Lake George, New York.

6 Serene Towns In Upstate New York For A Weekend Retreat

In stark contrast to New York City, Upstate New York is a sleepy region populated by tiny towns tucked in tantalizing terrain. But do not sleep on its commercial attractions. Riverside, lakeside, caveside, and mountainside communities with everything from a baseball hall of fame to a Charles Dickens festival to a 100-foot underground waterfall to an Olympic park are just a short drive north of the Big Apple. Take a bite out of these six small apples during a weekend trip.


Main Street in Cooperstown, New York.
Main Street in Cooperstown, New York. Editorial credit: Steve Cukrov /

First to the plate is Cooperstown, a village in central New York known for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Though legendary, the baseball hall is far from the only attraction in Cooperstown. In fact, the village boasts two other museums with similar stateliness but less congestion: The Farmers' Museum, an exhibition of 19th-century rural life on land containing more than two dozen historic buildings, and Fenimore Art Museum, a preserve of Indigenous and early American art named after James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans and longtime Cooperstown resident (his father founded and lent his name to the village).

Though the museums are themselves scenic, they pale in comparison to the countryside. Cooperstown is on the banks of Otsego Lake, which feeds the Susquehanna River through the Appalachian Mountains. Lakeside accommodations include The Otesaga Resort Hotel and Cobblescote on the Lake.

Lake George

Lake George, New York.
Lake George, New York.

Another New York lakeside community, Lake George, has around 3,500 people and sits at the foot of the namesake water body. As a child of the lake, the town has a toybox of ships called the Lake George Steamboat Company, which has been shuttling passengers on various steamboats for over 200 years. Even its inland attractions are important preserves of nautical history, such as Fort William Henry Historic Fortress & Museum, a replica of the fort used between 1755 and 1757 during the French and Indian War and used today as a museum of 18th-century colonial conflict and sailing. Moreover, Lake George is the site of several iconic shipwrecks that have been preserved as spectacular scuba diving destinations.

Although Lake George receives tons of tourists in the summer, it is a quiet oasis during other seasons. The 32-mile lake, nestled in the Adirondack Mountains, shimmers with snow. View that frosty landscape while cozying up to the fireplace in The Lodges at Cresthaven.  


The waterfront in Skaneateles, New York.
The waterfront in Skaneateles, New York. Editorial credit: PQK /

Skaneateles is hard on the tongue but easy on the eyes. Named for an Indigenous word believed to mean "long lake," the town is at the head of Skaneateles Lake and is considered a jewel of central New York. Beyond incredible views and activities on the lake, Skaneateles is a historic community with beautiful buildings containing booming businesses. These include Skaneateles Brewery, whose factory dates back to the 1860s; The Sherwood Inn, which was established in 1807; and The Barrow Gallery, a collection of over 400 paintings by John D. Barrow housed in an annex of the 19th-century Skaneateles Library building.

Like other upstate towns, Skaneateles overflows with vacationers in summer but slows to a trickle in winter, creating a chill retreat. However, it gets an off-season flood in November/December thanks to Dickens Christmas in Skaneateles, an annual festival based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Ready to vacation in a storybook?


A scene from Cobleskill, New York.
A scene from Cobleskill, New York.

Cobleskill lacks an above-ground lake, but tourists can get their aquatic fix 150 feet below the earth in a nearby cave system staked by two radically different companies: Secret Caverns and Howe Caverns. The former is kitschier, since it welcomes visitors with psychedelic billboards and free-wheeling tour guides, but its 100-foot underground waterfall is not to be missed, while the latter is a more formal operation with scripted tours and rules against touching, but you can take a boat ride on its improbable underground lake. Howe Caverns also has its own motel.

Above the caves, Cobleskill is a charming New York community with a small college and excellent stores and eateries like Games A Plunder and The Brick House Bakery, plus an Iroquois museum right outside of town. When school is out, it is time to enter Cobleskill.

Lake Placid

Lake Placid Lodge in Lake Placid, New York.
Lake Placid Lodge in Lake Placid, New York.

Lake Placid is serene both in name and geography. The placid village of just over 2,000 people straddles the titular lake in the northern Adirondacks. Rural attractions include High Falls Gorge, a 22-acre park featuring waterfalls and glass-floor walkways; Whiteface Mountain, a near-5,000-foot peak perfect for hiking and sightseeing; and the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, where abolitionist John Brown lived and now rests. Lake Placid proper contains chic shops, quaint restaurants, and another similarly scenic lagoon called Mirror Lake, which boasts Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa.

Despite its sleepy shell, Lake Placid is a haven for extreme sports. The village has hosted two Winter Olympics, including the 1980 tournament where the underdog US hockey team completed a "Miracle on Ice" against the favored Soviets. Weekenders can check out Lake Placid Olympic Center, where that game and many other iconic sporting events occurred, as well as the Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jumping Complex, where mettle was proven and medals were won. Miracles happen in this Upstate New York haunt.


High Water in Potsdam, New York
A scene from Potsdam, New York.

Far and away the largest community on this list, Potsdam, by NYCers' standards, is a one-room shack in a part of the state no one goes. That is unfair, of course. About 15,000 people live in this upper-upstate community, but many more stay for three-quarters of the year as students at several local universities. These comprise SUNY Potsdam and Clarkson University in Potsdam proper and St. Lawrence University and SUNY Canton in nearby Canton.

A small-town look mixed with a college-town vibe makes Potsdam a delightful retreat in the NY boonies. Visitors can shop at North Country Neighbors and eat at 3 Bears Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe before exploring the vast countryside. The Raquette River runs into town, where it is damed by Potsdam Dam, creating a small waterfall before flowing into the more majestic Hannawa Falls and then carving out the Adirondacks. In the other direction, the Raquette empties into the St. Lawrence River on the Canadian border. The Clarkson Inn is a damn fine base for a trip to Potsdam.

There are few better places for a serene weekend trip than Upstate New York. This entire region is a drivable distance from New York City, yet it might as well be a different country in a different century. Quaint towns and rugged terrain characterize non-NYC NY, but the towns are attractive, and the scenery is breathtaking. Check out Cooperstown, Lake George, Skaneateles, Cobleskill, Lake Placid, and Potsdam to see a peaceful side of New York.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 6 Serene Towns In Upstate New York For A Weekend Retreat

More in Places