Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York.

9 Best Small Towns To Visit In Upstate New York

Upstate New York is a geographic region in the northeastern US bordering states like VermontMassachusettsConnecticutNew Jersey, and Pennsylvania, as well as near Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Considered New York's "backyard" and "orchard," Upstate New York supplies its megacity with dairy, fruits, wine, water, and electricity. This region is also teeming with picturesque scapes of the Adirondack Mountains and famous water bodies like Mirror Lake and the St. Lawrence River, making it an ideal tourist destination. Upstate New York is renowned for its major cities like Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. Still, this geographic region also houses some of the coziest and most picturesque towns across the US!

Saratoga Springs

Autumn in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Saratoga Springs invites weary travelers with aching bones and feet, as this Upstate New York town has been a popular (and relaxing) resort destination among travelers for over 200 years! Saratoga Springs sits in Saratoga County and welcomes guests to experience its attractions, conveniently described in its motto, "Health, History, and Horses."

Saratoga Springs is famous for its historic Saratoga Race Course (which opened 150 years ago), as well as its collection of horses. This cozy town is known for its 15 golf courses and ten historic museums. Ultimately, Saratoga Springs is world-famous for its spas and natural mineral springs collection. Visitors can find a wealth of mineral springs here, from the year-round flows of Congress Water to the bathhouses at the Saratoga Spa State Park.


The Potsdam Library in Potsdam, New York.
The Potsdam Library in Potsdam, New York.

Named after a city in Germany, Potsdam sits in New York's St. Lawrence County. Founded in 1806, this historic town has several claims to fame which may interest travelers with a piquing curiosity. Prospective college students can check out Clarkson University and the State University of New York in Potsdam. At the same time, architectural buffs can admire the town's collection of Potsdam sandstone, which emanates a reddish-orange hue. Interestingly, some visitors may also notice that the roads in Potsdam are fairly straight; it was designed this way so that these roads (usually around nearby towns) could quickly lead someone to Potsdam!


The beautiful town of Hunter in fall.

The Greene County town of Hunter consists of two villages (Hunter and Tannersville) and several hamlets (like Platte Cove, Lanesville, Edgewood, and Haines Falls). Since its settlement in the early 19th century, Hunter has allured many artists and wide-eyed travelers. Regarded as a "true mountain town," Hunter also prides itself on having some of the best attractions around the Northern Catskills and is nicknamed "the Winter Hamptons." In the colder months, Hunter transforms into a family-friendly winter wonderland, attracting families and winter vacationers to the hills of Hunter Mountain Resort.


Thousand Islands Bridge across St. Lawrence River. This bridge connects New York State in USA and Ontario in Canada near Thousand Islands.
Thousand Islands Bridge across St. Lawrence River. This bridge connects New York State in USA and Ontario in Canada near Thousand Islands.

Gouverneur is the "gateway" to New York's St. Lawrence County, between the Adirondack Mountains and the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River. Though this cozy town only boasts about 3,500 residents, its history is plentiful, dating back to its founding year of 1805.

Regarded as an ideal destination to work, live, and raise a family, there is a touristic allure to Gouverneur too! Emanating small-town vibes, Gouverneur is miles away from the stresses of the city, nestled in crisp foliage and picturesque Adirondack Mountains. In the warmer months, bask in the views while embarking on a hike or venture to Gouverneur in the winter for downhill skiing and snowmobiling! This cozy town is only an hour and a half away from Lake Placid and Canada's capital, Ottawa.


Town center along Genesee Street, Cuba, New York.
Town center along Genesee Street, Cuba, New York. Image credit: Vasiliymeshko via Wikimedia commons.

Tucked away in the west border of Allegany County lies the cozy, lakeside town of Cuba. Historically, this quaint and cozy town is rooted in dairy farming and cheese production, attracting foodies passionate about gourmet cheeses. As a visitor, join in the food-related festivities in Cuba, including its Cuba Garlic Festival or Dairy Days. Cuba isn't all about artisanal cheeses and foodie-oriented experiences; this lakeside town in Upstate New York includes six miles of scenic shoreline, hiking trails in and around the Genessee Valley Greenway State Park, and a history rich in culture and native heritage.


Schoen Place and the Erie Canal in the Village of Pittsford, New York.
Erie Canal flowing through Pittsford, New York.

Part of the historic Monroe County and a suburb of Rochester, Pittsford is the oldest village in New York. This quaint town is also nearby other communities like Mendon, Perinton, Henrietta, Brighton, and Penfield. Discover Pittsford's New England roots and history, many of which are "Monroe County firsts." Pittsford is home to the first doctor (and lawyer) to practice in the county and was also the place of the county's first school and post office. Visitors can also check out the historic Pheonix Building at the town's Historic Village while discovering local antiquities and knick-knacks. Don't forget to take a trip to Erie Canal or along Monroe Avenue to find a collection of shopping options and local boutiques.


Lincoln Park in Olean, New York.
Lincoln Park in Olean, New York. Image credit: Andre Carrotflower via Wikimedia Commons.

To find Olean, head to western New York's Cattaraugus County, specifically along the Allegheny River, southeast of Buffalo. In 1804, Olean was settled as a lumber camp, with its name derived from the word oleum (which referred to the oil deposits in the area). Olean's economy was based on oil and engineering, manufacturing products like polyurethane products, ceramic tiles, and knives.

Today, the town functions as the financial, business, and transportation hub in Cattaraugus County. Olean is also home to several landmarks, from St. Bonaventure University to a collection of sites registered on the National Register of Historic Places (including Beardsley-Oliver House, Conklin Mountain House, Oak Hill Park Historic District, Olean Armory).

Lake Placid

Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York.
Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York.

Lying near Lake Placid, Lake Placid comfortably sits in the Adirondack Mountains in New York's Essex County. Regarded as one of America's oldest vacation destinations, Lake Placid remains one of the country's most popular tourist hubs, known for its sophisticated hotels, ski resorts, nature-filled excursions, and host to the 1932/80 Winter Olympics.

The Olympic torch may have left Lake Placid, but its spirit still reverberates throughout Lake Placid. Visitors can experience training grounds and Olympic-caliber venues like the ski jumping complex, Mt. Van Hoevenberg's bobsled run, and the ice skating rinks on Main Street. Meanwhile, in the warmer months, embark on a hiking adventure to gawk at the Adirondack High Peaks or take a boat ride on the lakes. Winter is just as thrilling in Lake Placid with its skiing activities on top of Whiteface Mountain.


Aerial view of Canandaigua, New York.
Aerial view of Canandaigua, New York.

Situated on the north end of Canandaigua Lake and 25 miles southeast of Rochester, Canandaigua is part of Ontario County around other destinations like Hopewell, Bristol, East Bloomfield, and Farmington. Canandaigua was named "The Chosen Spot" and was a former Seneca Village inhabited by those who fled the nearby village of Ganondagan. Eventually, Canandaigua became a town in 1791, while the village (of the same name) transformed into a city in 1913.

The town offers visitors a balance of outdoorsy attractions and commercial highlights with historical landmarks. Relive local history at the Granger Homestead & Carriage House Museum or the Ontario County Courthouse, or experience the 41 miles of the Canandaigua Lake Wine Trail, home to several award-winning wineries and gourmet bites.

Travelers keen on experiencing the charms of Upstate New York can visit its small towns and villages for a picture-perfect (and comfortable) vacation!

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