Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Utica, NY

  • Published 2023/01/20

Located at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains on the Mohawk River, the City of Utica in New York is home to world-class attractions.

Nicknamed the Handshake City, it’s the county seat of Oneida County, with a population of 65,283 as of the 2020 census.

The area was first inhabited about 4000 B.C. by the Mohawk, Onondaga, and Oneida tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy.

In 1758, it was established on the site of Old Fort Schuyler by the American colonists during the French and Indian War.

It was first incorporated as a village in 1798 and later became a city in 1832 after the municipal charter was passed.

The city prides itself in preserving old-world architecture, which is visible throughout the city alongside historic sites.

Here’s a list of the free things to do in Utica, New York:

Admire the Artworks at Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute

Exterior of Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute

Mahmoud Suhail /

With over 13,500 permanent artwork collections, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute has been raising the bar in preserving internationally recognized artworks.

These artworks are exhibited at the center’s international-style building, which was built in 1960.

Admire the masterpieces of prominent artists such as Frederic Church, Asher B. Durand, Thomas Cole, Raphael Peale, and more.

Cole’s first two sets of his painting series, The Voyage of Life, are also available at the museum.

Entrance to Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute

Mahmoud Suhail /

The center also houses the 19th-century American decorative art collection located next door at the Fountain Elms.

It’s a Victorian-era Italianate structure that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute is located on Genesee Street.

Interior of Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute

Ser Amantio di Nicolao, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Step Back in Time at Oneida County History Center

Oneida County History Center aims to preserve the local and regional history of Utica and Oneida County, as well as the rest of the greater Mohawk Valley.

The center preserves more than 250,000 items, including books, documents, paintings, photographs, drawings, and artifacts, among others.

It features a gallery with rotating exhibits that showcase the rich history and culture of the region and the surrounding areas.

A quick visit to the center gives you a glimpse of the past.

Oneida County History Center is located at Genesee Street.

Read a Book at the Historic Utica Public Library

Exterior of the Historic Utica Public Library

Doug Kerr from Upstate New York, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Utica Public Library is a five-story building in a rectangular Neoclassical-style structure with more than 25,000 books in different genres for kids, teens, and adults.

Whether you’re visiting for research or your daily reading session, the library offers numerous resources.

Constructed in 1903, the building features a central pedimented pavilion with Corinthian-order columns and a limestone foundation.

In 1982, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

You can find the historic Utica Public Library on Genesee Street.

Hike up the Erie Canalway Trail

In Utica, off North Genesee Street, the 3.5-mile segment of the Erie Canalway Trail provides hikers and cyclists panoramic views of the historic canal.

Along the way, you’ll encounter beautiful small communities and see the canal’s natural beauty.

The trail is a popular spot among hikers and bikers for its easy path.

If you wish to continue to the remaining 7.5 miles of this segment in Utica, you can head to the Village of Frankfort.

There’s also an on-road path for the remaining miles that go along with the vehicle traffic.

The Erie Canalway Trail makes up the 750-mile Empire State Trail, offering extraordinary experiences for both hikers and cyclists.

Soak up Nature at Utica Marsh Wildlife Management Area

Harbor lock at Utica Marsh Wildlife Management Area

Mahmoud Suhail /

A beautiful mixture of wet meadows, cattail wetlands, open water pools, varieties of plants, wildflowers, and wildlife await you at Utica Marsh Wildlife Management Area.

To get closer to these amazing views, you’ll have to hike or ride a bike to get to the area.

There’s a wildlife viewing tower where you can get a great view of the wildlife in the area, especially birds, such as occasional bald eagles, fish, ducks, geese, and more.

When hiking through the area, always stay on the designated trails to avoid disturbing the wildlife.

Utica Marsh Wildlife Management Area is located between the New York State Barge Canal and the Mohawk River.

It’s shared by the City of Utica and the Town of Marcy.

Attend the Sidewalk Art Festival

Sponsored by the Bank of Utica, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute hosts the annual Sidewalk Art Festival in July.

The week-long festival showcases the artworks of local artists living within a 40-mile radius of the city, which are also available for purchase.

See the masterpieces of promising local artists, such as paintings, photographs, drawings, prints, small sculptures, and computer-generated art.

If you’re attending, you may cast your vote for these works in different categories, which is a fun way to help promote local artists.

There will be children’s activities, special museum tours, live performances, car shows, and more family-friendly activities throughout the week!

The Sidewalk Art Festival is Utica’s longest-running summertime celebration of the arts, music, and culture.

Catch a Beautiful Utica Sunset at Roscoe Conkling Park

Sunset over Roscoe Conkling Park

Andre Carrotflower, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s nothing more fulfilling than watching the sunset in the west, especially witnessing it sink over a pretty skyline.

On a fine afternoon, you can head to Roscoe Conkling Park, a 645-acre historic park where you can enjoy the beauty of nature.

The park has a scenic overlook, which provides panoramic views of the city and a breathtaking Utica sunset.

Landscape of Roscoe Conkling Park

Mahmoud Suhail /

While it’s great to see the sunset at any time of the year, the fall colors at the park offer an unmatched experience as soon as the sun sinks over the horizon.

Roscoe Conkling Park was established in 1909 by the Proctor family.

Have a Picnic at F T Proctor Park

For traveling families, Utica also offers one of the best picnic areas in the area: F T Proctor Park, also known as Frederick T. Proctor Park.

The 62-acre park is the city’s smallest park, popular for its amazing open vistas with huge stately trees.

Many areas of the park are set aside for family picnics.

You’ll also see many perennials, native shrubs, seasonal flowers, and other plants.

The family-friendly park also has a Butterfly Garden, the Lily Pond, stone staircases, stone structures, and more.

F T Proctor Park is located at the corner of Rutger Street and Culver Avenue.

Stroll through the Utica Historic Districts

Street clock at Utica Historic District

Nina Alizada /

The Utica Historic Districts include three districts that house more than 100 historical buildings built as early as the 1830s.

Stroll through Lower Genesee Street, Rutger–Steuben Park, and Utica Parks and Parkway historic districts and see the mixture of historic commercial and industrial buildings.

View of Genesee street buildings

Wangkun Jia /

These Utica Historic Districts were all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Don’t miss checking out these districts to discover life in the past as you step into the districts’ grounds.

The grounds of Utica Historic District

Mahmoud Suhail /

Cool Down at Seymour North Utica Pool

While the summertime in Utica is mild, it can be humid at times too.

To cool down, the city opens its public swimming pools during the summer season, including the Seymour North Utica Pool.

It can be crowded during the summer months, but if you go there early, you can enjoy the nice pool to cool down.

If you have kids, they’ll love this spot, especially since there’s a nice playground adjacent to the swimming pool.

There are lifeguards on duty during operating hours, but you still have to keep an eye on your kids when swimming.

Beat the heat at Seymour North Utica Pool on Northern Road.

Explore the Historic Union Station

Exterior of the Historic Union Station

Mahmoud Suhail /

Constructed between 1912 and 1914, the Union Station served as the New York Central Railroad station.

See the station’s gorgeous architecture built in Italianate style, which was prevalent from the 1830s to the 19th century.

The station’s main entrance is adorned by a large clock with an eagle sculpture.

Interior of the Historic Union Station

Mahmoud Suhail /

Today, the historic station is used by eight Amtrak trains and the Adirondack Railroad.

There’s also a covered bridge on site, which overlooks the tracks where you can see the trains in motion.

Union Station is located on Main Street.

Platform 2 at the Historic Union Station

Mahmoud Suhail /

Join the Fun at Utica Music Series

Established in 2016, the Utica Music Series, also known as Utica Monday Nites, features many musical acts in different genres, such as reggae, rock, and country.

The free outdoor concert series is held at Kopernik Park in downtown Utica.

Musicians from different parts of the country are summoned to perform for the community to gather people together and promote local artists.

If you’re in the Handshake City sometime between June and August, don’t miss out on the Utica Music Series.

Bring a lawn chair or a blanket and a picnic, and join the fun with the locals!

Other Things to Do Nearby

Past the city limits, you’ll also find majestic tourist attractions that are all worth the few minutes drive from Utica.

Go Kayaking at Bellamy Harbor Park

A bridge over the waters at Bellamy Harbor Park

Mahmoud Suhail /

If you’re up for a day of fun in the water, Bellamy Harbor Park features a kayak or canoe ramp where you can launch your own equipment.

There are kayak rentals on-site, but you have to look out for the park’s occasional free kayak or canoe use.

Nonetheless, if you have your own, you can enjoy paddling in the water while taking in the views of the park’s natural beauty.

The park is next to the Mohawk River and Erie Canal, providing panoramic views.

The waters of Bellamy Harbor Park

Mahmoud Suhail /

Fishing is also ideal at Bellamy Harbor Park.

Bellamy Harbor Park is in Rome, 20 minutes from Utica.

Cast Your Fishing Line at West Branch Fish Creek

A 30-minute drive to Blossvale gets you closer to Atlantic salmon, brook trout, and brown trout at West Branch Fish Creek.

About 27 miles of fishing area await you at the creek, which also offers an occasional wild brook trout to catch.

Recommended baits to catch trout are salted minnows, worms, and simulated natural baits.

If you have lures like spoons, stick baits, small plastics, and spinners, you have a huge chance of catching all these types of fish stocked in the creek.

West Branch Fish Creek is shared by both Oneida and Oswego counties.

Learn More about the Iroquois Confederation at the Fort Stanwix National Monument

The grounds of Fort Stanwix National Monument

Zack Frank /

While in Rome, you can drop by the Fort Stanwix National Monument on North James Street, which is a 20-minute drive from Utica.

The fort holds original artifacts about the Iroquois Confederation, the first inhabitants of Utica.

You’ll also learn about the American Revolution and the history of New York at the fort.

Interior of a cabin at Fort Stanwix National Monument

Zack Frank /

Find out how the fort stood its ground during the revolution and how it has helped shape Oneida County and the rest of the state.

In 1966, the Fort Stanwix National Monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Aerial view of Fort Stanwix National Monument

tokar /

Final Thoughts

Utica is one of New York’s crowing jewels with its unmatched attractions and historic sites.

Whether you’re traveling solo or with family, the city has something special for you.

Try these free things to do in Utica, New York, to make the most of your trip!

© All rights reserved.