5 Fabulous Finger Lakes Activities With Kids
Read even more about the Finger Lakes.
• Are we are a family that like to get out of the city for a long weekend? Check.
• Do we like wine? Check.
• Cute museums? Check.
• Lovely scenery and fresh air? Check.
It seemed we needed a trip to Finger Lakes Wine Country*, which offers miles and miles of green countryside around 11 long, finger shaped lakes in western Upstate New York. Its main towns include Ithaca, Elmira, Watkins Glen and Corning. Seneca Lake, among the deepest lakes in the US, offers 70 square miles of serene natural beauty.
The kids declared the weekend a success and the parents felt suitably refreshed, full of wine and virtue after getting our city kids out of the city; it was a truly lovely family break.
Five highlights of ar Finger Lakes weekend with kids
Corning Museum of Glass: Fabulous in every way
CMOG* has recently added an entire new wing with MOMA-inspired style. Beautiful works of art in glass full a serene white-walled gallery. There are live glass making demonstrations in a state of the art theater, science areas about glass in telescopes and a Pyrex exhibition (it was created by Corning Glass Works in 1908).
We also loved that you can book an appointment to make your own glass (you can do it on site but doing so ahead isn’t a bad idea). The kids blew glass to make their own ornaments and us parents wielded some heavy tools to create glass flowers.
Winery Visit: Grapes and so much more
We drove up to and along majestic Seneca Lake and the lovely Torrey Ridge winery was a welcome rest stop. The owners Paul and Stephanie were lovely. They talked to us about their winemaking processes, let us taste some of the white wines the region is known for, and gave the kids some local grape juice for tasting too. Mead and Cider are all the rage among hip Brooklynites right now and this is where a lot of it comes from! So we tried some of these as well.
With a huge stretch of grass and space for picnicking this winery is definitely kid friendly. I got the impression they are hoping to make it even more so.
Watkins Glen State Park: Waterfall after waterfall after, you guessed it, waterfall
For a 6 year old who believes in fairies, the opportunity to walk behind a waterfall in a lovely springtime forest was truly magical.
TIP: If it’s been raining recently then the layer upon layer of rocks on either side of the gorge will drip on you (a lot). Wear crocs or Wellies (rain boots to you Americans) to explore. And take some time to walk up to the lake too. The views from here are magnificent and soothing.
Nature: It’s everywhere!
We spent a great couple of hours in Tanglewood Nature Reserve in Elmira. We met a 40-pound tortoise, saw inside a live beehive and met some gorgeous rescued birds of prey. The kids were impressed by the animals, but in such a lovely place with so many great nature hikes nearby, kids will be happy everywhere. We were able to really just jump out the car and get exploring.
Local museums: Rainy Day Fun
The Finger Lakes region has a number of other museums to explore. We enjoyed some time at the Rockwell Art Museum* of Western art with its great kids activity room and scavenger hunt, and the Soaring Museum*, which explores the history of engine-free flight. If we’d had time, hubby and I would have liked to explore some of the Mark Twain exhibits around the area too.
Watkins Glen, which sits picturesquely at the base of the largest of the Finger Lakes, is four to five hours by car from New York City, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Toronto and Ottawa; it’s six hours from Boston. There are regional flights, but if you go that route you’ll want to rent a car while you’re there.
Elmira is the biggest of the three towns we visited and the one most rooted in manufacturing, which means its fortune has peaked and waned over time. It has some stately streets but also quite a few boarded up shops and houses. This made me feel a bit sad for it given its rich history (among other things, Mark Twain spent time here and the first female Space Shuttle commander grew up here). Nearby Corning feels more thriving and lively, probably due to Corning Inc.’s headquarters here, as well as the draw of the glass museum.
Where To Stay
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Riverview in Elmira, which had a friendly staff and a large indoor pool, to the kids’ delight. But it was a little bit of a drive from several of the places we went. Corning and Watkins Glen have good family hotel options, too, especially if you want to be closer to the lakes and wineries.
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*We were guests of Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism for part of this trip. We did not agree to cover the region or to write any particular thing in exchange for their hospitality; our opinions are always our own.
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