New York’s The Finger Lakes

Watkins Glen

I can’t remember where or when I first saw it. Perhaps it was in an outdoors magazine. Maybe it was shown in someone’s hiking blog. Possibly it was just scrolling on Instagram. But at some point I saw a beautiful photo of a waterfall in a gorge labeled Watkins Glen State Park. Wow, I thought, that would be cool to see.

After looking it up I learned that Watkins Glen is in the Finger Lakes area of New York. Only about five hours from me. Very accessible to be sure, but not quite a day trip. So, I added it to my “Travel: Domestic” list.

The Gorge Trail

And there it sat. For years. Waiting to be remembered when my opportunity to go to the Finger Lakes arose. Since then, the park has seemingly exploded in popularity and I have seen it pop up dozens of times via multiple hiking and traveling outlets. Every time I saw it I thought that one day I’d make it there.

And ‘one day’ arrived. For a few weeks this September, my best friend, Amy, and her boyfriend were staying in their camper in the Finger Lakes area. With an open invite to visit them, this is one I pounced on and we quickly found a set of three days that both of us could do with our opposite work schedules with each of us only having to take one vacation day.

“What do you want to do while you’re here?”

“I want to go to Watkins Glen.”

Amy told me that Watkins Glen was on their list too and they would save that for when I was there. She mentioned it was only about a half an hour from their campground. Which I knew. Because I had already mapped it.

Rainbow Falls

It was even more beautiful in person (per usual). As hyped up as this park has become it was still not overhyped. It ended up being my favorite thing I did in the Finger Lakes.

My Watkins Glen recommendations:

1.) Go on a weekday. This is a very popular park. Even on a weekday there were more people than your average state park, but we at least felt like it was a manageable crowd. I can’t imagine what it’s like on a weekend.

2.) Hike past Rainbow Falls. If you’ve seen one picture of Watkins Glen it’s likely Rainbow Falls. It’s the spot. People clearly hike to the falls and then turn around and hike back. But the whole gorge trail is stunningly beautiful. Added bonus: once we got past Rainbow Falls there were way less people on the trail.

3.) Hike the Gorge Trail both ways. When we did it, we hiked the Gorge Trail one way and then looped back on the Rim Trail. We thought a loop would be better because it’s all new trail but really, the Rim Trail was a dirt path that just connects the park and there’s not much to see. The Gorge Trail, however, is well worth seeing in both directions.

4.) Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. The trail is all stone and not difficult at all, but the waterfalls made the trail wet and mud covered in a lot of spots. I made the mistake of wearing my regular sneakers and not my hiking sneakers and I found myself way too concerned with hopping over puddles than I ever want to be on a hike.

The Rest of the Best

Now, I don’t want to mislead you. After talking about how much attention Watkins Glen gets, I have now spent the whole first part of this post giving all my attention to Watkins Glen. But there was a ton a great stuff to see.

Ithaca

There wasn’t too much to Ithaca but it was clean and felt safe walking around. It had a blocked off area that cars couldn’t drive though with some shops and restaurants which I always think is cool when cities and towns do that. It had its tourist shops but wandering outside the center of town I definitely got the college town feel. There were cool outdoor spaces that had simple built benches and tables that college kids were working at but didn’t appear to be owned by a particular business. Or no particular business seemed to care about if it was their patrons using the space or not. Which gave a very relaxed, community feel.

Driving around before meeting up with Amy and Peter – Just me and the Mini

Cascadilla Gorge

This is a short gorge trail that is right in Ithaca. I actually had a hard time finding it because it literally starts right off a street and I’m used to trails starting in, well, not cities. It was a fun, easy, short walk through a gorge. Compared to some of the other gorges I’d have to say that, no, it’s not as impressive, but still very pretty and worth the time to stroll through if you’re in Ithaca, especially given the easy access.

Had fun taking photos through here

Taughannock Falls

There’s two ways to see Taughannock Falls. There is an overlook which is right off a parking lot and looks down at the falls and then there is a hike which is at the bottom and brings you closer as well. We stopped at the overlook on the first day and my plan was to go back and hike the bottom part on the third day before driving home but it ended up being heavy rain so I skipped it. Glad I saw the overlook though; the falls were beautiful. And the clouds were so pretty too!

View from the top but in the photo you can see where the bottom trail leads to

Letchworth State Park

This ended up being a two hour drive from the camper but I’d say it was definitely worth the drive. The Falls were impressive and the walk was nice. We chose to hike the Gorge Trail out and back just to see all three of the big falls and then drove the road through the park and did the pull-offs and overlooks. We originally planned to hike more but, again, there was a chance of rain and given the four hours out-and-back driving we had, it seemed more beneficial time-wise for us to keep our hike short. That being said, I’m sure the whole gorge trail is gorge, if ya know what I mean.

Just missed the train!

Cideries, and Breweries, and Wineries Oh My!

I usually like to check out at least one local brewery when I travel. There seemed to be no shortage of breweries, and cideries, and wineries in the Finger Lakes area. On our drive back from Letchworth we stopped at Other Half Brewing which was a huge disappointment. I think my favorite part was the picture hanging in the bathroom. The tap list consisted of two pilsners, one pale ale, one cider, two hard seltzers, and thirteen IPAs. Thirteen. Zero sours. Zero porters. Zero stouts. Zero brown ales. Zero red ales. Maybe they’re just really good at making IPAs but I hate when places are so limiting. Which is too bad because their shirts were cool- they had adorable broccolis on them.

Other places we hit:

1.) War Horse Brewing / Three Brothers Winery – This was an interesting brewery and winery kind of all rolled into one. I went for the beer part because of my let down at Other Half. The beer was good. They also offered food options. Fairly simple menu, which is to be expected from a brewery but decent for what they offered. They had a “Big Ass Pretzel” that, let me tell you, was a Big Ass Pretzel. And very tasty.

I’m such a sucker for stuff like this

2.) Finger Lakes Cidery – Cool vibe. Good cider. You could build your own flight and every cider was game. Pretty view if you sat outside. Giraffes on the bathroom doors. Thumbs up.

Finger Lakes Cidery

3.) Hosmer Estate Winery – I actually can’t give much of a review here because I didn’t drink the wine. I got a wine slushy. Judge me if you will. But I got to keep the cup. It’s perfect for my iced coffee.

Bonus Picture – Seneca Lake from Geneva

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