Yes, the winters are cold and snowy in the area of central New York encompassing the Southern Finger Lakes, but ah, the summers! They are ideal for summer getaways. June, July and August are the months when locals and out-of-town visitors alike make the most of the just-about-perfect days, when highs rarely top 80 degrees and the livin’ is easy.
Biking, hiking, boating, kayaking, and fishing are among the countless options for summer-time fun and exploration in the Finger Lakes. It is also the largest wine-producing region in New York State, which I covered in a previous article – Discover Keuka Lake Wine Country in New York’s Southern Finger Lakes.
However, there is much more to savor than the excellent Reislings, Pinot Noirs and other vintages the area has become known for. Here are must-see attractions in and around Elmira, Corning, Hammondsport and Watkins Glen — the areas I visited along with other writers last May. (The weather was glorious then, too, and look how beautiful it is during the autumn months!)
Elmira is Mark Twain Country
Our first stop was Elmira, New York, where Samuel Clemens, known to the world as Mark Twain, spent 20 summers. It’s where he wrote many of his most celebrated novels, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Tramp Abroad.
He and his wife, Olivia, an Elmira native, summered with her sister and family on Quarry Farm, situated on a hill overlooking the Chemung River. To give Twain a private place to write (and to keep the smoke from his 20-a-day cigar habit out of the house), his in-laws had a study built for him on a knoll about 100 yards from the farmhouse.
The 12’x12’ octagonal building, built to mimic the pilot house of a riverboat, was relocated to the campus of Elmira College in 1952, where it still stands as a major attraction for Twain fans.
We were able to visit it and even sit at the desk where he wrote many classics of American literature while Mark Twain Country Tours guide, Mark A. Delgrosso, captivated us with stories of his life and times spent in Elmira. The stories continued as we made our way to Woodlawn Cemetery, where he, his wife, children and several other family members are buried. (Visit on your own, daily 9-5.)
During the months of July and August, Thursday through Saturday, 10 am-2 pm, hop aboard a trolley for a one-hour, narrated tour of Elmira, including the Mark Twain Study.
Corning Museum of Glass
If you relate the Corning Glass Company to the Corning ware dishes in your cupboard at home, you’ll be blown away, no pun intended, when you make time (several hours, at least!) to visit the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.
When I learned we’d be visiting The Corning Museum of Glass, I had no idea it is the world’s largest museum dedicated to glass.
Tour the spectacular Contemporary Art + Design Wing, explore 35 Centuries of glass art and artifacts, watch live glassblowing demonstrations by master artists, then make your own glass masterpiece, as I did. You can choose from various projects; I created a glass flower, which was shipped to me the following week.
For more information, go to the Museum website: Plan Your Visit.
Corning’s Gaffer District and Historic Market Street
Travel the short distance from the Corning Museum of Glass to Corning’s Gaffer District, centered in the downtown area around Historic Market Street. (In case you were wondering: A gaffer is another term for a glassblower or glassmith.)
With over 100 unique shops, galleries, and restaurants, as well as remarkable architecture, the Historic District is the perfect place for shopping and sightseeing. (I was able to score a unique glass slide to wear on my gold omega chain at Market Street Antiques and Collectibles.)
It’s also the home of Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian-affiliate known for its collection of Western and Native American art, including art related to the local Iroquois culture.
Hammondsport and Keuka Lake
Drive 30 miles north of Corning and make Hammondsport your next base for exploring a plethora of wineries on and near Keuka Lake. There is a craft beverage trail, too.
Before heading back to Syracuse for our flights home, we were able to spend time at Watkins Glen State Park, located smack dab in the middle of the little town of the same name. Where else can you see 19 waterfalls along a two-and-a-half-mile trail? It is worthy of a much longer visit than the two plus hours we had to spend hiking the Gorge Trail, but the thrill of climbing a good portion of its 800 stone steps — walking behind some of the waterfalls, feeling the spray, and stopping along the way for countless photo opportunities — was a very special ending to our three-day adventure in the Southern Finger Lakes.
Note: Gorge trail/waterfall viewing access is only open on a limited basis, and a reduced schedule due to COVID-19. Check the park website or call (607) 535-4511 for more information.
If you’re a NASCAR fan, the town’s name may sound familiar, as it is home to Watkins Glen International, one of the few road racetracks in the organization. It was voted Best NASCAR Track in a USA Today Reader’s Choice Poll in 2016 and 2017. Updates to the 2020 schedule, involving three of its event weekends, were made, due to COVID-19.
Where to Dine
Finger Lakes House Wine Bar, Elmira, NY, serving only locally crafted beer and wine.
Hill Top Inn (dinner), Elmira, NY – Family owned for three generations, dine while overlooking the same views of the Chemung River Valley that inspired Mark Twain as he wrote inside his study.
Village Tavern (dinner), Hammondsport, one block from Keuka Lake, on the Village Square. (It’s an Inn, too!)
The Elf in the Oak (lunch), Burdett, NY, a perfect lunch stop on your way back to the Syracuse airport.
Where to Stay
Thanks to Corning & the Southern Finger Lakes, Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce and Mark Twain Country for hosting me, along with several other writers, in this beautiful region of central New York. Log onto the Corning & the Southern Finger Lakes website for more information about how to plan your visit.