Watkins Glen is one of those places I had heard about and told myself, “I’ll get there someday,” but I never made much of an effort to do so. It is close enough for a doable weekend trip but far enough away that I always chose somewhere else for my getaway because it was more convenient.
Until this past weekend.
Sam and I decided to go away for one night just to spend some time together (which is pretty hard to do with his crazy work schedule). When we asked each other where we wanted to go, we both said the same thing – Watkins Glen.
Watkins Glen is a state park in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. It is probably the most popular of the parks because of the Gorge Trail, a 1.3 mile hike that hugs the Glen Creek and showcases some spell-binding waterfalls and gorgeous scenery. Just Google Watkins Glen – the first pictures you will see will be of Rainbow Falls, the most popular view on the trail.
It’s not hard to see why this is such a popular location.
Once we had decided our destination, we booked a place to stay. Almost immediately after doing so, I found out that the Gorge Trail was closed! From mid-October to mid-May the trail is closed, mostly because of freezing water on the paths in the cold weather, but also for some maintenance (or so I’ve read).
Our room was non-refundable, so even though we couldn’t walk the trail I had been dying to see, we decided to go anyway and find other things to do.
People definitely flock to Watkins Glen for the famous Gorge Trail, but there is a ton of other stuff to do in the area. The Finger Lakes is a world-class wine producing region with over 120 wineries! Watkins Glen is situated on the south shore of Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes and deepest lake in the state. This lake is also known for being the lake trout capital of the world, so obviously fishing is huge here too. Watkins Glen International is the local racetrack which hosts NASCAR and other types of adrenaline-pumping action throughout the racing season. There are also lots of options for kayaking, swimming, boating & other water sports in the summer. You can also do hot-air balloons rides! The wintertime brings snowshoeing, cross country skiing & snowmobiling. There are also museums which are great for families any time of year, like the Corning Museum of Glass and the Finger Lakes Boating Museum.
We decided that since we only had 2 days, we would stick to activities around Seneca Lake, which is also where our lodging was located. It takes almost 4 hours to get to Watkins Glen from our home, so we arrived around 2:30pm (we would have gotten there earlier, but I totally forgot to close the windows at home and we had to turn around…I can be so blonde sometimes!). We had booked a stay at The Savannah House and check-in wasn’t until 4pm, but I had read that they offered a complementary NY Wine Trail Card for guests to use during their stay, so we decided to stop in and pick it up so we could explore some wineries.
However, we never got the chance to use it. Part of the reason was because of our first mistake – we forgot the map that shows where the wineries are located. More on that later…
The first winery we explored was Miles Wine Cellars.
Apparently we picked one of the most beautiful wineries to start our tour. When we pulled up I couldn’t believe how stunning it was. We spent a while just wandering around outside, taking it all in. There is a boat dock out on the lake that looks like it is used in the summertime for tastings and gatherings.
How fancy is that?
The winery was very busy and too crowded for our liking so we didn’t actually go inside, but if the outside is any indication, I can only assume the wine must be pretty good!
We traveled down the road a bit until we stopped at Anthony Road Wine Company, another impressive place.
It was at this winery that we realized you have to pay to sample the wines – definitely a new concept to us. Maybe this is something that is common knowledge to those who visit a ton of wineries and go on wine tours and trails, but we are not wine experts at all, and all the wineries we have ever gone to in the past haven given free tastings. We both prefer sweet wines and like almost exactly the same kinds, so we had always just sampled a few and picked the one we liked best. This was completely new territory for us, and we felt a little out of place. We decided that we would continue to drive north along the lake and try to find the wineries on the Wine Trail Card that offered free tastings and stop there.
Here is where we made our second mistake – we didn’t check our phones to see where those wineries were located. Since we forgot to pick up a map, we assumed that if we drove far enough, we would run into at least one or two of them. After several miles with no luck, we finally decided to search for some of the wineries on our phones. Turns out, the ones that offered free tastings were on the other side of the lake or were south of us…we had been driving the wrong way! Considering that most of the wineries closed at 5pm, we knew we weren’t going to make it in time, so we decided to just browse a couple on our way up north to Geneva, which is the town that is on the north shore of Seneca Lake.
After touring the wineries that caught our fancy, we arrived in Geneva. It’s a cute little college town with lots of quaint shops and restaurants. We drove around looking for somewhere to eat dinner when Sam saw The Pier House. He remembered eating there as a kid when his family stopped for a night at the Ramada Inn, which is right next door. He said the food was good last time, so we decided to eat there. We had some time to kill before the restaurant opened for dinner, so we wandered out to the pier, which is just off to the side of the hotel.
I have nothing but good things to say about the Pier House. The prices are reasonable, the staff was courteous and the food was delicious!
Our waitress recommended the elk burger with pulled pork and an egg on top, and it sounded so good that Sam and I both ordered it.
It was just as good as it looks…scrumptious!
After dinner, we decided to head back to the motel and check in. Savannah House is a super cute and clean inn with friendly owners. Pat & Brenda were very accommodating and personable. And look how cute our room was!
I would definitely recommend this place to anyone. Besides the inn, there are also several cottages you can rent on the 26-acre property. While the cottage prices are a bit more than I would be willing to spend for a getaway, we were quite happy with our little room.
We decided to just stay in and be lazy the rest of the night. Since we don’t have a television subscription at our own home and do not have a TV in the bedroom, watching cable in our PJs in bed is vacation for us, haha! We also drank our bottle of wine from our last trip, a 4-day cruise to the West Caribbean. For those who don’t know yet, our tradition that we started on our honeymoon is that every getaway, we buy a bottle of wine and then take that bottle with us to drink on the next trip. It’s been a fun (and delicious) tradition that we hope to continue for years!
The next morning we checked out and went to Curly’s Family Restaurant for breakfast. This was also a great choice for dining. Great food, good prices & friendly staff. We filled up our stomachs and then headed out to Barnstormer Winery to pick up our bottle of wine for the next trip.
We had passed this winery the day before but regrettably didn’t stop, so we had decided to go back and get our wine there. We paid $5 each to sample 6 different wines. Every single sweet wine they had was good, and it was too hard to narrow down to just one, so we got two bottles, one for our next trip and one for some other special occasion (if you check our their website, we got the Jenny Blush & the Angel’s Share).
Afterwards, we decided to find somewhere to hike.
Although the Gorge Trail was closed, there are a couple of other trails that are open year-round. After taking a look at the Watkins Glen Trail Map, we decided to try out the North Country Trail. This runs south of the Gorge Trail, and when the trail is open, there is a section that connects you directly to the Gorge Trail. It still runs parallel to the Glen Creek, so we thought we would give it a try. I’m so glad we did – the hike was gorgeous!
The North Country Trail is actually part of a multi-state scenic trail that stretches 4600 miles. It starts in North Dakota and runs through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania & New York.
We only hiked about 4 miles total but it was a beautiful walk. There were hardly any other people around…I think we only ran into a handful of others the whole time.
The most impressive part of the walk was this waterfall:
While it’s not a natural waterfall like those you can see on the Gorge Trail, it’s still pretty. You actually can walk right onto the dam for a picture like this:
You can’t do that at Rainbow Falls!
We had a beautiful day for it…although it was definitely colder and windier than we had originally thought, it turned out to be great hiking weather.
After we made it back to the car we decided to call it quits and head home. It was a nice, relaxing, much-needed getaway, but we were ready to get home to our dog Radar.
Now that I’ve had a taste of the Finger Lakes, I can’t wait to go back! We hope to make it up again soon, possibly this fall, and spend a little more time exploring the area. We definitely want to make sure we get to hike the Gorge Trail next time, so it will definitely have to be before mid-October!
Have you ever been to Watkins Glen or the Finger Lakes? What was your favorite part?
Leave some love in the comments!