15 Best Things to Do in Cortland, NY

Cortland, NY
Stef Ko / shutterstock.com

Cortland, New York, is a place where nature and history converge to create an idyllic and charming destination.

Nicknamed the “Crown City,” this town is located at the intersection of seven valleys, making the city the center of activity in this area of the state.

It also serves as the seat of Cortland County, serving as an integral base of operations for running the whole county.

You might think that it’s a busy place because of these qualities, but it has maintained a laid-back, small-town ambiance that makes it a perfect destination for those who want a quick escape from busy city lives.

It’s the ideal destination for a family-friendly getaway!

Here are the 15 best things to do in Cortland, NY:

Tour the Elegant Interiors of the 1890 House Museum

Outside View of 1890 House Museum
the 1890 House Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1890 House Museum was built as a home for the wealthiest family in Cortland during the end of the 19th century: the Wickwire family.

They founded the Wickwire Brothers Company, which produced agricultural equipment used by the townsfolk of the city and nearby regions, making them rich and influential.

To satisfy their decadent tastes, they built a lavish house and filled it with furnishings and items that fit their status.

The 1890 House Museum's Door
the 1890 House Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

So you when you visit, you’d immediately notice the Victorian architecture of this regal home, which makes it a stand-out sight against the more modern buildings nearby.

It is listed under the National Register of Historic Places and has been turned into a museum that showcases the treasures of the past occupants.

From gilded trimmings to magnificent sculptures, from opulent furniture to fine dinnerware, you’ll find many luxurious items that the family once used.

Outside View of 1890 House Museum
Jayu from Harrisburg, PA, U.S.A., CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Touring this place offers you a glimpse into the lives of people from a bygone era.

And the welcoming ambiance will make you feel as though this can be your home too, if only for a short time.

Ski Down the Slopes of Greek Peak Mountain Resort

For some family-oriented fun, drive down to Greek Peak Mountain Resort, located south of the city proper.

This well-known attraction hosts a wide range of activities that have made it a must-visit destination for locals and tourists alike.

It’s actually the largest ski resort in New York, with 56 trails, slopes for all skill levels, restaurants, and even a water park.

So even in summer, the fun never stops!

Bring your whole family for some exhilarating skiing and snowboarding experience along gentle slopes.

There are also zip lines, bounce houses, trampolines, and other equipment that kids and the kids at heart will definitely enjoy.

After a tiring day in the outdoors, you can visit the Waterfalls Spa for a soothing and invigorating massage.

There really is something for every preference in this beautiful resort!

Visit All the Museums of CNY Living History Center

CNY Living History Center is a massive museum complex composed of three facilities that will give history buffs hours of exploration and learning opportunities.

It was built to house artifacts that have significance to the past of Central New York, allowing kids, students, and adults to see a glimpse of life back in the day.

The Brockway Museum showcases vehicles manufactured by the Brockway Motor Company, which are mostly heavy-duty trucks.

These antique and larger-than-life trucks were vital to the region’s economy in the past, used in logistics and transportation, fire fighting, and more.

On the other hand, Homeville Museum has collections of war items that started from a single Civil War rifle purchased by Ken Eaton.

You’d find tanks, replicas of locomotives, uniforms, and other military artifacts proudly displayed on the halls.

Tractors of Yesteryear or T.O.Y.S. Museum displays the tractors used in the past, which were integral to the predominantly agricultural heritage of Cortland.

Aside from tractors, the museum has traditional farming implements like flat irons, scythes, and butter churns on display.

Find Rest and Relaxation at Yaman Park

Most US parks contain standard grassy grounds, sports facilities, and maybe a pond, but not Yaman Park.

This family-favorite destination actually has a small beach!

Now that’s something you wouldn’t expect to see in this part of New York.

Surrounded by forests, verdant grounds, and uninterrupted blue skies, this well-designed outdoor destination is a rare sight to behold.

The golden beach leads into the small lake and is open most of the summer, from May to August.

The lake itself is great for swimming and other water-related activities, making it the perfect place to cool off during hot days.

Explore the Habitats in Lime Hollow Nature Center

The diverse habitats of New York state come together to create a 594-acre attraction that offers recreation, learning, and interactions with nature.

Lime Hollow Nature Center is set on the rolling hills west of Cortland, and it contains marl ponds, vernal pools, and peat bogs that are unique to this region of the US.

These areas serve as the home to diverse species of flora and fauna, making the place an ecologically important preserve.

You’re free to roam the trails crisscrossing the center, which bring you to thick forests, babbling streams, and meadows.

For those with kids, you can let them join the education programs or camps that offer plenty of opportunities to immerse in the wonders of the destination.

Take a Cooling Dip at Suggett Park

Suggett Park is a great place to relax with your family, especially if you have children joining in the trip.

Most of the attractions in the park are geared towards kids, with well-equipped playgrounds, a fun splash pad, and a zero-entry pool with crystal clear waters.

If Yaman Park’s lake proves too wild for your taste, then this park’s pool is a great alternative.

There are also sports facilities here, including a softball diamond that frequently attracts kids of all ages for fun afternoons.

If you’re not looking to do anything except hang out with your family, then simply stay under the shady spots or picnic benches and enjoy a relaxing day with your loved ones.

Cruise the Waters of Tioughnioga River

View of Tioughnioga River
Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tioughnioga River is a 34.2-mile-long body of water whose headwaters start in Cortland.

It’s a preglacial river that has developed deep pools over time, resulting in deviously calm segments that can go as deep as 60 feet.

That’s why this destination has become a favorite spot for fishing.

Join a charter offered by one of the businesses in Cortland and head to some of the best spots near the city.

You’ll have plenty of opportunities to catch freshwater games such as salmon, largemouth bass, and trouts.

But if you don’t want to go fishing, you’re welcome to cruise the rivers on kayaks or canoes.

The calm waters and occasional rapids create an exhilarating ride that will bring you to forested segments, rock formations, and isolated shores that are perfect for backcountry camping.

See the Beautiful Works at Dowd Fine Arts Center

Located within the State University of New York College at Cortland campus, the Dowd Fine Arts Center is a must-see destination for art aficionados.

It has been around since 1967 and has since continued its mission to promote and preserve art for students and the rest of the Cortland community.

With more than 900 items in the permanent collection, the center has become a home for artworks from various locations across many eras.

You’ll find paintings from as early as the 13th century to contemporary pieces done by celebrated artists.

There are also rotating exhibits that showcase works from local and national masters.

Check out their website to see which collections are currently on display so you can go and appreciate them for yourself.

Learn Ice Skating at J.M. McDonald Sports Complex

J.M. McDonald Sports Complex is the premier athletic facility in town, housing premier courts, fields, and arenas in indoor and outdoor locations.

Plenty of people come here to watch soccer games, baseball matches, and futsal tournaments played by the best athletes in town.

One of the most prominent attractions here is the ice rink, where figure skating events and hockey matches are played.

They offer a program where you can learn the basics of ice skating—a fun and memorable experience that you should definitely try.

If you’re lucky, you might even catch one of the live concerts or shows held in the complex, which also has facilities for non-sports-related events.

Play a Few Rounds at Cortland Country Club

Cortland Country Club is an 18-hole golf course and events place that takes advantage of the rural ambiance in this part of New York.

Founded in 1913, this historic attraction has become a Cortland institution, favored by the locals as a place to build social relationships and escape from the noise of the city.

The course itself is ideal for beginners and professionals, with rolling hills, verdant greens and fairways, and a well-planned layout that all make for exceptional gameplay.

One of the hidden advantages of this course is its state-of-the-art irrigation system, which helps maintain a lush field for excellent playing conditions.

Book a tee time during your visit and play a few rounds to brush up on your skills.

Enjoy the Majestic Feel of Courthouse Park

Courthouse Park is, as the name implies, set in front of the stately Cortland Courthouse.

The building’s architecture and immaculate facade add a sophisticated ambiance to the park, making it an elegant and modern destination.

The tree-lined paths, verdant grounds, and delicate fountains are just some of the attractions to see.

During spring, the trees bloom with magnificent flowers, creating magical areas with soft green hues that are best seen during the early mornings or late afternoons.

And because of the location of the park, it has become a favorite base for various community events.

Catch the Summer Concert Series, Arts and Wine Festival, Pumpkin Fest, and many other celebrations here during your visit.

See Historic Graves at Cortland Rural Cemetery

The last thing you’d think to visit when on vacation is a cemetery, but Cortland Rural Cemetery is an exception.

Most people see this place as a cemetery that attracts the living instead of the departed, and for a good reason.

As a part of the Tompkins Street-Main Street Historic District, this cemetery technically falls under the National Register of Historic Places.

It has been around since 1853 and has since become the final resting place for many notable figures, including politicians, authors, and inventors.

Their graves are part of the “Cemetrail” route, which visitors often take to see all the hidden wonders of this solemn place.

When you visit, you’ll see the rolling hills, patches of woods, and other beautiful sights that make this place a surreal destination.

There are also signposts that provide details about the geology of rocks, tree species, and other elements found in the cemetery.

So think of your tour as a walk into a historical park.

Its “residents” might even feel thankful for your thoughtful visit to their final resting places.

Stay Awhile at Cortland Country Music Park & Campground

Music and camping—these are two wildly different activities that somehow come together perfectly.

This is what the founders of Cortland Country Music Park & Campground realized, so they started this well-known Cortland attraction.

The campground itself has more than 150 sites, and most have running water and electricity for RVs.

It’s set near the East Branch of the Tioughnioga River, so there are lots of natural sceneries that add to the overall experience.

But the most prominent attraction here is the New York State Country Music Hall of Fame.

It’s a facility that showcases the history of country music in the region as well as the most notable performers who have contributed to the genre.

You’ll find iconic memorabilia of famous New York artists like Kenny Rogers, Tammy Wynette, and Jack Greene.

Other Things to Do Nearby

After your adventures in Cortland, why not visit these other attractions in the vicinity?

Sail the Clear Waters of Skaneateles Lake

Boathouse in Skaneateles Lake
Brett Rabideau / Shutterstock.com

Cortland is part of the Finger Lakes region of New York, and the nearest lake from the city is Skaneateles Lake.

It has the highest elevation compared to the rest, and it’s famed for having one the cleanest waters anywhere in the US.

You can try sailing or rowing along the length of the lake or simply have a picnic in one of its scenic banks.

There are also many historic landmarks and famous restaurants that you can visit along the way.

View of Skaneateles Lake
JWCohen / Shutterstock.com

Trek the Trails of Tuller Hill State Forest

Next to Greek Peak Mountain Resort is Tuller Hill State Forest, a 2,497-acre park frequently visited by nature lovers and adventure seekers.

It’s a well-known destination for cross-country skiing, hiking, camping, and other outdoor recreational activities.

Some of the beautiful things you’d discover while exploring the preserve's trails include small waterfalls, tree-lined paths, and scenic meadows.

Final Thoughts

The majestic town of Cortland truly deserves its nickname as the Crown City.

From regal homes to beautiful resorts, from sophisticated museums to verdant parks, this town has something for every preference.

Reference this list so you won’t miss the top spots when planning your vacation to this charming city!