a gallery of annual exhibitions.
Hudson River Museum
Olana State Historic Site
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Thomas Cole was a painter, poet, essayist and environmental protection advocate in the first half of the 19th century. His home and sio can be toured at the Thomas Cole House
in Catskill, and visitors can walk the gardens and landscapes seen in his famous paintings that began the uniquely American style of art known as the Hudson River School.
Not even the mighty Niagara is higher than the 260-foot tall cascade of Kaaterskill Falls
in Hunter is the highest falls in New York State. The falls are also one of America’s oldest tourist attractions appearing in books, poems and paintings in the early 19th century. Today, a moderate 1.2 mile trail with some steep ascents and descents brings visitors to the often mist-shrouded base of the falls.
Set within a beautiful, unspoiled rural landscape, the John Burroughs Memorial State Historic Site
in Roxbury is where the famous naturalist writer and conservationist was buried on April 3, 1921. His 27 books of nature and philosophical essays influenced millions and were required reading in schools across the country. His last resting place overlooks a quiet field surrounded by magnificent views of the Catskill Mountains where he made his home and was first inspired by the unspoiled beauties of the woods, fields and mountains. The hillside property today features a picnic grove with interpretive signage, and a trail leading to the grave site. Woodchuck Lodge, his small farmhouse, can be toured just up the road.
John Burroughs Memorial State Historic Site
Thomas Cole House
Find other exciting attractions in the Catskill region.
Founded in 1791, during the presidency of George Washington, the Albany Institute of History & Art
in Albany is famous for its significant Hudson River school paintings capturing pastoral New York landscapes. Long-term exhibitions include “Sense of Place: Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Paintings and Sculpture” and “Traders and Culture: Colonial Albany and the Formation of American Identity.”
For over a century, sophisticated travelers flocked to Saratoga Springs to soak in its famed, soothing mineral waters, which by the mid 1800s had became a common health treatment. In 1935, the Roosevelt Baths were opened to provide a facility where guests could enjoy the naturally effervescent waters. Located in what is now Saratoga Spa State Park
-- itself a 2,200 acre National Historic Landmark – the historic Roosevelt Baths and Spa were named a Readers’ Choice Award Winner for Mineral or Thermal Springs by Spa Finder in 2012.
Albany Institute of History & Art
Saratoga Spa State Park
Find other exciting attractions in the Capital-Saratoga region.
in Ausable Chasm is the oldest natural attraction in the US, seen by more than 10 million visitors since it opened to the public in 1870. It’s not hard to understand its historic popularity, with miles of cliff-walk paths, waterfalls, overlooks and vistas in the midst of a primeval forest surrounding a uniquely carved, vertical wall canyon 15,000 years in the making.
At the Adirondack Museum
in Blue Mountain Lake visitors can explore how people have lived, worked, traveled and played in the Adirondacks from the 19th century up to today. Its 65,000 square foot campus features exhibitions housed in 22 modern and historic buildings. One of America's finest outdoor museums, it was called, "the best of its kind in the world," by the New York Times.
The New York Times called it "stunning:" The Wild Center
in Tupper Lake is a major new museum that mixes the indoors and outdoors, live and digital, in unusual ways to allow the wild world of the Adirondacks to open before your eyes. Built in the heart of New York's six-million acre Adirondack Park, the center brings natural history literally to life with features including walking trails, naturalist guides, movies, a play area and live animal exhibits.
Visitors to the Great Camp Sagamore
in Raquette Lake, whether coming for a morning or afternoon guided tour, or a 2- to 5-day residential program, experience the sense of luxurious wilderness recreation from the Gilded Age. A National Historic Landmark dating from 1897, the vintage camp is a 27-building complex that has been preserved or restored to a condition much like it was more than a century ago when it was owned by the Vanderbilts as their wilderness escape.
Great Camp Sagamore
Find other exciting attractions in the Adirondacks region.
Thousand Islands-Seaway and Central New York:
The 32-acre New York State Zoo at Thompson Park in Watertown is the only zoo in the world dedicated to New York's wild animals and wild places with species that are, or at one time were, native to New York State. Get nose-to-nose with black bears, watch the playful antics of rare wolverines and climb a real Adirondack fire tower.
The Great Lakes Seaway Trail is a National Scenic Byway that stretches for 518 miles along the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, Niagara River and Lake Erie. The Seaway Trail Discovery Center in the Historic Union Hotel in Sackets Harbor houses nine rooms of interactive exhibits on the Trail's nature, history, culture and recreation, with programs and events as well.
New York State Zoo at Thompson Park
Seaway Trail Discovery Center in the Historic Union Hotel
Find other exciting attractions in the Thousand Islands-Seaway region and Central New York region.
The 50 acres of Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua contain colorful vistas, a greenhouse complex, nine themed formal gardens and a 40-room Queen Anne-style mansion that local philanthropist Mary Clark Thompson called home in the late 1800s. Much of the signature floral design and landscaping seen there today bears her imprint.
Established in 1864 and purchased by New York State in 1870, the Caledonia Fish Hatchery in Caledonia is the oldest fish hatchery in the western hemisphere. It was created by Seth Green -- known as the father of fish culture – who pioneered the use of hatcheries to rear fish. Today it produces 170,000 pounds of brown and rainbow trout every year.
Caledonia Fish Hatchery
Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park
Find other exciting attractions in the Finger Lakes region.
The William Pryor Letchworth Museum in Victor tells the story of Letchworth State Park -- known as the Grand Canyon of the East -- and its benefactor William Pryor Letchworth, a strong preservationist. It houses Letchworth's personal collections, including Native American and pioneer artifacts, as well as Civilian Conservation Corps material and displays about the modern era of park development.
The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens in Buffalo are the product of three extraordinary visionaries from the late 19th century and early 20th centuries: Fredrick Law Olmsted, Landscape Architect; Lord & Burnham, Architects; and John Cowell, Botanist and Plant Explorer. A national historic site full of exotic horticulture treasures under three glass domes and nine greenhouses, this breathtaking conservatory is situated on 11.4 acres. The indoor gardens include a fully restored palm dome, an impressive fern house which is home to "life size" dinosaur topiaries and a pond stocked with over 20 koi fish. The humid rainforest houses a 27-foot waterfall, bromeliads and banana trees.
It is impossible to talk about natural history in New York without talking about the mighty Niagara Falls. Formed 10,000 years ago, it has attracted visitors from around the world for centuries. A visit to the 125-year-old, Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Niagara Falls State Park – America’s oldest state park -- allows guests to experience the power of the Falls aboard a Maid of the Mist boat tour, with the Cave of the Winds walk or from the Observation Tower. Visitors can also follow trails and parks along the path of the Niagara River Gorge.
Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
Niagara Falls State Park
William Pryor Letchworth Museum
Find other exciting attractions in the Greater Niagara region.
Visitors to Rock City Park in Olean are astounded by gigantic boulders several stories high with huge crevices, sometimes referred to as “streets.” From “Signal Rock,” once used as a signaling point by Indians, visitors enjoy the 1,000-square-mile panoramic view of the Enchanted Mountains. “Three Sisters,” “Balancing Rock” (a 1,000 ton boulder), and “Indian Face” rock are just some of the natural rock formations found along Rock City’s scenic trails, including a three-quarter-mile nature trail consisting of various steps and paths.
The Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown features a nature center, gallery and library dedicated to the life's work of the famed ornithologist and wildlife artist, providing a showcase for his work and that of other internationally acclaimed wildlife artists.
Rock City Park
Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History
Find other exciting attractions in the Chautauqua-Alleghany region.
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