North of the Adirondacks lies the North Country, the northern border of New York. Although more populated than the mountains to the south, this region is still dominated by the large areas between cities. It also incorporates much for the traveler to see, including the St. Lawrence River and its Thousand Islands. Northern New York serves as a gateway into Quebec and eastern Ontario, which exert a strong influence on the culture of the region.
- Clayton/Alexandria Bay
- Champlain and Rouses Point
- Watertown and Sackets Harbor
Northern New York was populated in the 1800s, with much of the region serving as agricultural land along the St. Lawrence Valley.
During the War of 1812, a naval base at Sackets Harbor was targeted by two British-Canadian attacks. In the late 1800s, passenger rail and steamships brought New York City's wealthy elites to the Thousand Islands region in search of sites for magnificent summer homes; Boldt Castle (built by George Boldt of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel for his wife Louise) and Singer Castle (built by the sewing machine magnate) date from this era. In 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway and its ability to handle huge ocean-going vessels diverted much marine traffic from Buffalo and the Erie Canal further south.
This border region still retains its military vocation, with Fort Drum (near Watertown) and its US Army 10th Mountain Division as the largest employer. Plattsburgh had served as an air force base during the Cold War; its huge airport is now used as a civilian facility with a few scheduled Essential Air Service flights daily.
To the north lies Canada's beaten-path Windsor-Quebec corridor. its capital Ottawa-Gatineau and its largest French-speaking city, Montréal. To the south is the huge Adirondack Park, whose alpine ski slopes hosted the 1932 and 1980 Lake Placid winter Olympic games.
Most visitors arrive by automobile, but Trailways does provide limited intercity bus service through Watertown and there are a few small airports operating scheduled domestic service under a federal subsidy. There are no scheduled cross-border public transport services to the Northern New York mainland from Ontario. Amtrak does go through Plattsburgh on its way from New York City to Montréal, but provides no service for Watertown or the 1000 Islands region.
- From Central New York, take Interstate 81 or US 11 north through Watertown. I-81 ends in the Thousand Islands in eastern Ontario, US 11 continues through Malone and crosses the Quebec border.
- From Albany, take Interstate 87 north through Plattsburgh toward Montréal.
- From Vermont, take US 2 across the northern end of Lake Champlain
- From Ontario, cross at the Thousand Islands, Prescott-Ogdensburg or Cornwall-Massena.
- From Montréal, Autoroute 15 southbound becomes I-87 to Plattsburgh
- Trailways from Syracuse follows US 11 northward from Watertown to Potsdam, terminating in Massena. Rail-to-bus and air-to-bus connections are available in Syracuse, as are onward buses to New York City.
- Adirondack Trailways stops at Mountain Mobil Mart (7155 Route 9) in Plattsburgh enroute to Albany
- Universities within the region sometimes run charter buses to Syracuse or Albany/NYC for their students
- Cruising on small craft is (seasonally) an option to reach various points on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the 1000 Islands. Recreational boaters may take vessels 20' (9m) or larger through the Seaway locks at Massena, but the huge "Seaway max" cargo ships are given priority. Local marinas serve various small towns in the 1000 Islands region, including Clayton and Cape Vincent. Some have boats for rent; depending on type of vessel, rental cost may be up to $300/day.
- From Vermont, there is a car ferry which joins Burlington to Plattsburgh.
- From Ontario, there is a seasonal car ferry from Wolfe Island in the Thousand Islands to Cape Vincent. Tour boats carry passengers to Boldt Castle (on Heart Island, NY) from both sides of the St. Lawrence River.
Two or three Essential Air Service flights arrive daily in each of Watertown (from Philadelphia), Ogdensburg and Massena (from Albany) and Plattsburgh (from Boston). The closest major airports are out-of-region in Syracuse, Ottawa or Montréal-Dorval.
Hertz and Budget hire cars are available at Plattsburgh's airport; Enterprise +1-800-rent-a-car is available at Ogdensburg and Massena airports.
There are two major Interstate highways, I-81 through Watertown and I-87 through Plattsburgh; both run north-south and terminate in Canada. All other regional traffic is carried by two-lane highways such as US11 (through Watertown and Potsdam), NY 37 (through Ogdensburg) and NY 12 (through Watertown and Clayton).
- CitiBus provides limited local bus service on three daytime routes within the City of Watertown.
- St. Lawrence NYSARC operates weekday commuter buses throughout St. Lawrence County.
- Antique Boat Museum, 1000 Islands Museum and 1000 Islands Art Centre in Clayton
- Boldt Castle and Singer Castle, in the 1000 Islands. Tour boats visit regularly (in season) from various points on the US mainland.
- Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg
- Various local university campuses dominate tiny Potsdam and Canton
- Waterfalls of St. Lawrence County Six major waterfalls adorn the area.
- Lots of outdoor activities are popular, such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, canoeing and fishing.
- An assortment of boat tours depart from Clayton and Alexandria Bay into the Thousand Islands
- The Lake Ontario Playhouse presents live theatre in Sackets Harbor
- Local farmers markets operate seasonally in Clayton, Ogdensburg, Massena, Potsdam and Watertown.
- The Salmon Run Mall in Watertown and the Champlain Centre in Plattsburgh are popular among cross-border shoppers.
Plattsburgh is known for its "red hot" steamed hot dogs. Hotter and spicier than a chili dog, a "michigan" is served on a steamed New England roll and buried in copious amounts of "Michigan sauce" — an overflowing, heaping helping of ground beef and tomato sauce, onions buried, with a touch of mustard on the top.
The Saint Lawrence River valley is the birthplace of the 1000 Islands salad dressing; while most of this dressing is manufactured elsewhere, the recipe was originally brought from Clayton and popularised by the big-city hotels in New York City in the passenger rail era, when the 1000 Islands and the Adirondacks were the playground of NYC's wealthiest citizens.
Jreck Subs is a regional chain of about forty submarine sandwich shops, based in Watertown with locations throughout Northern New York. Apparently the odd choice of name was taken from the founders' initials.
While the cold winters and short growing season have long left Northern NY overshadowed by other wine producing regions in the state (such as the Finger Lakes, the corner of western NY near Lake Erie, the Hudson Valley and eastern Long Island), efforts are being made to breed hardier grapes to permit viniculture to blossom in Northern New York and in the adjacent Adirondacks.
Two of the eighteen New York State wine trails are in the north country. The 80-mile state-designated St. Lawrence Wine Trail links three wineries in Hammond, Lisbon and Winthrop, while another designated wine trail covers the Thousand Islands region. Clayton is home to the The Great New York State Food & Wine Festival (in June), a winery and a distillery. There are wineries in Philadelphia NY, in Evans Mills and in Alexandria Bay.
With the exception of I-81 and I-87, which run north-south through Watertown and Plattsburgh respectively, most of the Northern New York road network is two-lane highway and animal collisions (particularly deer) are a hazard. The area is also snow belt, due to lake effect snow from Lake Ontario; caution in winter driving is advised.
- Syracuse and Central New York
- Ottawa-Gatineau and Eastern Ontario
- Seaway Region