Family-owned businesses, farmers’ markets, and museums are just a few of the reasons why I love exploring small towns in my home state of New York. Just a drive or a bus/train ride away, I love leaving the busy energy of New York City behind me for the peaceful charm of small towns in Upstate New York. Whether you’re planning a snowy winter wonderland getaway or a family summer vacation, here are our tops picks for the best upstate New York towns to choose from for your next trip.
Since New York State is vast and offers an array of beautiful experiences, we’ve categorized this list by region. From the Hudson Valley to the Adirondacks, here is all of the information you need on what to do, where to stay, and which small town to visit.
Read More: What the heck is Upstate New York? The age-old debate.
Table of Contents
Getting Around Upstate New York
Getting around upstate New York can be tricky if you don’t own a car. But worry not, there are different ways to get around. From trains to buses to car rentals — here is how to visit a cute small town in upstate New York.
Trains to Small Towns in New York
The Metro-North and Amtrak are wonderful options to help you plan a getaway to upstate New York. You can easily plan your trips by taking one of their several train routes to a small town. Most New York towns with an Amtrak or Metro-North train station (like Cold Spring or Beacon) are walkable and offer an array of things to do. If you’d like to do things outside of a downtown area, you may be able to hire an Uber.
Buses to Small Towns in New York
There are different bus companies that can take you to several small towns around Upstate New York. Check Wanderu for different routes and bus companies. Here are just a few:
- Trailways (New Paltz, Geneva, Buffalo, Lake Placid, Lake George, Kingston, Ithaca, Phoenicia, Woodstock, etc.)
- Greyhound (Mostly to the bigger cities in New York state)
- Jitney (North Fork, Hamptons, and other parts of Long Island)
Walkability in Upstate New York
Unfortunately, we live in one of the most unwalkable countries in the world. But, there are several towns in New York State where you can still get around on foot. Charming towns like Skaneateles, Beacon, and Hudson are perfectly walkable. However, if you’re looking to spend prolonged amounts of time without a car, it’s important to plan the logistics for things like grocery shopping and outdoor adventures.
Best Car Rentals for Road Trips in Upstate New York
- BEST RENTAL COMPANY: I like using BUDGET to rent cars in Upstate New York. They’re cheaper and have an online check-in process, so you don’t have to wait in a long line to get your car.
- WHERE TO RENT: To avoid expensive rates and the horrible traffic of leaving/entering the city, I take a train up north to Albany, North White Plains, or Ithaca (by bus). From there, I go to one of the car rental places there. I’ve found rates for a fraction of NYC’s.
- In Albany, you have two options: the international airport (which is open every day). Or the Amtrak Rensselaer train station, but they are closed on some weekend days. In Ithaca, I’ve rented cars for as little as $30/a day! Yes, in 2022!
- Lastly, consider a long-term rental to lower the daily rate.
- Use a credit card like the Chase Sapphire, which includes car rental insurance.
- Book way ahead of time, if you can. I got a car rental in Ithaca for just $1,000 a month because I booked it several months prior!
Renting a car is, of course, the best way to get around in most of upstate New York. With a car, you can venture out of small towns to explore our best lakes and waterfalls in New York or drive to different nearby Upstate New York attractions like caves, gemstone mines, and swimming holes — all on your own schedule.
More of Our New York State Travel Guides
If you’re interested in exploring more of our beautiful state beyond small towns, here are some of our top New York travel guides to continue reading:
- Hidden Gems to Visit in Upstate New York by Region
- 17 Special Places to Go Glamping in New York
- 31 Beautiful New York Waterfalls to Explore
- 21 Best Lakes in Upstate New York for a Lovely Vacation Getaway
- Best Things to Do and Places to See in Upstate New York in the Fall
31 Charming Small Towns in Upstate New York
This article is divided by regions. So if you’re only interested in a certain part of New York State, then keep scrolling to get to your desired region!
Please note: we realize that the exact definition of “upstate New York” varies depending on who you ask. So we wrote an entire article about this debate: What is Upstate New York?
Can’t go too far north in New York state? Then consider these charming Long Island towns as well.
THE FINGER LAKES REGION
For small towns with easy access to lakeside activities, waterfalls, hikes, and wine country, head to the Finger Lakes. Just four hours from New York City, this beautiful area offers so many things to do that we dedicated an entire guide to the Finger Lakes region for first-time travelers. Below are some of the cutest Finger Lakes small towns you can base yourself out of.
Or, keep scrolling for other regions of New York State!
1) Skaneateles, New York (Hidden Gem!) ★
Located on the crystal-clear shores of Skaneateles Lake, the town of Skaneateles is one of the best upstate NY towns to visit to meet friendly locals, grab delicious food, explore walkable streets, and shop at tons of boutiques. Skaneateles is truly an Upstate New York hidden gem and yet it’s just an hour away from major cities like Syracuse and Ithaca. It is one of my favorite places to stay in the Finger Lakes!
In Skaneateles, you can wake up to beautiful views of the lake by staying at a waterfront spa resort and later take a guided boat tour with dinner, or rent a personal watercraft. Skaneateles Lake is also famous in the region for having some of the clearest and cleanest water in the entire state of New York (pictured above).
There are a number of historic sites here too. You can view Hazelhurst, a beautiful yellow mansion on the lake. Or, see the James and Lydia Canning Fuller House (built in 1815), which was once a part of the Underground Railroad.
Ultimately, the Skaneateles Historic District is the most popular place to visit, as it encompasses the quaint and cozy downtown area (pictured above). After a day of strolling and shopping, grab dinner and a cocktail at Elephant and Dove (truly some of the tastiest food in the region with healthy options). For a relaxing stay, consider staying at Mirbeau Inn & Spa. And for a classic bed and breakfast, consider resting at Sherwood Inn, established in 1807.
2) Corning, New York ★
Corning, known as America’s Crystal City, boasts being one of the most fun small towns in New York for us museums nerds. That’s because Corning is home to two epic museums, one of them being the world’s largest glass museum. You may be thinking “glass…. who cares?” But once you enter the Corning Museum of Glass, you’ll understand the significance of glass in our history, art, and technology. You’ll likely want to dedicate at least half a day to this museum and its galleries, workshops, exhibitions, and much more.
A unique event in Corning each year is GlassFest, a local festival held in late May. GlassFest is a great way to experience Corning- through local music entertainment, local business promotions, and also a guided Arts Crawl through public artworks. GlassFest is held in Corning’s historic The Gaffer District, and you’ll want to take time to explore here.
If you love art, you can’t miss Corning’s Rockwell Museum. It is one of my favorite museums in the world. Although relatively small, the quality of the art and exhibitions were captivating; especially to me as an artist myself. Their collection of American art is also uniquely curated and includes a diverse representation of BIPOC American artists. Incredible!
Wonderful places to eat in Corning are easy to find, like Market Street Social, which offers seasonal outdoor dining around fire pits. And if you love chicken wings, stop by Nickels Pitt and order the garlic-buffalo-parmesan. There are also gorgeous boutique shops, a beautiful town square, and numerous art galleries in town.
3) Penn Yan, New York
Located right on Keuka Lake, Penn Yan is one of the most beautiful small towns in upstate New York for water sports. The village of Penn Yan has two distinct areas. First, with a noticeable old town feel, downtown Penn Yan has many shops and restaurants. Spend a summer morning in the down area, renting kayaks on the lake and getting lunch afterward.
The second section of the town area, the general Penn Yan region, holds a number of fabulous wineries and also locally sourced restaurants. Follow the Keuka Lake Wine Trail to discover all that this beautiful region has to offer. You may be lucky enough to see an Amish horse-and-buggy gallop past you since this area has been attracting scores of Amish families for decades.
Ice cream lovers, don’t miss out on the Spotted Duck Creamery for some “farm-to-cone” duck egg custard! And if you love an easy walk through nature, consider the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail for a flat walk to see Seneca Mills Falls (pictured above).
4) Ithaca, New York ★
There is so much to see and do in Ithaca as it’s home to the prestigious universities of Ithaca College and Cornell University– making it one of the best places to live in upstate New York! The lively downtown area always offers a unique experience. The pedestrian-only Ithaca Commons, located in the heart of downtown, hosts events, festivals, year-round dining, and local street performances. This is a great place to meet friends or experience the feel of one of the most liberal towns in upstate NY. You’ll love experiencing the welcoming, progressive, and intellectual feel of Ithaca with its colorful murals and banners reminding us that “Black Lives Matter.”
Outside of downtown, you can visit the deep gorge of Robert Treman State Park, the shores of deep Cayuga Lake, and many beautiful waterfalls in the area. Be sure to bring along a camera to document your adventures- these locations are breathtaking.
- Wine lovers: consider one of these Finger Lakes wine tours and don’t forget the Cayuga Wine Trail!
- Love riding horses? Don’t miss a ride overlooking the lake at Painted Bar Stables! My favorite!
- For incredible apple cider and cornbread, don’t miss out on the Finger Lakes Cider House.
- For luxurious camping (glamping), consider staying at Firelight Camps.
5) Watkins Glen, New York ★
One of the best upstate New York getaways – a trip to Watkins Glen will leave you wanting more of the beautiful Schuyler County outdoors. Just a 30-minute drive from Ithaca (listed above), the town of Watkins Glen is located at the foot of the majestic Seneca Lake and at the entrance of Watkins Glen State Park! Two for one. So you can literally walk from the downtown area of this town towards waterfalls. Coupled with the delicious restaurants in town (listed below) and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, Watkins Glens makes for a perfect New York weekend getaway.
This town is one of the best launching pads for a plethora of activities to enjoy in the area. For instance:
- Visit Watkins Glen State Park (pictured above). This 2.5-mile hike leads you past- and through- 19 waterfalls.
- Go horseback riding with the amazing instructors at Painted Bar Stables!
- Grab some of the best apple cider in New York State at the Finger Lakes Cider House.
- Go on a local wine tasting tour all around Seneca Lake.
- Hike the 4 miles Catherine Valley Trail North. This trail is popular for viewing wildlife.
- Get some Dominican food at Graft Wine + Cider Bar.
- If you like barbequed meat, you have to try the garlic-parmesan-buffalo chicken wings at Nickel’s Pitt BBQ.
- Sail on Seneca Lake. Take a public boat tour, private charter, or rent your own sailboat.
- Mountain bike the Interloken Trail. Catch breathtaking vistas as you ride.
- Book a Farm Tour. Learn all about local faire and support farmers.
In and around Watkins Glen, you can also visit antique stores, boutiques, and souvenir shops.
6) Canandaigua, New York
Once a Seneca village, this town in upstate New York is steeped in history. Down to its Native American name- meaning “The Chosen Spot”- Canandaigua certainly is one of the most historically unique upstate New York getaways. Not only can you experience the waters of nearby Canandaigua Lake, but you can also check out boutiques, art galleries, and numerous important sites. To name a few:
- Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park is located just blocks from Canandaigua’s downtown. The sites’ 50 acres sprawl with themed gardens, and a beautiful Victorian summer home.
- The Granger Homestead and Carriage Museum, from 1816, was the home of the first Postmaster General. Now, it includes the largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles. Take a tour or enjoy a Yoga on the Lawn event.
- The Ontario County Historical Society Museum, where Susan B. Anthony was tried for daring to vote in 1872.
Should you visit in the winter, spend a day at the premier winter resort Bristol Mountain. Here, you can ski one of the highest verticals with a 1,200’ rise. For a classic B&B stay, check out The Bella Ella Bed and Breakfast.
7) Geneva, New York (Hidden Gem!) ★
The small town of Geneva, NY is perfectly surrounded by bucolic farmland and the beautiful Seneca Lake. Catch a show at the Smith Opera House and see wonderful ballets, hear international music, or listen to poetry. Or, visit on a Friday. The first Friday of each month is Geneva Night Out, where local vendors celebrate the art and culture of the area.
While in Geneva, don’t miss the unique dining experience at FLX Table – A “socially connected dinner party” where you gather around other strangers in a communal dining experience hosted by a chef and sommelier. Book your spots here ahead of time, they sell out quickly!
Geneva is also home to the prestigious Hobart and William Smith Colleges. So in the downtown area, you’ll find co-working spaces, cafes, restaurants, and even a welcome center.
Plan to stay somewhere unique, like Vinifera Inn located inside Belhurst Castle (pictured above). Or, Geneva on the Lake (pictured above). There are so many cute places to stay in this charming upstate NY town.
8) Auburn, New York (Abolitionist History) ★
Another one of the best places to visit in upstate New York for meaningful history is Auburn, New York. Auburn sits on the north end of Owasco Lake. The town got its name from a beautiful poem, “Deserted Village” by Oliver Goldsmith.
While you visit Auburn, you must stop by Harriet Tubman’s house to pay homage to one of our greatest American heroines. After escaping enslavement, Tubman rescued 300 other enslaved Americans using a network of safe houses that reached this very region in upstate New York. This was all despite having suffered a traumatic head injury (while enslaved) which affected her health for the rest of her life. She was also the first recorded American woman to lead an armed expedition during the American Civil War. During the Combahee Ferry Raid, she helped liberate another 700 enslaved Americans! Ms. Tubman retired and was buried in Auburn, New York. Today, you can visit her home (pictured above) in Auburn. She is an icon of revolutionary courage and freedom.
While in Auburn, you can combine your visit to the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park with a hike along the Charlie Major Nature Trail. Finish your trip to Auburn by visiting the downtown area, full of wonderful shops, art, and craft breweries.
9) Aurora, New York
Aurora, once a short stop on an upstate New York road trip to elsewhere, is now one of our favorite cute towns in upstate NY. What changed? The creator of the American Girl brand once attended school at nearby Wells College. Years later, she returned and began to revitalize and restore the town, giving us the lovely Aurora, NY we have today. Thus, many buildings in the town are on the National Register of Historic Places. For instance, the Inns of Aurora, which was once a stop of the Wells Fargo Express and is now a premier resort in Upstate New York (pictured above).
Additionally, Aurora is a sweet town to visit for pottery lovers. MacKenzie-Childs‘ gorgeous ceramics are hand-made here. So you can shop for MacKenzie-Childs ceramics here and/or explore their pottery campus and farmhouse.
CAPITAL / UPPER HUDSON VALLEY
10) Troy, New York ★
Located just outside of Albany, Troy was once the 4th richest town in the United States due to its bustling textile industry. Today, this small town-like city in upstate New York is working to reinvent itself as a diverse community for artists, students, and young entrepreneurs. You can see the growing shifts in the downtown area where family-owned restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops are popping up along beautiful tree-lined streets. Visitors can enjoy farm-to-table dining at many restaurants like New World Bistro Bar or Healthy On Lark. There are also plenty of co-working spaces to choose from, should you decide to stay here longer.
Arguably one of the best farmer’s markets in New York, Troy’s Waterfront Farmers Market (in the summertime) is a must-see. Shop local boutiques, sample delightful culinary offerings, and enjoy a lively environment along the waters of the Hudson River.
11) Saratoga Springs, New York ★
While the Saratoga Race Course and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame remain some of the most popular things to do in this college town in upstate New York, Saratoga Springs also has a number of other wonderful attractions you’ll love.
Located on Saratoga Lake, visitors can charter a cruise at the Adirondack Cruise and Charter Company, or take part in a floating classroom experience. For a more relaxing experience, visit Saratoga Spa State Park (pictured above) with historic buildings, sprawling grounds, and mineral spa baths that will leave you rested and refreshed. Don’t forget to taste the naturally effervescent and nutritious spring water!
Art lovers, stop at the Saratoga Arts Center for a taste of the local art scene.
For foodies who love flavorful cuisine and a good cocktail, grabbing dinner Boca Bistro is a must! It is one of the best and tastiest restaurants in Upstate New York. Everything we ordered there was delicious including the cocktails. Finally, Caffe Lena is a cozy hidden gem in an “intimate setting steeped in history” – catch live music or take music classes here, at the longest continuously operating folk music venue in the United States.
Spend your nights at the luxurious Adelphi Hotel which will take you back in time with its art deco-esque decor. You can enjoy the hotel’s spa here as well, and on-site restaurants (pictured above).
12) Woodstock, New York ★
The small town of Woodstock became famous for its namesake music festival which actually took place in Bethel, NY. However, Woodstock still holds its cool hippie reputation to this day. The food, music, and arts scene here is still vibrant. For live music, check out the rustic barn at Levon Helms Studio. For art lovers, don’t miss the works of local artisans at one of Woodstock’s many art galleries. Foodies, be sure to make room for all of the delicious eateries in town such as Oriole 9 and Sweet Dreams Organic Ice Cream.
13) Phoenicia, New York ★
Just 22 minutes from Woodstock is the sleepy town of Phoenicia. There is a quiet stillness, a green fragrance, and lush vibrance that this town exudes. Phoenicia is the perfect town for relaxation and the outdoors. Here are a few things you can’t miss in Phoenicia:
- Esopus Creek – The small town of Phoenicia is located along the Esopus Creek River which offers visitors opportunities for tubing or rafting.
- Rail Explorers (Pictured above) – The locals may make fun of you for this, but so what?! This fun experience allows visitors to peddle their way over a train track that runs along a precipice overlooking stunning views of the Catskills and Esopus Creek.
- Phoenicia Diner – A classic spot for travelers to pop in for an all American plate of food between excursions.
- Go hiking along the many trails of Phoenicia.
- Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice – A five day festival of live music entertainment.
- Shopping at special stores, like Tender Land Home, or Phoenicia Arts and Antiques.
- Stay in cool, unusual settings, like mountainside tent glamping, a cozy lodge in the country, or the gorgeous and rustic Deer Mountain Inn.
14) Saugerties, New York
Located along the Hudson River and the Esopus Crek, the small town of Saugerties offers both easy access to the outdoors and small town charm.
Catch a delicious breakfast at Bluestone Roasting Co, pick your own blueberries at nearby Greig Farm, and stay at the immersive Villa at Saugerties. With its quiet streets, iconic brick lighthouse, and also nearby wooded Falling Waters Preserve, you’ll want to explore the entire weekend away.
If you love the outdoors, head over to Saugerties Village Beach (walking distance from downtown) and stop by I Paddle New York to rent a kayak or go on a kayaking tour down the peaceful Esopus Creek. Just a ten-minute ride from downtown Saugerties is Tullin Ranch (pictured above), where you can ride horses.
15) Kingston, New York ★
The first capital of New York State, Kingston, offers several things to do for a quaint day trip. As one of the battlegrounds during the American Revolution, much of Kingston was burned down by the British. But still, remnants of Dutch and colonial influence can be found well-preserved, especially in its historic center.
Considered a small city, Kingston has three distinct neighborhoods; the Uptown Stockade Area, Midtown Area, and Downtown Waterfront Area, or Rondout. If you can only pick one, I recommend strolling around uptown. Here you can head straight to Rough Draft Bar & Books located in an old colonial-style building on a historic street.
16) New Paltz, New York ★
New Paltz is special. As soon as you enter the town you’ll see a small Dominican restaurant at the foot of the main street. That alone wins major points for the diverse cuisine offered in this small artistic college town. Stroll down Main Street in the downtown area of New Paltz to see more different restaurants, shops, and art galleries such as the DM Weil Art Gallery Unison Art Center.
New Paltz is also at the foot of so many day hikes from NYC to choose from, such as Artist’s Rock (pictured above). New Paltz is not only home to fabulous destinations like the Mohonk Mountain House, and surrounding Minnewaska State Park Preserve, but also:
- Huguenot Street, where you can feel the French influence of the area surrounding you.
- Fabulous Robibero Family Vineyards, nestled into the charming landscape, and
- Buttermilk Falls Inn and Spa, a working farm, spa, and luxurious hotel- the perfect place to end a fantastic day.
- Go glamping with Tentrr Signature.
THE HUDSON VALLEY
17) Cold Spring, New York
Probably the easiest small-town getaway from NYC is Cold Spring. Just a 90-minute train ride from Grand Central on the Metro-North brings you directly into the downtown. Here, you can start your day with breakfast at Hudson Hil’s Cafe. Spend your day adventuring by hiking Breakneck Ridge, one of the hardest hikes in the area, or kayaking with Hudson River Expeditions. Alternatively, explore the art at Magazzino Italian Art Museum, go shopping for antiques, and admire the notable buildings around Cold Spring. Finally, end your day at the Pig Hill Inn, resting right on the cozy main street.
18) Hudson, New York
Hudson, New York is often regarded as the Brooklyn of Upstate New York.
For many, it’s a once-historic port town turned expensively hip and a little snobby (like pockets of gentrified Williamsburg). And for others, it’s a sweet respite from city living just a two-hour train ride from NYC. You decide where you fall along that line!
While visiting Hudson, visitors can stroll through the downtown restaurant scene on Warren Street, Hudson’s main street. Stop at Hudson Wine Merchants for wine tasting, and WM Farmer and Sons for steaks and seafood. You’ll want your camera for capturing the sights of unique 100-year-old buildings as you stroll.
Hudson also offers many museums and art galleries, like:
- Carrie Haddad Gallery
- BCB Art
- Caldwell Gallery Hudson
- Pamela Salisbury Gallery
- Riverfront Antiques and Design Center
- John Davis Gallery
- Basilica Hudson, a non profit arts and culture center in a reclaimed industrial factory
- Hudson Underground Gallery
- FRG Objects and Design/Art
- Rose Gallery Fine Art
Don’t miss taking a ferry boat tour to the Hudson/Athens Lighthouse. In the summertime, the experience is picturesque, especially as the sun sets in the summertime. Afterwards, remain immersed in the artistic ambiance by staying at the Wm. Farmer & Sons, Tiger House or The Maker Hotel (pictured above).
19) Rhinebeck, New York
Charming Rhinebeck also boasts a cultural center, with art galleries, performing arts, unique architecture, and more. In addition, Rhinebeck offers epic outdoor recreation in popular hiking and biking trails, interesting shops, and great places to dine, like Bia. All this, set against beautiful views of the Catskill Mountains, will make you love visiting this small town in upstate New York.
Fun fact: Paul Rudd co-owns the candy shop Samuel’s Sweet Shop located in the downtown area.
20) Beacon, New York ★
Located in the Hudson Highlands, Beacon is another super easy small town to visit from NYC by train. The Metro-North leaves you at the foot of the downtown area; where you can do several different things within walking distance making it the perfect day trip from NYC.
Beacon is known for its contemporary art scene and craft beers. Check out the must-see art museum Dia: Beacon (book your tickets ahead of time) and the Hudson Beach Glass glassblowing studio and museum. Then, visit one of the many craft breweries nearby, like Two Way Brewing Company and Hudson Valley Brewery. Finally, finish out your day with dinner at the Roundhouse.
If you visit for a New York City getaway weekend, be sure to book a room with mountain views at the Roundhouse. When you’re not enjoying the view (pictured above), stroll the cute main street and enjoy the distinctive art murals of Beacon. Stop into one of the many local restaurants and boutique shops. Finally, stop by the local flea market.
Enjoying the beauty of the area is simple here, too. A short drive will take you to Hudson Highlands State Park, where you can catch a glimpse of some gorgeous waterfalls on different hiking trails. Similarly, kayak to Pollepel Island to view the breathtaking Bannerman Castle.
We absolutely love the Adirondacks region of Upstate New York. There are so many things to do year-round, from skiing to kayaking. Here are just a few of the many towns in the Adirondacks to visit.
21) Saranac Lake, New York ★ (Hidden Gem!)
Saranac Lake is a hidden gem region in the Adirondacks, located just a 15-minute drive from Lake Placid. Its location makes it the perfect destination to add to your Adirondacks itinerary. Here you can enjoy several hikes and lake excursions such as boating and kayaking. If you love history and culture (like we do), then stop by the Saranac Laboratory Museum and then head to the Six Nations Iroquois Museum just 20 minutes away.
In the winter, this area turns into a blissful winter wonderland where the powdery snow piles up several feet in the area. In the winter you can walk on the frozen lake, go ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and most popularly? Snowmobiling at Charlie’s Inn!
Additionally, the town has a unique art scene, including bug sculptures, art galleries, and Third Thursday Art Walks. If you love to shop for local art, the Adirondack Artists Guild Gallery is a great stop during your visit. Here, you can view the works of Sandra Hildreth, who captures the landscape of the Adirondacks.
For a cozy accommodation, check out the aforementioned Lake Clear Lodge & Retreat (a 12-minute drive away) for the perfect winter getaway filled with dinners, horse-drawn sleds, and speakeasy experiences. Or, stay in the downtown area in Hotel Saranac. For a 5-star hotel experience? Check out The Point.
22) Lake Placid, New York ★
On the hunt for fresh mountain air and majestic views? Lake Placid and the surrounding area has 2,000 miles of marked hiking trails in the Adirondack Mountains. Additionally, the region boasts 46 High Peaks, many of which are well over 4,000 feet. Some of these trails include climbable fire towers that offer a spectacular view from the top. This view is even better in the fall, so be sure to check the foliage report. If you’d like to explore this region for 1-2 hours, we suggest Balanced Rocks. Or, looking for a longer excursion? Hike to Lake Tear of the Clouds, the source of the Hudson River.
Lake Placid was once an Olympic site, so part of the culture surrounds winter sports. You can try out a toboggan chute, or the Lake Placid Bobsled Experience. You can also catch live luge and bobsled/skeleton events each winter. At the end of your day, enjoy one of the many local farm-to-table options for dinner. Don’t forget to try snowboarding or skiing at Whiteface Mountain. If you’re new to winter sports, check out Cascade Ski Center for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Finally, rest your head at Warner’s Camp– a renovated 1800s guesthouse. Or, stay at the Haus on Mirror Lake, with a rustic yet modern vibe. For a cocktail with lakeside views, go to the Mirror Lake Inn, a luxurious mountain lodge and restaurant with views of the lake and High Peaks.
23) Lake Clear, New York ★ (Hidden Gem!)
Lake Clear is one of the smallest upstate NY towns with a population of only 523 people. This tiny town was once a bustling tourist area. Today, Lake Clear is still devoted to its guests, though in a much more peaceful setting. One of the town’s major draws is its proximity to the St. Regis Canoe Area. Paddlers of all levels love to cruise down its serene waters. In addition, this is a fishing paradise for anglers.
Our favorite place to stay in Lake Clear is Lake Clear Lodge and Retreat (pictured above). This retreat has been dedicated to wellness for generations and continues to offer special experiences surrounding luxury and nourishment, rejuvenation and discovery. Artisan lodgings are nestled into 25 acres of “Healing Woods”. In addition, the Lodge has Old World Food Experiences, including Adirondack Alps Cuisine, and a 1920s speakeasy. Lake Clear Lodge also provide free cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
After a time enjoying breathtaking mountain-lake sunsets, you should leave Lake Clear feeling completely refreshed.
Grab a quick bite at The 1892 Bar & Grille or Charlie’s Inn.
24) Wilmington, New York ★ (Hidden Gem!)
The town of Wilmington is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s one of our favorite towns in Upstate New York. And it’s just an easy 20-minute drive from Lake Placid. Here were our favorite things to do in Wilmington:
- Whiteface Mountain ($20 entrance) – This provides some of the best views in the Adirondacks. You drive up the private highway, making several scenic stops until you get to the start of your hike or elevator ride. However, the elevator was broken when we went, so we actually had to walk up all the steps and scramble over the many rocks. There is a railing that helps you out. But still, bring hiking boots.
- High Falls Gorge ($15 entrance) – An easy and paved walk through nature. You’ll see some waterfalls as you walk above and through the gorge.
- Adirondack Wildlife Refuge – This refuge is home to several animals that would not have made it in the wild. The owner, Steven Hall is so passionate about wildlife and nature. We loved listening to him tell us of his adventures with bears and his deep insights about owls.
- Cobble Lookout Hike – This easy hike takes about 45 minutes each way and offers a huge reward at the end.
- Whitebrook Dairy Bar – Some of the best soft-serve ice cream I’ve had in a long time! They are only opened on the weekends.
For a cheap and delicious lunch, grab a sandwich at Little Supermarket. We ordered one of the best custom sandwiches we’ve ever tasted. And it was under $5! Also, grab a cup of their Colombian coffee to go; it’s quality coffee at just $1.25.
25) Paul Smiths, New York
Looking for an outdoor adventure? Look no further than this small upstate NY town. Nestled deep in the Adirondacks, Paul Smiths is close to the Lower St. Regis Lake, St. Regis Mountain, and Seneca Lake. Perfect for nature lovers! The town is named for the Paul Smith’s Hotel, built-in 1859 and one of the first wilderness resorts in the Adirondacks.
Today, you can find many hotels, cabins, and cottages that are perfect for your Adirondack adventure. For instance, stay at White Pine Camp (pictured above)- former summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge, the Saranac Waterfront Lodge, or Camp Hatteras, a private vacation rental on 33 acres of quiet land. Any one of these stays offers the best access to outdoor recreation.
During the winter months, don’t miss out on snowshoeing and cross-country skiing down the fluffy trails within the Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC). Consider spending the night glamping in the forest (pictured above).
26) Keeseville, New York ★ (Hidden Gem!)
Keeseville is famous for its prized gem: Ausable Chasm. A privately-run natural attraction where you can go hiking, rafting, tubing, rock climbing, and much more. This natural wonder is special in that it’s a scenic canyon with breathtaking views of a narrow gorge. Prices start at around $35 per person, depending on what you want to do.
Just 10 minutes from Ausable Chasm, here are the other hidden gems in Keeseville that we absolutely loved:
- Ausable Brewing Company: One of our favorite breweries in Upstate New York! This gorgeous brewery offers an outdoor space with food trucks. It is open Thursday through Sunday and often has live music. The folks here were super nice to us. And I especially loved their Wayne beer.
- North Country Creamery: Pick up some local yogurt or cheese at this small creamery.
- Adirondack Baer Antiques: If you love antique shopping, consider an easy stop here.
- Mossbrook Roots Flower Farm:
- Adirondack View Vineyard and Lavender: Enjoy some wine over stunning views on this 13-acre farm and vineyard.
- Mace Chasm Pottery: Support a local artist and bring home some beautiful pottery!
- Port Kent Ferry: Take a day trip to Vermont on this boat! Currently closed (but hopefully, it reopens soon).
27) Lake George, New York
Lake George is probably the most popular town in the Adirondacks due to its closer proximity to Albany, NYC, and other downstate areas. This town is a well-known haven for hiking, rafting, and ice cream. As such, it may be crowded when you go so plan around that.
During your stay, be sure to experience hikes like Prospect Mountain where you can see 100 miles away. Or, whitewater raft the Hudson River and Sacandaga Rivers. Finally, treat your sweet tooth along the NY Ice Cream Trail, which stretches from Lake George to Lake Placid and back.
Finally, Lake George and the surrounding smaller towns have plenty of wonderful places to stay, like:
- The Quarters at Lake George, where you can book a room or an entire mansion that sleeps 6
- The Sun Castle Resort, featuring cozy cabins right on the shores of Lake George
- The Boathouse Bed and Breakfast, located directly over the lake’s waters
- Camping at nearby Lake George Escape, or one of the 387 secluded island campsites on the lake
Wherever you chose to stay, you’ll love being immersed in the Adirondacks. Don’t miss our guide to the 5 ways to travel to Lake George from helicopter to train!
28) Alexandria Bay, New York
One of the best places to visit in upstate New York, Alexandria Bay is a picturesque vacation destination. In the heart of the 1000 Islands, you’ll love the maritime feel of this upstate New York small town. While visiting Alexandria Bay, visit the 120-room Boldt Castle and Yacht House, take a boat tour, or stop at the Cornwall Brothers Museum and Store.
Of course, you’ll want to stay near the water. So, wrap up a day of fun at Ledges Resort and Marina, where your view will include Boldt Castle, a lighthouse, beautiful grounds, and breathtaking sunsets.
CENTRAL NEW YORK
29) Oswego, New York
Oswego is located on the coast of Lake Ontario and is home to some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. Due to it being home to SUNY Oswego, the historic downtown area also offers different bars and restaurants to choose from. In the summer, Harborfest is a four-day festival that brings over 75,000 visitors. During the festival, you can see major music performances and fireworks. And in the Spring of every year, the famous Bridge Street Run takes place. This is a massive bar crawl throughout the town where locals, college students, and visitors come together for one big outdoor party.
There are a lot of unique things to do in Oswego. For instance, the town has a number of superb historical sites and museums. First, the Safe Haven Museum was once home to the only World War II refugee shelter in the US. Next, the Richardson-Bates House Museum showcases fascinating Victorian architecture. Additionally, Riverside Artisans showcases many local artworks. For those interested in American history, there are a number of other wonderful museums here well worth the trip.
30) Cooperstown, New York
Tucked against a tree-filled backdrop, Cooperstown’s downtown area is cozy and quaint. Within walking distance are a lakefront park, local boutiques, and restaurants. Here are just some of the many attractions this interesting town has to offer:
National Baseball Hall of Fame: Most famously, Cooperstown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum boasts 300,000 visitors every year. Visitors enjoy art, photography, historical artifacts, and stories celebrating the rich history of baseball. Don’t miss the Babe Ruth exhibit, or “Diamond Dreams”, focused on the women who contributed to the sport. Another exhibit, Viva Baseball, honors the influence of Latino (including Dominican) players in baseball’s history and today.
Otsego Lake: Otsego Lake lies at the north end of town in Glimmerglass State Park. Take a boat tour, or follow winding paths to stunning views of the lake. Or, hike Sleeping Lion trial to Hyde Hall Mansion museum, which overlooks Otsego Lake.
Farmer’s Museum: The Farmer’s Museum honors the traditions of rural upstate New York. They hold traditional events, like maple sugaring Sundays, livestock shows, and a harvest festival. At Christmas, horse-drawn wagons pull guests through the snowy grounds for a Candlelight Evening. The night is complete with a complimentary wassail and local ciders enjoyed around a bonfire.
Fenimore Art Museum: The Fenimore Art Museum includes many important permanent collections. These include the Thaw Collection of American Indian Art, a Folk Art exhibition, an exhibition of American Fine Art, and “Coopers of Cooperstown”, which commemorates the literary tradition of Cooperstown’s founding members.
WESTERN NEW YORK TOWNS
We have a full list of our favorite small towns in Western New York. But here are just a few.
31) Ellicottville, New York
The small town of Ellicottville in Western New York is known for its ski resorts, Griffis Sculpture Park, Sky High Adventure Park, and unique spas. The village also boasts 24 shops, 23 bars, and restaurants, and a dozen special events throughout the year.
Be sure to stop into Winery of Ellicottville and taste their Bubbly Riesling, or Hideous Plaid Hard Apple Cider, made with New York State Apples. The apple cider is particularly refreshing after an autumn day catching amazing views of fall foliage. If you love visiting New York’s best state parks, check out Alleghany State Park, just 20 minutes away!
31) East Aurora, New York
Just a 20-minute drive from Buffalo, the small town of East Aurora is famous for its contributions to the arts and crafts movement and for serving as a filming location for several movies such as A Prince for Christmas, A Christmas in Vermont, and Cold Brook.
Stroll down Main Street to see the gorgeous historic buildings, including the only house built by a US President with his bare hands. In the downtown, you’ll also see the Roycroft Inn, boutique shops, and restaurants. In fact, you might be surprised to find that this small town offers a variety of multicultural cuisines that you’d typically expect to find in a big city.
Whether you’re visiting for a day or a weekend, East Aurora is a hidden gem small town in New York!
These small towns in upstate New York have it all; epic outdoor adventure, quiet spa afternoons, lively local evenings, and more. Come experience all that New York State has to offer!
But Upstate New York is NOT... [Insert Silly Debate]
*Tire Screech* Before you go on a tirade about the definition of “Upstate,” I’m going to stop you right there. There is no ONE regional definition. The dictionary simply states that it’s relative to whatever is NORTH of you. Meaning, that what is upstate is totally subjective. Read all about the silly “Upstate” debate here.
Even though NYC is less than 1% of the landmass of New York State, NYC accounts for about 44% of the state’s population. So, chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re probably from NYC. Therefore, for the sake of brevity and simplicity, we’re following the New York City definition: which means everything “up-the-state” and above NYC. Which is what we love to do! Exploring away from the hustle and bustle of NYC living!
More of Our New York State Travel Guides
- 30+ Easy NYC Weekend Getaways Ideas from Long Island to Maine
- 17 Refreshing Day Hikes near New York City
- A First Timer’s Guide to the Majestic Finger Lakes in New York
- 27 Beautiful Day Trips from New York City