Hiking New York United States

Five Days in the Finger Lakes (New York)

Ok, right up front I’ll say this post covers both the Finger Lakes region and area to the west and east in central upstate New York. Hopefully, this disclaimer will mitigate some comments that Niagara Falls, Letchworth Falls and Cooperstown aren’t technically in the Finger Lakes. But hey, they’re close enough to visit from the Finger Lakes, so here goes.

Coming from Niagara Falls, we settled in for a few days in the Finger Lakes area. You can read about our Niagara Falls experience here, where we stayed on the Canadian side, but you could visit the Falls from the Finger Lakes, particularly if you visited from the New York side and didn’t need to wait in line to cross the border.

Water and Wine in Canandaigua. In the Finger Lakes region, we landed first in Canandaigua. I’m pretty sure we chose Canandaigua based on this article. I’ll be honest, we were initially a bit underwhelmed by the town itself. But, at our B&B, Sutherland House, just out of town, we were entertained by the diversity and friendliness of our fellow guests: two Brazilians (with whom we spoke a little Portuguese, when we could get a word in from the homem que nao parar de falar), a couple from Romania and Paris who had worked for the EU in Brussels and now live in the Philadelphia area and a mental health counselor and professor of behavioral health studies with her husband, an FBI agent from Corpus Christi Texas (she had googled “calm places”, understandably when you consider their day jobs, and they wound up here). Suffice it to say we had fascinating breakfast conversations over our gourmet baked eggs and waffles. All in little Canandaigua, New York.

Our first day, we backtracked west and hiked in Letchworth State Park. I guess we should not have been shocked that the same geographic region which produced the falls at the Niagara River would also produce some amazing gorges and waterfalls too, but we were surprised. The gorge, cut by a glacier millions of years ago, was incredibly beautiful and deep and the gorge side trail ran from the upper to the middle falls and back. We also found a loop through the woods which was nearly untracked on opening weekend.

We stopped off at Heron Hill winery for a tasting on our way home and bought a few bottles to enjoy at the gazebo of our B&B and then stopped off at Kix on Main to get takeout (which they don’t do, but let us do) where we had a table reserved for later but knew we wouldn’t venture back out once we hit the gazebo. Such friendly people in both places we’d recommend both. In fact, every single person (sans exception) we’ve met in this part of New York state has been delightfully friendly and helpful.

Circling (Almost) Seneca Lake. On our second day, we moved east and south checking out the north, west and south ends of Seneca Lake and its wine trail. The town of Geneva to the north is a college town and charming with a huge state park along the north end of Seneca Lake. It would be a candidate to stay on our next visit. We struck south along the west side of the lake to visit the Billsboro Winery, recommended by the chef at Kix, for another tasting then ventured further south to grab sandwiches at Tabora Winery which was recommended by the folks at Billsboro. Great quiches and sandwiches, it was worth a stop if you’re passing by around lunchtime. We also stopped off at Watkins Glen State Park at the southern end of Seneca Lake. The Gorge trail, which looks pretty amazing from the photos, was closed and rain was headed our way, so we abandoned the park and headed east to Ithaca, but from what we saw I bet the gorge trail is worth it.

Eyes of the World in Ithaca. Ithaca’s downtown seemed a bit more rundown than we’d expected for a college town and the pedestrian mall on West State Street didn’t seem to have benefited from New York’s legalization of recreational pot during our Sunday afternoon stroll. We smelled more weed in three blocks than we’d smelled in our entire time back in Denver, pioneer of the legalization campaign. The change didn’t seem to have been an upgrade for downtown Ithaca. We later learned though that the first dispensary had just opened up, but that the root cause of Ithaca’s Sunday afternoon resemblance to the Haight-Ashbury of the 70s was not (solely, at least) New York’s legalization efforts but the Dead and Company show booked for the following day. “A peaceful place, or so it appears from space, a closer look reveals the human race, full of hope, full of grace”.

Onward to check out more waterfalls and the campus of Cornell. Cornell’s campus was worth the long uphill (really uphill) climb and, that part of town lived up to the “Ithaca is Gorges” tourism campaign as did the two of the 150 area waterfalls we visited. We also learned (too late) that just beyond campus is “College Town” the “downtown” of the college campus which also helped explain a grittiness and lack of student presence in the actual downtown.

We breakfasted the next day with aging (and now seemingly very wealthy) deadheads in town for the show (and the special VIP event the evening before) which is when we put it all together as to why Ithaca felt a bit like Max Yasgur’s farm the day before. “Fare you well…listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul”.

Hallowed Baseball Ground in Cooperstown. Last stop, in the region, was Cooperstown. We rolled in hoping to have some salads overlooking Otsego Lake from the restaurant at the Otsego Hotel but the restaurant was closed. Off we strolled to find a substitute in downtown Cooperstown. We chose a pizza place with delicious looking pizza but ordered salads. A mistake and our only bad meal thus far. When in a Cooperstown pizzeria apparently order the pizza. Onward… and fortunately without food poisoning.

As a child, I was obsessed with baseball. I collected Topps baseball cards in the days when you had to buy them package by package, chew that cardboard gum and trade off your duplicates to friends to try to collect the full season series (which I did for three consecutive years in the late 70s. See, obsessed). I was an avid Red Sox fan. Knew all the stats. Cried when they lost (again, obsessed) especially when defeat came at the hands of the Yankees. I was taught to love baseball and the Red Sox and revile the Bronx Bombers by my mother, a Brooklyn Dodgers fan until they moved west when she switched her allegiance to Boston.

I’ve now been to the Hall in Cooperstown three times. Once as a child on a cross-New York trek to Chicago, once very quickly with a coworker on a visit to a customer in Cooperstown and this time. This time, I felt I got more out of the visit. The promotional film gets you in the mood to admire memorabilia of Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Cal Ripken, Nomar Garciaparra, Nolan Ryan and Big Papi. The equipment from the early years makes you wonder how they didn’t end up disfigured by foul balls or line drives. The baseball artwork room presents more famous Rockwell paintings and less famous ones by other artists. We’ve visited quite a few museums on this trip and this one was as good as the last (are museums getting better, or is it just us?). After mingling with uniforms, gloves and bats you end up down on the first floor in the hall of the plaques of those admitted itself. It’s done in a baseball-friendly manner, which I guess you can understand, but perhaps a little more focus on some of the controversies would round it out. But that’s, of course, not why we visit. We visit to pay homage to the players we loved and watched, the teams we cheered and booed, the games we remember from childhood to adulthood and to remember what it was like the first time we felt the crack of the bat on our hands or smelled the smell of a new ball or the first time we got to see the game live at one of America’s great ballparks.

Upstate New York is a beautiful place full of rolling hills, quaint villages, gorgeous lakes, cascading waterfalls and miles of farmland, vineyards and fields. Sure, there are towns and small cities which have seen better days, but there are lots of it that are worth seeing just to keep the commerce alive and support the locals. In my many treks across and through New York it’s been about getting from points A to B, but it was nice to get off of the New York State Thruway and meander through its heart and get to know it better.

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