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Watkins Glen: Gateway to the Finger Lakes

Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen, NY
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Seneca Lake, named for the people who lived in the Finger Lakes region before Europeans settled there. Watkins Glen, NY

The Finger Lakes

New York’s Finger Lakes region is a year-round vacation destination known for outdoor recreation. It is a place known for its natural wonders and named for its long and slender glacially-carved lakes.

New York Finger Lakes sign, Watkins Glen State Park, NU
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New York Finger Lakes sign, Watkins Glen State Park, NY

This is New York’s agricultural region and a place to enjoy the  bounty of its farms and vineyards.  There are more than 50 farm stands and over 100 wineries. Many consider autumn, the harvest and foliage season, the ideal time for a visit.

Watkins Glen on Seneca Lake: Gateway to the Finger Lakes

Seneca Lake is the largest and deepest of the Finger Lakes. It is said to be the Trout Capital of the World, and The Lake Trout Derby is held there. Watkins Glen, on Seneca Lake, is called the Gateway to the Finger Lakes.

mural, Watkins Glen, NY
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Watkins Glen murals like this one of Bill Miller’s Bugatti 35A depict the history of the sport for which the village is known

Shops and restaurants line historic North Franklin Street, the main street of downtown Watkins Glen. Colorful murals of race cars and sidewalk plaques honoring winning contestants celebrate the sport for which Watkins Glen is known. For $30 you can “Drive The Glen!,” at Watkins Glen International, racing your own vehicle around the 3.4-mile Grand Prix circuit behind a paced vehicle.

Richard Petty plaque, Watkins Glen, NY
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Richard Petty plaque, Watkins Glen, NY

Dave Garroway plaque, Watkins Glen, NY
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Dave Garroway plaque, Watkins Glen, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watkins Glen State Park is farther down the road. The park is renowned for its cascading waters, pools, and for the rapids along the gorge.  A stream drops 400’ past 200’ cliffs, creating 19 waterfalls just along the two-mile gorge path. The USA Today Readers’ Choice Poll rated it the #3 state park in the country.

view from suspension bridge, Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen, New York
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view from suspension bridge of sculpted cliffs of rock millions of years older than the dinosaurs, Watkins Glen State Park

The early European settlers found the area useless for farming and called it the “Great Gully.” The Watkins family bought it in 1794 and used the water from Glen Creek to power mills they built. Samuel Watkins,for whom the village and gorge are named, built a flour mill at the entrance to the gorge. It harnessed the Glen Creek water into a flume and down to the lower gorge, where a water wheel provided the power to grind thousands of pounds of grain into flour in a day.

Watkins flour mill, Watkins Glen, NY
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Watkins flour mill, Watkins Glen, NY

Civil War hero and landscape artist James Hope was commissioned to paint Rainbow Falls. He was so inspired by the gorge’s beauty that he decided to live there.

By 1863 Watkins Glen was a scenic international tourist attraction, a private resort with lodging and dining.  People dressed in their finest to walk the winding paths that led to formal fountains and flower beds. There was live music at the bandstand.

Thanks to Henry Ford, affordable automobiles made public lands accessible. The state of New York bought what is now Watkins Glen State Park in 1906.

The Civilian Conservation Corp arrived just in time for the Flood of the Century in 1935, when water raged after eleven inches of rain fell in 48 hours. The CCC worked the rest of the year to restore the damage. Their stonework remains today.

view from suspension bridge, Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen, New York
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view from suspension bridge, Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen, New York

There is a waterfall viewing area by the new Welcome Center for those who don’t want to walk the path’s 832 stone steps or lack the time. An alternative way to see the gorge is to drive up to the park’s picnic area and walk down the path to enjoy the spectacular aerial view from the suspension bridge.

Montour Falls

Montour Falls, New York
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Montour Falls, New York

Historic Montour Falls, the “Valley of Tumbling Waters, an area of hills, natural glens, and waterfalls, is about three miles away. Don’t miss Chequaga Falls, also spelled Shequaga Falls, at the “Glorious Historic T,” an area of notable architectural gems at the end of West Main Street.

Shequaga Falls, Montours Falls, NY
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Shequaga Falls, Montours Falls, NY

The falls are illuminated at night. Future King of France, Louis Philippe’s sketch of the thundering waterfall is in the Louvre.

Food and Wine

Family-run dairy farms along the Finger Lakes Cheese Trail are some of the best places to savor traditional cheddars and cheese curds as well as specialties like Red Buddy, Morning Glory and probiotic kefir cheese.

pumpkins, Reisinger's, Watkins Glen, NY
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pumpkins, Reisinger’s, Watkins Glen, NY

New York is also the nation’s top producer of pumpkins. It is second only to Washington in apple production.

Reisinger’s Apple Country in Watkins Glen, is a popular family destination run by Rick and Karen Reisigner, their children, and grandchildren. Rick noted that even college students run to the playground’s  measuring stick attached to an enormous chair to add to their collection of annual photos showing how much they have grown.

Reisinger’s Apple Country, Watkins Glen, NY.
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Reisinger’s Apple Country, Watkins Glen, NY.

Reisinger’s Apple Country, Watkins Glen, NY.
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Reisinger’s Apple Country, Watkins Glen, NY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s local honey, maple syrup, apple butter, jams and jellies to enjoy later. The apple cider donuts Karen makes on weekends are are a treat, and should be enjoyed with fresh apple cider.

Some of their apples, like juicy RubyFrost and sweet and crunchy SnapDragon, are varieties developed at Cornell University’s apple breeding program and are available only from select license holders in New York. One of  SnapDragon’s parents is the Honeycrisp. The other is a secret.

Snap Dragon apples, developed at Cornell University and avail;ab;e only at select locations in NY, Reisinger's, Watkins Glen, NY
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SnapDragon apples, Reisinger’s, Watkins Glen, NY

Jams and Jellies, Reisinger's, Watkins Glen, NY
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Jams and Jellies for sale, Reisinger’s, Watkins Glen, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finger Lakes Wine Country, with its fertile soil and gentle winds, was named the Best Wine Region in the USA by USA Today 10 Best Readers Choice Awards 2018.  Cool climate varieties like Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir also flourish here. Finger Lakes Rieslings are renowned.

Abby Rose wine, named for the winemaker's oldest daughter, Lakewood Vineyards, Watkins Glen, NY
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Abby Rose, a sweet wine named for the winemaker’s oldest daughter

Full Monty Riesling, Lakewood Vineyards, Watkins Glen, NY
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Gold medal winner Full Monty Riesling, Lakewood Vineyards, Watkins Glen, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lakewood Vineyards is on 80 acres in Watkins Glen, It is along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, the area’s largest wine trail. The winery opened in 1989 and is now run by three generations of the Stamp family. They began by growing grapes for large wineries and Welch’s grape juice. Recent awards include being named Upstate NY’s Best Winery and the 2017 NY Riesling Winery of the Year.

Stop for a guided tour of the wine making process and flight of wine samples. Choose your favorites to enjoy back home.

Where to stay

The Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel is right on Seneca Lake in the downtown area. It was named America’s Best Waterfront Hotel in the 2016 USA Today Reader’s Choice Awards.Trip Advisor gave it a Certificate of Excellence in 2018 and 2017 “Hall of Fame” award. AAA awarded it their prestigious 4 Diamond designation.

Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel lobby, Watkins Glen, NY
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Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel lobby, Watkins Glen, NY

 

view from guest room window, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, Watkins Glen, NY
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view from guest room window, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, Watkins Glen, NY

The hotel is an outstanding value for a luxurious waterfront property with concierge service, sumptuous bedding, chocolate-on-the-pillow nightly turndown service, and an award-winning restaurant. It is a popular choice for meetings, conferences and weddings. Off-season rates drop dramatically.

Its Blue Pointe Grille offers upscale dining overlooking the lake. In warmer weather dine al fresco at The Patio.

Chilean Sea Bass with Thai noodles, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, NY
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Chilean Sea Bass with Thai rice noodles, The Blue Point Grille, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel

Seafood Scampi, The Blue Point Grille, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
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Seafood Scampi with lobster, shrimp and scallops, The Blue Point Grille

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Finger Lakes was named one of the top ten value destinations in 2011 by Sherman’s Travel. The New York Times listed Watkins Glen as the #1 best places to go in 2011 and Budget Travel listed the Finger Lakes as the “World’s Most Beautiful Wine Region.”

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