Despite all the years of visiting the Finger Lakes area we continue to find so many new things to do. I rely heavily on local friends and people we meet along the way for guidance, especially during the summer months when many of the touristy spots are just swamped with people and our whole goal is to escape the crowds, not join them.
During our most recent trip we got to do just that with our kids and doggies in tow. Here are 7 of our newest favorite finds.
Brunch with a view
The Elf in The Oak has been one of those places that we’ve driven by often but never really had a chance to stop in to, mostly because the small eatery is seasonal and it is busiest during the summer months. We stopped in for brunch one morning, excited to finally be there when it is open and immediately became fans. Cody, the owner, and his staff greeted us warmly and served us some of the best brunch we’ve had in the area. Plus, their coffee is brewed to perfection – not always an easy find. Sit out on the deck with your mild-mannered doggies and take in the Seneca Lake views. Try their freshly baked scones and make room for their chicken and waffles before arriving.
Chicken and waffles heaven.
Coffee with views.
Hike through New York’s only National Forest
For years this is something I have wanted to do but, again, it was never the season or I never had the time. Hiking the Finger Lakes National Forest is a must for outdoor-lovers. The various trails cover over 30 miles crossing along ravines, and pastures, woodlands and gorges. This diversity also means that no two hikes are ever the same. Some of the trails lead to secluded beaches where we happily stopped to cool off and spend a few leisurely hours taking in the best of lake life. Always pack a picnic. This is one of those outdoor activities that you will find yourself wanting to do over and over.
Finding those quiet lake spots is the reward.
Sun-kissed and ready for more outdoor fun.
Explore historic towns
There is a lot of history in the Finger Lakes but few people know about it because they either miss or drive through some of its most significant villages. One of these is Hammondsport, NY. Nestled along the gorgeous Keuka Lake, it is home to Pleasant Valley Wine Company, the first US Bonded Winery. It is was also home to Dr. Konstantin Frank, the man who would revolutionize winemaking in the region, his family owned winery still thriving today. Their local breweries have received many accolades and awards, and it is where Glenn H. Curtiss, the fastest man on earth, learned how to fly.
We most enjoy sitting in the town square people watching or along the lake enjoying the sweet treats from Crooked Lake Ice Cream, which has served smiles for over 30 years.
Views of Keuka Lake
Crooked Lake Ice Cream Company
Enjoying a warm afternoon in Hammondsport, NY town square
Step back in time
The town of Penn Yan is located at the very tip of Keuka Lake. This is where we spent an afternoon hiking some of the 7-miles of the almost 10,000 year old Keuka Lake Outlet Trail, a former railroad that used to trail past now abandoned paper mills and lift locks. Though walking (or bike riding) the trail today is serene and peaceful, this once was a very busy destination that opened the way to profit and opportunity for local merchants and farmers. In addition to biking, hiking, and dog-walking, you can also fish the creeks and snowmobile, cross-country ski, and snowshoe during the winter months. For us, it was all about the waterfalls, with Cascade Falls next to an abandoned mill and Seneca Falls a short walk farther. It is worth noting that in Wesley Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY, about a 40-minute drive from the trail and closer to Cayuga lake, is where abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton hosted 200 women for the very first Women’s Rights Convention which in effect kicked off the women’s suffrage movement in the United States on July 19, 1848.
The Seneca FallsThe abandoned Cascade Millsite
Penn Yan is also home to the Windmill Farm and Craft Market where you can find a bit of everything it seems. This huge market is seasonal offering some of the best the local farms have to offer. The farming community is strong here, something which is clear when driving through especially during the summer months. Views of lush, wide open spaces, fields and prairies as far as the eyes can see. There is also a large Amish and Mennonite community here, and we got to enjoy some of their products and goods as well.
One find that I was over the moon about was the Oak Hill Bulk Market in Penn Yann. So many fresh cheeses and bakery, but also spices and other dry foods in bulk at an affordable price. I might have spent a pretty penny here.
Go on an early morning kayak tour
We like to start our outdoor activities early when the weather is nice. Some of it is to avoid the crowds and the heat, but mostly because we have found the peaceful quiet of nature is at its best during those early hours. That is the case even for kayaking, which you can do on any of the lakes.
We rented our kayaks from Summit to Stream Adventures. Owner Mark Moskal also offers fishing excursions which are definitely an early-riser’s activity. He and his team will also give you a kayak tour around Seneca Lake if you want to explore the area a bit better with a local.
It was the perfect way to start our day. The lakes are gorgeous at any time, I find. Early morning was special, but those sunsets are breathtaking too.
Go beyond the wine
There is so much more to taste besides wine! The kids are not able to enjoy the local brews but if you get a moment to yourself definitely check them out. I am most familiar with Two Goats Brewery, Grist Iron Brewery, and Wagner Valley Brewing, all located in Central Finger Lakes, but there are so many others to visit (check out this beer trail map), and these places are family friendly too. Our newest discovery on this latest trip was Climbing Bines Hop Farm. I’ve never been to a hops farm before and this was a cool first experience. The vibe was friendly, the farm was stunning, and the beer, all made from their very own hops, was delicious. Added to my list of faves.
We also had a chance to stop into the FLX Distillery. We did a tasting, checked out the distillery at work, and purchased a couple of bottles to bring home. With more time, we will take the tour.
Eat all the things
There is so much good food in the Finger Lakes. From Hand + Foot, my favorite spot in the Gaffer District, to the sweet Stonecat Cafe with its American fair and local produce and wine pairing (as well as live music on select days) to the more upscale Veraisons at Glenora Wine Cellars, and that’s not even close to even half of my list nor does it cover so much of the deliciousness of the region. I’ve eaten my way through many Finger Lakes regions, such Canandaigua and Skaneateles, Geneva and Naples.
In the summer months I encourage you to venture into the farms for their pick-your-own offerings, like the cherries, asparagus and soon peaches and apples at Fulkerson Winery, and the farmers markets all across the region, like the one held every Thursday at Corning. Nothing will taste as sweet or as fresh and have a better connection to the region than the food produced there.
Cherries at Fulkerson
For us, there is no bad season to visit Finger Lakes Wine Country, but there is no doubt that summer is full of opportunities for adventures of every kind. There are plenty of other things to do and areas to explore across the Finger Lakes. You can read all about them in my library of travel stories to the area.