Content Produced in Partnership with Madison County Tourism
As one of the most common county names in America, there are at least 20 Madison Counties across the U.S., the most famous immortalized, of course, by early ‘90s pop culture media. While you won’t find many covered bridges in central New York (the books were actually set in Iowa), you will find a whole lot of other reasons to visit. So in the famous words of the Cheshire Cat, let’s see why we’re all mad (for Madison county) here.
Madison County is technically in Central New York, but to anyone else, it’s Upstate, which really just means anything north of NYC. A quintessential New England getaway 30-minutes south of Syracuse, the area is comprised of 14 towns, a handful of villages and hamlets, and acres of sprawling farmland. Think cozy inns, historic b&bs, colorful Adirondacks, green for days, boat docks, and riding stables.
A country escape without any of the dirty work, touches of agritourism are major draws with pick your own farms and produce stands sprinkled throughout the area. Fall is the ideal time to visit as they take leaf peeping VERY seriously with weekly reports of the ever-changing hues.
Here’s just a few of the many things to do in Madison County NY.
Fall in Love with Fall
Route 20 runs all the way across the country from Boston, Massachusetts to Portland, Oregon and is one of the area’s best scenic drives to see the leaves change. But before you hightail it out of town, there are pumpkin patches and corn mazes, ghost tours and hayrides to get you in the festive, seasonal spirit.
Critz Farms (open March through December) is a one-stop shop for fall fun. What began as a Christmas tree farm has since expanded to include pumpkins, apple picking, maple, and blueberries. While the ponies, llama, piglets, donkey, and other baby animals can entertain the kids at the petting zoo, mom and dad can sneak away to the tasting room to try all the beers and ciders made fresh on-site. For an extra sinful treat, the homemade fudge and apple cider donuts are completely indulgent and worth the calories. Families come from far and wide to waste away the day at the farm (there are always lawn games and a giant playground), but they also regularly host fun festivals throughout the year so be sure to check what special events they have going on.
Don’t miss: Some of the more unique – and sweet – sips are the ice cider and the maple cider, which pair perfectly with the extra sharp NY cheddar aged in-house.
In the late 1800s, New York State produced about 80 percent of the nation’s hops, which was mostly grown in Madison County. As you may imagine, the fertile growing region has since expanded its palate. Now there are dozens of breweries, distilleries, and wineries in the region, which are all key stops along the Central New York Food & Beverage Trail.
One not to miss is Empire Brewing Co., the largest farm brewery on the east coast. A true labor of love, every element in the tasting room has a story from the wall plastered with reclaimed wine bottles to the bricks and medallion salvaged from Haberle, the first brewery in Syracuse. They have a number of award-winning beers on tap and the food is surprisingly tasty for a bar. While the menu skews Cajun/Creole with a kick, this is still New York so pizza is a no-brainer. You’ll also want to try the “everything” pretzel (similar in spirit to an authentic New York bagel). In fall, they have a beer made with grapes (like a weird wine hybrid) and even harvest their own honey in an apiary that backs up to acres of wooded hiking and biking trails.
Pro Tip: Ask if you can go up in the secret treehouse.
Central and upstate New York is so blessed with waterfalls TLC may even consider changing their tune. Not terribly far from mighty Niagara Falls or Letchworth State Park, the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Madison County is home to Chittenango Falls, a state park with a 10,000-year-old gusher that actually rivals the height of Niagara. For a more under the radar photo op, Delphi Falls used to be a private home that was bought and donated to the county. Super accessible right from the parking lot, no hiking is required although trails will eventually be put in. Can you even imagine having this in your backyard?
Pro Tip: If you’re headed to Chittenango Falls, try to avoid the harsh midday light for photos. Plan your visit around sunrise, dusk or blue hour.
Get a Spot of Culture
Stone Hill Quarry Art Park was named one of the world’s best-hidden travel gems by National Geographic, and once you see it, it’s hard to disagree. The sculptures are built into the landscape, meant to eventually disintegrate back into the earth. There are over 100 works spread over four miles of trails with snowshoeing and cross-country skiing encouraged in winter. Also on site is the home of founder Dorothy Reister, which is on the National List of Historic Places.
Don’t Miss: The “secret garden” which has a clubhouse / hobbit house and Stacks, a sculpture depicting fallen trees deteriorating into books. Said to represent that the end of the story is unknown, it’s all very meta.
See This Madison Country’s One Covered Bridge
Lorenzo State Historic Site was the town founder’s old house. It may not involve a love story, but it can provide a quick history lesson of the area. A neoclassic mansion home to five generations, the sprawling 87-acre property overlooking Cazenovia Lake was one of central New York’s earliest settlements. You can tour the schoolhouse, arboretum, and gardens.
Work up a Sweat
Open space is Madison County’s greatest resource and there are dozens of trails to stretch your legs. Personally, I preferred taking advantage of the area’s glassy lake. Morse Kayak Rentals offers hourly kayak and SUP rentals. Boats and boards are delivered right to your doorstep for a true bespoke outdoor adventure.
The Brewster Inn’s twinkling lights and turrets are the picture-perfect lake escape. Founded in 1890 by John Brewster, John Rockefeller’s partner in Standard Oil, this was his personal summer home. Now a country inn, both the main house and coach house appear frozen in time with touches like rotary phones, fireplaces, and sitting rooms with roof access for prime sunset viewing over the dock.
Their on-site restaurant is a favorite of the Baldwin family. They have won numerous awards, primarily for their expansive wine cellar, which features a collection of 2-3k bottles valued at an estimated half a million dollars. The seafood is all locally sourced from the east coast so go crazy and try one of everything (most entrees come in half portions in case it’s too tough to choose). Don’t miss the oysters topped with ahi tuna and chimichurri, freshly baked pies, and 30 flavors of homemade ice cream.
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