The Niagara Falls and the Finger Lakes region offer a blend of natural and cultural wonders in Upstate New York. Nothing quite compares to the inspiring spectacle of Niagara Falls that cascade across the Canadian border.

The most iconic view of the Falls is from the deck of the Maid of the Mist. The thunderous roar of the waters and sheer power of nature combine for a 20-minute sensory experience like no other. Visitors should prepare to get wet from the 600,000 gallons of water that plunge over the falls every second, right before their eyes.

Extending out dramatically over Niagara Gorge, Prospect Point Observation Tower offers panoramic views of the falls and the raging whitewater below. Bird enthusiasts can spot peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and the many different gull species present in the Niagara Gorge, which has been designated an Audubon Important Bird Area. “It is worth noting that while the falls themselves are the primary reason many groups visit the Niagara region, attractions from museums to historical sites offer groups plenty of diverse activity to enhance their itineraries,” shares Sara Harvey, director of communications, Niagara Falls USA.

For example, Old Fort Niagara will entertain and educate history buffs. The fort offers beautiful views of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. It features 22 acres of original buildings and fortifications that predate the American Revolution. “At Old Fort Niagara, history comes to life through living history programs and special events year-round,” says Robert Emerson, executive director of Old Fort Niagara. Historical reenactors and interpreters in period costumes give a glimpse into what life was like at this strategic colonial stronghold.

“Groups visiting the fort can request a guided tour,” Emerson says. “They can also enjoy a musket demonstration that illustrates the uniform and equipment of 18th-century soldiers. During the summer months, the fort also presents artillery firing demonstrations and other living history programs.”

Two hours east of Niagara, the Finger Lakes region welcomes visitors with its picturesque vineyards and communities nestled along the shores of 11 lakes. The region is the largest American wine-producing region outside of California. Groups will appreciate their next glass—try a Riesling!—is just a hop, “sip,” and jump away from more than 130 wineries. Many of these operations are family-run, making for an intimate visit. Groups can often arrange a private tasting and tour, or take part in specially hosted events like festivals, live music, wellness programs, or painting classes.

Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen, New York
Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

The southern end of Seneca Lake is home to Watkins Glen State Park. Nature enthusiasts enjoy exploring the well-marked trails that wind between 19 waterfalls. As visitors traverse the gorge, they encounter stunning geological formations and the interplay of water and light. Rainbow Falls creates a symphony in color on sunny summer afternoons while the shaded Frowning Cliff remains frosted in ice until late spring.

Watkins Glen International, known as “The Glen,” offers thrilling automotive races. Group leaders can rev up the excitement with an adrenaline-fueled experience. Spectators can hear the roar of engines and revel in the electric atmosphere while they immerse in racing culture by getting up close to the cars, drivers, and pit crews at meet-and-greets throughout a race weekend.

For those looking to hop into the driver’s seat and live out their racing fantasies, consider reserving a spot to drive The Glen on select weekends. Those ultimate fans can find out what it feels like to drive three (escorted) laps around the storied road course while piloting their personal vehicle.

Upstate New York’s appeal as a group tour destination lies in the diversity of its attractions. The Niagara and Finger Lakes regions offer a stunning setting for groups to explore and enjoy a wide range of activities!

By Michael McLaughlin

Main Image: Old Fort Niagara, Porter, New York; Credit: Destination Niagara USA/Grant Taylor Photography