The RV, always in a “travel-ready” state, only required packing a few essentials. Soon, we were on our way to the Finger Lakes region of upper New York State to appropriately “toast” a birthday on our Finger Lakes wine tasting tour. With more than 120 wineries within reach, it was undeniable that this is the ideal location, offering adventures around every corner.
The Watkins Glen/Corning KOA Resort campground is near a vast assortment of Finger Lakes wineries, putting us in the center of everything the area offers. It became a “Taste Trail Home Base” for several days as we explored by car. We appreciated their full-featured big-rig and large Pull-Thru Sites, making each arrival and departure a breeze. NASCAR and Watkins Glen race fans love these sites for that very reason.
Watkins Glen/Corning KOA Resort is located minutes from the southern end of Seneca Lake, the largest and deepest of the surrounding lakes. In the Finger Lakes, wine tasting is embedded in the area’s history, with the first hint of grapes dating back to 1829. There must be something about the soil and cool climates that make Finger Lakes wine tasting an adventure to remember.
You will find ample opportunities to discover new blends and rich flavors while relaxing with the picturesque backdrop within view. Rather than planning specific destinations, we obtained an area wine trail map — then enjoyed the excitement of discovery. KOAs have local tourist brochures and willingly share “hidden treasures,” helping you find the ideal winery near Watkins Glen. Don’t forget to ask!
This area is home to the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, which includes 27 wineries near Watkins Glen State Park and more than 600 varieties of tasty wines you can try. You can explore nearly 320 square miles of wine country as you make your way up and down the coast of Seneca Lake. The area specializes in Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, with many Native American and French-American varietals available.
Each year’s “Taste Trail” provides new and exciting stops for us. Within the Finger Lakes, there are countless wine tasting tours to experience, such as those offered by the nearby Keuka Lake and Cayuga Lake wine trails. Despite the opportunities for new experiences, there are a few wineries that, like this KOA, always get a return visit.
We always enjoy visiting the Pleasant Valley Wine Company just outside of Hammondsport, NY. This winery breathes atmosphere. The 45-minute tour, offered from 11 am to 3 pm during the summer months, is such a joy that we have taken it more than once. Another regular stop for us is the Heron Hill Winery. You will make your way through their vast selection of award-winning wines as you overlook Keuka Lake. Travel + Leisure selected these stunning views and delicious wines to be among the world’s top ten most spectacular tasting rooms. The area has many premium quality cheese makers, as well. Mix Wine Trails with Cuisine Trails and enjoy!
If you are on a tight schedule, you can still enjoy a Taste Trail in one spot. The annual Finger Lakes Wine Festival in July provides a venue at Watkins Glen International for sampling the best from over 80 wineries and food — offering cooking classes, live music, and arts and crafts. Designated drivers receive discounted admission and other bonuses and driver sobriety checkpoints keep everyone safe.
While exploring “Taste Trails,” don’t forget to stimulate the other senses. Tucked within the Finger Lakes’ exceptional scenery, you can enjoy many other attractions as well:
- Nature: Get outdoors and wander through Watkins Glen State Park in Watkins Glen, New York. The Gorge Trail is a treasure to walk with a stream that descends 400 feet past 2000-foot cliffs generating 19 waterfalls. Although the walk is not difficult, van rides will allow you to either return to the beginning or start at the top and walk downhill. If you cannot get enough waterfalls, we recommend the Taughannock Falls State Park, which is a short drive northeast. You will stand in awe of its 215-foot waterfall — three stories taller than Niagara Falls!
- Adventure: Jump in a glider at Harris Hill Soaring in Elmira, New York, and fly high above the trees on a thrilling experience discovering the beauty of the Chemung River Valley. This region is the Soaring Capital of America, where space shuttle pilots are trained for missions. Visit the museum, relax in a swing, or watch sailplanes take flight through the valley. This is the very same valley that inspired Mark Twain to return for 20 summers, spending time writing to write his many books. His study is where he spent most of his time and is now located on the Elmira College campus. It is open for tours from May to Labor Day.
- Food: While visiting the Finger Lakes, you must try out some of the delicious food available. Wake up early and visit Classic Chef’s for a small-town diner, whipping up some tasty homemade food. Head to Liquid Shoes Brewing for some ice-cold craft brews and live music, giving you the ultimate taste of a rustic, small-batch experience.
- Shopping: Looking to do some retail therapy in the Finger Lakes? The Windmill Farm & Craft Markets in Penn Yan offer endless weekend opportunities to get your hands on Amish goods, furniture and baked goods. You can also visit the Arnot Mall in Horseheads or The Gaffer’s District in Corning for more modern shopping experiences with tons of variety.
Creativity: The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, is the ideal destination to let your imagination run wild and try your hand at a new skill. After diving through the history of glass and the latest innovations, we enjoyed our own glass-making experience.
History: Get to know “the Father of Naval Aviation” and his connection to Alexander Graham Bell when you visit The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York. You can also find out more about another influential U.S. figure at the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park. You can tour her home community in Auburn while learning more about the efforts of the Underground Railroad.
May we also suggest that when exploring new areas, select a “treasure” not to visit. This unexplored attraction will give reason to return. We have visited each of these areas several times and look forward with anticipation to returning. Each visit has been a mixture of old treasures and new discoveries. We thoroughly delight in both.
Amazingly, when we return, this KOA has always found some new way to make our stay more memorable than the last. If you are new to any of these areas, a week-long stay would still leave you with a “Treasure List” and the desire to return.
A “Bucket List” is a great idea. However, make a “Treasure List,” too. You won’t be sorry!
Bill Greffe, a retired teacher, loves exploring the roads less travelled with his wife, Charlotte. To him, KOAing and RVing are synonymous. He is currently compiling a database of RV itineraries for future sharing. As his children often tease, “Our trips always included going up mountains, down into caves, visiting national parks or places of dead people. We always toured a factory or museum and took a ride on a train, bus or boat.” Bill will continue capturing his adventures for KOA.