The Finger Lakes Region of New York State During Fall

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October 8th 2013
Published: October 9th 2013
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Dawn and I wanted to take a trip to see fall color. It was also time to visit friends and relatives in Buffalo and Rochester. So it made sense to take a trip to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

The best fares were on Delta this time. I wanted to start the trip in Buffalo, then drive to Rochester and spend the night. From there we would go to Watkins Glen and spend one night and then on to Letchworth State Park for one night. Since we were only go to spend three nights I booked us on an early flight on Friday and a late flight returning on Monday. This gave us three full days of sight seeing and visiting.

We took off from Houston Intercontinental at 9am, connected through Atlanta, and landed in Buffalo about 3pm.

I had tried to connect with some friends to get together for dinner before heading off to Rochester. Only my good friend, Jim, who had served as an usher at my wedding some 32 years ago was available. We had a great time re-connecting, catching up, and reminiscing over some delicious hot chocolate and doughnuts at a Tim Horton's by the airport.

We headed out for Rochester about 6:30pm just as it was getting dark. It's a nice drive on The New York State Thruway, Interstate 90 and then up 490, and only about one hour from Buffalo to Rochester. It was dark by then so it was all we could do to find the bed and breakfast I had booked.

The Edgemere Harbor B&B is directly across the street from Lake Ontario in the area of Rochester known as Charlotte. It's a lovely little beach community that has been rejuvenated over the last several years. The homes along Beach Avenue and Edgemere are beautiful, especially the ones that have beachfront property.

Per their own web site, Edgemere Harbor is a "gorgeous early 1900's home steps from Lake Ontario in Rochester, with small private beach & over-sized guest room with balcony. Perfect place for writers and artists or those looking to relax or see nearby sites. This home has a special background and was once used as a 'signal house' for bootleggers. There are several rooms in the house for reading, writing or watching a movie. In addition to private beach, there is a large public beach a few blocks away, lined with restaurants, pubs, ice cream shops and stores. Small dog on premises, kept away from guests during most times." There are just two rooms for rent.

After checking in with Marisa at the B&B we headed out to dinner. She recommended Hose 22 for dinner, a converted fire house. Unfortunately, there was a 35 minute wait for a table there. So we drove back down Lake Avenue towards the beach to find something else. NOLA's BBQ seemed like the best bet even though we were skeptical about a place featuring New Orleans barbeque when we both knew that New Orleans is not really known for its barbeque. Our skepticism melted away with some delicious food, a great live band, some good people watching, and low prices.

We retired for the night in the plush four poster king sized bed in the B&B. Decorated in period furniture, the Edgemere Harbor was a nice respite for us weary travelers. There were muffins, fruit, cereal, and more for the taking in the dining room the next morning.

We wanted to explore a bit before we met my cousins for lunch so we got in the car and drove towards the port in Charlotte. Sadly many of the establishments were closed for the season. The paddle boat that tours the river was also not in service. There's a lighthouse next to the river that looked very old and interesting but it wasn't open yet for the day.

Taking the bridge across the river we drove around and just explored the town of Irondequoit including the Sea Breeze amusement park. It was the first time I had seen the park in probably 45 or 50 years and it brought back some great memories. Likewise, Durand Eastman golf course, which I had played as a kid maybe 6 times, looked as challenging and beautiful as ever with all those hills and the lush greenery.

Coming back across the river to Charlotte we drove down the streets where my mother and father grew up. Tiernan Street bears my mother's family name and is the location of the peach farm that her parents and grandparents owned. The two houses on the corners of Tiernan and Lake Avenue were where they lived.

Two streets down from that is Kemphurst Road. That is where my father grew up with his cousin and her parents. She and her husband would eventually become my godparents. I spent many a summer there playing golf, going to Red Wings baseball games, and exploring the woods at the end of River Heights Rd. where there were railroad tracks, a cement factory, a water fall, and a great view of the Genessee River right where the turning basin is.

It was then time for lunch and we wanted to try Hose 22 since we weren't able to get in the night before. It is a restored 1916 firehouse with memorabilia decorating the place including fire hoses, uniforms, pictures, and a fireman's pole. The food was great and the prices were low to go along with the nice surroundings. We highly recommend Hose 22 at the corner of Stutson Street and Lake Avenue.

Next it was time for dessert. And when you're in Charlotte dessert means Abbott's frozen custard. It's very hard to find frozen custard in Texas so this was a must stop. It did not disappoint either.

We took our waffle cone with our chocolate frozen custard for a walk over to Ontario Beach Park. It has a very old, large beach house that was built in 1931 and has been nicely restored and is available for special events. Although it was not open at that time there is also a carousel dated from 1905. There's a nice boardwalk along the beach as well as volleyball and pickleball at the bath house. Yes, pickleball. It looks a lot like tennis but with paddles and a much smaller court. The beach itself looked well kept and clean. My mother's father was manager of the park during the mid 1900's so for that reason and for the dozens of summer days I spent there as a child this place has special meaning for me.

At that point it was time to hit the road for our ninety minute drive to Watkins Glen. As we made our way through Rochester heading south we came upon a sight that I had totally forgotten about. From the Driving Park Avenue bridge looking south you get a great view of the Lower Falls of the three falls that are part of the Genesee River in the city of Rochester. Looking north on the other side of the bridge we also caught a glimpse of some great fall color as the trees lining the gorge created a gorgeous pallette of all the fall colors.

Since we had plenty of time I decided that I would take the opportunity to go see the house that my father's grandparents lived in from about 1865 to 1925. As it turned out it was very close by on Leavenworth St. which is very narrow and the houses are very close together but it was still interesting to see the old homestead.

After those diversions we got on highway 490 leading us to the New York State Thruway eastbound where we exited onto highway 14 leading to the quaint little town of Geneva.

The drive down route 14 was beautiful. It parallels Seneca Lake all the way down to Watkins Glen. There are dozens of vineyards along the way giving it a Napa Valley feel.

We arrived around dinner time and drove through downtown Watkins Glen to get to our next B&B, the Marmalade Cat . Located just four blocks from the main drag, Franklin St., it is walking distance to all you need. A beautiful Victorian 100+ year old home with three guest rooms it is a joy from top to bottom and start to finish. Impeccably decorated with cats being a theme throughout, the owner, Sally, makes you feel right at home and treats you like royalty.

It was just a few minute walk to the main street and all the restaurants. We wanted to eat at Seneca Harbor Station since it is right on the water but it was a two hour wait so we didn't stay. Make reservations if you want to eat there. We then took a walk around the restaurant a little bit just to see the lake, pier, and harbor.

We ended up eating at a Chinese restaurant just one block up from the lake, House of Hong. When we finished eating we walked next door to one of two movie theaters that are right next to each other to see "Gravity" which had just been released.

After the movie we started heading back towards the B&B but got sidetracked by one of the many wine tasting rooms in town. The Finger Lakes region has become very well known for its wine so it only made sense that we stop and try a few.

Sally asks you what time you want breakfast before you retire for the night and serves up it right on schedule and fit for a king. Everything was just so at the table and in the dining room. Sally's attention to detail is impeccable. It started with yogurt and fruit which would have been enough for me, but then she brought out the eggs, sausage, and toast. It was enough for us to skip lunch that day.

Watkins Glen State Park is just a 15 minute walk away. The walk through town to get there is a pleasant one, especially when the leaves have turned. There is an $8 fee to park but no entry fee if you walk. The town of Watkins Glen is well known for its race track and annual race, but the park is one of the best kept secrets outside of New York State. Perhaps the New Yorkers want to keep it for themselves. The Park has a series of cascading waterfalls, nineteen in all, carved into the rock like a miniature Grand Canyon. There are three trails but the one you want to take is the Gorge Trail as it snakes its way along, under, and over all nineteen waterfalls. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes as the trail involves hundreds of steps along its roughly two mile path. Glen Creek has carved its way through the shale, limestone, and sandstone to create a true natural wonder that will have you taking pictures at every turn.

Upon our return from the Park it was time to check out of the B&B and head to our final destination, Letchworth State Park. There is not a good direct route to get there from Watkins Glen so get out your GPS or maps and plan a route. We went north on 14 to 14A and then 226. Quite honestly, I'm not sure what roads we took after that until we got to 436 at Dansville and then connected to 19A which leads to the Park entrance. Hopefully, whatever way you go will have as much breathtaking scenery as we had on our approximately one and a half our drive. We have been to Rio de Janeiro, Athens, Maui, and all over California but we agreed that this drive with all its splendor of autumnal foliage was the most awe-inspiring drive we have ever taken.

As you approach the Park on 436 heading west you come to the Parade Grounds entrance. You most likely don't want that entrance. Most of the Park's facilities are on the west side of the gorge so proceed further until you get to the Portageville entrance.

We had reservations at the Glen Iris Inn for the night. If you are staying or dining at the Inn there is no admission fee into the Park. Otherwise, it is $8.

This passage from the Frommer's web site sums it up best. "This historic former home of William Pryor Letchworth is the only inn in the park. Rustic yet formal, it's been a hotel since 1914; today the yellow-and-green wooden house has been restored to its roots. Set right on top of a cliff overlooking Middle Falls, it's a magnificent spot: Walk just a few steps from the front porch for a spectacular view of the falls and the Genesee River below. Some of the rooms here are on the small side, but all are tastefully decorated in formal Victorian style -- think dark woods, antiques, floral prints, and lacy table coverings."

While we were checking into the hotel we also made reservations for dinner at Caroline's, the Inn's restaurant. We were on the third floor and ours was definitely one of the rooms "on the small side" but at $110 per night I didn't feel bad about staying in this very historic place even if the room could barely hold its queen sized bed and a dresser. There is a cozy library at the end of the hall with satellite TV and a great view of the Middle Falls.

We got there early enough to go sight seeing for a bit before dinner. We walked down to the lookout for Middle Falls and then drove down the road to check out what else there was to see. Letchworth, like the city of Rochester, has three falls formed by the Genessee River named Upper, Middle, and Lower. As we drove to Lower Falls we soaked in the pastoral beauty and serenity of the place. It is very hilly. The Gorge if roughly 500 feet deep on the west side of the river, higher on the other side. Along the way we noticed a restaurant and swimming pool that appeared to be closed for the season. There are several campgrounds and cabins as well.

Our dinner reservation was at 5:00pm. There was a long line waiting for it to open so I would suggest reservations even on a Sunday night. While a bit on the pricey side (the check and tip totalled $75 for the two of us) it was truly outstanding. I give it four stars. Our meals were delicious. We also ordered the special hard apple cider in a souvenir mug as well as was the fudge brownie a la mode. All were fantastic. We sat outside as well and enjoyed the lush landscape and warmer than usual temperatures for the first week of October.

It got dark about 6:30pm so we just stayed at the Inn after dinner and enjoyed the view of the Middle Falls illuminated by spotlights while we got to know one of the other couples staying there.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Inn. It was now Monday morning and the place was a bit empty. We had a great breakfast and view sitting next to one of the windows inside the restaurant.

After breakfast we took another drive north inside the park to check out some of the sights we hadn't seen the day before. There are some efficiencies for rent that include a fridge and microwave for just slightly more than we paid for our room at the Inn. There are also a couple of houses that you can rent that are priced according to size.

The Park includes a conference center and some other historical buildings as well as a museum. The museum is quite interesting and is mostly concerned with the life of William Pryor Letchworth. After going through and reading about all he did in his life you will have great admiration for the man. A successful businessman, the Park is not his only legacy that he left to the world as he was also a social reformer and philanthropist. He was particularly concerned about the plight of the insane, epileptics, and poor children. The Park itself was his private estate. The Glen Iris Inn was his home. He loved sharing his estate and opened it to the public. Concerned about its future after his death he donated it all to the State of New York to be used as a public park.

We hadn't yet seen the Upper Falls so after our visit to the museum and as our last activity of our stay in Letchworth we stopped at the Falls just walking distance from the Inn. It is just as spectacular as Middle Falls and with the old railroad bridge spanning the river high above the falls just up-river it provides what is possibly an even more iconic and picturesque view. There is a long stone staircase along the cliffs of the gorge there that provide varying views of the falls as well.

Having a 5:30pm flight out of Buffalo that day we had to say good-bye to what is now one of our favorite places on earth, Letchworth State Park, with every intention of returning soon.

Our drive to Buffalo was also very scenic and full of the glory that is fall in the Northeast. It was just about an hour drive to Buffalo and since we had an hour to spare I drove around the west side of the city along the Niagara River to see downtown, The Peace Bridge to Canada, and then turning east onto 290, my hometown of Tonawanda.

Since we were right there I had to drive down the street where I grew up and see the old house on Fairlane Avenue. It was good to see that it looks better than ever. It was about 3:00pm on a Monday so school was about to let out at the elementary school that I went to, St. Amelia's Catholic school, just behind the house. Just a few blocks away is my old high school and many of the spots I used to hang out as a child. The old neighborhood really hasn't changed much which is a good thing. It was a good place to grow up.

It was then time to head to the airport so I got on 290 and drove past the State University of New York at Buffalo, where I went to college, and within just a few minutes we were at the airport.

I was hoping we would have time to get a beef on weck sandwich before leaving Buffalo but we ran out of time. But, as often seems to happen, we received some favor. When I stopped to fill up the rental car with gas before heading into the airport it turned out that the gas station had a Charlie the Butcher restaurant inside. After filling up the car we got two sandwiches to go and went to the airport.

There wasn't much of a crowd at the airport and with the rental car return right at the terminal we were able to get checked in well before our flight time.

This was definitely one of our best trips ever. I highly recommend the Finger Lakes area of New York State for a fall color excursion.

We will be back.

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