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Visit Waterfalls and Gorges In and Around Finger Lakes, New York

[ NEW YORK, NY - NYC - 10/2/2009 - www.Littleviews.com ]

Watkins Glen State Park>>  If you crave highly unique scenery, desire regional food (wine, jellies and jam, and pies), and seek regional crafts that rival what's available year-round in Asheville, North Carolina, or at The Lincoln Center in spring and fall, visit the Finger Lakes, New York area.

Finger Lakes, New York, is known for its crystal lakes, the Erie Canal, and wine. Not as well known are its waterfall-lined, deep gorges, the likes of which most people have never seen.

Seasonally, the gorges change as follows:

  • Spring: Waterfalls cascade heavily, surrounded by bright green, emerging foliage. (Wear rain boots.)

  • Summer: The ponds that accumulate under some of the falls make natural swimming pools, surrounded by lush forests and flowers. (Wear bathing suits!)

  • Fall: While waterfalls are less intense, they are surrounded by vivid, fall colors. Bonus: The paths leading through the gorges are drier. (Wear fleece.)

The Finger Lakes region is approximately a six hour drive (seven, including lunch) from the Lincoln Tunnel in Manhattan, making it a highly desirable, unique, and relaxing getaway. Got five days to spare? Maybe Friday through Tuesday? This is the place to go.

For your maximum pleasure, I recommend the following itinerary, dining guide, and lodging: [Click here to open a map of the area.]


This itinerary is designed to highlight eye-popping scenery and guide you to unusual local foods, arts, and crafts. To see everything, you will commute from two- to five-hours each day, but with never-ending, beautiful scenery, your drive time will be relaxing.

Note that the Finger Lakes region is known for wineries. Google or Bing on the subject to find many references to wine tasting events and tours. During your stay, feel free to imbibe and/or buy wine by the case at any time, morning, noon, or night.

  • Day One: Visit your first gorge! While there are over 100 waterfalls in the Finger Lakes area, and many of them are in gorges, gorges in and of themselves are spectacular. If you've never been in a gorge before, you're in for a surprise.

    Go to Watkins Glen, which is located on the south end of Seneca Lake, where you'll find the Watkins Glen State Park. Enter the park from its main parking area just off Highway 14 and walk into the gorge.

    The gorge features 800 steps. These steps, however, are not overly steep. With viewing platforms, in fact, they are fairly easy to navigate. If you have a physical problem, but can walk, just take it easy and perhaps ask your friends or family to help. This is not an area where you'd want to rush, anyway. It's worth the effort!

    When you are finished enjoying the gorges, your next destination will be approximately 50 miles away at Naples, where even fire hydrants are painted grape purple. If you are hungry, eat in Naples, or at least leave room from your previous meal for a large slice of grape pie.

    Naples, New York

    If you were staying a week, you'd probably visit Naples after visiting the interesting Canandaigua, which is north of it on Canandaigua Lake. During this suggested three-day itinerary, however, you'll need to drive the distance just so you can taste grape pie, stock up on any of over 100 local jellies, jams, compotes, fruit juices, etc., and browse local arts and crafts.

    Check Naples' website for specific recommendations. I personally love Monica's Pies (pies, jellies, jams), Joseph's Wayside Market (fresh produce, plus the mother lode of local jams, jellies, syrup, honey, juices, cheeses, vinegar, and more!), Artizanns - Gifts from Finger Lakes (two floors of all locally-made arts and crafts), and Elements Boutique and Gifts (antiques, gifts, grape pies).

    Naples is near several other attractions, including the huge Widmer Wine Cellars where you can tour, taste, and buy wine. That winery, however, will move to Canandaigua in 2012.

    Directions: From where you are now, consult a map to make your own plans, as you'll have various options. An easy trip from Watkins Glen is to head north on Highway 14. Connect west with Highway 364 to Penn Yan. Continue on 364 as it turns into Highway 245, which runs into Highway 21. Go south and soon you'll pass Monica's Pies.

  • Day Two: This day is the big one as you'll visit Niagara Falls, an easy trip along Interstate 90. Not only is Niagara Falls spectacular, it will set the stage for Day Three, when you see your second round of New York State gorges.

    Niagra Falls, Canadian Side.

    The best view of the American and Horse Shoe falls is from the Canadian Queen Victoria Park. To get there from the U.S., everyone must bring their passports, or birth certificates, plus related identification. If you forget, the border patrol may let you in (as they did us). You will pay for this convenient and courteous treatment, however, by being subjected to a lecture about how passport requirement rules have been in effect for U.S. citizens since June 2009 and why you are a dummy for not knowing this common information.

    Niagra Falls, Canadian Side

    If you arrive at Niagara Falls on a sunny afternoon, you will see several rainbows over the area. Not content to just look? Take a thrilling boat ride to the base of the falls and, on the American side, walk alongside the thunderous American Falls to stay wet and excited. In early summer, when streams are filled with melted snow, you might also want to spend a few days visiting the entire Niagara Escarpment.

    Niagra Falls, Canadian Side

    The Queen Victoria Park is beautifully landscaped, with just enough very nice facilities to prevent you from going hungry. Unfortunately, as this is a day trip, you probably won't stay for the fall's famous "Niagara Parks at Night," a nightly, multi-colored light show which is accompanied during the summer by weekend concerts and fireworks.

    Niagra Falls, Canadian Side

    Directions: Head west on Interstate 90. At almost the end of the trip, take Interstate 290 to bypass Buffalo and follow the signs which will lead you through Grand Island, to the Robert Moses State Parkway and the falls themselves. Spectacular! Depending on traffic, the trip is 2 to 2.5 hours from Geneva.

  • Day Three: Today you'll be going to the oh-mah-gawd stunning Robert H. Treman State Park and later, to Ithaca for dinner.

    The official New York State Park website does not say much about this park, which is very unfortunate as you need to understand this park's features so you can plan your visit.

    There are three "must see" areas. In the summer, the huge Lower Falls (above) doubles as a swimming area. The Lower Falls, which is near the park's main entrance, is most commonly depicted in travel literature. There is, however, much more to see in this park!

    You can elect to walk to walk through the gorge from the park's main entrance at the Lower Park, or drive to the park's upper entrance, where you will be greeted by the Old Mill (a free museum where you can learn how flour was once created) and the Old Mill Falls (above).

    From this interesting area, follow a path to descend into the park's gorge, where you'll step downstairs into an amazing stone ravine. The stone path that winds along the edge of the cavern looks similar in majesty to the path contained in The Great Wall of China.

    The entire round-trip gorge trail is four miles long, with the most spectacular scenery nearer the Old Mill area. If you are up to walking the entire trail, definitely do so, otherwise, begin your stroll from the Old Mill area by taking the Gorge Trail, then return after you've seen all the falls, including the magnificent, 115-foot Lucifer Falls.

    As the length of this walk is longer than the 800 stairs in the Watkins Glen State Park, if you have a slight physical restriction, but can still walk, amble along the shorter distance, asking friends or family to help as needed.

    With your hike finished, dine and browse for gifts at the Ithaca Commons in Ithaca. Among many nice shops are American Crafts by Robbie Dein and Now You're Cooking, a cooking implement store. You'll also see an interesting bike shop where "starter models" cost well over $2,000.

    Directions: Begin your day by traveling to Ithica, which is at the bottom of Lake Cayuga. Once in Ithaca, head southwest on Highway 13 (or 13A) to the Robert H. Treman State Park.

    Reverse your directions going home, stopping at the Ithaca Commons for dinner and browsing. Note that between the Robert H. Treman State Park and Ithica is the equally spectacular Buttermilk Falls State Park. Visit there if you have sufficient time to enjoy it.


    All of the lodging I recommend is in Geneva, New York. I've selected them based on their "value added" spectacular locations and the availability of beautiful, on-site restaurants. Under all conditions, check for room availability as special events can make heavy demands on rooms. That said, when rooms are available, off-season rates are a bargain.

    Geneva is easy to reach from Interstate 90. Located on the top of Seneca Lake, this city offers sparkling Seneca Lake vistas and adjoins the Seneca Lake State Park, which features a beach, children's play area, and picnic tables from which you can watch spectacular sunsets. You'll also find multi-purpose buildings, soccer fields, and a large marina there. Geneva is home to the Hobart and William Smith College and a nearby collection architecturally-interesting row houses.

    Overall, the Geneva is well positioned for a long or short stay in the Finger Lakes region as it is close to Canandaigua and Naples on the west, Watkins Glen, due south, Ithaca, southeast, and a host of gorge-filled state parks in between. My recommendations are:

    • Ramada Geneva Lakefront: This modern hotel is situated on the banks of Seneca Lake. For maximum value, book lake-view rooms or suites. Its Pier House Restaurant offers patio dinning and spectacular views. Amazingly, pets are welcome!

    • Geneva on the Lake: This stunning, 1800s white mansion features just 29 rooms (suites or studios), a Roman patio (next to an equally stunning restaurant), formal lawns (complete with croquet), an outdoor pool, and lake access where you can slip out to sea on a pontoon, drinks in hand.

    • Belhurst: This beautiful, huge complex features a mansion, a winery (with tours), absolutely fabulous dining rooms with outdoor patios, a wine tasting and gift-buying center, a highly landscaped lawn, and lake access.


    Rather than name specific restaurants, keep in mind that excellent dining is available at all of the lodging I recommended. You'll also find several nice restaurants overlooking Seneca Lake in Watkins Glenn. When you visit Naples, ask for dinner recommendations at Monica's Pies (after you purchase a pie, of course).

    At Niagara Falls, eat snacks or dinners in front of the falls at the Queen Victoria Park pavilions.

    On your third day in Finger Lakes, look for dining opportunities in the Ithaca Commons in Ithaca. We've eaten at several restaurants in this area and enjoyed all. Consider any resterants on the Commons' eastern side, where N. Aurora Street and the Ithaca Commons Boulevard intersect.

    Getting There from New York

    Consult a map for your preferred route, as some longer trips (such as along beautiful-but-slow State Highway 17) might provide more interesting, mountainous scenery.

    For a direct-yet-still-gorgeous drive, pick up Interstate 80 (George Washington Bridge) heading west to Interstate 380, where you'll turn north. Near Scranton, PA, continue heading north Interstate 81.

    At Syracuse, connect with Interstate 90 going west. Get off at Exit 14 to Geneva, heading south for about 5 miles. The entire trip one way is about 300 miles, or about 6 hours non-stop (7 with lunch in Binghamton, New York).

    [Click here to open a map of the area described in this article.]

    Questions? Ask Karen at Karen@littleviews.com

    Article by Karen Little. Photos by Karen and Philip Little. First published on 10/2/2009. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.

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