Toronto to New York Drive: 9 Essential Family Stops

Have you been looking for an affordable yet fun family vacation? The Toronto to New York trip is perfect for families as there are so many great activities en route geared toward kids.

Driving to New York is a fun road trip, especially since it is not super long at just over 8 hours. Vacations can be very costly for families, especially if you need to pay for multiple plane tickets. However, driving to the Big Apple is an affordable way to travel for many families as it only costs a few tanks of gas.

There are very few road trips that offer so many fun attractions along the way like the Toronto to New York drive. There are plenty of restaurants, parks, museums, zoos, amusement parks, and waterparks for families to enjoy together. Not to mention you’ll cross through some of the most picturesque countryside in Upstate New York 

So get ready and pack your bags to enjoy this epic road trip, but leave the planning to us. Follow our guide to the best family friend attractions to stop and enjoy along this road trip. 

Canada Family Road Trip planning tips

Distance From Toronto To New York 

The shortest distance from Toronto to New York by car is 497 miles (798 km). There are two different routes, but they are quite similar and only 10 minutes difference in length of time.

You can either take the I-86 E or the I-90 E for the majority of the drive, depending on which side of upstate New York you want to drive through. The best route for fun kids activities we find is the I-90 E – though you could take one route there and the other back.

Whenever you take a road trip from Toronto, you will want to leave early in the morning to avoid the traffic. You will drive on the Queen Elizabeth Way first around Lake Ontario, and then you will take Highway 420 to the Rainbow International Bridge. 

The border crossing can be busy depending on the time of year you are traveling, so plan for about an hour at the Canada/United States border. Once you’re in the United States, the fastest way is on the I-90 East, so to break it up we would plan to make a few stops along the way for bathroom breaks, snacks, and some sightseeing.

Pro Tip: Ensure you have all your travel documents, including passports and have the locations of your accommodations, as often the border agent will ask where you are staying.

How Long Do I Need Driving From Toronto To New York 

The drive from Toronto to New York is about 8 hours of non-stop driving. Driving with children will require a few stops, normally every 2-3 hours (depending on your kids) so you can definitely drive it all in one day, but it will probably take more like 10 or more hours and leave no time for sightseeing.

You can easily customize your trip depending on how much time you have and how many sightseeing spots you plan to stop and enjoy!  If you want to stop and explore the attractions along the way, we would plan to take two days to drive there. 

Best Time Of Year To Drive From Toronto To New York 

Choosing when to take a road trip from Toronto to New York City can be challenging as every season offers something different in New York City. New York City is beautiful year-round and offers so many unique things to do, so there is never really a bad time to road trip between the two major North American hub cities.

USA Toronto to New York Drive - Road Trip

New York State is famous for many lakes, rivers, parks, landmarks, and forests, all of which you want nice weather to explore. The most popular time of year is definitely the summer months, from June until September when temperatures are humid, and there are lots of crowds.

Summer also offers an opportunity to capture some of the beautiful sunflower farms in Upstate New York.

However, the spring months offer temperatures in the mid-20s (over 70ºF), and more than likely the weather will be sunny, allowing you to truly explore along the way with fewer crowds.

Lastly, New York is magical in the winter time right around Christmas as you can see the huge Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Centre, take a horse-drawn carriage through the inter wonderland of Central Park or take in a local light show. If you choose to visit in the winter, you will need to be prepared that many stops and attractions are seasonal and may not be open.

Weather between Toronto and New York can also be very harsh in the winter with lots of snow, so you will need to be prepared for hazardous weather and road conditions. Personally, we would not drive without snow tires

  • Starting this East Coast itinerary in Toronto? You may want to dive into our Toronto family guide before you fit the road – the ideal way to spend a day in Toronto with the kids!

9 Best Stops On A Toronto To New York Road Trip 

The following are the best places to visit during a road trip from the urban hub of Toronto to lively New York City.

1. Niagara Falls

Undoubtedly the best thing to see and experience between Toronto and Canada is Niagara Falls.

You can discover and explore any of the three falls: Horseshoe Falls (located in Canada), American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls, both located on the American side, which all come together to form the famous landmark of Niagara Falls! 

Enjoy the beautiful views that Niagara has to offer by enjoying a boat tour that takes you up close to both sets of falls. You can take a boat from the Canadian side with Maid of the Mist (American side) or Niagara City tours (Canadian side). Both boat tours give you an up-close tour of the thundering waters that form this famous natural beauty.

In Niagara Falls, New York there are lots of other fun attractions to check out, including Journey behind the Falls which allows you to explore the tunnels through the bedrock and hear the roar of the waterfalls as you stand behind the falls, or get up close on the observation deck.

A newer attraction is the historic Niagara Parks Power station which allows you to explore the first major power plant and learn all about its rich history through this interactive exhibit. 

If the weather is bad, then you may want to check out Niagara Fury, the 4D cinema that tells the story of the last ice age. Enjoy an adventure of a lifetime as you take a cable car across the Niagara River and view the Niagara rapids and the river. 

Pro Tip: You will want to pack a poncho as you are sure to get wet from the mist from the falls on either of these excursions.

Buffalo, New York

Buffalo is the second most populous location in New York State. One of our favorite places to stop and visit whenever we are in Buffalo is Walden Galleria Mall, which is home to 200 stores, and 8 full restaurants. 

Walden Galleria offers a variety of entertainment options, including arcade games at Dave and Busters, a one-of-a-kind story-driven experience at 5 Wits Adventure Entertainment, cinema, escape room, and Billy Beez indoor playground.

If you prefer an outdoor adventure, then stop at the “Grand Canyon of the East” known at Letchworth State Park. The Genesee River flows over three different waterfalls high above the lush forest floor, and you are sure to enjoy those waterfall views, and many other scenic spots as the park has over 66 miles of hiking trails.

If you don’t like hiking, then you may enjoy the nature programs, biking, kayaking, or whitewater rafting opportunities offered inside this state park, one of the top nature spots in New York.

Rochester 

Rochester is a city that is rich in history and heritage and is full of old industrial buildings, picturesque parks, and amazing museums for kids. 

A great pit stop for families is The Strong Museum of Play which is 100,000 square feet and home to the Toy Industry and Video Game Hall of Fame. The museum is designed to inspire curiosity in kids through interactive play experiences, including a pretend grocery store, giant Etch a Sketch, Lite Brite, an obstacle course, retro video games, and an indoor butterfly garden.

This is a great road trip stop for the whole family as it takes about three hours to explore, and also has a kid-friendly diner that even the pickiest eaters will find something to enjoy!

Pro Tip: If you are traveling at the beginning of the month, the first Friday of each month offers half off general admission!

If you are looking to stretch your legs from the long car drive, then you will want to check out the park system, which has many well-marked trails along the Erie Canal. You can explore the waterways by canoe, kayak, or a simple stroll on the paved paths.

Animal lovers will enjoy a visit to the Seneca Park Zoo, which is home to a wide variety of animals from around the world, including lions, baboons, river otters, polar bears, and many more! The great news is that the Zoo is open all year long, so you can visit no matter when you travel through Rochester.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Stretch your legs and view a haven for natural wildlife species from New York state. The refuge has a variety of habitats, including wetland, grassland, and forest that are perfect for waterfowl and local birds such as raptors, warblers, woodpeckers, and more! 

USA Toronto to New York Drive - Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

Montezuma offers a 3-mile auto-drive tour with designated stopping points that are perfect to view wildlife and take photographs. The Wildlife Refuge is also a great place to stop for a picnic lunch or get some exercise on the Seneca Trail, which takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort

This mountain resort is located in the beautiful Finger Lakes Region in Upstate New York and is the perfect halfway point for families as it is located approximately four hours from Toronto and New York City. There’s no wonder why this is one of the most popular family lake vacation destinations in the northeast.

Greek Peak offers a ski and tubing hill in the winter with nine lanes of tubing and fifty-one ski runs. In the summer, it transforms into an outdoor playground for families and offers exhilarating family attractions like a mountain roller coaster, zipline, mountain biking, and aerial courses.

You may choose to simply stay overnight, or maybe you will spend a day and enjoy the Cascades Indoor Waterpark, which is 84 degrees all year long and offers a wave pool and a variety of water slides for kids of all ages. 

Kids will also want to stop at the Bearfoot Den, which is a kids’ zone offering crafts, games, and toys for kids to enjoy. The Den is open every weekend from Friday to Sunday and also offers other family activities like hiking, biking, and yoga for overnight guests.

Pro Tip: The resort also offers babysitting services for children over two years old, so parents can enjoy dinner without the kids!

The Perfect Halfway Stopping Point – Checkout Accommodation Options Around Greek Peak

Animal Adventure Park

Home to over 300 animals of 150 different species, Animal Adventure Park is the perfect half-day excursion. The park focuses on offering up-close, hands-on animal encounters, as you can hand-feed many domestic and exotic animals during your visit.

During these up-close visits, guests will learn about conservation and all about the animal species for knowledge of zoo keepers during these zoo talks. If you don’t mind staying in your car, they also offer a drive-thru preserve option. 

Opus 40 Sculpture Park, Saugerties

USA Toronto to New York Drive - Opus 40 Sculpture Park, Saugerties

This beautiful sculpture park has 60 acres of meadows and bluestone quarries in addition to the 6.5 acres of sculptures to view. Many consider this sculpture park to be the “Stonehenge of North America”, as the designer created natural pathways out of the abandoned quarry.

This park features beautifully landscaped areas to enjoy including fountains fed by quarry springs. Its the perfect place to time stop for stretching your legs  

Pro Tip: The park is only open Thursday until Monday through Labor Day.

Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom

Taking the I-86 E route further to the west, you could make your penultimate stop at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom. Families of all ages will enjoy Dorney Park, which features more than 60 rides, shows, and attractions, including a waterpark.

Dorney Park is one of the largest waterparks in the North East that you don’t want to miss visiting. The amusement park is perfect for families with small children as it has over 15 rides in Planet Snoopy that even the youngest kids can ride and enjoy!

The Planet Snoopy area has lots of family amenities: nursing rooms, diaper changing areas, as well as a sensory and calming room. The waterpark is one of the best in the state as it has two tubing rivers, multiple wave pools, and twenty-six drenching waterslides – well worth the small detour!

New York Zipline

If you are looking for thrills, don’t forget to stop at Hunter Mountain to visit one of the highest and longest ziplines in North America. Experience the amazing views of the countryside as you are over 3200 ft above sea level on this scenic skyride, on the best things to do with active and adventurous kids.

From peak to peak, this zipline is 4.6 miles and can hit speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Participants must be over 10 years old and complete the Zipline Pilot training school before ziplining, so the whole tour lasts three to four hours.

An alternate family-friendly option is the Mid Mountain Tour which takes families on six shorter ziplines, multiple rope bridges, a rappel, and nine tree platforms. The tour takes 3 hours, and participants will be attached by a harness. 

This is most definitely a spectacular way to finish your Toronto to NYC drive before you dive in to all the fun adventures that await in your final destination, the Big Apple!

More Tips For Road Tripping Toronto To New York

  • Drive the Speed Limit: Make sure you don’t speed on your road trip as there are tons of state troopers everywhere, and they are always looking for speeders.
  • Check road conditions in New York State before you set out using 511ny.org
  • To save on fuel costs, try to make it to the United States before your first gas fill up, as gas is often cheaper in the United States versus Canada.
  • Luckily, power sockets are the same in the US and Canada so no need to pack any adapters, but you will need to change currency from Canadian Dollar to US Dollar.
  • Do bring some lose change. There are a few tolls along the route so you will probably want to have about $20 USD in change to pay tolls.
  • Never forget and important road tripping item again! Pop over here to see our comprehensive guide to road trip essentials – with a downloadable family road trip checklist.
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Next Up – More Driving Inspiration

Looking for where to head after New York? You may also be interested in:

Closer to home, why not try some of the best driving routes in Canada? There are plenty of wonderful Ontario scenic drives and weekenders and day trips within easy drive from Toronto, or check out these stunning drives in Nova Scotia.

© Family Road Trip

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