Thursday, September 17, 2020

A drive around Cayuga Lake

The Finger Lakes region of New York is a beautiful area to visit. There are several state parks and lots of places to hike in nature. But there is more than that to do in the Ithaca area. So, on a lovely, if windy day I took off and drove around Cayuga lake. This gave me the chance to visit a few of the local wineries and some historic sites.

The loop around Cayuga Lake is about 90 miles, and, if you do it right, it will take you most of a day. I started by heading north on NY-89, which hugs the western shore of the lake. I chose this route because it took me to two of the three wineries I had chosen, out of the more than a dozen that are in the area. My first stop was at the Thirsty Owl Wine Company, a 24-mile drive north of Ithaca, with the lake peaking in and out of the trees the whole way. Thirsty Owl sits on the lake shore, offering great views along with great wines. You can purchase a tasting flight of five wines for $5. You choose the ones you want from a long menu of wines. Thirsty Owl also offers a bistro menu from 11:30 - 5:00 (Thursday thru Monday) so you can enjoy lunch on their estate overlooking Cayuga lake.

Five miles up route 89 is the Goose Watch Winery.  Sitting up on a hillside overlooking the lake, they have a beautiful spot, and their tasting room offers great views. Goose Watch sells several pre-chosen tasting flights that are organized by the type of wine (red/white; sweet/dry). Their flight run from $8 to $10 (plus $1for five chocolate kisses, for which they blamed Gov. Cuomo’s food and alcohol restrictions). Only five miles apart, these two wineries have a very different feel. At Thirsty Owl I was met at the door and escorted to the outdoor tasting area. I was assigned a sommelier who led me through my tasting, offering advice as I chose the wines. She stayed with me, and gave a description of each wine as she poured them. At Goose Watch, I ordered my entire flight at the bar, and then found seating on the outdoor veranda. All five wines were brought at the same time, along with a printed description for each.

For lunch, I stopped in the town of Seneca Falls. It is best known as the birth-place of the Women’s Rights Movement. Here you will find the Seneca Falls National historical Monument along with several other historic homes and places to visit. I did not have time to see them on this trip. I came for lunch, but Main Street did not offer great options. I chose a sports bar - Parker’s Grille & Tap House. They did have a good Caesar salad with Grilled Chicken.

After recharging my batteries, and buying a couple of tee-shirts, I headed east on US-20 across the northern edge of Cayuga Lake, and then turned south onto NY-90. I passed through several small towns, and then stumbled across what looked like a historic farm. It turned out to be the factory and showroom for MacKenzie-Childs, an producer of upscale home furnishings. The have a signature checkerboard pattern. What drew me in were their beautiful grounds. The Farm is open to the public and has a lovely pond, and a historical farm house. What was the barn is now the store and factory.

The MacKenzie-Childs facility sits on the outskirts of the town of Aurora. This little town on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake wa founded in the 1790’s. It has served a transfer point for boats heading for the Erie Canal and as the home to Wells College. There are beautiful old buildings along its Main Street, along with several small inns. Many of the buildings are run today by the Aurora Inn.

My last stop on this trip was at the Long Point Winery. It is set back from the lake, up on a hill. By the time I arrived there, it had become very windy, so I opted for a seat inside a large tent. Their tasting flight was $5 and I was free to choose the five wines I wanted to try.

It was about a half-hour drive back into Ithaca, altogether a day well spent enjoying the beautiful sights and some great wine.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Taughannock Falls State Park


Taughannock Creek

The Finger Lakes section of New York is a beautiful part of the state. The ice age glaciers and local geology have created a large collection of river gorges along with the eleven lakes themselves. Last week I wrote about Buttermilk Falls, a beautiful set of cascades. It is beautiful, but not an easy hike. Another gorgeous gorge, and one with a much easier walk is at Taughannock Falls State Park. 

Located eleven miles north of Ithaca, on the western shore of Lake Cayuga, the park offers some of the best hiking, swimming, fishing and boating, all in one place. Taughannock Falls State Park straddles NY-96, with its eastern section along the water. This lake-front section offers access to a beach, a fishing pier and the park’s boat-launch and marina. There are plenty of picnic tables and places for kids to play. It is a great place to come for the day, set up a picnic and enjoy everything the lake has to offer.

The highlight of the park is on the other side of the road. This is where you will find Taughannock Creek and the hike to the falls. The trail starts at the parking lot and takes you to the Lower Falls, a 15 foot drop leading to final leg of the creek before the lake. From this point, the trail follows the edge of Taughannock Creek. One really fun thing is that during the summer, when water levels are low, you can leave the trail, and hike up the bed of creek. The bed is limestone, with very little dirt, so you can walk it without getting your shoes wet or dirty. Being in the middle of gorge offers some amazing views.

Of course, the goal is Taughannock Falls, itself. Unlike the cascades of Buttermilk Falls, Taughannock is a drop falls, 215 feet high. Even in July, when there is not a lot of water in the creek, it is an impressive sight. The difference in the two falls is due to different geological features, even though there is only a 20 mile distance. The ground at Taughannock is primarily shale, so the rock has eroded in a more vertical pattern.

Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls State Park has other trail options, including two that climb up to the top of the falls, one on each side of the gorge. You can also drive up to top and take a short hike to an overlook point. 

There are lots of wonderful hikes in the Ithaca area. Buttermilk Falls and Taughannock Falls State Parks are options to really enjoy nature.

Nuts and Bolts

Taughannock Falls State Park is located along route NY-89, approximately 11 miles north of Ithaca. Parking fees are $8/day.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Buttermilk Falls State Park offers beautiful views and an invigorating hike


Ithaca, New York, is a wonderful destination. It sits at the southern end of lake Cayuga, in the heart of the Finger Lakes region of the state. There are many reasons to visit. Cornell University and Ithaca College bring many cultural events to town, and some really good restaurants. However, in this summer of COVID, I came for some to Ithaca’s outdoor activities.

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The Finger Lakes were created during the Pleistocene Galciation, a series of glacial and inter-glacial periods that began around 2.5 million years ago. As the glaciers moved back and forth across the state, they gouged out the beds of streams that flowed north from the Allegheny Plateau. When the ice sheets finally retreated, they left behind eleven long thin lakes, several of them extremely deep, aligned in a basically north-south axis. 

The drop from the Allegheny Plateau to the lakes below is significant. Leading in to Lake Cayuga, it ranges from a little over 200 feet to a drop of over 1000 feet, often in the space for only a couple of miles. The streams have created beautiful gorges and waterfalls. Ithaca is in the center of several of these. One of the prettiest is Buttermilk Falls, just south of town. Buttermilk is a cascade of ten waterfalls, formed as the water descends six hundred feet over 0.75 miles (1.3 km). Over the millennia, the streams have carved out the walls of the gorge, and left behind several pools and platforms between the cascades.

Hiking Buttermilk is not easy. It is rated as a moderate trail. As I said, you have to climb up 600 feet in a short distance. That being said, it is worth the effort. This summer, the park officials have imposed specific rules, in an effort to help combat COVID. The Rim Trail has been designated for ascending the gorge. This trail follows the ridge line above Buttermilk Creek. It is a beautiful wooded walk, but the first half a mile is very steep. The down-side is that this trail is not next to the gorge, so you can’t really see the creek below. The up-side is that it is well shaded, and walking up the paths is a lot easier than trying to climb stairs. 

Once you get to the top of the trail, near Lake Treman, just cross the bridge, and begin you descent along the Gorge Trail, which has been designated for descending the gorge. This trail follows along the side of Buttermilk Creek, and this is where you will have the great views of the falls and pools. Since it along the creek, there are many spots where you can get into the water and cool off on a hot day. The Gorge Trail has stairs carved into the path, but these are not “standard” height, and can be difficult to navigate in a few places. Climbing the Gorge trail can be very hard on the knees and hips.

Buttermilk Falls is surrounded by a state park. The park covers 811 acres and provides cabins, campsites, picnic sites and pavilions, and a beach at the bottom pool of the cascade. There are several other trails in the park, including the relatively flat Larch Trial, which circles a marsh at the bottom of the escarpment. The Ridge and Gorge Trails connect to Robert Treman State Park at the top of the gorge, where there are more waterfalls, picnic area and even another swimming area.

So put on your hiking boots, and your swimming trunks, and head to Buttermilk Falls State Park. You will get a great workout hiking the falls, and have a wonderful time swimming in the creek.

Nuts and Bolts:
Buttermilk Falls is 2.5 miles south of the center of Ithaca, along routes NY-13/34/96 (Elmira Road).

The daily parking fee is $8/car from April 1 through Nov. 30. Please be aware that there are crowd restrictions of 50% due to the COVID crisis.