Whether you live in New York or are looking for travel ideas, “The Empire State” has much to offer during the winter months. And as interesting as the state’s bigger towns and cities can be during this time of year, you’ll find some of the best things to do in New York State in winter can be enjoyed in its smaller towns and communities.
From the majestic Adirondack Mountains to the scenic splendor of the Finger Lakes region, each of the towns we’ve selected in this must-read list comes alive in the winter months. Read on for ideas and inspiration for your New York State winter travel itinerary.
There’s no place better to start your exploration of New York State in wintertime than in Lake Placid. Located d in the Adirondack Mountains, Lake Placed transforms into a winter wonderland once the snow flies, attracting visitors from around the globe for its superlative winter sports, its reputation cemented by having hosted the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics.
The big draw these days is its world-class ski resorts, notably Whiteface Mountain. Boasting the highest vertical drop in the East Coast area, Whiteface offers skiing and snowboarding experiences for all skill levels, from gentle slopes for beginners to challenging terrain for the seasoned. You can even visit some of the town’s Olympic facilities, including the Olympic Sports Complex where you can experience bobsledding, as well as the Olympic Jumping Complex. The town is also a hub for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, with miles of scenic trails winding through the forests and around the lakes.
Lake George is another Adirondack Mountains worth visiting in winter. The lake itself is a big draw when it freezes over, with fun things to do including ice fishing and skating. Nearby ski resorts are also a big draw and include Gore Mountain and West Mountain, both providing excellent opportunities for downhill skiing and snowboarding adventures. Afterwards, you’ll want to spend time in their cozy lodges for some après-ski fun.
Other fun winter activities include cross-country skiing and snowshoeing with numerous trails easy to access from downtown Lake George. The Lake George Wild Forest is a great choice, and if combined with a visit to the Lake George Winter Carnival held every weekend in February is ample excuse for a visit.
The Upstate New York community of Cooperstown is a great spot for a winter weekend break. Set on Otsego Lake, fun outdoor activities include ice fishing for perch, pike, and even trout, as well as family-friendly skating. If you can, include Glimmerglass State Park on your list of things to do while in Cooperstown. Set at the northern end of Otsego Lake, here you can enjoy winter activities such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
The town itself is especially pretty this time of year, with its quaint Main Street lit up with festive lights and shop window displays. There’s also a fun Christmas Market and tree-lighting ceremony. Indoor activities include visiting the Farmers’ Museum which offers a glimpse into 19th-century rural life, while the Fenimore Art Museum displays American folk art and Native American artifacts.
The Adirondack Mountain town of Saranac Lake is another winter destination worth considering. The fun centers around Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, a must-attend winter festival that’s been held annually since 1897 and is one of the oldest such events in the country. The star of the show is its large and elaborate ice palace made from blocks of ice harvested from nearby Lake Flower. Other fun activities include parades, winter sports competitions, shows and performances, and fireworks displays.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also fun throughout the winter months, with the Dewey Mountain Recreation Center being a good spot to participate. Ice fishing is also popular
Over in the Finger Lakes region, it’s to Skaneateles you’ll want to head once the snow flies. One of the cleanest lakes in the United States, Skaneateles Lake is an ice fisher’s paradise, with hut rentals available for those wanting to try their hand at this fun activity.
Other things to do in Skaneateles in winter include ice skating and, if you’re here between Thanksgiving and the Holidays, partaking in the always-fun Dickens Christmas festival. This 30-year-old tradition draws revellers from across the state and transforms the town into a winter wonderland of fun. You’ll even bump into characters from Charles Dickens' novels roaming the streets, interacting with visitors and spreading holiday cheer. Carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides, and unique shopping experiences add to the fun.
Seneca Falls is another Finger Lakes destination you should add to your winter travel list. After all, this picturesque town is famous for having been the inspiration behind the fictional Bedford Falls in It's A Wonderful Life, one of the most famous Christmas movies of all time.
This connection is celebrated every winter with the immensely popular It’s A Wonderful Life Festival. Now in its 20th year, this family event sees the town transformed into a scene right out of the movie complete with horse-drawn carriage rides, a gingerbread house contest, and various other themed events. There’s even a museum in town that’s dedicated to the film and its legacy. Other highlights of a visit include the Women's Rights National Historical Park, including the Wesleyan Chapel and the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House.
Woodstock’s lovely Catskill Mountain setting makes it a perfect spot for a winter getaway. The town is conveniently located near several top New York ski resorts including Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, Windham Mountain Club, and Hunter Mountain Resort. Each offers a variety of skiing and snowboarding options for all levels, as well as accommodations.
Prefer a slower pace? Woodstock also offers snowshoeing and cross-country skiing adventures, some of the best being in the nearby Catskill Forest Preserve which boasts an extensive network of trails. Be sure to also visit Woodstock’s quaint downtown area with its boutique shops and, art galleries. Seasonal events and live music performances at local venues add to the town's lively atmosphere.
The Final Word
Forgo the hustle and bustle of its big cities and you’ll find New York State an enchanting place to visit in winter. Together, these towns are transformed when the snow flies into postcard-perfect winter wonderlands that offer plenty of fun winter activities and experiences during the colder months. Read through our list of the best towns in New York that come alive in winter.