Where we’re at: I’m jumping ahead to share my trip in October 2020 with Finger Lakes Wine Country. I’ll jump back into chronological time eventually!
And PS: An exciting Wander Women Retreats announcement related to this post is coming soon — stay tuned!
Pumpkins stacked in neat piles, or arranged in tidy rows. Leaves turning an hombre of orange of yellow hues. Farms and fields rolling on for miles. An overabundance of serene water views. Unpretentious wineries around every turn.
That’s fall in the Finger Lakes.
This is a beloved corner of New York for me. Long time readers know I grew up in Albany, but explored little of my state’s backyard until recently. I’ve been lucky visit to The Finger Lakes twice in the past few years, once for a campaign with the tourism board and once to speak at a travel conference, and I’m hooked. Both those trips, however, fell in the summer. One of my favorite parts of life in Upstate New York is getting to truly embrace all four seasons — and so I wanted to experience fall in the Finger Lakes.
And so this October I embarked on a six day road trip around the southern portion of The Finger Lakes, a 9,000 square mile region named for its eleven long, digit-shaped glacial lakes in Western New York. I’d been traveling abroad for much of the season and was determined to cram as much fall foliage appreciation as possible into the waning days of peak leafage.
My goal? To share the quintessential autumn experience with Gil, who growing up in Israel never had one — all while celebrating all that is special about this particular area.
And so I present some of our twee-est, most memorable fall moments.
Leaf Peeping Along the Lakes
This one’s easy. The Finger Lakes are rife with opportunities to immerse in nature. Direct your vehicle in any direction, and enjoy. While we had a packed itinerary, some of our favorite foliage moments were when we simply pulled over on the side of the road.
The big question here isn’t so much “where” as “when.” It’s easy to Google what the predicted “peak week” for any region will be, however, nature is unpredictable, and this year due to climate fluctuations, the leaves did peak early.
From around late September through mid October is generally a safe bet here, with the peak arriving during the first two weeks of October. Keep an eye on the state’s official Fall Foliage Report, updated weekly through the season, for more details.
Apple Picking at Crooked Line Farm
Apples are the state fruit of New York — so you can say, having grown up here, that I’ve picked a varietal or two in my time!
But still, Crooked Line Farm in Bath truly wow-ed me. Close your eyes and imagine the most idyllic, Hallmark-movie-inspired fall fruit picking experience you can muster. That’s Crooked Line.
From the moment we pulled into the property, I was pulling out my camera and squee-ing at cuteness coming in from all sides. We were on the move soon, though. Loading into a tractor-drawn hay bed, we kicked back for the short ride up the hill to the most scenic orchard I’ve ever laid eyes on.
Rolling hills dotted with foliage surrounded the farm, and our host Ray shared with pride that his daughter had gotten married in that very spot the previous year. This place takes the term “family farm” seriously — after sharing with us the farm’s earth-friendly practices while we sauntered through the orchards, Ray excused himself to check on his dad.
U-pick farms are having a moment, and I can see why. Want to plan a visit? Thanks to their wide variety of twenty-five apples on the line and ninety on the property, you can pick from late August through mid November. You might want to save an apple or two for the resident highland cows, who tend to come running at the sound of the tractor.
Celebrating American Heritage at Mud Creek Bison Ranch
Granted, this isn’t a uniquely autumn activity. In fact, I think these cuties would look pretty charming coated in snow! But Mud Creek Bison Ranch in Savona is pretty spectacular while watching these native North American creatures crunch on the fall foliage.
Another family business and a working farm aiming to provide sustainably raised meat to their community and preserve American heritage, Mud Creek started running drive-through tours of the farm in April. Bison are expensive to raise and feed, and they were left in the lurch when school and elderly independent living tours shut down. The benefits ran both ways immediately, providing a COVID-safe excursion for families cooped up at home.
The tour is just $5 per car — a bargain! — and you can drive at your own pace, stopping to take as many photos as you like, while an audio tour on the history of the ranch and of bison plays through your radio. And you can make it a seasonal trip, as the commentary, tour route, and farm theme change monthly. I learned a lot, actually — like when the farm opened, bison were on the endangered species list — but they’ve already made it off! Goooo Bison!
Whew, sorry, got a bit swept up in the moment there — bison were my high school mascot. Which coincidentally is the excuse I used for being obscenely excited about this experience — to the point that I hung out the window like a dog in the backseat, much to Gil’s amusement.
Glass Pumpkin Blowing in Corning
The folks at the Corning and Southern Finger Lakes tourism board are amazing stewards to the area. When I visit on a project with them, I’m pretty happy to let them take the wheel. But I did have one major request for this trip — I wanted to blow a glass pumpkin!
Corning is a global center of glass arts, and learning to blow glass on a previous trip to the world-class Corning Museum of Glass was such a highlight, I was eager for a fresh seasonal edition.
This time, I headed to Hands On Glass. Founded in 1990, it was the first public-access studio in Corning — and, to my delight, is helmed by a woman, Rodi.
After debating heavily on our pumpkin and stem colors, we got right down to business. The pumpkin blowing workshop, as well as its seasonal cousin the ornament blowing workshop, are brief, entry-level experiences. While hands-on and educational, they are simple and quick, and there’s not too much skill required.
I loved the personal, intimate feel of Hands On. We were the only guests in our experience, which is the norm — all glass workshops are private, and Rodi told us she encourages her guests to bring snacks or wine or whatever they please (which stays away from the glass, needless to say!)
After we finished up, one of the staff was setting up a telescope outside, and invited us to take a peek at the moon. A magical end to a beautiful night.
Glass requires an overnight cooling process called “annealing” and is ready by noon the day after your experience. I was so excited to pick ours up — a new seasonal decoration that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life. I was so excited I made an extra one as a housewarming gift for my sister, too!
Getting Lost in the Corn Maze at Stoughton Farm
What’s more quintessentially fall than a corn maze?
Um, not much, in my mind! In the same way I felt that Crooked Line was the orchard of my dreams, it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque hay maze than the one at Stoughton Farm in Newark Valley.
At eight acres, I was glad that Stoughton offered both a beginner and advanced track. And they don’t just toss you among the kernels and expect you to pop out — get it?! Corny, I know!
…Okay I’ll stop.
Instead, as you enter the maze you can choose from a bunch of different topics like sports, health, or history, and grab a hint card.
At randomly placed spots in the maze, we’d find a number that corresponded to a question on our card, and we’d pick an answer that would send us left or right. So, based on your accuracy, you’d either seamlessly make your way through the maze, or find yourself barreling through the middle of a bunch of corn stalks, running and waving your hands in the air in the vague direction of the exit, for a totally vague and not-at-all-specific-to-me example.
Each year, the maze design is different. A look through their past themes include tributes to renewable energy, raising anti-bullying awareness, supporting animal shelters, and promoting reading for kiddos. How cute! The maze is open weekends until Thanksgiving, and those looking for an even spookier experience can also do the maze under the cover of darkness.
Where To Stay and Eat During Fall in the Finger Lakes
Since this trip was incredible enough to warrant several posts, I’ll have plenty of accommodation and restaurant tips coming up in the following weeks. But a few had such a lovely fall flair, this post is exactly where they belong.
Our very first stop on our road trip, after the three and a half hour drive from Albany, was a late lunch at Elf In The Oak in Burdett. We were greeted by Nicky, the owner who’s been warmly welcoming visitors and locals alike for five years.
On the wooden deck overlooking Seneca Lake we sipped on pumpkin spice hot chocolate, Gil’s first exposure to the popular seasonal flavor. “Like what white girls drink at Starbucks?,” he’d asked when inquired if he wanted to try it. “That’s the one,” I chirped back.
The hearty comfort food was just what we needed. A family heirloom record player crooned in the background while we browsed the menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches. Gil was thrilled with his order, reporting his wings were the best he’s ever had. Don’t miss this if you find yourself in Watkins Glen area on your next Finger Lakes trip.
Of course I couldn’t visit the Finger Lakes without passing through Hammondsport, which I thought had never looked prettier than it did cloaked in warm fall colors. This is a fantastic base for a first trip to the area, nestled at the southern tip of Keuka Lake, and surrounded by wineries and farms, and filled with small town charm.
My new favorite discovery here was The Park Inn, where I had a dinner you’ll hear more about in my next post, and where I’d love to stay someday on a future trip. Housed in the oldest building in Hammondsport, this tiny and tastefully updated inn consists of just five rooms.
Over in Corning, another city I feel fondly familiar with by now, I tried out a new hotel and restaurant for the night. We checked into the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown, which had water views and was walking distance from the Gaffer District via the Chemung River footbridge. While we didn’t have time to check out the heated indoor pool or the fitness center, we did have breakfast in the restaurant — and cherished both the sunrise and sunset from our window.
That night, we took a local’s recommendation for Three Birds Restaurant, and it was a solid one. Seasonal cocktails, local fare, and farm-fresh ingredients made for a memorable meal.
. . .
I think my love affair with The Finger Lakes will be a long one. There’s something about it that’s both familiar, and always full of new delights and surprises — and encompasses the overarching pride that this is my state. New York pride runs deep.
I already look back on this trip as a cherished one and left it with two vows. First, I want to take an annual foliage trip — this gift of nature is just too good to let pass by without celebrating! Second, I’m a Finger Lakes fan for life — and someday, I’m coming back for the spring and winter, too.
Did you have any quintessentially fall experiences this year?