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Upstate and Outdoors in New York’s Finger Lakes

Wine is only the beginning of the fun in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region.

Eleven glacial lakes lie within a triangle in a fertile area with a rich agricultural heritage. Food and wine are the region’s tourism backbone, but its bounty includes museums, theater and outdoor activities.

Beautiful Canandaigua Lake touts the New York Kitchen and abundant outdoor diversions. The delightful town of Corning with its world-renowned glass museum, lies 24 miles from Y-shaped Keuka Lake. Further east, Owasco Lake’s noteworthy history features Harriet Tubman. A series of events this year will commemorate the 200th anniversary of her birth.

Canandaigua Lake

Called the Chosen Spot in the Seneca language, the bucolic town of Canandaigua lies on the shores of Canandaigua Lake. Delightful Main Street is lined with boutiques, antique shops and restaurants. Newly built, the Lake House on Canandaigua invites guests to relax in Adirondack chairs lining the waterfront and gather around fire pits, all with spectacular lake views. From the property, it’s a short walk to the New York Kitchen, where hands-on cooking classes and food demonstrations promise tantalizing menus and in-depth wine education classes. In the tasting room, wine flights feature New York’s grape varietals and growing regions.

The new Craft Beverage Trail includes 37 breweries, wineries and cideries spread among four counties. Highlights include Brews and Brats at Arbor Hill with outdoor seating, plus its next-door Arbor Hill Winery. Young Lion touts a generous outdoor patio and upstairs event space with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake. Sager Beer Works schedules themed food events paired with its beers.

“They all support each other, so if you go to a brewery and you’re not a beer fan, they offer wine and cider from another place and make sure everyone’s tastes are covered,” said Finger Lakes Visitors Connection president and CEO Valerie Knoblauch. “Each place has focused on their ambiance, and most offer additional experiences such as outdoor games, music and karaoke.”

Lincoln Hill Farms, just outside of town, buzzes with events almost every weekend that feature live music, food trucks, local wine and beer tastings. Adirondack chairs situated throughout the fields and around the pond make a wonderful place to relax while listening to live bands. Goat yoga and yard games can be arranged.

The Bristol Mountain Winter Resort has long been known for downhill skiing, snowboarding and miles of groomed cross-country trails. In warmer months, its summit offers Bristol Mountain Aerial Adventures. Seven aerial segments are interwoven into the forest canopy where groups can navigate zip lines, a ropes course and aerial bridges.

Keuka Lake

In the early 1900s, Corning was nicknamed the Crystal City because of the large number of glass and glass products produced there. As the world’s largest glass museum, the Corning Museum of Glass is one New York state’s top attractions. Its schedule includes hot glass demos by master glassmakers and make-your-own-glass sessions. The Innovation Center features glass-breaking, fiber-optic and flame-working demonstrations.

“They have one of the largest museum shops in the country, with different sections for jewelry and collectibles including vases, paperweights, glass sculptures, ornaments, and local and global tableware,” said Dave DeGolyer, communications manager for the Steuben County Tourism Bureau.

Corning’s Gaffer District, less than half a mile from the museum, beckons with more than 100 boutiques, galleries, art studios and restaurants. Market Street features five blocks of historic buildings with a diverse range of architectural styles, some dating to the 1800s. The self-guided Buildings Alive! walking tour showcases the district’s architecture.

Upstate New York’s only Smithsonian Affiliate, the Rockwell Museum, occupies the restored City Hall. Its collection includes world-class Western artists such as Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell and Albert Bierstadt, as well as contemporary Native American art and artifacts. The museum participates in the Alley Art Project, where local students work with artists to create murals inspired by museum art, which brighten the alleys and buildings throughout Corning.

“A free shuttle takes visitors from the glass museum across the Chemung River to the Rockwell Museum and to Market Street,” said DeGolyer. “It only has those three stops on a 15-minute loop, so it’s very convenient.”

Corning’s Chocolate Trail boasts 31 stops, all in the Gaffer District. Truffles, chocolate martinis, locally made chocolates, tableside s’mores in an upscale restaurant and hot cocoa are highlights. According to DeGolyer, the tour app describes each stop on the pay-as-you-go trail.

Owasco Lake

History buffs can visit the town of Auburn’s Equal Rights Heritage Center where exhibits, speeches and interactive maps tell the story of the equal rights movements in New York state. Next door, the Seward House Museum was the home of Secretary of State William H. Seward during the Lincoln and Johnson presidencies.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s birth. Her home for her last 50 years has become the focal point of her story. Annual events commemorate her March 12 birthday and March 10 death. Additional celebrations this year will include an exhibition of the travel sculpture The Journey to Freedom during July and August. More events surrounding the 200th anniversary will be listed at

“The National Park Service offers interpretative tours of Fort Hill Cemetery, where Tubman is buried,” said Karen Kuhl, executive director for Visit Cayuga County. “Visiting Harriet Tubman’s grave connects people with her.”

MacKenzie-Childs, a luxury home goods brand famous for distinctive black-and-white-checkered patterns, offers tours of its restored farmhouse filled with table settings, accessories and whimsical handpainted furniture. On-site, the outlet store sells its products. A 15-minute behind-the-scenes film details the creative process.

Cayuga County’s Sweet Treat Trail features approximately 20 stops. The Strawberry Fields Hydroponic Farm invites visitors to harvest their own berries and buy jam and jellies. Owen Orchards’ farm store sells delicious apple cider doughnuts and apple cider; groups can use the barn for activities.

“We have five trail partners on Auburn’s Main Street, and gift cards can be issued so that people can spend time on their own to sample or eat lunch,” said Kuhl.

The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse and Rev Theatre Company, located 10 minutes from Auburn on Owasco Lake, offers high-quality shows performed in a round theater that formerly housed a merry-go-round. The season runs from early June to mid-October. Nearby restaurants make dining convenient before or after the show.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.