We spent three glorious weeks in upstate New York and man, oh man, is New York numinous! Seriously, we saw some incredible sights during our time in New York and we don’t even care that we avoided New York City because Covid-19. Ok, we care a tiny bit. There are some pretty big things we missed, but there is always next time!
Watkins Glen, New York
Our first week in the state was spent in the glorious Watkins Glen State Park. It was really, truly, amazing. Now let’s dive into all the places we visited and how perfect they were to explore!
Watkins Glen State Park
We stayed in the state park campground and it was remarkable and beautiful and we would 100% do it again. It was busy, because the state park is one of the most popular state parks in the US, but it was also somehow quiet and the spaces are big enough that it didn’t seem like we were too close to our many neighbors. We walked around the campground loop so many times. I think I drank my tea or coffee while walking multiple times throughout the week and the kids either ran or rode their bikes. We do not always get to do this in campgrounds, so we cherish it when it happens.
We explored two areas of the park outside of the campground too. The infamous Watkins Glen Gorge Trail and the area around Lily Pond.
This trail is the one most people explore when they go to the park. It was busy and we went on an weekday early afternoon. But the small crowds are absolutely worth it. The trail is beautiful and honestly, the pictures I took do not even begin to do it justice.
There are a ton of stairs, but our little hikers handled them just fine. Though they did complain and needed lots of snack breaks. So if you ever visit with little ones, keep this in mind. We did bring a carrier because we were not sure the 3-year-old would be able to complete the hike on his own. He could have done it, but the 5-year-old hitched a ride for a bit, so then the 3-year-old wanted to do it too. This whole copying big brother thing is hilarious, but adorable…well some of the time.
This is not a trail, but really just a small pond inside the park. It is full of frogs, so it was an absolute hit with our kiddos. It was actually a spot many people stopped to take in the lily pads and many frogs. Most people were not catching them, like my kids were, but still it was really nice to see other people taking time to appreciate the pond’s beauty in a place so full of nature’s beauty.
Excelsior Glen Falls
Watkins Glen and surrounding areas are actually full of waterfalls. So being that I am a bit obsessed with them, I tried to see a new one each day. I almost succeeded too.
Okay, so this first waterfall hike did not turn out as we’d hoped. First of all, there was only a trickle of water at Excelsior Glen Falls, barely even enough to be called a waterfall. Despite this, it was still an absolutely gorgeous place to stop, take a break, explore, and have a snack. And this is exactly what we did. And it is a great trail for kids too. The 5-year-old handled the whole thing just fine and the 3-year-old only needed a bit of help at the end to get into the gorge.
Eagle Cliff Falls
To date (10/15/20), this is my absolute favorite waterfall! I am including Niagara Falls as well. Here are the reasons why. It is a super short and beautiful hike. For whatever reason, despite the short hike and the busyness of the area, there weren’t many people exploring the waterfall. We essentially had the whole place to ourselves both times we visited. The swimming hole is amazing and, while too cold (60ish degrees out) for a morning dip, it would make an excellent swimming hole for a hot summer day. Plus, it has plenty of shallow and rocky places for the kids to splash in. And if you are so inclined, you can swim up and under the waterfall because it is small enough to be safe.
I mentioned we went here twice. I normally do not visit the same place twice when I only have a week to explore and enjoy an area, so this speaks to my previous point about it being amazing. But, there is another reason too. My sister and her partner drove up from their home in Pennsylvania to surprise the kids and stay the night in our tiny home. So we took them to this amazing waterfall while they were around to hang out with us. We also took them to Lily Pond, because frogs.
Now this is not exactly a hike I would recommend bringing kids on when hiking solo with them. It would have been relatively easy had I had another pair of adult hands to help me navigate the narrow trail down to the waterfall. But I didn’t and I still forged ahead. Do I regret it? No, we survived and it was a really beautiful place to explore. Would I do it again? Probably not. It wasn’t the safest course of action and I am usually one to pick safety over adventure when I am with my kiddos. Nonetheless, Deckertown Falls was a beautiful waterfall to see and if you have that extra pair of adult hands or have older children, check it out if you are ever in the area. It is also right down the street from Eagle Cliff Falls, and it would be absolutely easy to hike both trails in one morning or afternoon.
This was how we spent our first week in New York. See what I mean by numinous??
Niagara Falls, New York
Our second week in New York was spent near Niagara, on Grand Island. We were far less adventurous during this week, but that was largely due to our home for the week (Cinderella Motel/Campground) having a large grassy area that the kids absolutely enjoyed playing in. Gwig (one of our pups) also got in a ton of exercise because she would chase her ball and the kids would throw her ball repeatedly. It’s been a long while since our pups have just run around, mostly because one of them hates dog parks and the other one cannot be trusted to be off leash in an open space. She is literally the epitome of the “squirrel” distracted dog motif.
Anyway, back to Niagara Falls. This was a bucket list item for me and I was so excited! Because Canada is closed to us US folk and because of Covid-19 our experiences at Niagara Falls was probably not the norm. First, we went on a Sunday morning at 10am to catch the Maid of Mist boat tour as it opened. The line and wait was already 4+ hours long. So we passed on that. We did grab some delicious coffee and view the falls from the New York side, which is apparently not a great view, and then walked around a bit more before heading back to Grand Island. It was essentially a bust, but we did get a taste of a high tourist spot.
Never fear, we set out again later in the week in the morning on a Wednesday to catch the Maid of the Mist tour BEFORE it opened. We still waited in line for an hour, but we caught the second boat. I cannot even put into words how amazing it was to be that close to that giant waterfall. I stood up front with our 5-year-old and we let the waterfall’s mist splash us relentlessly the entire time. Doug (who had been on the boat tour and seen the falls before) took our 3-year-old’s lead and ducked into an area where water does not spray you.
Afterward, we hit up a local restaurant that is supposed to be the original creator of the Buffalo chicken wing. Doug is a fanatic, so we went here for lunch with the intention of sitting outside. But, for some reason they were short staffed and closed their patio to compensate. We did make the choice to eat inside, so this was our first indoor restaurant meal since early March.
Beaver Island State Park
At some point during the week, Katie took the kids on an adventure at Beaver Island State Park. The nature center was closed, cause Covid-19, but the trails were open. It was a delightful walk full of beautiful emerging fall colors, a toad, lots of birds, and a fantastic nature journaling spot. I’d highly recommend checking out this state park if you are in the area. There is a lot to do and see and it was not at all crowded.
Like I said, we took it easy this week. It was a quiet and amazing week.
Fair Haven, New York
We did not take it so easy our last week in New York. We spent the week in the Fair Haven State Park campground. It gets incredibly packed on the weekends, but during the week it was empty. It is a really wonderful campground and great for kids too. Lots of open space and plenty of space between campsites too.
Lake Ontario via Fair Haven State Park
This was our first time seeing one of the Great Lakes. We were not prepared for how Lake Ontario resembles an ocean with waves and the inability to see the other side. It was incredible. We spent a lot of time enjoying the beach here.
Sterling Nature Preserve
I cannot rave about this amazing place enough. The trails are amazing and well maintained. There are so many trails, it could be easy to get turned around, but I am sure there is a map out there somewhere to download and be prepared. I was not prepared. I found the preserve on AllTrails and decided to go check it out. That is actually how about 90% of our adventures start and it is usually a great time. On this day, we had the best time! On our trail we not only found Lake Ontario again, with our own private rocky beach, but we also found a giant pond full of frogs, a couple of toads along the trail, so many wildflowers, and a Great Blue Heron nesting grounds. The nesting area was out of season, so no herons were there, but the nests were and man it was something to see.
The kids loved the trails so much that they did not want to leave and kept purposefully trying to take us further and further away from the car. Which made me realize just how good my 5-year-old’s sense of direction actually is.
They also loved it so much they insisted that Doug check it out with them again that afternoon. So Doug got to experience the magical place as well. I highly recommend this place to explore with kids. There is so much to see and experience.
I truly do wish all of our adventures were as amazing as the one above. But sometimes they just plain suck. Not because of the kids, though they certainly have managed to make adventures tough. This time it was because the trail was awful. There was trash everywhere. Along the trail it was hiding in the shrubs, but it only got worse as we approached the waterfall. The waterfall was a trickle and nothing spectacular (but that is often the case in later summer). But the place was covered in soaking wet, smelly trash. We tried to make the best of it. We looked for frogs in the muck, learned a bit about maple trees (because we were sitting under one), and talked a lot about how the trash really made this place gross. We didn’t have our gloves or a place to put trash or you bet we would have cleaned up a lot of the garbage. If we hadn’t driven over 30 minutes to get to the waterfall, we may have considered going back and cleaning it up. We didn’t and it still haunts me.
Hummingbird Hills Winery
After leaving Fair Haven, we made a one night stop at a Harvest Host location on our way to our Vermont home for the week. The views were amazing and the hosts were super friendly. The wine was different, but I LOVED the garlic wine, so I bought some and now get to cook with it as I please!
If you are still reading, you made it. That is the end of our adventures in New York.
And if you haven’t already seen the news, I just launched the Wanderland Travel Guide immersive US state curriculum. I’ve been really busy and I only have 46 states left to complete. So I am going to be busy for a while.
But don’t you worry! Our adventures in Vermont are coming! Just you wait and see!
CURRENT ADVENTURE STATS:
On the road: 14 months
Miles towing our home: 10,173
Campgrounds visited: 64
Breweries visited: 36
National Parks visited: 15/62
National Monuments/Seashores/Historic Sites/etc.: 5
State Parks visited: 15