The Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York is stunning. With lush rolling vineyards, crystal clear waters, craggy hills, and wooded valleys, this much beauty in one place is a rare find. Packed with all the best amenities for lodging, food, drink, and entertainment, you'll find wilderness and solitude in a world where both are few and far between. From getting up in the air to down in the water, there are plenty of unique things to do here, so we put together this list of some of the most remarkable outdoor activities this spectacular bit of America has to offer.
Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Corning
The Finger Lakes region has a rich aviation history. Hammondsport, which sits at the southern tip of Keuka Lake, was home to Glenn Curtiss, known as the "Father of Naval Aviation." In 1908, Curtiss designed and built the first aircraft to fly more than a kilometer. Locals believe he was more important to the aviation industry than the famous Wright Brothers, so give a nod to Curtiss and get airborne.
Drifting along on the air currents high above the ground is the experience of a lifetime. Marvel at the glacially-carved scenery of the Finger Lakes region, spying on the daily life below while hovering in the quiet atmosphere above. There are several outfitters in the area to choose from, and be sure to plan ahead since hot air ballooning is at the mercy of the weather. (Just don't forget your camera!)
Motorcycle Tour of Steuben County
Curtiss was also known for racing bikes and motorcycles, and even set the land speed record of 136.36 miles an hour in 1907. It's hard to imagine a more postcard-worthy destination than the rolling hills of wine country around Keuka Lake and the Southern Finger Lakes, so if you decide to explore by motorcycle, we recommend slowing down and taking your time. Whether you are here for the scenery, wine, craft beer, or exceptional food, motorcycle enthusiasts will love cruising around the twists and turns of vineyard-lined country roads and taking in the exceptional lake views.
Cycling and Mountain Biking
If you prefer pedal power to a motor, there are lots biking options in the Southern Finger Lakes region to choose from. The 36-mile Hammondsport Circle Tourfeatures heart-pumping climbs through some of the most striking scenery in Steuben County. If off-roading is more your style, a great place to start is the Erwin Wildlife Management Area. There are trails for all skill levels—from gravel fire roads to the rocky, rooty singletrack goodness. For a more mellow or family-friendly option, head to the Corning Bikepath. Starting near Corning-Painted Post Middle School and running just over three miles across town, this paved trail is ideal for walkers, bicyclists, and inline skaters.
Soaring in Elmira
Haven't heard of soaring? It's basically motorless flight in a sailplane. Imagine swooping along with the hawks and playing in the clouds in the silence of the great open sky. There's no better place to give this truly unique experience a try than in the town of Elmira, known as the "Soaring Capital of the America." Visit the National Soaring Museum before or after booking a flight to learn more about the history of this unique sport.
Seaplane Ride over Keuka Lake
If a bird's-eye view sounds amazing but soaring seems a bit too adventurous, then give a seaplane ride a go—it's the best way to see the unusual Y-shape of Keuka Lake and the lush vineyards dotting the area. If your weekend rental has a dock, some companies will even pick you up right from home! Be sure to check out the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum to learn more about the aviation pioneer who helped Hammondsport "get its wings." If you happen to be in town in mid-September, check out Wings and Wheels—a two-day celebration of seaplanes and classic/exotic cars. ## Kayaking or Canoeing the Chemung River from Corning to Elmira
Another wonderful way to spend a day at the Finger Lakes is by playing "I spy" for bald eagles while paddling through some of the prettiest glacially-carved landscape on the planet. The 17-mile water trail on the tree-lined Chemung River will take you past several small islands and over class I-II rapids. Spend a couple relaxing days floating your way down the river, whose name means “place of the horn” in Algonquin because of a wooly mammoth tusk that was found along the river bank in the 1700s. Didn't bring your kayak? Don't worry—there are plenty of places to rent all the equipment you might need!
Stand-Up Paddleboarding on Keuka Lake
If you've ever been surfing Instagram and seen a photo of someone doing a yoga pose on a stand-up paddleboard and thought* that looks like fun, *then get over to Keuka Lake. Knowing a little yoga is not needed to get a good core body workout or just spend a delightful day paddling around. Plan to spend a day at the lake, because there's much more to do than just paddle! Keuka is known for some of the best freshwater fishing in the Finger Lakes and is also a popular spot for jet skiing. You don't even have to worry about bringing your own - you can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and jet skis from Keuka Watersports right on Champlin Beach.
The Keuka Lake Outlet Trail was one of the first rail trails, and is open to hiking, biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. The route winds seven scenic miles from Penn Yan out to Dresden at Seneca Lake, with plenty of shade, creeks, and even waterfalls.
Cross-Country Skiing at McCarthy Hill State Forest
Swooshing through fresh powder and gliding underneath towering trees while snow falls gently all around you is unlike any other experience on earth. Whether cross-country skiing has been on your bucket list or it's a yearly ritual, give the nordic trails at McCarthy Hill State Forest a try. There are about eight miles of marked ski trails, which vary in difficulty but have something for every experience level. Once you've had your fill here, head across the street to Pinnacle State Park for 11 more miles of trails open to skiers and snowshoers in the winter.
Bird Watching at Gleason Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary
Established by a bequest from long-time Chemung Valley Audubon Society members Herbert and Virginia Gleason, this 35-acre sanctuary is closed to motorized traffic to maximize wildlife viewing and bird spotting opportunities. The trail system wanders through groves of pine, hemlocks, and northern hardwoods, with a pond and small streams throughout the area. Birders will delight in checking off as many of the native species as possible, and sightings have included barred and great horned owls, downy woodpecker, eastern wood pewee, scarlet tanager, and a wide variety of warblers and sparrows.
These are just a few of the uncommon adventures you'll find in Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes region of New York. For even more ideas on planning your next trip and where to stay, visit our website.
Originally written for Steuben County.