Known as the Western Door by the indigenous Seneca Native Americans who originally inhabited the area, the western region of New York State is more than just a gateway to the rest of the country. Indeed, it's a spectacular mix of farmlands, gorges, lakes, and waterfalls.
A diversity of landscapes forged by ancient glaciers, it is strategically situated on two of the Great Lakes, Erie and Ontario. Western New York borders Canada and is a critical link between the two countries, as well as a major commercial and transportation hub for upstate New York.
Perhaps the biggest draw card to this area is the breath-taking beauty of Niagara Falls, in the extreme northwest of the state. It attracts millions of visitors annually, while the Finger Lakes below Lake Ontario are also an immensely popular attraction.
The region surrounding the lakes is home to the country's oldest commercial wine producing area. Cliff-hugging vineyards compete with rolling farmlands and fields of sunflowers border picturesque towns, harking back to the Victorian era.
However, it is not all sleepy hollows and rural landscapes. Bustling cities such as Rochester and Buffalo offer top class amenities and attractions, including parks, museums, galleries, and fine restaurants.
The Western New York State region is therefore a healthy mix of natural beauty and urbanity, and there is plenty to see and do, from hiking, fishing, and white-water rafting, to wine tasting, shopping, and dining.
The Niagara Falls straddle the United States and Canadian border, 340 miles (547km) northwest of New York City. They are one of the most popular natural attractions in the country, attracting more than 20 million tourists a year.
The Niagara River has been flowing for about 12,000 years. But the eroded escarpment over which the falls flow today is much older, forming during a previous ice age. The river plunges over a cliff of dolostone and shale, forming the second largest waterfall on earth after Victoria Falls in southern Africa.
It's best to appreciate the mighty torrent from a spray-filled 'Maid of the Mist' boat tour. But there are many different tours and tickets available. Interestingly, the falls have attracted daredevils over the years, who have gone down them in various contraptions.
Frenchman Jean Francois Gravelot performed the most famous of these feats, crossing over on a tightrope in 1859. His legacy is evident in the scores of tightrope walkers who have since followed in his footsteps.
Traditionally a honeymoon destination, the area around the Falls has been built up into a major tourist area, with attractions like Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum, and plentiful cheap eateries and chain restaurants.
The 11 narrow lakes that stretch north to south below Lake Ontario are the Finger Lakes. The lakes are popular for boating and fishing, and the rolling hills between them are interspersed with waterfalls, gorges, and parks, ideal for hiking, cycling, and cross-country skiing.
Native Americans believe the Finger Lakes formed when one of their Gods reached out to bless their region and left behind an imprint of his hand. The Finger Lakes region, formed by glaciers during the Ice Age, is one of the most important wine growing regions in the United States.
Most of the vineyards are located on the rolling hills of the Cayuga Wine Trail, overlooking the Cayuga Lake, and many offer tours and tastings. A variety of tourist accommodation is available in the region, from luxury lodges to campsites.
Dubbed 'the biggest small town in America', Buffalo sits on the eastern shore of Lake Erie, serving as a good base for visiting Niagara Falls and for exploring the Finger Lakes region. Established by the French in 1758, New York's second largest city became an important trade port for trade with the eastern US.
Buffalo has some noteworthy Victorian architecture and some good museums. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery contains an impressive collection of works by American artists and hosts many great touring exhibitions, while the Buffalo Zoo is home to an exotic assortment of animals from all over the world.
The nearby Letchworth State Park is popular with hikers and offers wonderful views over the Genesee River Gorge, promoted as the 'Grand Canyon of the East'. Buffalo is also a popular stopover destination for travellers on their way to nearby Niagara Falls, as it is the nearest major airport.
Western New York is chock full of interesting cultural sites, with tourism dominated by two immensely popular attractions. Niagara Falls is a celebrated honeymoon destination while the Finger Lakes attract hikers, campers, fishermen, and boaters from all over the US.
Another wonderful scenic attraction in the region is the Letchworth State Park, fondly named 'The Grand Canyon of the East'. The Allegeny State Park and the Allegheny Forest also offer ample space for outdoor recreation.
Popular cities and towns include Rochester, Buffalo, Jamestown, and Niagara Falls, which all make good travel hubs. Rochester, famous for being the birthplace of amateur photography, is home to the National Museum of Play and some celebrated theatres.
Buffalo's top tourist attractions include the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, and some lovely gardens and parks. The Darien Lake theme park and concert venue, about half way between Rochester and Buffalo, also attracts throngs of visitors in the warm summer months.
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