Autumn in Lake Placid, New York

8 Must-Visit Small Towns in Upstate New York

When people think of New York, they often think of New York City. NYC overshadows the rest of the state, since its population is in the millions and is one of the most recognizable cities in the world. But what about anywhere outside of the "Big Apple"? There are plenty of touristy places to see and visit throughout New York.

With the vast number of varied landscapes in the "Empire State," it's one of the most underrated states in the Northeast or even the whole country. There are tons of activities that you just can't find in a big city like New York, such as hiking, skiing, mountain climbing or fishing. These varied towns carry so much culture, along with stunning views and friendly atmospheres.

Lake Placid

Autumn in Lake Placid, New York
Autumn in Lake Placid, New York

The village of Lake Placid is known for its winter sports, with mountain skiing being the most popular. Lake Placid is in the Adirondack Mountains, which makes the climate perfect for such sports; it's why over ten Olympic athletes have come from the town, even if the population now is only a little over two thousand. It even hosted the Winter Olympic games in 1932 and 1980, making it one of three sites that have hosted the games twice.

Main street in Lake Placid, New York
Main street in Lake Placid, New York, via Karlsson Photo /

Many people who hike in the Adirondacks come to Lake Placid to begin their journey, using it to climb the 46 High Peaks, which is a series of mountaintops in the range. Nearby places like Whiteface Mountain are especially popular for skiing. Golf has also been a popular sport for Lake Placid residents, with it having more courses than any other Adirondacks region. Outside of sports, Lake Placid has a great Main Street with shopping and bars. Top of the Park and Roomers are especially popular for nightlife.


Aerial view of Catskill, New York
Aerial view of Catskill, New York

On their website, the Catskill Mountains call the village of Catskill "the picture-perfect example of a historic river town." The Catskill Creek flows right through the village. There are many nature-related activities since the town is surrounded by the Catskill Mountains, the aforementioned creek and the Hudson River. People can walk or kayak through the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary, which is a forested tidal swamp. People often hike up the mountain range, using Catskill as a start.

The iconic scenery of the mountains, forest, and rivers has made for incredible art and culture surrounding it. Places like the Bridge Street Theatre have magic and theatrical shows, while live music is available throughout local parks. Thomas Cole, a famous artist and founder of the Hudson River School of Art, once lived in the village. His house is a historic site and is open for tours year round.


Whiteface skiing area in Wilmington, New York. Image credit via nyker via
Whiteface skiing area in Wilmington, New York. Image credit via nyker via

Wilmington is only twenty minutes away from Lake Placid, but that doesn't mean it's free from places to see or activities to partake in. Lake Everest Beach is open during the summer for picnics and barbecues and lies on the Ausable River, flowing through the town. Other river attractions include the High Falls Gorge and The Flume, where people can visit a series of stunning waterfalls that go through Wilmington, both visible from hiking trails and roads.

A small winter based theme park called Santa's Workshop is available to visit during the summer and winter, where people can see elves at work in Santa's workshop or take pictures with Saint Nick himself. There's also a community garden behind the town offices where residents can reserve and grow fresh produce. Last but not least is the Wilmington Bike Park, which has trails and ramps open to all ages.


The Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York
The Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York, via Alizada Studios /

The town of Bethel was incorporated in 1809 and has several hamlets like Smallwood, Kauneonga Lake and White Lake. White Lake, in particular, is known for trout fishing and motor boating. Bethel is a quaint town that's known for hosting arguably the most famous music festival of all time: Woodstock in 1969. It's been engrained in the town's culture, where there's even a museum dedicated all to 1960's culture and its evolution, called The Museum at Bethel Woods.

Here, people can learn about the history of today's freedom of creativity and expression through art and music. This museum is on the grounds where the original festival took place, along with a modern amphitheater, all as a part of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts campus. Lake Superior State Park is also nearby, with plenty of relaxing spots to get away from it all, along with places to hike, fish, swim and have picnics.

Lake George

Waterfront houses in Lake George, New York
Waterfront houses in Lake George, New York, via 

Lake George is not just a lake, but a town as well. For over 150 years, it went as the "Town of Caldwell'' before finally changing in 1962 to Lake George. The name change to Caldwell was likely a way of the United States distancing itself from Britain, as the name Lake George set in 1755 was referring to King George II. Plenty of nature and wildlife surround the area, with Prospect Mountain and the lake itself offering superb views and boating opportunities, respectively.

Fort William Henry in Lake George, New York
Fort William Henry in Lake George, New York

History is important to the people of Lake George, there's even a reconstructed British fort called Fort William Henry, which was used during the French and Indian War and acts as a museum. People wanting a scare can visit the House of Frankenstein Wax Museum, which was Lake George's first haunted attraction. Kids will love the Expedition Park, which features life-size dinosaur replicas throughout its forested area, along with food, shows and rides all around.


Wells College in Aurora, New York
Wells College in Aurora, New York, via PQK /

The town of Aurora is located in the Finger Lakes area, with it being along Cayuga Lake in particular. The town became a point where canal travelers could stop and port during the 19th century, with it being fully incorporated in 1837. Aurora is known for being the location of Wells College, which was a women's college for most of its history.

Many buildings in Aurora are registered historic places, with a lot of their original architecture still intact, although some buildings have been renovated over time. People can visit historic places like the Aurora Inn or the Long Point Winery, with the Village Market holding gifts, foods, and desserts right next to the inn. The Morgan Opera House is also open for opera lovers, with it being a restored Victorian gem with beautiful woodwork and architecture. There's also the Howland Cobblestone Store, which was owned by Slocum Howland, and is known for its cobblestone architecture. It's also a museum, hosting Howland family history along with highlighting contributions to 19th and 20th century reform movements.


Waterfront view of Skaneateles, New York
Waterfront view of Skaneateles, New York, via PQK /

The name Skaneateles is an Iroquois term meaning "long lake." It's in reference to one of the Finger Lakes, which the town of Skaneateles lies on the North Shores of. The town has a history going back centuries, with American Revolution Veterans even being given land grants for their service. Several buildings and farms in Skaneateles are marked on the National Register of Historic Places and can be visited, like the Community Place or the Kelsey-Davey Farm. There's also a village in the town which shares the same name.

The Skaneateles lake is touted as being very clean, so it brings water activities like swimming, boating, and even an antique boat show every July that attracts thousands of visitors. Boat cruises are also popular during the summer. There are plenty of inns and hotels to stay, along with nature outside of the lake, like the Charlie Major Nature Trail or local well-known eateries like Doug's Fish Fry.

Honeoye Falls

Honeoye Falls in New York
Honeoye Falls in New York

A small waterfall lies on the Honeoye creek, giving the surrounding village its name. Every year, usually during the summer, The Festival On the Green sprouts up, which showcases craft, music, and food vendors local to Honeoye Falls. The town is focused on promoting artists, with the Mill Art Center & Gallery hosting community-made art for people to appreciate, along with classes for people to learn how to create. People can visit the very creek and waterfall that gave the village its name, making it a perfect spot for year round photographs.

Several buildings are historically important and lie in the Honeoye Falls Village Historic District, like The Masonic Temple Building. The local historical society runs a museum which features local artifacts from all over Honeoyes history. People can also visit Brongo Bowl for a few frames if the outside weather isn't so good, so there's no shortage of things to do in Honeoye, rain or shine.

The Takeaway

Away from the cities, away from the crowds and surrounded by wilderness, the small towns of New York are a sight to behold. They can be found almost anywhere outside of Manhattan because so many people gravitate just towards New York City. There are lots of hidden gems waiting to be found outside of the regular city hustle and bustle. From the towns at the base of the Adirondacks or the villages surrounding the Finger Lakes, there's something for everyone who visits New York, and that doesn't just have to include city life.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 8 Must-Visit Small Towns in Upstate New York

More in Places