When we told friends we’re going to New York, they assumed we meant New York City. And while we did spend five great days in the city, we also had plans beyond the Big Apple.
Because of a conference we were attending, we had the opportunity to head North and explore the Finger Lakes region. I’m sure this part of the country would be beautiful anytime of the year, but we certainly enjoyed fall in the Finger Lakes and want to share with you how we spent five days here.
Getting Started In The Finger Lakes
Let me begin with a bit of background. This region is called the Finger Lakes because of eleven, long, North-West lakes spread throughout a section of Central New York. A variety of state parks have created protected spaces around these lakes leaving plenty of scenic viewpoints, hiking trails, picnic areas, and campgrounds.
This is a large area, so the first decision to make is where to stay. Corning is a great option for many people since its large size offers a wide variety of hotels, AirBnB’s, restaurants and museums. Plus, Corning is a very charming town that should be visited on any Finger Lakes trip.
Finger Lakes Hiking
As you can imagine, all of these lakes within state parks provide for a large collection of trails in the area. Hiking is a very popular activity and one which we enjoyed two different times during our stay.
On our first full day in Finger Lakes, it was raining. But we were still determined to get a hike in, so we drove to Watkins Glen State Park hoping the rain would stop. It didn’t. We put on our rain gear and hiked a portion of the Gorge Trail. The deep, ridged gorge combined with many waterfalls made for a spectacular scene. And because of the rain, we had the trail entirely to ourselves. However, as the rain continued to pour, the trail conditions were getting dangerous and so we couldn’t complete the whole loop. I’ve read that in all there are 19 waterfalls in Watkins Glen.
Normally the Gorge Trail gets pretty busy since its the best known in the area. To get the most enjoyment from a hike and take the best photos, I’d recommend arriving when the park opens. Check the parks website for hours.
A few days later we set out again for a hike and fortunately there was no rain this time. We drove quite a bit further to Letchworth State Park which was voted the #1 State Park in the United States. The most popular trail here is the one along the lower, middle and upper falls. We hiked the middle and upper portion which was lovely.
The land for this state park was donated to New York by a wealthy businessperson, William Pryor Letchworth, and his home, Glen Iris Estate, still remains but now operates as a hotel and restaurant. We enjoyed a nice outdoor lunch at the Glen Iris Inn which has excellent views of the middle falls. (Admission to Letchworth is $10 and currently only cash is accepted.)
Corning Museum of Glass & Glass Blowing Glass
Of all the fun things we planned for our Finger Lakes trip, I was most excited about the Corning Museum of Glass. I was not disappointed. This museum certainly has lovely galleries like all good art museums, but its distinguished by its interactive and hands-on activities.
Our day began with a flameworking and glass blowing demonstration and ended with the opportunity to try these techniques ourselves. I’ve always appreciated the beautiful art produced by these methods, but now I appreciate them even more.
Flameworking is the process of a holding glass rods over a small, but intense heat source to shape them into something new. We were tasked with making a pendant. The process requires considerable patience and care. Melt something too quickly and its ruined. Allow something to cool for too long and no further changes can be made. Finding the right balance of temperature is key to producing the intended item.
The highlight of my day was glass blowing class. With the help of our very patient, but skillful instructor, Chris, we each made a drinking glass from start to finish in about 30 minutes. The only step we were not permitted to try was sticking the long metal rod holding a chunk of glass into the 2000 degree oven (probably a wise decision on the museum’s part!). But we were allowed to blow air into a rubber tube that gave the glass shape, then roll the metal rod back and forth to create the curves, and finally use a wood paddle to form the flat base of the glass.
Even with a protective sleeve and glove, my arm was still very hot! Over time these artists must learn to manage extreme heat in order to complete their work.
The average visitor to CMOG stays 4 ½ hours, more than double the time of the average museum visit in the U.S. In fact, the purchase of a ticket for $19.50 actually entitles the visitor to come for two consecutive days. This allows time to schedule a glass blowing class which ranges from $22-$32 per person.
This is a destination museum. Plan a two day trip and take your time enjoying all that it has to offer.
The Rockwell Museum is small but well worth the visit. This museum specializes in American art, and most noticeably Western American art. Over two floors are assembled impressive bronzes from Remington, a large selection of Native American art--both historic and contemporary--and even a collection of long arms and handguns.
The museum is housed in the Old City Hall of Corning, which was originally built in 1893 and since has been beautifully restored. In 2015 the Rockwell earned the prestigious designation of a Smithsonian Affiliate, a testament to the quality of its collection and exhibits. Only 1% of museums in the country earn this special status.
Admission to the Rockwell is $11 per person, but a combined CMOG and Rockwell ticket can be purchased representing a savings of $7.75.
Finger Lake Breweries
The Finger Lakes region has become well known for its wine, but Jason and I really enjoy checking-out the local brewery scene when we travel. And fortunately there were plenty of Finger Lake breweries and brewpubs for us to visit. Since our base was Corning, all three of the places described are in Corning.
We began with Carey’s Brew House, located in an old house that offers over 100 beers on tap, both from around the country and locally. The owners are a husband and wife team that serve as bartender and server. We were eager to try some local beers, and ordered two flights. This was our first opportunity to sample the local beers, and we liked most of them.
We also ordered a BLT sandwich and chili, both of which were delicious. The chili was homemade and the tomatoes on the sandwich came from their home garden. This is the kind of place that would be very comfortable for “regulars”, and if we lived locally we’d come often.
Our next stop was Liquid Shoes Brewing. This is a bar and brewery located on Main Street in Corning. We arrived shortly after it opened at 3 p.m. which gave us a chance to chat with the owner and brewmaster, Eric. Opened for just two years, Eric is already looking to expand his brewing operations. Again we ordered a flight in order to sample all of Eric’s beers which were exceptionally good. We were enjoying ourselves so much that we ordered another beer along with a cheese and charcuterie plate.
With a large, open window onto Main Street, Liquid Shoes is clearly inviting people into the bar. As we were leaving, the tables around us began to fill, many of the guests already familiar with Eric and his staff.
Our final stop was at Iron Flamingo. This place was packed by the time we arrived. We each had a beer and ordered some tacos from the food truck outside. The beer was good and the tacos were okay, but we didn’t enjoy the atmosphere of this place as much as the other two.
We only scratched the surface of Finger Lakes breweries, but it was a darn good start. We will definitely continue our exploration of beer in the region when we return.
Fall in Finger Lakes
From California to New York is a long trip, so we wanted to make the most of our trip by combining New York City and Finger Lakes. We were able to enjoy all that a large and bustling metropolis has to offer one day, and the next we were hiking next to waterfalls and enjoying the charms of small towns. I both love the big city, but also need opportunities to escape to the country. The state of New York offers it all.