The Finger Lakes, New York
After four canceled trips, countless missed opportunities, and 17 weeks in quarantine, it was about time to break out and put one of the rough draft creations to use. Evaluating destinations was tricky – international travel was off limits as the US cases continued to climb, and that meant many spots in the US were off limits as well. NJ/NY restricted travel to 16 states and the list continues growing. We needed somewhere with a low COVID case count, many outdoor activities, and not going to cost a fortune.
After making a rough draft trip for a return to the Finger Lakes it hit me – this is a great time to go to back to NY! Our last trip was in 2016 and we had such a great time that we knew we would have to return. There are over 100 wineries that span the three major lakes so our day and a half in 2016 barely counts. Another opportunity to test my planning skills as see how the rough draft would match up with the real deal. With a post quarantine trip already under our belt, we were happy with our preparation strategy and followed that plan as well for this trip.
We hit to road as soon as we were able to after work on Thursday to make it in time for our dinner reservation at 5:45PM. It was certainly not the ideal time but when FLX Table has a last minute opening, you make it work. This is one of the best restaurants int he Finger Lakes area with farm to table flare and global wine offerings. FLX Table was one we missed on our first trip and knew we had to make this happen so we drove five hours through crazy thunderstorms to get there in time.
Read all about our dinner at FLX Table here!
After an absolutely fantastic meal, we made our way to our Airbnb. We loved our first Airbnb so much and since this was a last minute trip, I was not surprised each of the cabins was fully booked for the rest of the summer. Picking a place to stay in the Finger Lakes is difficult – the lakes are huge and you have no choice but to go around it. The best way to pick a location is to star all the place you would like to visit in Google Maps and find the most central area possible. Lodi, Watkins Glen, Geneva, and Dundee are all around Seneca Lake and offer benefits depending on the focus of your trip. This trip, I was lucky to find this Airbnb in Dundee and it worked out wonderfully! While it lacked the lakeside view, it really did prove to be as central as we could have asked for to visit areas from Geneva to Watkins Glen and even Keuka Lake.
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Exhausted from a long drive and an incredible meal, we turned in for the night for a full day head.
Good morning Finger Lakes! An easy formula for planning this trip is to find outdoor things to do in the morning and explore wineries and breweries in the afternoon. The wineries are typically open from 10 or 11AM to 5 or 6PM so that time of the day can be dedicated to the wine trail. Do not forget to sneak in some breweries as well, there are tons!
Our first stop this morning was the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Kevin has taken to bird watching after our trip to the Galapagos so even though the Audubon Center was closed due to COVID, we were hopeful to spot some birds. And spot some birds we did!
The preserve is massive with over 9,000 arces. There is a driving path through the preserve as well as walking paths and lookouts. We spotted several types of duck, enormous cranes, finches, and many we could not identify. It would have been easy to spend all morning here but it was sooo hot! We finished the driving loop and took some extra time to walk one of the trails and visit a viewing tower.
I think next time we would visit earlier in the morning. Even though we got there 8:30AM, the sun was already high and most bird activity occurs in the very early hours. The area is beautiful though so if you are looking for an outdoor activity that does not involve anything intense or hiking, and/or are interested in photography and/or wildlife, this is a great option.
We were happy we packed a change of clothes for our next part of the day wine tasting. Everyone here dresses up a bit to visit the tasting rooms so changing out of gym clothes was needed after a sweaty morning.
Time to start wine tasting – whoop! What a luxurious feeling it was after twenty weeks of quarantine. Tasting in the Finger Lakes is really fun, picturesque, and affordable. But it is possible to have a mediocre experience so it is important to do your research ahead of time. You can learn more about the Finger Lakes wine region by reading this post.
Our first stop was Ravines Wine Cellar at their beautiful open air barn in Geneva.
Ravines is also known for their extensive wine white collection, including their collection of sparkling wines. Their COVID precautions were great – guests required a reservation to visit to limit the number of people tasting at once. The entire tasting area was open air and there was more than six feet in between parties – we had an entire area of the barn to ourselves.
For the tasting itself, each person received one wine glass and plastic glasses with the remaining tastings. Everything but the one wine glass was disposable. Since NY instituted a new law that requires the purchase of food with the service of alcohol, we had to pick something to eat. Realizing this meant all the lunch plans I had were out of the window since we had to eat at each winery. Ravines kept it simple and we got fresh bread and butter. For the tasting, Kevin and I both selected the Riesling tasting so we could compare them all side by side. We really enjoyed the Rieslings here and enjoyed our tasting.
Our next stop was on the other side of Seneca Lake at Boundary Breaks. This vineyard is the reason we came back to the Finger Lakes. Our experience on our first trip was exceptional so we knew greatest awaited us.
The landscape of the tasting options was quite different than 2016 where the only grape was Riesling! Expanded to include Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and even some reds like Cabernet Franc. We were so impressed but the additions to the wine family – we were stunned that we walked out with not bottles of Riesling but Chardonnay!
We decided to get a little more adventurous with our food selection since lunch at FLX Fry Bird was no longer in picture. Aged cheddar cheese and crackers to go along with our tasting would be perfect. The basket of items was adorable and even included a cutting board and cheese knife!
Also, the outdoor patio was completed and it was just a spectacular view. We could have sat here all day! After our first round of flights, we were just not ready to leave so we split an additional tasting, continuing to be in the moment of how perfect this was.
But alas, we continue on! Our next stop was down the road at Two Goats Brewing. We stopped here on our first trip and Kevin feel in love with there roasted beef sandwich and beer. The deck view over the lake was not half bad either.
Kevin thoroughly enjoyed himself! While he remembered the sandwich being better in 2016 (not as moist this time around), he still loved the bite of horseradish and the quality of the beer.
With a bit more time to spare, we decided to hit the falls in Watkins Glen at Sequaga Falls and Havana Glen Park / Eagle’s Cliff Falls. I assumed they were short hikes but in fact, there were just off the road, no hiking needed.
I was glad to have checked this off this list now because I would have been disappointed to learn these were not hikes tomorrow morning. These are great options if you are in downtown Watkins Glen or you would like to see waterfalls without the hiking work.
After a stop at the Airbnb, we made it to dinner at Port’s Cafe.
Read the full dining review of Port’s Cafe here!
We decided to drive up to downtown Geneva to walk around the waterfront and watch the sky change colors as the sun set. It felt good to walk around after a meal, a traditional we have borrowed from our trips to Italy (passeggiata).
Early rise for all the hiking! There are lots of hiking options in the Finger Lakes are so depending on where you are staying, take advantage and get outdoors.
The most popular trail in the Finger Lakes is the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park and for good reason. It is so beautiful and features rock formations and waterfalls in easy to moderate trails. We visited Watkins Glen on our first trip and it was definitely a highlight. Knowing that there were other trails to discover, we decided to visit again.
We arrived early at 7AM because we know how crowded this park gets with people. Luckily, there were only two other cars int he parking lot at this time so not only would we have the park to ourselves, but I could also work on getting perfect photos.
As a result of COVID, there was only one direction traffic could move through the park so we were unable to chose the hiking trails we wanted to do. Additionally (and as we noticed in Maine), this was an ideal time for maintenance to occur so the section of the park we have not seen yet was unavailable which was disappointing – guess we will have to try again on a third visit!
Sill, the park is amazing and we enjoyed our time here! Make sure to visit this post for all the photos in the park. I was shocked that this only killed an hour of time – we finished far faster than I predicted since the other part of the trails were closed. We looked at our decisions and decided to take a longer drive out to Taughannock Falls State Park over at Cayuga Lake.
After a half hour drive, we made it to our second state park of the day. Pro Tip: if you pay for parking at one state park, it is good at other state parks on the same day – a happy little accident we discovered and saved us another $8.
Taughannock Falls State Park is a very easy three mile loop that ends with 215 foot falls – not too shabby!
It was definitely worth the drive out here to have a scenic, peaceful walk and then have this massive fall at the end. I think we threaded the needle just right here because has we got back to the car, the lot was already full.
Read about more hiking opportunities here!
We took a short walk by Cayuga Lake before getting back in the car to head east – a long trek out to Keuka Lake. We also snuck in a pit stop at Ben and Jerry’s in Watkins Glen because this trip was lacking ice cream!
Anyway, onto the trip to Keuka Lake. That is one thing with the Finger Lakes – you have to be strategic about destinations and the flow of your trip because it is not uncommon to have a half hour to an hour drive between places.
Our first stop on Keuka lake was one of the most famous vineyards on the Finger Lakes, Dr Konstantin Frank. In order to visit, you had to have reservations and they were very strict on this rule. In fact, they were completely booked as they turned away multiple parties that arrived without reservations.
Dr Frank had a great set up for the tasting experience. It was a progressive tasting that moved parties through the property and you were not able to progress until the party in front of you moved on and the staff cleaned the entire area for the next group. Guests were given a wine glass for the entire tasting that was a souvenir as well.
Dr Frank is known for their sparkling wine but offered a wide variety of wine grapes including Chardonnay, Gruner, Gewurztraminer and of course Riesling. Of most of the places we tasted, these guys have the nicest red wines – again, not the best red wines but for the Finger Lakes it was good. We really enjoyed our tasting here (as well as the view!) and would recommend making the trek over to Keuka Lake for this tasting if you have time.
Our next stop was down the road at the Brewery of Broken Dreams where Kevin ordered a flight of beer and our required snack of choice was bacon and chive cheddar curds (though they had a cheese filled pickle that was very popular among other guests).
We had time to swing by one more winery before dinner. I read about Weis Vineyards on the other side of Keuka Lake that actually put us fifteen minutes from our Airbnb. Weis is a smaller vineyard that is known for their Germany styled wines, including ice wines. Even though it was described as a small operation, the place was packed! We enjoyed a really lovely tasting here, again amazed at the non-Riesling white varietals and really enjoying their late harvest and ice wines as well.
Another wonderful day! We stopped home to freshen up before dinner back in Geneva at Kindred Fare.
Read about our dining experience at Kindred Fare here!
We opted out of dessert and instead went on an ice cream tasting adventure. Not one, but two ice cream spots!
The first place we stopped was the Spotted Duck Creamery. They make duck egg frozen custard that the ducks on the farm behind the ice cream shop provide. There are traditional flavors and some fun ones as well. Do not make our mistake – go with the four scoop flight. The scoops are incredibly small and price wise is a better deal to get four individual scoops in the flight than to do two scoops separately like we did. The ice cream was super creamy! Make sure to take a walk to see all the farm animals.
We got in the car and looked at each other. We had Ben and Jerry’s this morning so this was our second ice cream of the day. But it didn’t really feel like enough – these scoops was insanely small! Only ten minutes away was another ice cream shop… we just drove to take a look.
Seneca Farms was a large red and white building with a line of cars in the drive through line all the way around the building and the parking lot packed. We learned you can get way more than just ice cream here, particularly fried chicken, but offered lots of other options. But we were here for the ice cream. We split a cup with two flavors to complete our ice cream journey for the day.
With a long drive ahead, we decided to make an early morning to get one more hike in to the weekend. Buttermilk Falls State Park was on our way toward Ithaca so it worked out to advance our drive home a bit. The lot had only a few cars in it at our 8AM arrival so we were in for another empty trail.
The park was one directional like Watkins Glen State Park to help control the flow of people during COVID so in this case we went up the Rim Trail and down the Gorge Trail.
It started off with steep elevation climbs that certainly had our hearts pumping pretty quick – great work out for the morning! Once we reached the peak of the climb, we were rewarded we a series a beautiful waterfalls throughout the gorge.
This was definitely one of our favorite trails we completed in the Finger Lakes and were so happy we fit this one in!
After a morning work out, we headed back home very happy with this weekend trip. We were able to have some fantastic meals, try some delicious wine and beer, and explore waterfalls and gorges – what is not to love in the Finger Lakes?