by Stephen Jermanok
From the excitement of Manhattan to the mountains of the Adirondacks and the Catskills, New York has a lot to offer families. Unfortunately, many people overlook the allure of the Finger Lakes in the western part of the state. Many families have returned often to this pastoral setting, where farmland rolls to bluffs high above the long lakes and waterfalls plunge down the many gorges. The terrain is ideal for days of outdoor activity in and around the water and nights of dining on produce found at local farms, paired with the latest award-winning Riesling.
One of the highlights of the Finger Lakes is the hike through Watkins Glen gorge alongside a number of spectacular waterfalls. Watkins Glen is at the southern end of 38-mile Seneca Lake, where you can go for a sunset sail on a windjammer or kayak through a cattail-laden marsh and see countless herons, turtles, and beaver. It’s also the ideal locale for the Harbor Hotel, opened in 2008. Set on the shores, rooms overlook the great expanse of water and the few boats that cruise along the lake. Smack dab in the center of Watkins Glen, you’re within easy walking distance to many restaurants, including the resort’s own Blue Pointe Grille.
Our Editor Loves
- Great waterfront location
- Watkins Glen gorge and the wineries
- Outdoor dining with lake views and breezes
- Water Sports
- Free Wi-Fi
- Game Room
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Rooms & Rates
There are 104 guestrooms in the hotel. Ask for a room with a water view and you'll be spending most of your time on the patio watching the world go by. The spacious room has two queen beds, a flatscreen TV, and a refrigerator to hold all the bounty of wine and fresh farm produce you'll find when driving around. All of the guestrooms feature complimentary Wi-Fi.
The bathroom is just as roomy, featuring a shower, separate Jacuzzi tub and environmentally friendly soaps and shampoo created by Green of Natura. There are also hairdryers, irons and ironing boards in each room. The breeze flowing off the lake was far superior to any air conditioner.
We had a balcony room facing the harbor. It was a beautiful view of the marina and lake. The room was a nice size, clean, with a friendly staff for coffee bar and turn down service. One of the nicest features was the coffee bar outside the elevator. Hot Seattle's Best coffee, tea, hot chocolate served from 6Am to 11AM. Much nicer and better than coffee in the room or having to order room service. GREAT LOCATION on the lake and in Watkins Glen
We visited in September and found the location to be ideal. At the bottom of Seneca Lake, you're at an ideal location to go to wine tastings on either side of the lake as well as close enough to the Corning Museum of Glass for a great day trip. You're also just down the road from the racetrack and walking distance to the actual gorge for hiking. The downtown is a nice walk as well with a good variety of stores/restaurants. The hotel itself was very nice. Clean, modern, free parking and comfortable rooms. The staff was always very pleasant. We'd highly recommend the hotel.
Watkins Glen State Park
As soon as you park your car at Watkins Glen State Park and look at all the license plates from across the country and Canada, you realize this is a major event. You can hear the water pummeling down, but it's not until you enter through a tunnel and are nestled inside the gorge that you're overwhelmed by the jaw-dropping scenery. Water cascades down the terraced rock, curving through chutes, tumbling into pools, and carving its way through the ancient sandstone. You'll be taking pictures every five steps, especially when you step behind Cavern Cascade, a high waterfall that tumbles to the rocks below, and Rainbow Falls, which creates a heavenly shower when sunlight filters in and the droplets splash on the carpet of green moss. The trail is 1.5-miles long and you can take a shuttle at the top back to the main parking lot if the kids complain about doing the round-trip.
The heated, indoor pool is a great spot for families to enjoy when staying here. The kids can swim and splash while the adults lounge on the surrounding chairs. Pool towels are provided.
A wee bit south of Seneca Lake, Mark Moskal, owner of Summit to Stream Adventures, takes families on a peaceful kayak tour though a cattail-laden marsh. Follow the blue and green herons and be on the lookout for beavers, turtles, and large carp that swim atop the water as you paddle from one stream to the next. Mark also offers fishing trips to hook northern pike on Seneca Lake, fly-fish for rainbow trout in the creeks, and hopefully snag a muskie or two in one of the smaller lakes.
If you just want to sit back and relax while being on the water, consider sailing on the schooner Malabar, docked close to the Harbor Hotel. On a sunset cruise, the two-masted sailboat tacks between the eastern and western shores of the lake. You'll pass vineyards and forest rolling down to the water, rocky bluffs, and few other boats. Indeed, the lake is so vast that you're happy someone else is doing the steering.
With its rolling hills and guaranteed water views, the Finger Lakes have also become a favorite place to bike. Though for families, those hills and the car traffic might be a bit daunting. Try a more relaxed bike ride on a bluff that juts into Keuka Lake, just outside Penn Yan. Park your car at Keuka College and take East Bluff Drive past the small B&Bs and lakefront cottages with cute names like Hide 'N' Seek. You'll pass quaint manicured gardens and canoes bobbing in the water, creating the ideal photo op.
Corning Museum of Glass
When you had your fill of outdoor activity, visit three family-friendly museums in the region. The Corning Museum of Glass is an absolute must. Five minutes in the Hot Room, watching glassblowers create mugs and vases out of the molten heat and you've gotten your money's worth. But there's so much more. You can create your own glass flowers in a studio or visit the Innovations section, where you can see how glass has changed the course of the world, from the invention of the glass bulb to glass prisms used in cameras to parabolic glass necessary to create the Space Shuttle. Then there's the exhibition on the history of glass that takes you on a timeline from Gladiator Glasses used by the Romans to the exquisite detail of 16th-century Venetian glass, and later Tiffany and Steuben glass. Finally, the display of contemporary glass, with works by Dale Chihuly and many other current artists, would be a worthy art museum in its own right.
While in Corning, also check out the Rockwell Museum. No, it's not a collection of Norman Rockwell paintings. It's named after Bob Rockwell, one of the world's foremost collectors of Western Art. The Buffalo Room has a huge buffalo head sticking out of the wall, while the Lodge Room contains many paintings of the West by renowned artist Frederick Remington, lots of leather couches, a stone fireplace, and a collection of guns used in the Wild West. Kids will also like the dress-up room, where they can dress up as a Cowboy or Native American and play in the teepee.
Museum of the Earth
Nearby, Ithaca is best known as the home of Cornell University, yet, you should also check out the Museum of the Earth, devoted to the 3.5 million years of our planet's history. Run by the Paleontological Research Association, the Museum has a whopping collection of some two million fossils, including the skeleton of the Hyde Park Mastodon. Not only will kids get to see dinosaur and whale skeletons, but they'll get to touch real bones and learn the difference between, say, the claws of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Brontosaurus. There are also guided walks to gorges in the area so children can find their own fossils. Mom and dad will be mesmerized by the large mural at the entrance lobby, depicting the history of Earth from day one.
Blue Pointe Grille
Each morning, families can started with breakfast on the outdoor patio, prepared by the hotel's Blue Pointe Grille. The menu includes omelets, pancakes, waffles and the family favorite, almond-crusted stuffed French toast made with cinnamon bread and filled with cream cheese. The patio is even more popular at dinner, when Blue Pointe Grille serves a wedge salad, clams, seafood scampi and grilled sea bass over a mushroom risotto. Kids will like the pasta, steak and chicken dishes.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
That same stone seen in Watkins Glen State Park is used for the fireplace and pillars of the Harbor Hotel's lobby, a nice welcoming touch. Then there's the outdoor patio with firepit to warm you up on those cooler nights.
Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout.
The Art of Smart Timing
Of course, summers on the lake is busy season, but May, June and September are still warm in the Finger Lakes, with reduced prices. Also avoid the major racing events at the Watkins Glen International Speedway, when the town fills up and prices are greatly increased.
From Albany and points east, take I-90 West towards Buffalo and merge onto I-88 West via Exit 25A in Schenectady. I-88 West becomes I-81 South. Merge onto NY Route 17W toward Owego/Elmira. Take Exit 52B towards Watkins Glen onto RT-14 North for 17 miles. Continue to Franklin Street. The hotel will be on your right.
A vehicle would be needed to see much of the area.
For Mom and Dad
The onsite Coldwater Bar serves all the award-winning wines found in the Finger Lakes region.
The sunset cruise on the Malabar is perfectly suited for a romantic getaway. Grab a babysitter at the hotel, a bottle of your favorite local Riesling and your loved one for a quick escape up the lake.