the 5 – Top Travel Activities in the Southern Finger Lakes Region of New York

There are plenty of activities to put on an itinerary traveling through the southern Finger Lakes of New York. Visitors usually travel to the region to enjoy the lake and appreciate the award winning wines. Two musts. Yet travelers can also learn the history through its unique museums and let go of their fears and soar the sky close to one of the birthplaces of aviation. There are plenty of picturesque places to hike and it also holds roots of an American literary giant as Mark Twain wrote many classics when he summered here.

A trip to the Finger Lakes was on my radar for years and my recent adventure showcased why this part of New York is another reason you can say or sing “I Love NY.”

Get out on the Lake

Sailing on the Schooner True Love in the Finger Lakes from Watkins Glenn, New York

Sails up on Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes of New York

Of course, when visiting a lake region, many of the activities take place on or around the lakes and the Finger Lakes are no different. Whether it is a morning kayak paddle, wake boarding (a must for me next time), SUP (paddle board) or an afternoon heading to dinner by boat, getting on the water and the lake shore is a must to appreciate the area.

One of the best ways to experience any water is through sailing.  The Schooner “True Love,” famous from the Hollywood film, High Society staring Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby is a great way to make it happen. The Schooner is docked behind the Watkins Glenn Harbor Hotel and provides a sailing experience with multiple daily and sunset trips. Plus, there is even a bar on board (or a cooler) that provides the opportunity to taste the local wines.

Side note: If you can’t get out on the water, definitely get to the lake shore for a sunset for dinner or even drinks. I cherished my time on the shores of Keuka Lake dinning at Lakeside Restaurant with the sunset.

Taste the Finger Lake Wines

the viw of the Finger Lakes of New York, Keuka Lake from Dr Franks Winery near Hammondsport, New York

The view of the Lake from the deck at Dr Franks Winery.

Yes, this is a must do on a visit. As a native New Yorker I always heard about the wineries of the Finger Lakes and knew one day I would make it a point settle in for some tastings. I also heard or “knew” its reputation was that of a sweet wine and largely Riesling, but on my travels I discovered wines of all styles, types and tastes including many receiving national acclaim and accolades. All this, plus the wineries offer incredible lakefront vistas.

My most notable stop was at the top 100 winery (according to Wine & Spirits Magazine 2016) of Dr. Konstantin Frank’s. The winery established in 1962 is credited as part of the “Vinifera Revolution” in the region helping to elevate the level and reputation of wine from New York.  Onsite the free pouring allows visitors to select from a sweeter selection or dryer wines. I kept to the dryer side and enjoyed some crisp whites on a summer afternoon including Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and a unique Rkatsiteli grape originally from Georgia (the country) one of the birthplaces of wine itself.

Side note: Also, it’s not just a wine region anymore. Plenty of craft breweries now exist and continue to “pop-up” throughout the Finger Lakes.  I enjoyed my tasting and impromptu private tour at Iron Flamingo in Corning, NY.

Explore Watkins Glenn State Park and Chase Waterfalls

hiking the trail in Watkins Glenn State Park in New York's Finger Lakes

Touching the water while walking the trail inside Watkins Glenn State Park

We often think of National Parks as America’s Best Idea, well one walk through this Watkins Glenn State Park you’ll see State Parks are a pretty good idea too. With a trail made during “work progress” mission of the depression era 1930s visitors can manage a easy to moderate (because of the stairs) hike alongside the gorges and rock formations appreciating the bustling waters and drips.

A great way for first timers is to take the hike on the guided tour (free with your admission to the park of $8 USD) where an educational guide will explain how the gorge formed over time, the history of humans in the region and also some of the best photo spots. Guided tours were offered twice daily – I took the 1pm.

Side note: Also, it goes beyond the State Parks, as the region is so close to many wonderful waterfalls to explore. I can personally vouch for the Havana Glenn located in a county park in nearby Montour Falls. A gentleman I met at the water’s edge said this was a top-ten spot in America. I am not sure how it ranks, but I can tell you it is worth visiting. For a list of four waterfalls in the area, including directions and even some GPS coordinates click here.

Smooth as Glass at the Corning Museum

Making Glass at the Corning Museum of Glass, in Corning, New York

A bird’s eye view of glass making exhibition at the Museum of Glass.

Museums in the region definitely exceeded expectations and none more than the Corning Museum of Glass. How exciting can glass be? – prepare to be amazed.

Inside there is something for the curious to the curator type, for the scientist to the artist. Hours flew by on my two visits, yes two visits, as I watched glass shattering experiments, glass blowing exhibitions, walked through a special exhibit on Tiffany stained glass, and appreciated the history of glass in art dating back from 3500 BC to today. And for modern art there is an entire new Contemporary Art and Design Wing which itself is made of curved glass. Impressive.

The museum, free for kids and teens, has a store filled with glass souvenirs, but visitors can also make their own souvenir for a fee. Here you can roll up the sleeves (well actually roll down since the working glass is over 1000 degrees hot) and put on special gloves and glasses (goggles) to actually make a souvenir from hot glass with professional assistance.  I made a twisted table flower during my time.

Side note: Another must visit museum for lovers of aviation is the Glenn H Curtiss Museum. I didn’t know his story, but a walk through the exhibits and his life of successfully pushing the limits of speed and flight showcase his creative mind and his numerous accomplishments. Leaving the museum you will rethink the history of aviation itself.

Soar the Finger Lakes in Harris Hill

Soaring in a Glider from Harris Hill in Elmira, New York are of the Finger Lakes

Just seconds before the prop plane detached us for our glide.

Flying without an engine may sound impossible, crazy or beyond adventurous to many, but after soaring in a glider at Harris Hill I can share with you not only is it possible, but it’s an incredible unforgettable experience too.

As with skydiving, you go “tandem” so don’t worry. The pilot sits behind the passenger and details the actions as he (or she) pilots the glider. Up front has the same set of gauges and controls allowing the passenger to monitor elevation changes, speeds, and the wind as it soars across the sky. Also with the pilot seated behind you, prepare for an amazing view of the landscape.

Side note: Before the adventure in the sky, take a visit to the National Soaring Museum too. Inside you can walk through exhibits and artifacts from the over 100 years of soaring and also learn why Harris Hill became the “Soaring Capital of America.”

These five images portray five essential and top travel experience in the Finger Lakes. Hope you enjoyed them, for more images from my activities on the Finger Lakes of New York, definitely review my instagram feed at #StayFingerLakes (and follow me there @StayAdventurous) too. And if you have any questions, please ask below.

Stay adventurous, Craig

I was hosted on my trip through the Finger Lakes, but the words, opinions, and photographs are all my own.

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