Situated roughly 60 miles west of Schenectady, Otsego Lake near Cooperstown offers a wide range of activities and places to visit. Whether you’re a baseball fan or an opera buff — or are looking for a window back to life in the mid-1800s — a trip around the lake has you covered.
Skip the tolls and traffic on the Thruway and take Route 20 along a more direct path through rural Schenectady and Schoharie counties to the lake. The state highway eventually joins a cross-country interstate that will take you all the way to Chicago and Portland, Oregon.
But in just over an hour from Schenectady, you will be able to pull in to Glimmerglass State Park on the northeastern shores of Otsego Lake. The state park is home to numerous campsites, large pavilions, and a sandy beach and swim area. Views stretch south across the long lake toward Cooperstown, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Wooded hills rise from the lake’s shores, much of the land protected from development, providing picturesque views in summer, fall and winter, when little fishing shacks dot the frozen lake.
The writer James Fenimore Cooper, whose stories captured 19th-century frontier life and who spent much of his life in and around Otsego Lake, once described the sparkling lake as “Glimmerglass,” a name that stuck for many of the lake’s most popular destinations.
After a stop at the state park — don’t forget to take a hike to an overlook of the lake or visit Hyde Hall, a nearby restored historic mansion now open to visitors — head south along the lakeshore on Route 31 to Cooperstown.
In Cooperstown you can stroll the village’s quaint Main Street, long protected against an invasion of chain restaurants and stores, and soak in the noticeable focus on baseball.
Cooperstown, of course, is synonymous with the Baseball Hall of Fame. For more than eight decades, Cooperstown has welcomed baseball legends and fans on countless homages to, if not the actual birthplace of the sport, the home of America’s pastime.
Stop by any number of stores to pick out a team jersey or shirt. Which team? Whichever team you like, because in Cooperstown all fans are welcome. You can expand a baseball card collection or get a customized baseball bat. Oftentimes youth tournaments or adult baseball leagues will echo off the bleachers of Doubleday Field; stop by if you are in the mood to watch some ball.
A visit to the Hall of Fame, which includes a historic walk through 150 years of baseball in America, doesn’t have to eat up the entire day, but make sure you have plenty of time to absorb the once-in-a-lifetime experience for any baseball fan.
But it’s not all about baseball in and around Otsego Lake. Cooperstown offers art galleries and non-baseball museums and shops as well. The draw of the Hall of Fame has sustained a variety of restaurants, pubs, and historic hotels and inns to choose from. The Otesaga Resort Hotel, built on the lakeshore in the early 1900s, provides historic charm along with modern comforts. And the 18-hole golf course offers countless lake views.
Leaving Cooperstown to head up the west side of the lake, you will quickly find the Farmers’ Museum. The museum recreates the 19th-century way of life through a series of historic buildings, exhibits and interactive workshops. Take a look inside a tavern or pharmacy or print shop from the 1800s, or check out the handcrafted Empire State Carousel, a homage to New York history in the form of a classic merry-go-round. Thousands of artifacts and records provide a glimpse at what farm life in Central New York was once like. The museum sits on the site of a farm once owned by James Fenimore Cooper and has been part of a productive farm for more than 200 years.
Across the street from the Farmers’ Museum is the Fenimore Art Museum. The museum is home to extensive collections of American Indian art, folk art and the works of fine art assembled by Stephen C. Clark, one of the museum’s original patrons and a member of Cooperstown’s most influential family. Thousands of photographs provide a record of Cooperstown and how it has changed over the years. After glimpsing the historic paintings, take a stroll in the gardens outside for another view of the lake. Watch for antique stores and barns selling local wares along the way.
After taking in the sights and sounds at the Farmers’ Museum and Fenimore Art Museum, continue north on Route 80 for another scenic drive along the lakeshore, this time the western side. Eventually you will reach the Glimmerglass Opera, home to a summerlong arts festival. Moving outdoors this summer, the festival will include a litany of 90-minute operas and concert events to be performed on a custom-built stage at the opera’s sprawling facility.
Origin of Name: Mohawk or Oneida word for “place of the rock,” referencing a large boulder near the lake’s outlet
Location: Otsego County, running north from Cooperstown
Size: 7.8 miles long with a maximum depth of 167 feet, covers more than 4,000 acres of total area
Claim to fame: The writer James Fenimore Cooper coined “Glimmerglass” as an apt descriptor for the shimmering lake.
Where to Swim: Beach and swimming area at Glimmerglass State Park
Where to Launch: State boat launch with ramp in village of Cooperstown off Lake Street; hand launch available at Glimmerglass State Park on the northern end
Lakeside dining spot: Lake Front Restaurant & Bar