Capital City: New York City
The state of New York is known as the Empire State, and with good reason. As one of the original thirteen colonies that formed the United States, it has long been counted among the most populous and most influential states.
New York is a state of superlatives. Of course everyone knows the most celebrated city in the world, New York City, and it's certainly a premier travel destination, but the state is so much more than just one famous metropolis. Go beyond the concrete canyons of Manhattan and you'll find a large state with a variety of attractions.
From the magnificent Niagara Falls, to the farms and wineries of the Finger Lakes; from the untamed wilderness of the Adirondacks, to the large and small cities scattered throughout the state; every corner of New York has something you can't find anywhere else.
There is no concise way to describe the geography of New York, except maybe to say it is "diverse".
The city of New York, a major Atlantic port, is of course at sea level. It serves as a small fulcrum connecting Long Island (to the east) and the rest of the state (to the north)—to reach one from the other, one must pass through New York City. North of the city lies the vast majority of the state, known as "Upstate New York". The land rises as one goes north, following the Hudson River upstream. The river cuts a gorge through these Appalachian highlands, forming a wide river valley. To the west of this valley, the Catskills rise—a "dissected plateau" to geologists, but just "mountains" to laymen. Beyond the Catskills, the terrain drops and levels, forming the rolling hills of the Southern Tier.
North of the Catskills is the Mohawk River valley, which runs from west to east into the Hudson. Further west, you will find the Finger Lakes region, a series of long skinny lakes formed when river valleys were blocked by debris from retreating glaciers. North of the Finger Lakes, between them and Lake Ontario, lie large swaths of lowlands, areas which were once underneath the surface of a much larger, pre-glacial Lake Ontario.
North of the Mohawk valley and east of Lake Ontario, you can find the vast mountain range of the Adirondacks, which gradually give way to the St. Lawrence River valley in the northernmost part of the state.
New York has four distinct seasons.
Upstate New York is well-known for its brutal winters. Although temperatures don't get as low as they do in areas like Minnesota and North Dakota, thanks in part to the giant heat reservoir known as Lake Ontario, that same lake serves to generate plenty of lake-effect snow. That being said, it is not unheard of for temperatures to drop into the single digits or even below zero. The major upstate cities compete each year for the "coveted" Golden Snowball Award for most total inches of snow—one small measure of pride for a city digging itself out from piles of snow several feet deep.
Snow is especially heavy to the east of Lake Ontario. Clouds pick up moisture as they travel over the lake's longest dimension, then dump it all on Watertown as they are forced to rise by the Tug Hill Plateau.
New York City is downright tropical by comparison. With the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast, the Big Apple benefits from the warm Gulf Stream waters without having to deal with ocean-effect snow.
Spring in New York tends to start out cold and damp, especially in areas near Lake Ontario, as the Lake's waters have by then been thoroughly chilled by winter. True springtime comes around May, segueing quickly into summer.
Summer features brilliant sun that is only rarely scorching, with occasional heat waves. Humidity is often high but the months are punctuated by spells of lower humidity that bring everyone outside to enjoy the weather.
Leaves start to turn color in September; at their peak, New York's leaf scenery is among the best in the country. By late October, though, it's all over but the raking, and winter begins to set in, with snow often falling by Halloween.