All too often does the rest of New York get overshadowed by the bustling city that bears the same name as the state. But make no mistake, the rest of the Empire State is full of small towns that are loaded with great restaurants, bars, wineries, breweries, mountains, hiking trails, camping, and legendary music and sports venues. Below are places to experience the best New York has to offer, outside of the tri-state area of course.
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Why it’s so great: “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” These iconic lines were uttered by sports broadcaster Al Michaels during the dying seconds of what became one of the most famous underdog victories in sports history. The 1980 Winter Olympics saw the college-aged men’s US national ice hockey team come from behind to beat the legendary Soviet Union, who had won gold six out of the past seven Winter Olympics. The US ended up winning the gold, and the “Miracle On Ice” was born.
While there is the Olympic Museum to relive the memories of the 1980 Games, Lake Placid also has a slew of other activities that will make you feel like a real Olympian. Visitors can try their hand bobsledding at the Bobsled and Luge Complex, or take in amazing views atop of the Olympic Ski Jump Complex. Mirror Lake’s pristine water makes it an ideal place to spend a summer day kayaking, or ice skating and playing old-school pond hockey in the winter. And as with any destination in the Adirondacks, your time at Lake Placid wouldn’t be complete without a hike; a climb up Mt. Jo will reward you with breathtaking views of the lake and the rest of the mountains that surround it.
Why it’s so great: From hiking in the Adirondacks, paragliding and parasailing, boating on the lake, white water rafting, or horseback riding, there’s no shortage of recreational activities for the adventurous at Lake George. For history buffs, a visit to Fort William Henry is a must: a British Fort from the French and Indian War that was portrayed in The Last of the Mohicans. Cabin rentals, campgrounds, dude ranches, and RV parking make Lake George an easy and accessible getaway in the mountains.
Why it’s so great: A town entirely inhabited by spiritualists, freethinkers, and mediums makes Lily Dale one of the quirkier towns in New York. Visitors usually book appointments with mediums to get a spiritual reading, but those who aren’t so keen on a reading can still get a glimpse into the daily life of the community. The village includes a Spiritualist Sunday School, a Healing Temple, and a Fairy Trail: a nature trail in the woods with tiny homes and villages built by Lily Dale residents for the fairies and gnomes that reportedly inhabit the forest. If you end up feeling a closer connection the spiritual world during your visit, you can visit the Inspiration Stump, where mediums hold community sessions and give readings to members of the audience, free of charge.
Why it’s so great: Named after the lake it’s situated on, Skaneateles (pronounced “skinny-atlas,” an Iroquoian word meaning “long lake”) is a part of the coveted Finger Lakes region, which produces some of the best wine in the world (most notably, Riesling). The popular getaway spot for Upstate New Yorkers turns into a Charles Dickens novel during Christmastime, when locals dress up in Victorian-era outfits and act out classic scenes; horse drawn carriages, chestnuts roasting on open fires, and ice skating on the lake. In the summertime, enjoy strolling down the historic village filled with shops, restaurants, and art galleries housed in beautiful buildings and homes from the late 1700s, some of which were part of the Underground Railroad. The crystal blue waters of Skaneateles Lake make it popular amongst boaters, and there’s a public launch available, as well as kayaks, canoes, sailboats, and pontoons available for rent.
Why it’s so great: While largely known for being a top ski destination in New York, Ellicottville has something to offer to visitors year round. Winter sports enthusiasts will enjoy the slopes found at Holiday Valley Ski Resort, or HoliMont Ski Area, one of North America’s largest private ski resorts. In the the fall, you can drink local beer and take in some of the best fall foliage this country has to offer during Ellicottville’s weekend-long Fall Festival. If you prefer your getaways during the warmer seasons, Holiday Valley also boasts an 18-hole golf course, and Griffis Sculpture Park offers over 450 acres of hiking trails accompanied by over 250 sculptures scattered throughout the nature preserve, making it easy to get your art and nature fix in one setting.
Why it’s so great: Located along the Niagara River, this town comes alive in the summer with Artpark, a scenic outdoor music venue on top of the Niagara Gorge that hosts a variety of concerts and festivals during the season. On schedule for this summer’s festivities include Bob Dylan, Ben Folds, and Baila Brazil -- a popular music and dance show making its North American debut. Lewiston also hosts its Historic Jazz Festival, a free festival featuring world renowned musicians performing at Artpark and in the streets of the town. Lewiston is also part of the Niagara Wine Trail; a collection of vineyards and wineries serving world-class wine. If you have a passport, you can take a jaunt over the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge to the Canadian side of the Niagara River and get a glimpse of the mighty Niagara Falls; Lewiston is less than 20 minutes away.
Why it’s so great: “The Grand Canyon of the East” is what Letchworth State Park is often referred to as, and it boasts over 14,000 acres that comprise of the roaring Genesee River, three waterfalls, and cliffs over 600ft high. Other than amazing hiking trails, visitors to the park can also enjoy swimming, white water rafting, canoeing, and hot air balloon rides. Wintertime is popular for snowmobilers who will be treated snow-covered cliffs and the trees coated with the glistening mist of the waterfalls. In the fall, come here to catch the colorful changing of the leaves. Cabins and campgrounds can be found at various points in the park.
Why it’s so great: A collection of over 1,000 small islands (hence, the name) was the summer playground of New York’s richest and most elite during the 20th century, and it’s got the lavish mansions, castles, and yacht houses to show for it. The islands span over Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, and many of them are located across the Canadian border, so bring your passport to get the most out of your time spent here. Boat tours will take you island hopping, where you can view grandeur castles such as Singer Castle or the Boldt Castle and Yacht House. The area also has several beaches, hiking trails, swimming, and rustic camping areas, most notably, Wellesley Island State Park’s campsite.
Why it’s so great: While the world’s most famous music festival was actually held at a dairy farm about 60 miles away from this little town, the spirit of peace and music is still in the lifeblood of the inhabitants of Woodstock. The town contains an impressive flea market, an animal farm sanctuary where rescued animals have literally gone to live on greener pastures, antique shops, a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, and a thriving music, art, and film scene. In addition to the bustling culture of the town, there are loads of hiking trails and several watering holes for a summer swim.
Why it’s so great: Thoroughbred horse racing, polo, golf courses, natural mineral springs, and a town filled with upscale boutiques, shops, and museums are just some of the reasons why Saratoga Springs is considered one of the premiere tourist destinations in the US. If you’re an equestrian fan, look no further than the Saratoga Race Course to catch a race, or head to the Saratoga Golf and Polo Club for a polo match. For a more scenic day, stroll through the lush Yaddo Gardens, or go on a hike at Saratoga Spa State Park and soak in a mineral bath afterwards for some extra R&R.
Why it’s so great: Located in near Seneca Lake, part of the Finger Lakes Region, Watkins Glen is right in the midst of the Seneca Wine Trail; a collection of wineries and vineyards located around the lake, making it a perfect destination for wine lovers to sample the best wines that New York State has to offer. In addition to wine, Watkins Glen is also well known for its auto racing; Watkins Glen International is often referred to as the “Mecca of North American road racing” and has hosted auto racing tournaments of almost every class, including NASCAR, Formula One, and the IndyCar Series. Watkins Glen also has a state park that includes campsites, scenic hiking trails, and waterfalls.
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Caroline King is a writer based in Buffalo, New York who is an accidental expert in New York state geography due to constantly having to explain where Buffalo is in relation to New York City. Follow her on Twitter, or read about her out-of-state travels on her blog.