02 Aug A Photo Essay: Finger Lakes Region of New York
We’ve been to New York several times over the years, both upstate New York and New York City, but until this year we had yet to make it to the Finger Lakes Region. I’m so glad we finally had the chance to visit this summer; I had no idea how much adventure could be packed into one region.
We visited the region with our friend Evan and in partnership with Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes tourism board. Our week was spent with a healthy balance of both outdoor and urban adventures. Some of the urban inspired adventures we experienced were visits to wineries, breweries, distilleries, fantastic restaurants, museums, Mark Twain’s study and gravesite, and we even made our own glass creations at the Corning Museum of Glass. For outdoor adventures, we went kayaking, paddle boarding, horseback riding, hiking, and soaring in a glider plane.
The entire week was filled with one amazing experience after another. The Finger Lakes area has so much to offer—there is literally something for everyone, so get ready for heaps of photos from our week of adventure!
Our first stop on our Finger Lakes road trip was the National Soaring Museum in Elmira, New York. The museum was fantastic–we learned all about the history of glider planes and how they work, and it made me want to get out and go for a ride! Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t good enough for soaring on the day of our visit, but we were crossing our fingers that we could head back for a flight later in the week!
After the museum, we made our way to Elmira College for a peek at Mark Twain’s study. Twain received the study in 1874 and it was moved from the farm house to Elmira College in 1952 so it could be toured by the public. This study is where some of Twain’s most popular stories were written, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Elmira College is also home to a Mark Twain exhibit which showcases memorabilia and photographs from his time spent in Elmira during the summers. The above photograph shows pages of Twain’s writings–I loved seeing his penmanship and scribbles all written down by hand rather than in print in a book.
To round out our Mark Twain history, we made our way to his gravesite at Woodlawn Cemetery where he was buried next to his wife and family. Visitors often leave pennies, cigars, and other trinkets at the gravesite, and there is a 12 foot tall monument nearby to honor the famous author.
After a morning full of history, we went to the Chemung River for some quality time out in nature. Our paddle with Southern Tier Kayak Tours took us several miles downriver.
We went out on the river with Aaron, who started the kayak company with his wife Sarah. Aaron was a fantastic guide and filled our minds with stories about the region as well as interesting facts about the environment.
Dinner was at the Hill Top Inn, overlooking the Chemung Valley. The East Hill, where the restaurant is located, is the area where Mark Twain spent 22 summers writing stories in his study, which is the study that we visited earlier that morning at Elmira College. This view is said to be “The View that Inspired Mark Twain.”
Our second morning started out with a visit to the Rockwell Museum in Corning, NY. I was pleasantly surprised with the collection at the museum–the Rockwell focuses on “the American spirit, character and values through the eyes of American artists.” The museum is located in Corning’s Old City Hall and they are always holding innovative events and programs for the community. One of my favorite exhibits was the 2016 exhibit of “Art of the Parks: Celebrating 100 Years of the National Park Service” which showcases art revolving around the National Parks.
After the Rockwell Museum, we made our way to the Corning Museum of Glass, and I have to say, I was blown away by the entire museum! Our first stop at the museum was to watch a glass blowing demonstration. We were mesmerized by the process–the artist was so talented that he almost made it look easy. But, we had a chance to try it ourselves later that afternoon, and I can assure you, it is not an easy task!
After the demonstration, we had a tasty lunch in the museum cafe and then made our way over to the Make Your Own Glass experience. I love learning and trying new things, so any chance I get at a “make your own” or “do it yourself” project is right up my alley. Micah made a glass ornament and I made a glass flower–it was such a fun, but difficult challenge. Thankfully, we had someone there guiding and helping us, and if I must say so myself, I think our pieces turned out pretty well!
After making our own glass, we had the rest of the afternoon to explore the museum. I could have spent days wandering around the Corning Museum of Glass; there is so much to see. From room after room of art to scientific uses of glass in the Innovation Center, the museum covered such a diverse range of exhibitions and galleries.
One of my favorite parts of the museum was the new Contemporary Glass Gallery. The light in the gallery is provided mostly by skylight, so the pieces inside can change in appearence depending on the sun and lighting shining in from outside.
The rest of our evening in Corning was spent visiting first a distillery and then a couple of breweries. Four Fights Distilling is Corning’s oldest distillery, and we had the opportunity to take a peek inside the distilling room and sample their vodka plus two types of moonshine: traditional and cinnamon.
Iron Flamingo Brewery was the next stop on our itinerary and we were able to take a peek behind the scenes here, as well.
There were 7 beers on tap when we visited, one of which was a Sweet Potato Stout that I really ended up enjoying. The Mocha Coffee Porter and the Red Ale were two of our other favorites, as well.
Dinner was at a brewery, Market Street Brewing Co. & Restaruant, in downtown Corning. The entire downtown area of Corning has a quaint, historic feel and is filled with adorable boutique shops and fantastic restaurants.
We all ended up picking sandwiches for dinner–I tried the IPA Chicken Sandwich and it was super delicious. I loved the crispiness of the chicken paired with the IPA Sriracha Hot Sauce. Yum! After dinner we retreated to a little cabin in the woods called the Marsh Creek Cabin, which was our accommodation for the evening.
Day three of our trip required an early wake up call for our breakfast at Sorge’s, a local staple. Egg sandwiches and create your own omelettes were ordered, and it was a delicious way to start our day before heading out on a few active adventures.
Hiking at Watkins Glen State Park was our first active pursuit of the day. We made our way along the rim trail through the gorge next to Glen’s Stream. The stream has 19 waterfalls along its path and the trail goes two miles into the gorge.
We were a bit short on time, so we weren’t able to hike all the way to the end of the trail. I’m sure all the pit stops for photos didn’t help with our timing either, but nonetheless, the trail is spellbindingly beautiful and definitely worth a visit when you are in the area.
After the hike, we made a quick pit stop at Seneca Lake which is the largest of the Finger Lakes.
Then, it was time for our second adventure of the day: horseback riding at Painted Bar Stables!
I haven’t been on a horse since I was a young child, so I wasn’t quite sure how this adventure would go. I’m happy to report that I had a great time and really enjoyed my horse, our guide and the trails.
Erika, the owner of the stable, and our guide for the day, took us out through a wide variety of trails. We went through rivers and both up and down some fairly steep hills; well, steep for this non experienced horseback rider at least!
After a busy morning, it was time for some gorgeous views and a lakeside lunch at the Seneca Harbor Station.
Atwater Vineyards was next on the list, and we spent some time soaking up these views over the vineyard and Seneca Lake while sipping on a variety of delicious wines.
Before another tasting, we made our way to another waterfall in Montour Falls. This waterfall, named Shequaga Falls, is located in Shequaga Falls Park–the park is right in the middle of a small neighborhood. We would have never come across the park on our own, so it was a nice treat to check out!
After another dose of nature, we did another beer tasting at Heavily Brewing, which lives by the catchy saying: “Raise your hand if you like drinking Heavily!”
The brewery is stationed inside an old, repurposed dairy barn. In addition to brewing their own beers, Heavily Brewing serves other local New York beers on tap, as well. They wanted to create a brewery that focuses on the local community of craft breweries, so they hand pick a variety of rotating beers to serve.
Our hotel for the evening was the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, and it was located in the perfect spot. The hotel is right on the shore of Seneca Lake and only steps from all the action in downtown Watkins Glen, which was perfect because we had dinner plans just a short walk away.
For dinner we made our way to Graft wine + cider bar where we drank wine and cider and dined on a delicious spread of warm roasted almonds, a cheese board with fresh honeycomb, and gnocchi. Graft serves up creative and seasonal small-bites and the plates were perfect for sharing.
I loved the atmosphere and decor of Graft and the live music made it even better. If we lived closer to this gem, I guarantee we would be regular visitors!
Day four of our visit was all about tastings–we visited three wineries and one brewery. With over 120 wineries, the Finger Lakes region is a wine country that has been gaining more and more attention over the years, and I can definitely see why! Our first stop of the day was for a tour and tasting at Pleasant Valley Wine Company.
Pleasant Valley Wine Company is one of the oldest wineries in the region and it has been voted one of the most atmospheric wineries, as well. With all the beautiful old architecture, the underground tunnels, the basement wine cellars and delicious wine, I can definitely see why this winery is listed as one of the “don’t miss wineries” in the area.
The second winery of the day was Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars. Dr. Frank played a key role in revolutionizing New York wines and helped elevate the region to world class heights.
The last winery we visited for the day was Bully Hill Vineyards. We were planning on eating on the patio (just look at those views!), but we didn’t have the best weather so lunch was served inside instead.
After lunch we walked over to the tasting room and wine shop for some samples and shopping. The winery boasts a colorful history and the vivid and splashy labels and artwork on the bottles are a perfect match.
Steuben Brewery Company was the last stop on our tasting tour for the day. The brewery is located on farm land near Keuka Lake and it was started in 2013–it was the perfect way to wind down the day.
Our digs for the night were at the Keuka Lakeside Inn in Hammondsport, NY, where we chilled in the lakeside gazebo before walking over to Luna Mezza Grille for dinner.
The next morning we had the chance to get out on Keuka Lake for a little bit of SUP action with Keuka Watersports.
Keuka Lake is a bit different than all the other Finger Lakes–instead of a long, narrow shape that the other lakes have, Keuka Lake is shaped more like a Y. The lake is over 19 miles long, so we stayed near the Hammondsport side of the lake. We had a lot of fun jumping on paddle boards again, and thankfully we didn’t fall in because the water was still a little chilly!
Because we had such a gorgeous day ahead of us, we had a slight change of plans. We were supposed to head to the Glenn H. Curtis Museum to learn more about the history of aviation and then make a stop at the Bath National Cemetery, but we ended up having perfect soaring conditions so we went back to Elmira for a glider ride instead.
Even though we would have loved to check out the museum and cemetery, we were super excited that the weather cooperated for a flight. The glider ride was a surreal experience–we were all blown away by how much fun it was to soar through the air and it quickly became one of our all time favorite adventures ever!
We were still reeling with excitement as Micah and I split off from the rest of the crew and made our way to Hornell for our final evening in New York. RailHead Brewing Company was the next stop on our itinerary.
The brewery is located right where hundreds of trains used to sit when they stopped in Hornell. In addition to a great variety of beer, RailHead also serves stone fired pizza, which looked delicious.
For the final tasting on our trip, we visited Cider Creek Hard Cider where we tried 8 different ciders. They pride themselves in creating 100% natural ciders and in addition to traditional ciders, they focus on creating progressive and creative ciders.
Quite a few of the ciders we tasted were certainly different than any other cider we have had before, but I have to say that I really enjoyed the creative concoctions that they came up with! When we visited the cider house was preparing for an event the next day, and we enjoyed Cider Creek so much that we wish we had time in our schedule to stay for the festivities!
Unfortunately, time was ticking and Micah had just enough of it to take the drone out for a spin over the beautiful countryside before our final meal at Marino’s in Hornell.
We thoroughly enjoyed our steak and fish dinners before calling it an early night. Our plans for the next morning included a wake up call at the crack of dawn and a drive all the way back to Minnesota. We were sad to leave New York again, but we couldn’t have asked for a better experience exploring the Finger Lakes region. The entire area was so beautiful and we had a fantastic time on all of our adventures throughout the week!
Special thanks to the Corning and Southern Finger Lakes tourism board for organizing and hosting us on so many amazing adventures throughout our week in New York. As always, all opinions are our own.