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!
PS: Did you see we’re holding a retreat in Upstate New York in the fall of 2021? Sign up here — it’s 50% sold out already!
When we put our destination Wander Women Retreats on hold for a year as a result of the pandemic, I really felt the hole that absence of community, movement, and inspiration left in my heart. And I found myself creating little mini-retreats of my own, everywhere I went, as a result.
Call it self-care, call it wellness travel, call it a DIY retreat — it’s exactly what my heart needed at the time, and The Finger Lakes turned out to be the perfect place to provide a dose of it. “Where Mother Nature meets Main Street,” read one tourism brochure I flipped through, and it couldn’t have resonated more.
From the restorative warmth of the small-town vibes throughout the region to the incredibly easy access to nature that we always seemed to have entirely to ourselves, this was a trip that boosted mind, body and soul.
Want to do the same? Here were some of our favorite ways to create a wellness-focused getaway in the Finger Lakes.
Hiking in Finger Lakes National Forest
Heads up: this post contains a lot of hiking. Fresh air, fall foliage, how could we not?
We kicked things off with the South Slope Trail in the Finger Lakes National Forest — it’s the only National Forest in New York and one of only three in the entire northeast so, I’d say it’s kind of a big deal. At just three quarters of a mile each way, South Slope is an easy introduction to it — and is also totally free, like all the incredible hiking we did in this area. South Slope intersects the Interloken Trail, if you want to explore further. And while this coverage is all about fall, I feel like summer would be quite magical too — there are five acres of maintained blueberry bushes available for picking!
Turns out there’s more to Watkins Glen than the state park! (Though stay tuned, we went there, too.)
Blissing Out at Rasa Spa
Is there anything more deeply warming and welcoming than a heated massage table on a chilly day?
Locations in Ithaca, Aurora, and Watkins Glen, Rasa Spa has been serving The Finger Lakes as its only full-service, holistic healthcare spa since 2006. They go beyond the typical massages, wraps, scrubs, and facials, here — they also offer a full array of new-age service including cupping, shiatsu, meridian therapy, reiki, and acupuncture.
We arrived at their downtown Watkins Glen location and immediately melted into the tranquility room, where we awaited our massages and after, compared notes on how blissed out we felt while sipping herbal tea. My only regret? That we didn’t have one every day.
Hiking the Watkins Glen State Park
Well, I couldn’t bring Gil to the Finger Lakes and not bring him to the famous Watkins Glen State Park! And technically, I did bring him there… though we found out the hard way that the iconic Gorge Trail, with nineteen waterfalls in two miles, closes seasonally. And it did so the day before our visit. Face palm.
Still, the North Rim Trail of this flagship state park is open year-round, and parking was free, as an off-season perk. And we were walking in the foot steps of history — Watkins Glen has been open to the public as an attraction since the mid 1800s, and officially became Watkins Glen State Park in 1906. Which in my mind makes it well worth a visit, any time of year.
Biking the Keuka Outlet Trail
Since making it a goal to visit every county in New York, I was pretty thrilled to drive into Penn Yan, officially checking Yates County, heart of the Finger Lakes Countrysides, off my list.
I was there to bike the Keuka Outlet Trail, a seven mile path that takes in waterfalls, historic mills, and more. I started my journey at Shoreline Rentals, which provides bikes, kayaks, and SUP boards to travelers and locals alike. Andrew, the owner, founded the company in 2017 and loves helping folks explore the area — don’t be shy about asking him for ideas.
It was a beautiful ride, with my favorite site being Seneca Mill Falls. In a picnic mood? Grab some gourmet bites from Tabora Winery on your way, one of my favorites in the area.
Hiking the Finger Lakes Trail
Whoa. The Finger Lakes Trail spans over four hundred miles — but fear not, the Mitchellsville Gorge Trail portion is just 2.2 miles each way. Talk about interconnected — it’s also shared by the North Country Trail, which stretches from Vermont all the way to North Dakota.
With multiple vehicles, you can make it a one-way trek and start at the top in Mitchellsville before heading downhill to the end of the route in Hammondsport. Being in one car, that’s where we kicked off — and it is a bit of a tricky start.
You have to look carefully for parking signs (you can always leave your car at the nearby Urbana Town Hall, too) and you’ll feel like you’re slinking through private property to get to the trailhead… because you kind of are.
But soon you’ll have vineyards on each side of you, and enter a beautiful forest. We passed a wooden footbridge, old railroad tracks, idyllically babbling streams, and tons of beautiful fall foliage as we worked our way up the gorge.
Still looking for a New Year’s Resolution? Might I suggest the FLT50, in which you complete fifty miles of the Finger Lakes Trail before the end of the year. Register here to record and submit your mileage, with a nifty patch and sticker headed your way (plus uh, the inner satisfaction of job well done and all) when you hit your goal.
Yoga at Keuka Peaceful Roots
One of my adjustment struggles in 2020 was cultivating a home yoga practice. I’ve always loved the energy and connection of a studio, and let’s face it — is there anyone left who isn’t Zoom-ed out?
Lucky for me, Keuka Peaceful Roots ran outdoor classes right into October, and are currently doing a mix of Zoom and in-studio. Located in charming Hammondsport, the studio offers not just yoga but also Taiji, meditation, book clubs, wellness workshops, and more.
I adored our class in a park in the heart of town, finding balance and strength in various asanas while leaves gently fell to the ground all around us. Someday, I look forward to visiting their studio space, too — but for now, I’m grateful for any opportunity to roll out a mat with others (from six feet apart, of course.)
Exploring the Tanglewood Nature Center
By the time we pulled into Elmira, we’d explored a lot of fairly rustic Finger Lakes trails. The Tanglewood Nature Center, however, was a bit more structured. A welcome center was filled with informative displays about the area, while a large color-coded map introduced us to the seven hiking trails of varying distances, from .2 to 2.99 miles, that include two ponds, meadows and an abundance of wildlife.
We chose the Red Trail, also known as the Twain Trail for its sprinkling of quotes by famous authors relating to nature and health. This is Mark Twain Country, after all! My favorite was “an early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day,” by Henry David Thoreau, a nod to our own dawn-of-the-day start.
We were thrilled with our choice when we made it to the scenic overlooks over the Chemung River Valley from Frenchman’s Bluff, one of our best views of the trip.
Hiking Two Rivers State Park
On our last day in the Finger Lakes, we couldn’t resist fitting in just one more trail.
In Waverly, New York, we pulled off at Two Rivers State Park, marveling for the millionth time how easy it was to pop between quaint towns and total immersion in nature, on this trip. Within moments we felt miles away from mankind, passing just one other hiker in our entire time in the park. Four interconnecting trails range from .85 to 1.5 miles each.
This got me thinking about another personal challenge I may tackle some day — visiting every New York State Park!
Eating for Wellness in The Finger Lakes
Much of the Finger Lakes focuses on comfort food. While it may be made of regional ingredients, fresh, and delicious, we were definitely craving something green and crunchy by the end of our trip. So I have to give a major shoutout to the places we scratched that itch!
Turtle Leaf Cafe
We had a very hard time making up our minds on what to order at Turtle Leaf Cafe — everything looked divine. And it tasted it, too, leaving us wishing we had even more meals to enjoy here. The menu of healthy soups, salads, and paninis has something for everyone, and the location across the street from the Chemung River means there are urban picnic opportunities aplenty. They do breakfast, too!
We visited both Stoughton Farm and Crooked Line Family Farm — you can read about them here — on this trip, and both offered ripe opportunities (get it?!) for fresh, local produce. There’s no greater snack than an empire apple while on-the-go in the Empire State!
Staying for Wellness in the Finger Lakes
Black Sheep Inn
Staying at the Black Sheep Inn in Hammondsport feels a bit like staying with friends — and you’ll be sure to leave with two new ones in the charming British couple who run this full vegan bed and breakfast.
Breakfast at Black Sheep is truly a treat, with a full menu of goodies that we were quickly obsessed with. Least of which were the daily delivery of homemade muffins that were so delicious, I quickly ranked them as the best plant-based baked goods of my life. Having recently committed to doing several plant-powered days a week (watch David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, and you’ll do the same!), I was really inspired by the quality of the meals we had here, and wrote down many of the ingredients to use at home.
Wherever you are, I hope this post inspired you to make a mini retreat of your surroundings. We might not be traveling as wide or as far right now, but I know my soul was filled right up by this trip right in my own home state.
What’s your favorite destination for wellness travel?