Main Street in Downtown Tarrytown via quiggyt4 /

11 Most Scenic Small Towns in New York

Do you live in New York, or are you visiting and need something to do this weekend? Why not take a road trip through this magnificent state, where around every corner, cities and towns with historical, cultural, and natural landmarks can be found? Whether it is the mountainous and forested upstate area, the short sliver of the Atlantic coast around New York City, or a beach town on the Great Lakes, the opportunities are numerous and ought to be explored. Today, let us take a look at 11 of the most scenic small towns in the state of New York. Be sure to bring your camera!


Skaneateles Lake in Skaneateles, New York.
Skaneateles Lake in Skaneateles, New York. Editorial credit: PQK /

Skaneateles is a town of around 7,200 residents sitting on the southern tip of Skaneateles Lake in the Finger Lakes region. Visiti for both its historic significance and abundant natural beauty in this iconic area of the state, again, mostly known for its elongated, finger-shaped lakes.

History finds its voice at the Harriet Tubman Home, a National Historic Landmark designated to honor the famed abolitionist and notable figure in the Underground Railroad. You can learn more about the town itself at the Skaneateles Historical Society, which backs onto the meandering Skaneateles Creek running through downtown.

Beyond the town limits, Skaneateles Lake itself emerges as a destination worth checking out. Its crystal-clear waters are perfect for a day of boating, swimming, or fishing. Hiking trails weave through surrounding hills, with many panoramic viewpoints. As the day draws to a close, waterfront restaurants like the Blue Water Grill provide the perfect setting for a delicious meal.

New Paltz

Mohonk Mountain House across a lake with a dock and a small rock island in New Paltz, New York.
Mohonk Mountain House across a lake with a dock and a small rock island in New Paltz, New York.

Founded by French Huguenots in the 17th century, New Paltz is now a modern small town with a unique and interesting past which you can learn about through several notable landmarks. Huguenot Street is considered a living museum, featuring original stone houses and offering guided tours that delve into the early settlers' lives from across several centuries. Stay the night at the Mohonk Mountain House, a hotel and lodge, built in 1869, that rivals just about any other hotel in the country in terms of beauty. It is also one of the only Victorian-style castles in the United States.

The nearby Shawangunk Ridge, known locally as “The Gunks,” is famous for rock climbing, hiking, and breathtaking views. Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park also provide extensive trail networks for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts, from casual walkers to experienced hikers.

New Paltz plays host to a few notable cultural and music festivals throughout the year, such as the New Paltz Regatta and the annual Harvest Festival at Historic Huguenot Street.


Main Street near the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Main Street near the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Image credit Michelangelo DeSantis via

Cooperstown, a town nestled along the southern shore of Otsego Lake in upstate New York, offers a unique look into the history of baseball, America's number-one pastime. Standing as the crown jewel of Cooperstown is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. This iconic institution attracts baseball enthusiasts from around the world, showcasing the sport's rich history through interactive exhibits and displays of players' memorabilia. There are a number of other museums touching different subjects here, too. The Farmer's Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum are great alternatives.

For anyone just trying to spend a day on the water, Ostego Lake is a short walk from downtown. Visitors can rent boats to explore the lake or embark on scenic hikes through the woodlands bordering the shoreline. Glimmerglass State Park is a popular spot for both hiking trails and beaches, to the northern end of the lake.

Cold Spring

Sidewalk scene in Cold Spring, New York
Sidewalk scene in Cold Spring, New York

Less than an hour and a half drive north of New York City along the Hudson River in New York's Hudson Valley, Cold Spring welcomes all who are looking for an escape from the crowds.

One of the town’s highlights is of course, the scenic Hudson River, which on top of being absolutely beautiful, offers opportunities for kayaking, boating, and riverside picnics. For those who enjoy hiking, the nearby Breakneck Ridge is home to challenging trails with more stunning views of the Hudson Valley from above. Another notable spot is Boscobel House and Gardens, a restored 19th-century mansion with expansive gardens and panoramic views of the river.

Cold Spring’s history can be seen today in landmarks like the West Point Foundry Preserve, where you can explore the ruins of an ironworks that played a significant role during the Industrial Revolution.


Saugerties Lighthouse & Picnic Tables
Saugerties Lighthouse & Picnic Tables

Saugerties is another town located in the Hudson Valley. One of its main attractions is the Saugerties Lighthouse, a historic beacon situated at the confluence of the Hudson River and Esopus Creek. The lighthouse, built in 1869 to help guide trade ships through the Hudson River, is accessible via a scenic half-mile trail.

Nature enthusiasts can explore the nearby Catskill Mountains, where numerous trails will allow you to enjoy the surrounding landscape and observe local wildlife. Esopus Bend Nature Preserve is also a popular spot for birdwatching and other nature viewing. A visit in the Fall is recommended to see the foliage change into several vibrant colors.

Saugerties also hosts various annual festivals, such as the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, which celebrates the fragrant vegetable by offering foods from several vendors and a chance to buy some locally grown garlic too.


The buildings at the Wells College campus in Aurora, New York.
The buildings at the Wells College campus in Aurora, New York. Image credit PQK via Shutterstock.

Aurora, a small town with a tiny population of around 650, sits on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. The history of this quaint town is deeply connected with Wells College, a liberal arts college founded in 1868, which features stunning Gothic architecture and well-manicured grounds that are open for the public to walk around in and explore.

Aurora's cute downtwon area is dotted with well-preserved 19th-century buildings, many of which house locally owned shops, art galleries, and cafes. The Aurora Inn, an iconic landmark, offers a glimpse into the town’s rich past and provides luxurious accommodations and fine dining with lake views for anyone looking to stay the night here.

Cayuga Lake is a focal point for outdoor activities such as boating and fishing. The lake’s beaches make it a popular place to simply lounge around in the sun too. The nearby Long Point State Park is better for anyone who wants to hike slightly longer and more challenging trails or wants a picnic away from town.


Main Street in Downtown Tarrytown
Main Street in Downtown Tarrytown via quiggyt4 /

Tarrytown's rich history, scenic river views, and bustling main street make it a compelling destination for those looking to explore the Hudson Valley’s cultural and natural attractions. Its historic sites, such as the Lyndhurst Mansion, a Gothic Revival mansion with expansive grounds, offer a glimpse into the opulent past of the region. Another significant landmark is the Tarrytown Music Hall, one of the oldest theaters in Westchester County, hosting a variety of performances year-round.

The town’s riverfront park provides stunning views of the Hudson River and the new Tappan Zee Bridge (built in 2013), making it a popular spot for leisurely walks and picnics. For more difficult trails that are lengthier and slightly more off the beaten path, Rockefeller State Park Preserve has several extensive trails through woodlands and meadows, perfect for hiking and wildlife observation.


People relax on the lawn in the Hudson River Walk Park in Tarrytown, New York.
People relax on the lawn in the Hudson River Walk Park in Tarrytown, New York. Editorial credit: Andrew F. Kazmierski /

Positioned along the Hudson River, Hudson is known for its well-preserved 18th and 19th-century architecture from this once economically popping region. Originally a bustling hub for whaling and manufacturing, Hudson has transformed into a haven for artists, history buffs, and all other kinds of visitors.

Warren Street, the town’s main thoroughfare, is lined with art galleries, antique shops, and locally-owned restaurants. This street is also home to the Hudson Opera House, which now serves as a community arts center that hosts performances and exhibitions.

Be sure to pay the Hudson Riverfront Park a visit, a spot that has unique and beautiful views of the river and is a popular place for picnicking and walks. Olana State Historic Site a little further away, is the former home of landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church and provides yet more sweeping views of the river and the forests and hills nearby.

Lake Placid

Main Street, located in Lake Placid, New York
Main Street, located in Lake Placid, New York. Image credit Karlsson Photo via Shutterstock

Up to the northern side of the state in the Adirondack Mountains, Lake Placid is a small town renowned for its outdoor recreation in both summer and winter and its Olympic history. Best known for hosting the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980, Lake Placid is a great place to visit for sporting enthusiasts.

The town center is compact and easily walkable, featuring shops, restaurants, and the iconic Olympic Center, where you can go to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum. This museum highlights the town's significant role in winter sports history, displaying artifacts and memorabilia from the Olympic Games.

Many are drawn to Lake Placid for its many outdoor activities, from ski hills to trials and camping. Mirror Lake, right beside the heart of town, is a top spot setting for kayaking, paddleboarding, and ice skating in the winter. For those interested in hiking, the surrounding High Peaks region offers numerous trails with varying difficulty levels, including the famous Mount Marcy, the highest point in New York State.


Main Street and South Street in Beacon, New York, USA.
Main Street and South Street in Beacon, New York, USA. Editorial credit: Brian Logan Photography /

Beacon has transformed over the years from an industrial town to a thriving arts and culture hub. This town is perhaps best known for Dia Beacon, a contemporary art museum housed in a former Nabisco box-printing factory. This museum features large-scale installations and is a major draw for art enthusiasts.

In Beacon's downtown area, visitors can explore the weekly Beacon Farmers Market, a perfect place to buy some locally grown, fresh produce and artisanal goods from the region.

Outdoor activities abound in and around Beacon. The nearby Mount Beacon Park has several trails for hiking, of various difficulties that generally lead to views of the Hudson Valley. The banks of the Hudson River itself near Beacon contain a number of launches for kayaking and fishing.


The Ellicottville Brewing, Beemus Point, New York.
The Ellicottville Brewing, Beemus Point, New York. Image credit Woodsnorthphoto via Shutterstock

Nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains in Western New York, Ellicottville is a year-round destination for adventure enthusiasts and those seeking a peaceful getaway.

This town is home to Holiday Valley Resort, a premier destination for skiing, snowboarding, and tubing during the winter months. In the summer, the resort transforms into a hub for golfing, mountain biking, and zip-lining. The Sky High Adventure Park, with its aerial park and mountain coaster, offers family-friendly fun and excitement.

Ellicottville’s village center is picturesque, with tree-lined streets and historic buildings. For those interested in the arts, Ellicottville hosts several festivals and events throughout the year, including the Ellicottville Jazz & Blues Weekend and the Fall Festival.

Find the Beauty in New York's Small Towns

From the artistic allure of Beacon and the academic charm of Aurora to the historic allure of New Paltz and the outdoor adventures in Ellicottville, each of these towns in New York provides unique experiences for all to enjoy. Whether exploring scenic landscapes, learning about local history, or enjoying fun-filled festivals, these destinations highlight the state's multifaceted appeal, making them ideal for travelers seeking both relaxation and discovery. How many of these towns will you add to your to-do list this summer?

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