Stormy skies hath no fury on Seneca Lake

As serious weather warnings sent New Jerseyans flocking to their nearest grocery store to stock up on batteries, water and canned goods during the weekend of Oct. 3, I was on a four-hour drive to Seneca Lake to stay in the one place you don’t want to be during a storm — a cabin.

Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, theoretically is a very pleasant place to be as fall sets in on the Northeast. Surrounded by gentle autumn breezes, the passing waves of the lake water and the changing colors of the leaves, Seneca Lake is an ideal place for fall-lovers to kick off the festive season.

Since my camping trip to Seneca Lake was booked months in advance and the weather looked unfortunate yet not tragic, we embarked, with some hesitation, on our planned getaway.

Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo
Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

However, staying in Burdett in a Seneca Secrets cabin, a collection of three rustic yet updated cabins on the east side of the lake for $150 a night, in 40-degree weather with only a wood stove to keep warm, wasn’t the way I envisioned waiting out the storm, which, granted, hit New York a lot less hard than it did New Jersey.

Turns out, though, it wasn’t so bad after all, as Seneca Lake’s attractions need a lot more than a few drops of rain and chilly weather to shut down.

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Obviously, the most practical activity to do on the worst day of weather was to cruise some of the area’s 32 wineries, which make up the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Each winery is a three-minute drive or less from the next alongside various roads running parallel to Seneca Lake and generally charge $5 to taste about six wines of your choice.

Although the weather didn’t lend itself well to hanging out on many of the wineries’ lush grounds or exploring their vineyards, it did work for relaxing in the tasting rooms, which reflect the personality of the winery. Plus, knowledgeable winery employees enthusiastically share stories and facts about their house-made wines and sometimes host tours of the production facilities.

Most wouldn’t think of a farmer’s market being the go-to place for a rainy day, but luckily, the Windmill Farm and Craft Market, about 25 minutes from Burdett through a relaxing country drive, primarily houses its vendors indoors within four buildings.

Vendors include those that sell baked goods, produce, antiques, home goods, clothing, jewelry and food items to 8,000 to 10,000 people every week, and have been doing so for the past 28 years.

Rain or shine, everyone needs to eat, and a full day of wine tasting and shopping will make any tourist crave a hearty meal. Restaurants and wineries in Seneca Lake love their local goods, and the Stonecat Café, an acclaimed organic regional restaurant nested in Hector, is no exception.

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Open for lunch, brunch and dinner for the past 17 years, the Stonecat Café regularly hosts live music within its homey restaurant, including a jazz band during their weekly Sunday jazz brunches. As the season changes, the menu does as well, making for a truly unique autumn meal at its tables. Before you leave, make sure you check out their herb, flower and vegetable garden in the backyard, which remains bright and buzzing no matter the weather.

Although Watkins Glen State Park, the third-place pick in the USA TODAY Readers’ Choice Poll for Best State Park in the U.S., is best enjoyed in pleasant weather, there was no way that I was missing the 19 waterfalls of the park descended from the 200-foot cliffs along the two-mile gorge trail.

Through the trail, visitors can wander over and under waterfalls and through the cool spray of the Cavern Cascade. In the autumn, the surrounding forest is in full effect, presenting an enviable and colorful backdrop to the flowing waterfalls.

Right around the corner from Watkins Glen State Park is downtown Watkins Glen, which contains a few charming streets of turn-of-the-century homes as well as little shops such as O’Shaughnessy Antiques, a quirky vintage shop with antiques, estate jewelry, vintage designer clothing, vintage books, home furnishings and other odd finds from Louise O’Shaughnessy.

Other shops on the strip include the Fingerlakes Fiber Yarn Store, O Susannah Quilts and Gift, Watkins Glen Sporting Goods, Putty Jug, an antiques dealer, Coins Bought, a coin dealer, Country Haven Treasures, a furniture store, and Village Variety Shop, a used book store.

Seneca Lake, a haven for all things autumn with its changing fall foliage, quiet drives, independently owned wineries and shops and quaint cabins overlooking the lake, is a place best enjoyed in the pleasantry of sunshine. However, a little rain didn’t get in my way of getting my first taste of the season in the Finger Lakes — and since you won’t have a storm blocking your trip, nothing should get in the way of your visit to this haven of fall.

SENECA LAKE ATTRACTIONS

Stay at Seneca Secrets, a collection of three rustic, yet updated cabins located on the east side of the lake in Burdett for $150 a night, which include two rooms, two full-size beds, one bathroom, a kitchen and living room. Visit senecasecrets.com or call 908-922-8518.

Taste wines on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, which include 32 wineries that are generally located about three minutes from the next. Prices vary per tasting, but usually, wineries charge about $5 to sample six wines of your choice. Visitsenecalakewine.com or call 877-536-2717.

Shop at the Windmill Farm and Craft Market, which has over 200 vendors selling baked goods, produce, antiques, home goods, clothing, jewelry and food items. It is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every Saturday until Dec. 12. Visitthewindmill.com or call 315-536-3032.

Hike through Watkins Glen State Park, which features 19 waterfalls descended from 200-foot cliffs along a two-mile gorge trail. Vehicle entrance fee is $8 and park is open year-round. Visit nysparks.com/parks/142 or call 607-535-4511.

Wander through downtown Watkins Glen, which contains a few charming streets of turn-of-the-century homes as well as little shops. Visit watkinsglenchamber.com or call 800-607-4552.

Why Seneca Lake is the Perfect Fall Getaway

I worship the fall.

I actually feel like October is my real birthday month, when I can pumpkin pick, apple pick, watch horror movies, drink fall beers and get fake-scared on haunted hay rides all month long (My actual birthday is in February). I like October so much that I usually refuse to travel during those 31 days, being that for the only four weeks out of the year, I actually prefer to stay in my kingdom of fall foliage in the forests of northwestern New Jersey. This rule has led me to book three trips cross-country from November to December. Whoops.

Anyway, following a mishap at the travel agent where my family left holding no confirmations being that we couldn’t agree on a single getaway, a travel savior came into focus.

Rich, my dad’s lawyer friend, who he does plumbing for.

Rich has a daughter, Amy, who runs some rustic cabins up in Seneca Lake, New York, which is the deepest of the Finger Lakes. I’ve never been to the Finger Lakes, barely ever been to upstate New York (too pretentious) but I figure it’s gotta be pretty nice in the fall, I mean this is a lake, so I agree to leave my short-lived hometown paradise for a precious weekend.

Turns out, Seneca Lake a fall empire.

Although this was unknown during our four-hour drive north starting at 9:00 pm, it being so dark out that we couldn’t find our cabin which we were 20 feet away from, it was immediately obvious when we woke up and stepped out the door. All around, we were surrounded by fall foliage, autumn-themed wines and beers, cool outdoor activities and farmer’s markets. If you’re looking for a weekend getaway (because you don’t live in the middle of nowhere, obviously) here’s the reasons why you should head to Seneca Lake, New York.

1. The Seneca Lake Wine Trail because honestly, who doesn’t love being toted to 32 wineries, all within a three-minute drive of the next? The Wine Trail, which can trace its winemaking history back to 1866, is composed of wineries lining the east and west sides of Seneca Lake, full of beautiful fall foliage in a serene environment. Most wine tastings, in which you can taste five to seven local wines while overlooking Seneca Lake, cost $3 to $7 (generally) making for a pretty cheap yet blurry afternoon out. With the variety of personality that each vineyard exhibits, you can’t really get bored (or sober).

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2. The Windmill Farm & Craft Market is the first craft market in upstate New York, with the numbers to prove it – they receive an average of 9,000 visitors a week. With about 200 shops, they sell all kinds of cool stuff like leather goods, homemade pastries, jewelry, knitwear, toys and games and a million other things, mostly being sold by the Amish. Even though the market itself lies about 30 minutes away from from the other main attractions of Seneca Lake, it is worth the scenic and relaxing drive up the New York countryside.

3. Watkins Glen State Park may cost $8 to get in, but it is also, and rightly so, the most famous of the New York state parks due to the 19 waterfalls cascading down 200-foot cliffs within two miles. Hikers can travel the trail, equipped with their walking shoes, to capture this truly spellbinding winding walk. You can’t miss the spray of Cavern Cascade or the various pools, especially in this season made for the outdoors.

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4. Finger Lakes National Forestbecause what’s the outdoors without a hearty hike? Check out this park, which features 30 miles of interconnecting trails that will take you to pastures, forests, ravines and gorges. This is especially a great spot if you’re equipped with a horse, mountain bike or binoculars (for some quality wildlife watching).

5. Boating on Seneca Lake is an obvious must-do when you’re staying on, umm, Seneca Lake. If you’re not lucky enough to have a nearby friend with a boat like we did (sorry), then don’t miss the opportunity to travel on an uncrowded body of water by booking a trip on one of the excursions. Try out Schooner Excursions, which go for $29 to $49 depending on the time of day of the cruise.

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