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Leading group trips has always been a dream service I wanted to offer at Dylan in the Details, but, honestly, I thought it was way too early. I had all the excuses in the world as to why my platform wasn’t big enough, I wasn’t experienced enough, and I had no idea what people would want to do on that sort of trip, anyway. Thankfully a few close friends called out my excuses and forced me to think about what was actually holding me back. Fear. (As if there was ever a question…) So I decided to post a few Instagram polls to try to gauge interest and maybe pick a destination. Slowly the details began to fall into place and then suddenly I found myself Googling things to do in Watkins Glen, grateful for the people who had agreed to come on my first ever trip.
(Bummed you miss out on this trip? Let me know, as I’m already taking destination requests and dates for the next one!) While I would obviously love to have you travel with me, I also know that there are plenty of reasons that people can’t. So (at the risk of giving you major FOMO) I’ve compiled our weekend itinerary below – just in case you want to take your own weekend trip to New York State!
While I always think of Watkins Glen as being famous for the state park, it is also very famous for something else – NASCAR. Since I am not a NASCAR fan, I didn’t know that I had to check and avoid booking my group trip the same dates as the race. Even though I managed to pick the exact same weekend, the only thing it really impacted our accommodations. Normally I would’ve had us stay right in downtown Watkins Glen, but the popularity of the weekend obviously caused a spike in prices and a scarcity in terms of places available. Instead of Watkins, we stayed in the top floor of a Victorian home about twenty five minutes away in Corning, NY. Our place was within walking distance of downtown Corning and gave us the perfect excuse to explore a different town! (Plus it meant we could leave the NASCAR crowds behind…)
(All places listed are within an hour of Corning, NY.)
1.Taughannock Falls State Park
Located about a half an hour from Watkins Glen (and an hour from Corning), we used Taughannock Falls State Park as a Saturday morning hike to get us in the outdoorsy mood before our hike through Watkins Glen State Park the next day. There are plenty of trails here, but the two main ones are the Rim Trail and the Gorge Trail. Coming in at just about three miles, the Rim Trail circles the edge of the park, giving you a more aerial view of the famed waterfall. In order to loop around, you follow either the North or South trail to the top of the park and then follow the path that connects them in order to take the other back down to the parking lot. (It is very well marked – no worries about getting lost.)
We chose the rim trail and, since we were there in the beginning of August, the trees were green and full of leaves that blocked most of our views. I was a little disappointed we didn’t choose the Gorge Trail until we came to the waterfall overlook on the South Rim side and got an unobstructed view of the falls and the rocks around it.
At less than a mile (one way), you could easily do the Gorge Trail and the Rim trails in the same afternoon – we just ran out of time. If you aren’t looking to do the entirety of both trails, I would recommend walking the South Rim Trail until you get to the overlook, follow the same path back out and then do the Gorge Trail. The North Rim trail is great for exercise, but in terms of views, it doesn’t really compare.
(*Note – paying admission to one NY State Park gets you into any of the other ones for free on that same day. You could definitely do both Taughannock and Watkins Glen in the same day.)
2.Explore Corning, NY
Because we decided to visit Watkins Glen on the same weekend as the yearly NASCAR race, staying in town was not an affordable option. Originally I was a little disappointed that we had to choose Corning as our home base, but, looking back, it actually worked out. We rented part of a gorgeous Victorian house a few blocks from downtown Corning, which meant we could walk to dinner and explore their main street.
On a recommendation from a staff member at the Castel Grisch Winery (see below), we chose Mooney’s for dinner. Although they are famous for their macaroni and cheese offerings, they have an extensive menu that is sure to please everyone in your group.
Corning Bucket List (For Next Time)
3.Watkins Glen State Park
The first time Alex and I visited Watkins Glen State Park, we thought we were outsmarting the crowds by coming the winter. Turns out the laugh was on us because the park closes in the winter due to icy conditions. Since then, we’d been trying to find another opportunity to find out if the park is really worth the hype. Now that we’ve experienced it, I can say confidently that it is. There are plenty of trail options (and probably plenty of people with opinions on those trail options),but, I don’t think you can go wrong with the Gorge Trail – which is three miles round trip. It walks you directly through the gorge, and gets you up close and personal with a bunch of the Glen’s waterfalls.( Be ready to get wet…)
Watkins Glen is famous for a reason, so be ready for other people to disrupt your serenity (and maybe your photos). We got there around 9 AM and, while there were people on the trail, there was a marked difference between the number of visitors when we got there and the pack of visitors there when we left.
*Note – Across the street from Watkins Glen isa row of parking spots that are free for 2 hours. If you are lucky enough to get one, you can definitely do the Gorge Trail in two hours and skip the parking fee in the surrounding lots.
4.Castel Grisch Winery
In the Finger Lakes, there is no shortage of wineries, which is both a blessing and an overwhelming curse. Choosing one is a bit of an educated shot in the dark. Castel Grisch won me over with their beautiful vineyard and affordable prices. (Seriously – $4 for a wine tasting?! I thought it was a typo on their website.) Their staff was lovely, the view of the surrounding area is perfect, and the wine was good too! They have an extensive enough selection that everyone from the white wine drinkers, to the red wine aficionados to the bubbly fans will get tastings suited to their preferences. (In case you were wondering, the Baco was my favorite by far!)
5.Farm Sanctuary Watkins Glen
(As the Farm Sanctuary rescues animals from factory farming situations, they obviously have very strong feelings about the meat industry. Whether or not to eat meat is a tricky issue in my mind and (sparing you the complexities of my inner-most monologues), I do think that the way slaughter animals are treated is wrong, unethical, and, as a meat-eater-I am complicit. While I know all of this, I also still eat meat. I am not proud of it, but I am also not going to lie.)
Taking a tour at the Farm Sanctuary is part factory farm education and part animal interaction. Picture petting adorable new friends while the guide talks about the hard lives these animals have come from and the ethical issues of the industry. Even through being faced with the uncomfortable truths of the industry, I would definitely recommend visiting. The facts are the facts whether or not you choose to learn about them, so you should be informed.
What I admired most about the tour was the balance of information about the horrors of factory farming along with encouragement that wasn’t just about simply going vegan. At the end of the tour, our guide gave an impassioned speech about making a difference with cutting back to even one meatless meal a week. I understand that their hope is that people go completely vegan, but I would imagine that a combination of getting to know their sweet rescue animals and having the guide meet people where they are in terms of eating, would produce the best results. All in all, we had the best time making friends with the animals, learning new things and (maybe) rethinking some of our dietary habits.
Have questions? Think this sounds like fun? Get in touch and I’ll send you information about our next group trip. (Or, even better, have an idea for the next group trip destination?! Let me know!)