Hello friends, and welcome back to my summer adventures series of 2020! Despite the situation we found ourselves in last year trying to stay safe during Covid...I managed to still find a way to safely get out and do some exploring in my own back yard. Come along with me today as I take you to the Finger Lakes and the Western regions of New York. Once you see these amazing natural beauties, perhaps you'll add them to your travels this spring and summer.
Finger Lakes - Watkins Glen and The Finger Lakes Wine Trail
Growing up in the Finger Lakes, these trips were a visit home for me. Believe it or not though, some of the trips may be the first time I'm seeing these things. I know, crazy isn't it!!! I hope this blog (and really all of them) inspire you to get out and explore your backyard, because we truly have some great things to do in our own home states.
The first trip I would like to share was the amazing Watkins Glen State Park. Situated at the southern end of Seneca Lake, (the largest of all the Finger Lakes) in Watkins Glen, NY, this park is one of the most beautiful parks in New York state. As you make you way into the park, a park that has been carved and eroded perfectly by nature, you are greeted by one of 19 waterfalls along the trip. Stunning views from both out front and underneath the Cavern Cascade are just a foreshadowing of what is to come along the two mile hike in and around the gorge.
This would be my third trip to the falls and normally I would enter and hike up Indian Trail, however due to Covid, the trails were marked as one way and masks were required while hiking the trail. I highly recommend you go right as the park opens. Of the times I have been before, the park gets busy quickly and very crowded. Going early afforded me the ability to stroll at a slower pace, take in the sights without massive crowds around us, and get some epic photos without people in them. It was absolutely perfect.
As you make your way through the gorge, you can't help but be amazed at this spectacular piece of artwork nature has forged. You climb up and around intricately carved gorges, with sounds of nature all around you. Whether it's the trickling of the water passing through, the wind moving the leaves above, or the sound of birds, you feel as though you've passed through to another realm.
Finishing your trek in at the Mile Point, you then take the Indian trail back out where you see spectacular views from above, pass by a cemetary where you can wander around, and become immersed in the history and scientific explanations of the gorge in a whole new way as you make your way back out of the gorge.
Working up an appetite, we heading into town to the Seneca Harbor Station, located right at the Marina to grab a bite to eat. A perfect day weatherwise, we had an enjoyable lunch out on their covered deck with a view of Seneca Lake. The food was generous and delicious, the service was excellent, and the prices were not too bad. We had the fried fish dinner which was the daily special, and it was huge so we ended up splitting it between two of us. It definitely was enough for two which tells you how generous the portions are! Over all, I loved this restaurant and will definitely return again!
After lunch, we took off for a stroll down the marina walkway for a better view of the lake before leaving and making our way down the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Stopping in at Lakewood Vineyards, Fox Run Vineyard, and Belhurst Castle, we had a few tastings and took in some of the breathtaking views of the vineyards that overlook the lake. (I promise to spend more time in the near future on a blog to feature the Seneca Lake Wine Trail and the beautiful wineries in and round the Finger Lakes. It truly deserves it's own write up and one I've been wanting to do. For those of you wondering who made the iron gate for Fox Run...it is Sam Castner of Ironvine Studios...check him out..his work is outstanding!)
Finishing out the day, we had to make one final stop in Seneca Falls at Sauders Store. Why would a store be a destination you ask? Well this store is special. Originating in 1978 by John Sauder Sr., a Mennonite from Lancaster, PA, he and his family moved to the area to open a store featuring specialty foods and books. I originally visited the store in 2011. It was a small building chuck full of prepackaged staples and a small deli where I ordered the largest sub I have even had in my life! I knew I had to revisit it again, however was shocked to see a 'Super Sauders' had replaced my little country type store since my last stop! Now featuring all the same items, however on a larger scale, they had taken what I loved most about it and added more onto it, including a woodworking store to feature all their handcrafted items. WOW.. is all I can say. I was in grocery heaven there!!! And as I left, you betcha I took a sub to go for dinner later!!!
On my next summer adventure I once again headed out to the Fingers Lakes region, but this time south to Ithaca, NY. Ithaca is best known as a college community, as it's home to Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Community College. Located at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca is also home to several spectacular waterfalls (at least 150); however on this trip we were only able to fit in Taughannock, Ithaca, and Buttermilk Falls.
The one thing we learned very quickly is, time of year is imperative for the best trip. I have featured Taughannock Falls once before in a blog and was anxious for my friends to see it. As we drove in to the park, our friend mentioned how dry the creek bed appeared. Once arriving at the top viewing area we came around and TA-DA....nothing. Hahahaha!! It was bone dry. I felt so very bad as I was so excited to see this one again and share it as it is spectacular. So my suggestion to all reading this...go in the spring time!!! That's when you'll get the best views of all the waterfalls I will be sharing today. After a quick chat with a park employee we learned there were some waterfalls still flowing in the area and off we went; but first...lunch!
The Commons, located in the heart of Ithaca, was built in 1975 as a pedestrian mall. A piece of urban history, the few stores currently within its use is slowly being redefined as office space and apartments. Still the center for events occurring in Ithaca, what is still thriving is the area known as Restaurant Row. This is where we found ourselves, sitting outside of Reds Place on this sunny afternoon.
Our hunt for waterfalls resumed after lunch as we made our way to Ithaca Falls, located right in town. Parking right across the street, we made our way over and along the path to see the spectacular falls.
Our final stop in Ithaca was at Buttermilk State Park. As we social distanced our vehicles and donned our masks, off we went to hike the ridge that follows the gorge in and around Buttermilk Creek. Entering by the public swimming area at the base of Buttermilk Falls, the area was closed due to Covid. However, following the Lake Treman trail up, we came across (and lies at the base of another swimming area,) another swimming hole. Making our way back down the eastern side, we came across yet another swimming hole. Would have loved to jump in to any of them, however wasn't prepared, so note that if you want to try it, wear a suit underneath as it looked refreshing. The hike itself was considered moderate due to the steepness of the incline upward, but not too rocky and the pathway very clear. The park itself had many trails, and many other areas in which to swim, and even camping. Would love to return and spend more time here.
The final trip I would like to feature has to be my most favorite of last summer. One of two camping trips I would take this past year, it was the perfect way to reintegrate myself into what used to be an annual vacation for me. Why it took me so long to pull out a tent and rough it again, is beyond me.
Heading out past the Rochester area, we found what is known as The Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth State Park. Found to be the number one park in America in 2015 by USA Today, it was evidently clear why.
I highly recommend camping in New York State, as it is super easy. They use the Reserve America system, which allows you to reserve ahead, choose your site, and at times even see photos of the view from your site. Arriving and setting up our campsite, we grabbed a quick bite and then made our way to begin scouting out a few of the things to see before dark set in.
This park is a drivable park. There are several hikes you can take along the way, with parking areas to stop and park at the trail heads, however it is not one you can walk to the sites to see. Biking would be a good option, but is hilly in the park so you get a good work out. Most that come visit Letchworth are there for the waterfalls. Three main waterfalls attract tourists, (Upper, Lower, and Middle Falls) but there are memorable spots along the way to stop and explore as well. Only staying for a couple days, we selected the main sites to focus on, with plans to definitely come back again to hit the others.
My main focus was to get up early and hopefully capture the sunrise. So waking up in the dark, my friend Sheila and I headed down the road to the spot we had scouted the day before. With only the birds to keep us company, we set up and waited. It was so worth getting up for. As the clouds floated through the gorge down below in and around the mountain, the most vibrant colors lined up in the sky like a rainbow of oranges, magentas, blues and violets all framed by the green trees. As the sun peeked over the mountain, I caught my breath and just basked in the glory of the beauty. It was magical. Sunsets are lovely, but sunrises bring far more joy to me with a hope of a new day. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
Our friends drove out to join us for the day as we took off to see the waterfalls. To see the lower falls, you have to hike in, but it is worth the time and trek. Not clearly marked, we did eventually make our way to the trail.
As we made our way down the road to see the Upper and Middle Falls (they are at the same spot) we parked and hiked in to capture them. This area is a busier area as more tourists take the time to park and make the shorter walk in. The first night Sheila and I scouted, we timed our visit perfectly and captured the elusive train as it made its way across the tracks above the Upper Falls. One thing I would like to note is this is also where the Balloons Over Letchworth take off, however due to Covid, they were not allowed to last year. Definitely something I wish to go back and see in the near future!! Maybe during the fall!!
Although the falls are the jewels, there are so many other sights and things to do in the park. As we didn't have a ton of time, I would like to go back and go through Humphrey Nature Center and hike some of the other trails, and perhaps even horseback ride or whitewater raft within the park too. So much to do, and if you don't camp, there is the Glen Iris Inn as a more comfortable option.
I would like to finally mention, you must take the time to drive up to see the Trestle and walk the trail down towards the Upper Falls. The views from this area are just as amazing as from below, however a whole new perspective.
I think it goes without saying that New York State is simply gorges (see what I did there?). Featuring mainly the gorges and waterfalls of the regions in this particular blog, I've only touched on all there is to see and do in our back yard. While 2020 wasn't an ideal year, Covid limited what we could do and see. It was a blessing to be able to explore areas that I had wanted to see but had always put off. I have a few more surprises to share from last years adventures, so stay tuned for future blogs on both the Finger Lakes Wine Region and Long Island.
I'm certain no matter where you live, the time you have to make the trips, or the budget you are working within, there is something you must see and do in the regions in which you live. So as you plan your summer vacations and day trips; I recommend you take the time to see what your area offers and go explore! Sometimes the most beautiful things are right under our noses!!
Till next time my friends,