15 Best Things to Do in Madison County, New York

|   Last Updated on April 1, 2023

John Steinbeck wrote, ‘Once you live in New York and it becomes your home, no place else is good enough.’ After living here for more than twenty years, I certainly agree.

New York has so much to offer – from the bright lights and excitement of Broadway, to the Adirondacks’ gorgeous landscapes, to the smallest towns that dot the highways in between. There’s no other state offering such a mix of nature, architecture, fascinating characters and rich culture.

Comprised of more than 73,000 people, Madison County, New York, just east of Syracuse, encompasses several towns. It was named after James Madison – fourth president of the United States of America and was first formed in 1806.  

Here are some of my favorite things to see and do when spending time in and around this area of New York. Believe me; there’s more!

Dine at Madison Bistro

Okay, when I learned that The New York State Beef Council named Madison Bistro’s burger #4 in 2018, #3 in 2019, and their steak #1 in 2019, there was no way I was willing to miss an opportunity to dine at this fabulous Farm-to-Table restaurant.

I know the term Farm-to-Table is often overused, but in Madison County at Madison Bistro, they take it seriously. Beef, pork, vegetables, even beer, and wine are all locally procured.

And the waitstaff couldn’t have been more friendly. I asked if they liked working there, how long they’d been employed, and how they felt about the food. Most had worked at Madison Bistro for years – (not a lot of turnovers). Our waitress loved the family-like atmosphere, with owner Victor Ramirez at the helm.

Every single dish they suggested left us wanting more.

Explore Green Lakes State Park

Green Lakes Park, Madison County NY
© Theresa St John

I’d heard of Green Lakes State Park, but was stunned when I drove into the parking lot and took in the fantastic, other-worldly blue-green color of its’ cordoned-off beach area and both lakes, just beyond. I felt like I’d stepped out of a spaceship – after landing on another planet.

One of two meromictic lakes – the other being Round Lake, in the same park – I found Green Lake surrounded by well-kept trails, trees stripped bare with roots exposed to the elements, and spots where I could sit and breathe in the beauty of Mother Nature. Believe me, I did.

Round Lake and Green Lake are much-studied glacial lakes with three distinct layers: water that’s mixed at the surface, more dense water that hasn’t mixed further down, and layered carbonate sediments at the bottom.

I met groups of people along the trails, smiled and waved a greeting, then went my merry way. Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit and picnic basket; you’ll want to stay.

Learn History at the Abolitionist Hall of Fame and Museum

I’ve always been interested in everyday people who dedicated their daily lives to working with the Underground Railroad. Their efforts in bringing slavery to an end in the U.S. and moral conviction to try ending racism in any form is admirable.

Visiting the Abolitionist Hall of Fame was inspiring. I was keenly aware I stood in the same building where The New York State Antislavery Society held its’ inaugural meeting in 1835. Talk about a humbling experience!

I found myself wandering from one exhibit to the next, listening as the tour guide highlighted folks I’d learned of in high school, others I’d become familiar with since graduating, and more that I’d never learned about at all.

People like John Brown, Frederick Douglas, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Myrtilla Miner, and Gerrit Smith were only a few heroes I learned more about that afternoon.

Discover Stone Quarry Hill Art Park

Stone Quarry Hill Art Park, Madison County, NY
© Theresa St John

Honestly, I couldn’t find a lot of information on this park, but decided to travel there anyway. I’m so glad I didn’t skip it during my visit to Madison County.

Stone Quarry Hill Art Park is open from dawn-to-dusk every day of the year, with a small donation box at the entrance, the park grounds have roughly 70 pieces of gorgeous sculptures and outdoor art, four miles of trails throughout the 104-acres, and even boasts an indoor gallery. I also found a secret garden and small pond, both set in the woods, off to the right of one parking lot.

It was delightful to see the artist’s expressions of joy under sunny blue skies – and I spent about two hours roaming the property. I can’t wait to visit again in the warmer months to learn more of its’ history and see how nature intertwines with vision.

Experience Agriculture at Kriemhild Dairy

Kriemhild Dairy, Madison County, NY
© Theresa St John

Stopping in at this small, farm-owned agribusiness was a fun, educational hour on a pleasant summer afternoon.

Greeted by the owner, a friend and I wandered through an extensive dairy museum – who knew there were so many interesting items and tools on a dairy farm designed to help it run smoothly.

The name comes from the original Holstein-Friesian cattle born, raised, and registered in the United States. Raised by Gerrit Smith Miller – grandson of the famous abolitionist, this herd is historically recognized for achieving the same modern milk production volume as the grass-grazed cows from nearly 100 years ago.

There’s an adorable, self-serve store on the property that’s open from dawn to dusk. Using a notepad and calculator, visitors tally and pay for what they buy on the honor system. When I inquired about the seemingly dated method – the reply was this; “So far, it works. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Talk About Trust!

Marvel Over Delphi Falls County Park

Believe it or not, a family once owned this waterfall. I can’t even imagine a childhood spent waking up to this stunning view every morning.

In August of 2018, it changed hands and opened as a public park. Visitors are presently encouraged to enjoy the two-tier waterfall from the lower level.

Every time I’m there, I notice people picnicking on the grass, cooking out under shady trees, taking photos and videos of the beautiful scenery, and getting their feet wet in the sparkling water.

Delphi Falls County Park is a charming hamlet with less than 1,000 residents. It is also known for its’ cheese factory, an evaporated milk production facility, and a tannery during the early 19th century.

Sleep Like a Baby at Brewster Inn

Brewster Inn, Madison County, NY
© Theresa St John

Established in 1890, this gorgeous inn features 17 unique guest rooms that gracefully intertwine and mingle modern conveniences, fantastic antiques, collectibles with an ambiance that’s hard to beat.

I was lucky enough to enjoy my stay in a room that overlooked stunning views of Cazenovia Lake. Sitting at the water’s edge after a delicious dinner, I drank a glass of wine as I watched the fiery red-purple and golden-hued sunset putting on a stellar show in front of me.

Named after Benjamin Brewster – an American industrialist, financier, and one of the original trustees of Standard Oil – this Gilded-Age mansion has won numerous awards and accolades over the years – for its fine-dining restaurant, wine, romance, and more.

Tour Lorenzo State Historic Site

I love New York history. When handprints spanning five generations of the Lincklaen/Ledyard families are involved, and one of Central New York’s earliest settled communities, no less, I’m all over it.

Established in 1807, this beautiful estate first belonged to John Lincklaen. He was a Holland Land Company agent as well as the founder of Cazenovia, New York.

A friend and I enjoyed a private tour of the home and grounds when the flower garden was in full bloom. The carriage house had several antique carriages on exhibit, making it easy to imagine what it must have been like to ride one through town’s main streets back in the day.

There are special events held here throughout the year – check with the website for details. I plan to revisit during ‘Christmas at Lorenzo’ next winter.

Nibble Away at Jewett’s Cheese House

Jewetts Cheese House, Madison County, NY
© Theresa St John

If you love cheese as much as I do, this is a must-stop when you visit Central New York.

Aged New York Cheddar is their specialty, and it shows. The family starts the process with 3-month-old NY Cheddar – supplied by the McCadam Cheese Company, located in Chateauguay, New York. It comes to them in 44-lb blocks. Stored in their refrigerated warehouse year after year, the family has one of the largest privately-owned Cheddar inventories in the Northeast; can you believe over 44,000-pounds?

I tried 6-month, 1-year, 3-year, 4, 5, and 6-year cheeses while there. I thought I’d love the most aged cheese the best, but my favorite cheddar cheeses were the three and 4-year.

Besides cheese sales, the shop stocks baking needs, nuts, health food items, and more. The most fun thing? The owners have named the aged cheeses after family members; Grandad, Granny, Old Mac were just a few. I took most of them home with me.

Relax at Ray Brother’s BBQ

Brothers Tucker and Colin opened this friendly BBQ restaurant in 2014, after spending several years gaining experience in the food industry. The two men decided they were most passionate about slow-cooked meats, meaning everything on the extensive menu is smoked over local woods anywhere from 5-14 hours.

The day I visited, there was live music and a short wait to be seated – as it’s a first-come-first-serve eatery. Everyone was amiable; strangers soon became friends. The waitstaff was ready to make suggestions when I couldn’t make up my mind between several items offered.

Ray Brother’s BBQ isn’t hard to find, either; I’d rolled my car windows down and could smell the meat cooking from several blocks away. Can you say finger-licking-good?

Family Fun at Critz Farms Brewing and Cider Company

I love family-owned businesses and when they come with fresh, farm-sourced ingredients, using small-batch production for award-winning ales, ciders, and hard ciders, I love them even more.

Established in 1985, Critz Farm concentrates on diversified agriculture and a family entertainment focus. They grow a wide variety of crops, including apples, pumpkins, gourds, hops, barley, blueberries, and conifer trees.

Beginning in March every year, they welcome visitors who come to enjoy maple syrup celebrations, apple blossom festivals, pick-your-own-berry events, a fun fall festival, live music, and tastings – of course. They even have a playground for the young ones.

After enjoying an hour or so – drinking and eating outside at the picnic table area while listening to live music and chatting with new friends, I picked out blueberry jams, hard-ciders, several blocks of cheese, and small-batch handcrafted ales to buy and bring home.

Marvel over Chittenango Falls State Park

Chittenango Falls, Madison County, NY
© Theresa St John

Talk about a waterfall! Madison County, New York has some beauties.

When I stepped out of my car, I could hear the rushing falls from quite a distance. Glacial sculpting over 400-million-year-old bedrock stuns any visitor with this cascading 167-foot picturesque waterfall its’ main attraction.

The winding trails leading to the bottom were open during my visit, and many interesting plants dotted the cleared pathways. Although I didn’t have my tripod with me, I was excited to use the footbridge railings at the bottom of the gorge to practice long-exposure photography while there.

I saw people fishing, hiking, and enjoying picnic lunches under some trees’ shade at the top of a grassy slope.

Make sure you wear sturdy shoes and can handle a moderate hike. I was winded climbing up the opposite side after viewing the falls from the bottom.

Relive Your Childhood at the Wild Animal Park

This attraction seemed like it would be a small zoo when I viewed it from the parking lot. Boy, was I wrong!

The Wild Animal Park, located on 14-acres and just north of the village of Chittenango, was one man’s childhood dream – owning a zoo – and he’s spent his life making it happen.

We spent the entire day meeting some of the animals; the park features gray wolves, grizzly bears, and Bengal tigers. We admired North American Badgers, red kangaroos, squirrel monkeys, African Crowned Cranes, and spotted hyenas. Alpacas, pygmy goats, snow leopards, and so much more can be seen and enjoyed there.

One of my most favorite things was walking through an enclosure where we could feed the colorful parakeets. We bought popsicle sticks covered with birdseed. Seconds after entering the room, several little ones had landed on us to enjoy their snack. It was so much fun that we walked through three different times, hysterically laughing when birds landed on our hands and heads and even our cameras.

Absorb Culture at Oneida Community Mansion House

Oneida Mansion House
© Theresa St John

This historic house and museum was once the home of the Oneida Community. The religiously-based Utopian group led by John Humphrey-Noyes moved here from Vermont in 1848. At one time, 300 members lived on the property, sharing the same beliefs on property ownership, gender roles, child-bearing practices, monogamous marriage, and work ethic.

I found it interesting to learn about this culture – as it included living and working as a commune, often challenging today’s ideas of what a family unit should look and behave like to the outside world.

We wandered through several rooms set in the period between 1848-1880. Handmade quilts hung from the walls, and there was a gorgeous library with a sitting room off to the side.

I found it disturbing to study old, sepia-toned photographs of fifty-eight selectively-bred children, otherwise referred to as ‘stirpicults,’ which I came across throughout the mansion.

The gardens and landscaped grounds were delightful, and everything was in full bloom when I visited. The building’s architecture was stunning. I was happy to spend a restful night in one of the bedrooms available for rent.

Treat Yourself to All Things Oz Museum

Who doesn’t love everything about the Wizard of Oz? I remember watching it with my sisters in the living room when we were kids, biting our nails down to the quick in several scary scenes – remember the flying monkeys?

L. Frank Baum, the author of this beloved children’s novel, was born in Chittenango, New York. Imagine my surprise at learning the town celebrates his life in many ways.

One of the most enjoyable ways is to visit the All Things Oz Museum, located in this small town’s center. Every room boasts an extensive collection of memorabilia.

A dedicated group of volunteers runs the museum, caring for more than 15,000 items owned by the organization. I loved viewing original props and costumes, a collection of books, ruby red slippers, Judy Garland’s autograph, even an exhibit featuring 1939 MGM Munchkin actor costumes.

I was sad to learn the last surviving Munchkin passed away right after my visit.

Last Updated on April 1, 2023