Lake Erie lies to the west of the Southern Tier, and the north is bordered by the Niagara Frontier and the Finger Lakes. The region is bordered to the south by the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania, and together these regions are known as the Twin Tiers.
It is largely a rural area full of dairy farms, quaint towns, and deep forests. Numerous small fairs and markets dot the valleys in the summer and the area is a destination for hunters and leaf peepers in the fall. The occasional city hugs the riverbanks, providing modern amenities and urban comforts while struggling to hold on to the small town charm that is typical of the area.
It is considered to be the northernmost reaches of Appalachia.
Listed east to west:
- Broome County
- Tioga County
- Chemung County
- Steuben County
- Allegany County
- Cattaraugus County
- Chautauqua County
- 1 Binghamton — the largest city in the region. This historic city is known as the Parlor City and the Carousel Capital of America.
- 2 Corning — known as the Crystal City, is home to the Corning Museum of Glass and the Rockwell Museum of Western Art.
- 3 Cuba — known for the Cuba Cheese Shoppe
- 4 Ellicottville — one of the top ski areas east of the Mississippi
- 5 Elmira — an historic town on the Chemung River. Mark Twain spent many summers here.
- 6 Fredonia — a village on the shores of Lake Erie. It is home to SUNY Fredonia.
- 7 Jamestown — city on the shores of Chautauqua Lake.
- 8 Olean — city in the Allegany Mountains, home to the natural formation Rock City Park.
- 9 Owego — historic town on the Susquehanna River. Voted coolest small town in America.
- Allegany State Park is one of the largest state park in New York.
- Chautauqua County Grape Corridor, home of National Grape Coop (Welch's), birthplace of Concord grape juice and 2nd leading producer, and excellent wine region.
- 1 Chautauqua Institution — the progenitor of the Chautauqua Movement, a kind of summer camp for grown-ups
- Chenango Valley State Park, ice age lakes provide excellent bird watching a fishing in this wilderness area.
- Hiawatha Island
- Lake Erie State Park, large bluffs overlooking the lake and fantastic public beaches.
- Newtown Battlefield State Park site of the Sullivan Expeditions decisive win over the Iroquois Confederacy.
- Midway State Park, one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the nation.
- Rock City Park a rare geologic formation resembling a city.
Most of the Southern Tier (between the Allegany Mountains and the Catskill Mountains) lies within the Allegany Plateau, a vast region of hills and valleys that results from the erosion of a plain/sea bed that uplifted millions of years ago. Fossils can often be found in road cuts and creek beds due to this action. Several rivers run through the area, often cutting broad, flat valleys through the network of smaller ones. Some of the larger are the Allegany, Canisteo, Chemung, Genesee, and Susquehanna Rivers. The Eastern Continental Divide runs right through the middle of the region, between Corning and Hornell. West of the Allegany Mountains the land slopes gently down to the shores of Lake Erie.
Climate is typical 'humid continental' with hot, humid summers and cold, snowy winters. The region can experience heavy snows, with both lake-effect snow and Nor'easters commonly hitting the area. Two feet of snow from a single storm is not uncommon.
Native Americans have had a long history in the area. Large areas of the Southern Tier belonged to the Iroquois Nation prior to/during colonization. During the Revolutionary War the Sullivan Expedition marched through the area, burning an Indian village at the present site of Owego and culminating in the Battle of Newtown.
Early colonists largely followed the major rivers as they provided food and transportation. Most early industry involved harvesting the forests and shipping the lumber downstream. Elmira was first settled around 1792, with Binghamton, Corning, and other settlements beginning shortly after. The terrain limited canal building, and the area remained sparse until the coming of railroads and the Civil War led to an industrial boom. The region remained a manufacturing center for some time, but generally declined as new technology brought automation and better transportation. Binghamton, however, remained a center of industry and culture right up until the end of the Cold War when its defense heavy economy collapsed.
Today the area is attempting a resurgence. Binghamton is becoming a destination for high technology and the arts much of the rest of the region is trying to draw in tourists interested in the natural beauty and small time charm the area has in abundance.
Locations in the Southern Tier often take their names from Native American and early Colonial history. Many places and features, such as Chautauqua (shaw-TAW-kwa) County, retain their original Indian names and can require a clever tongue to pronounce.
The Southern Tier is served by two regional airports with limited flights:
The nearby airports of Syracuse, Scranton, and somewhat farther away, Albany are considerably larger and offer more in the way of connections and services to the eastern portion of the Southern Tier. The western portion may be better served by airports in Buffalo and Erie, Pennsylvania:
- Syracuse-Hancock International Airport (SYR IATA) in Syracuse.
- Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport (AVP IATA) in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
- Albany International Airport (ALB IATA) in Albany.
- Buffalo International Airport (BUF IATA) in Buffalo.
- Erie International Airport (ERI IATA) in Erie, Pennsylvania.
- Interstate 81 is a major north/south link to the Southern Tier. It intersects I86/17 and I88 in Binghamton.
- Interstate 86/17 the Southern Tier Expressway crosses the entire length of the Southern Tier east to west. It provides a major link to the area from NYC and other downstate areas. Remaining sections of old Rt 17 are in the process of being upgraded to interstate standards for the completion of I86.
- Interstate 88 provides direct connection from Binghamton to the Albany area.
- Interstate 90/NYS Thruway runs along the coast of Lake Erie to the Buffalo area.
- Greyhound Bus has stations in Binghamton, Elmira, Hornell, and Olean.
- Shortline Bus is a regional busline. They specialize in student travel and visit every large city in the Southern Tier. They provide links to many metropolitan and tourist areas of the North-East and have at least 6 round trip buses from NYC to Binghamton daily.
There is no passenger rail service offered in the Southern Tier, although there are some efforts to change this. With New Jersey Transit potentially extending the Raritan Valley Line from New York City to Scranton, Pennsylvania, there have been discussions of Amtrak running service along this line and continuing to Binghamton, Elmira, and other Southern Tier cities. The nearest Amtrak stations are in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and Erie, Pennsylvania.
The Southern Tier is a large, mostly rural region. As such, the best way to experience it is by car. There are several rental companies that service the area, particularly at the airports.
Public transportation is limited to the major metropolitan centers, with some interconnection between cities by private bus lines.
The region has beautiful fall colors in late September to mid-October.
The artistically inclined should head vto Corning. The Corning Museum of Glass in boasts of one of the world's most extensive collections of glass items, including an amazing display of antique glassware. And the Rockwell Museum of Western Art has a wonderful display of Western American paintings and sculptures.
The Mark Twain Study in Elmira is where Samuel Clemens wrote many of his works. It is on the Elmira College campus.
In downtown Binghamton, history buffs should visit the Phelps Mansion Museum, which displays history and art of the Binghamton region, that the Roberson Museum, which showcases Southern Tier history.
The Ross Park Zoo in Binghamton is the 5th oldest in the nation.
The Waterman Conservation Education Center near Owego is dedicated to nature conservation and education. It owns many wilderness areas including Hiawatha Island.
There are lots of opportunities for racing fans. The Broome-Tioga Sports Complex in Broome County is a large motocross complex. It is a stop on the Northest Classic. In Tioga County, Skyview Drags is a 1/8-mile IHRA dragstrip that frequently hosts old-style dragsters, funny cars, and rocket cars, while Shangri-La 2 Raceway is a 1/2-mile, cement, oval track. Both are near Owego. For horse races and gambling, head to Tioga Downs near Nichols.
The Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail offers you 21 wineries along 40 miles of Lake Erie countryside.
For the education-minded, the Discovery Center of the Southern Tier in Binghamton is learning center for children. The Kopernik Observatory and Science Center near Binghamton is the largest public observatory in the north-east U.S.
Golfers should head to En-Joie Golf Course in Endicott, west of Binghamton. It hosts the PGA Champions Tour Dicks Open. The Links at Hiawatha, further west near Owego, is another public course. It was designed to reflect British traditions in golf.
For hikers, the Finger Lakes Trail is a hiking trail through the Finger Lakes region with large portions in the Southern Tier.
Looking for festivals? Try the Spiedie Fest and Balloon Rally in Binghamton. It is a massive Spiedie cook-off and craft fair combined with a twice daily hot-air balloon launch and live music at night. The Strawberry Festival in Owego, Tioga, draws visitors from miles around for some of the best strawberries to be had.
As with most areas of the northeastern United States, Southern Tier cuisine is the result of the ethnic melting pot that immigration created and food offerings tend to be similar from county to county. There are very few 'traditional' foods of the area as no one ethnicity or crop dominated the region. The city of Binghamton, however, was once a popular immigrant destination. These immigrants brought their cuisine to the region and the area is still home to a large number of fantastic ethnic eateries that have stayed reasonably true to the original dishes.
Outside the cities, the Southern Tier is still an agricultural region and is a great place to find a large variety of local produce. Almost every town has at least one farmers market where fresh, local produce can be purchased. The growing season is short and relatively cool, so fruits and vegetables that favor such conditions are easy to find. The region is well known for its strawberries in the summer and its apple crop in the fall, but other produce that grows well include cherries, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, corn, and squashes. Maple syrup was once produced across the region and is still celebrated at numerous maple festivals in the spring. Although production has declined, it is becoming more popular due to the rising interest in natural maple syrup. Dairy is a major industry in much of the Southern Tier. Although the milk produced is generally sold to regional milk bottling companies, a few creameries and cheese factories still exist.
The Southern Tier does have one dish for which it is well known. The Spiedie, chunks of marinated meat grilled on skewers, was born in Binghamton and is quite popular throughout the region.
Before Prohibition, New York was the leading producer of hops in the US. The western section of the Southern Tier has a rich tradition in beer craft and there are a number of breweries and brewpubs to be found here. The aptly named Southern Tier Brewing Company is located in Lakewood, NY (just west of Jamestown). STBC brews some very fine craft beers and a number of season beers.
Other brewpubs are:
- Binghamton: Water Street Brewing and Galaxy Brewery
- Corning: Market Street Brewery
- Fredonia: Ellicottville Brewing Company (although their brewery is actually in Ellicottville, only the Fredonia location is a full bar and restaurant)
Lodgings depend on a given travelers preferences. Hotels are limited to the cities and to major tourist attractions. Bed and Breakfasts can be found in many of the smaller towns, particularly to the extreme east and west of the region. Additionally, there are many campsites scattered all over the Southern Tier and wilderness camping is allowed in any NYS designated state forest, of which the Southern Tier has many.
Staying safe in the Southern Tier can easily be accomplished by using some common sense. In urban areas, crime is generally in line with that of most other Upstate cities; in rural areas, it's generally nothing to worry about at all.
In wilderness areas, and even in the cities (bears have been spotted in Binghamton), wildlife is the major danger. Bears and several species of Big Cats inhabit the area, however, it is deer that are by far the larger danger. The Southern Tier is overpopulated by deer and vehicle collisions are frequent and sometime fatal. Several species of poisonous animals and insects inhabit the area, although these are somewhat rare. Aggressive Hornets and Yellow-jackets are the most dangerous of this list (due to frequency of occurrence), but others include the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, water vipers, Northern Black Widow Spiders, and Deer Ticks (carriers of Lyme Disease).
Winter weather in the Southern Tier can be very dangerous as well. Severe storms can be unpredictable and hit with unexpected ferocity. The area is subject to both lake-effect snows off the Great Lakes and to Nor'easters (hurricane-like snow storms that come in off the Atlantic). Take all weather advisories very seriously. Stay off the roads and ensure adequate supplies as it can sometimes be days before power is restored or the roads are cleared in remote areas. The locals are notorious for snow-storm bravado, so a good rule of thumb is to clear the road before they do.