Better late than never, I finally got around to editing some photos, so here’s to the Finger Lakes!
It’s been a long time between road trips. A year, and the Pacific Ocean in fact! Until August last year, I was waiting out the pandemic in Australia, with plenty of free time to explore my childhood backyard. Once I returned to Philly, priorities changed – keeping socially distanced was more important, getting a job was kind of essential, and of course, having a car to road trip in is an absolute necessity!
It took me a while, but I finally filled in the last piece of that puzzle, and got my new Crosstrek. I couldn’t wait to take her on a little road trip! After a bit of umming and ahhing about destinations, I weighed up my options and the Finger Lakes came out as the winning destination. (I had about three other destinations in the running, but I’ll get to those another time!)
Why the Finger Lakes? Well, first and foremost, I’ve been itching to visit Watkins Glen State Park – and I had never really realised that the Finger Lakes was only an easy 3 1/2 hour drive away – totally doable! Secondly, there were the lakes, plenty of other waterfalls, and a farmers market and vibrant street art scene that I wanted to check out in Ithaca.
While there’s plenty of wineries, breweries and great food establishments in the area, my solo trip was mainly focused around the natural sights, and my camera, so now I’m itching to go back with some friends to explore a bit further around the lakes, and visit some of the many breweries in the area.
Here are the highlights of my weekend wandering amongst waterfalls!
Watkins Glen State Park
No trip to the Finger Lakes would be complete without a visit to Watkins Glen State Park. The state park is located right in downtown Watkins Glen, just minutes from the shores of Seneca Lake. The 1.5 mile Gorge Trail is an easy, yet magnificent walk. OK, there’s lots of steps, but you’ll want to allow plenty of time to stop and enjoy the 19 or so cascades along this trail, so it’s really suitable for all skill and fitness levels. There’s a couple of options when you reach the mile mark along this trail. You can head right or left up to the gorge rim, or continue on the Gorge Trail for another half mile to the steps that lead to the upper entrance.
I continued on up the Gorge Trail, climbed the steps of Jacob’s Ladder, and set off towards the lower entrance on the Indian Trail. This trail hugs the rim of the gorge, and provides some spectacular birds eye views of the falls, especially from the suspension bridge. There’s a couple of spots where you can head back down onto the gorge trail, just in case you haven’t seen enough of the falls up close!
Get there early to nab a park in the State Park lot right in town – pay your $10 fee and you’re set for the day.
There’s a few nice waterfalls around the little town of Montour Falls, just south of Watkins Glen. I visited Eagle’s Cliff Falls in Havana Glen Park where there were plenty of folks swimming in the pool at the base of the falls, and a bit of excitement with a hiker stranded at the top of the waterfall! Nearby, I peeked in at the Deckertown Falls, then headed into town to see Shequaga Falls, then did a quick driveby of Aunt Sarah’s Falls on the way back towards Watkins Glen.
Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls is one magnificent, long drop waterfall, and definitely a highlight of the area. The 400 foot cliffs create a natural amphitheatre, into which the fall plunge 200+ feet past the rock cliff face. For maximum impact, you’ll want to view the falls from above and below. Start out at the Overlook, located right alongside the visitor center, and then make your way down to the gorge trail for a comfortable stroll along Taughannock Creek toward the base of these spectacular falls – the tallest single drop falls east of the Rockies.
Robert H Treman State Park
The Lower Falls at Robert H Treman State Park were an easy walk from the Campground. The pool at the base of these falls is one of the few sanctioned swimming spots in the Finger Lakes region, and as such, was a busy location, even late in the afternoon. Staying in the campground meant that I could wander back to the falls later in the afternoon as the last groups of swimmers were starting to leave.
From the lower falls, there’s a trail that leads up Enfield Glen towards Lucifer Falls, passing a number of other falls along the way. There’s another access point to the gorge trail at the upper entrance to the park, and it’s from there, that I took a walk down the rugged, yet scenic trail to the magnificent Lucifer Falls, one of my favorite hikes of the weekend.
Cascadilla Glen Trail
Located right in downtown Ithaca, Cascadilla Gorge is a local treasure. This manicured trail begins at the Treman Triangle Park, and passes by multiple scenic cascades as it makes its way up towards the Cornell Campus. This was a fairly highly trafficked trail, but still worth the walk.
Ithaca Murals are transforming the cultural cityscape, promoting diversity through the more than 200 murals throughout town. You can pick up a mural map from the visitor center, and stroll around town checking out some amazing artwork.
Lakeside Lunch Spots
There’s no shortage of fabulous state parks to explore, but if you’re looking for a change of scenery, and maybe a nice spot to stop for lunch, then don’t look past the lakes. In Watkins Glen, there’s free parking at Seneca Harbor, and with nearby picnic tables overlooking the lake, it’s a great spot to take a quick break for lunch. Over in Ithaca, head out to Stewart Park where there’s plenty of lakeside picnic spots, as well as playgrounds and public facilities.
Getting there is half the fun!
OK, so not really in the Finger Lakes area, but getting there is half the fun right – and I’m always looking for places to stop on my journey. I’d seen pics of Nay Aug Park, as well as a couple of rail viaducts in the North East, and they were almost on the way, so with a little bit of fascination, and a hankering just to get off the highway, I set off to check them out.
Nay Aug Park is the largest park in Scranton, PA, and is home to a short trail leading to the Nay Aug Falls. The waterway here carves a dramatic gorge through the park, providing a truly spectacular scene.
When it was built, the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct was the largest concrete structure in the world. It remained so for 50 years. The construction of the viaduct was completed in 1915, and cut off approx 20 miles from the trip between Binghampton NY and Scranton PA. The viaduct is viewable from just about everywhere in the little community of Nicholson, but I found the best views from the road leading up to the cemetery, and from a pull off along Route 11. Nearby, the slightly less imposing, but no less impressive Martin’s Creek Viaduct has just 7 arch spans, as opposed to the 12 arches of the Tunkhannock Viaduct. This one’s a little more off the beaten track, and you can drive down a dirt road right underneath the arches of the bridge.
A little further to the northeast is the Starucca Viaduct, a stone arch bridge crossing the valley in Lanesboro, PA. Driving into this little town, you really can’t miss the viaduct soaring above the few houses along the main road. This viaduct was built in 1848, at the time, being the largest stone railway viaduct in the world. Park up at the Luciana Park, and take a wander around town beneath the viaduct.
Here’s a map for reference – with links to the drives, where I stayed, and all the scenic spots you should definitely include on your Finger Lakes road trip!
I’ll definitely be going back to the Finger Lakes, let me know what else I should check out on my next visit!