Geography has shaped the development of New York State  more than any other single factor. Though bordered on the north, south, and east by mountains, lakes, and rivers, the state’s central position between the Atlantic and the Great Lakes, along with its flat western terrain, made it a major thoroughfare for early settlers heading west.
Highways were established through the Mohawk River basin and Finger Lakes  in the late 1700s, followed in 1825 by the Erie Canal . The canal was largely responsible for New York’s rise to prominence, and by 1900, four out of five New Yorkers were living along either the Hudson River or the Erie Canal.
Though New York ranks only 30th among the states in terms of area, it is one of the largest states east of the Mississippi and is extremely diverse geographically. Mountains, plateaus, lowlands, forests, swamps, lakes, rivers, gorges, and beaches all make up the state, which was formed mainly during the last Ice Age, when a continental ice sheet up to two miles thick covered almost all of New York.
Today, most of the state is comprised of farmland, abandoned farmland, or semi-wilderness. While 85 percent of New York’s population may be urban, 85 percent of its land is rural.
New York is bounded to the north by the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, to the east by Lake Champlain  and the Taconic Mountains, to the southeast by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by the Delaware River and Allegheny Plateau, and to the west by Lake Erie and the Niagara River. The state’s highest point is Mt. Marcy  (5,344 ft.) in the Adirondack region ; its lowest is the Atlantic coastline.
The Hudson River, which originates at Lake Tear of the Clouds atop Mt. Marcy, flows north-south through the eastern end of the state. Running east-west through the center of the state is the Mohawk River, which arises in Oneida County, near Rome. Other important rivers include the Genesee and Oswego, which flow northward into Lake Ontario; and the Delaware, Susquehanna, and Allegheny, which drain the state’s southern and western portions.
Late spring, early summer, and early fall are the best times to visit New York City  and much of upstate. Temperatures then generally hover in the 70s, and you’re more likely to wake up to one of the state’s precious cloudless days. Midsummers in New York City and much of upstate tend to be hot and humid; winters are overcast, wet, and cold. In contrast, summer is the best time to visit the more highly elevated regions of the Catskills  and Adirondacks .
Average July temperatures range from 77°F in New York City to 64°F in the Adirondacks; average January temperatures range from 33°F on Long Island  to 14°F in the Adirondacks. The coldest winters occur in the central Adirondacks and St. Lawrence River Valley, where temperatures often drop below -10°F.
Annual precipitation is 32–45 inches annually, with the Catskills, Long Island, and Tug Hill (upstate, between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks) receiving the most. New York City averages about 100 inches, Syracuse  and Buffalo  72 inches, and Albany  73 inches.
Over half of New York State  is blanketed with forests, in which grow over 150 kinds of trees. Among them are a few southern species such as the tulip tree and sweetgum, and far more northern species such as beech, sugar maple, red maple, hickory, ash, cherry, birch, various oaks, white pine, spruce, balsam fir, and hemlock. In the Adirondacks  and Catskills , evergreens predominate, while elsewhere in the state, hardwoods are more numerous.
Among the state’s most common wildflowers are buttercups, violets, daisies, black-eyed Susans, devil’s paintbrush, wild roses, and Queen Anne’s lace. Bright specks of alpine flora can be found high on the Adirondack peaks, while woodland flora such as dewdrops and Jack-in-the-pulpits flourish in the forests. Hundreds of species of shrubs, herbs, grasses, ferns, mosses, and lichens also abound throughout the state.
Birdlife in New York runs the gamut from pigeons and common house sparrows—first introduced in North America from Europe in Brooklyn  in 1850—to grouse and osprey. Raptors, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons, are making a comeback, while during the migrating season, hundreds of thousands of wild ducks and geese pass through the state.
In New York’s fresh waters swim more than 90 species of fish, including perch, trout, salmon, walleye, northern pike, and small- and large-mouth bass. Saltwater fish such as bluefish and flounder inhabit the waters off New York City  and Long Island , also known for its oysters and clams.
As for mammals, the smaller varieties predominate. Among them are raccoon, skunk, porcupine, weasel, fox, woodchuck, squirrel, and opossum. The most common larger species is the white-tailed deer, but beaver, black bear, and wildcats can be found in remote areas. Recently reintroduced into the Adirondacks  are the elusive moose and lynx.
As elsewhere in the East, New York ’s great outdoors has been badly affected by environmental contamination. The Adirondacks  and Catskills  suffer from acid rain, the Great Lakes from chemical pollution. Oil spills intermittently blight New York’s Atlantic coast, thanks to oil refineries in nearby New Jersey, and solid-waste management is a problem in some areas around New York City .
On a brighter note, most of New York’s rivers flow significantly cleaner today than they did 30 years ago. Back then, the Hudson, St. Lawrence, and Niagara Rivers were heavily polluted with PCBs, petrochemicals, and pesticides. The Clean Water Act of 1972, along with other state laws, has helped to greatly reduce this pollution. Much work remains to be done, but a solid start has been made.