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Summer vacation experiences in your own backyard

Outings in the Finger Lakes and beyond

Are you ready for some incredible experiences in and around Rochester? You don’t have to travel far to find beautiful areas to explore. Our upstate New York backyard has the Finger Lakes, the Genesee Valley, the Grand Canyon of the East—Letchworth State Park—and, to the west, Niagara Falls. Outdoor adventure is ours to explore, with lakes, hiking and biking trails, stunning views, and waterfalls at every turn. 

With a lifetime of exploring combined with seven years producing and leading adventures for A-List Adventures, I’ve honed my knowledge of vacation-like experiences. I know beautiful areas and places to visit for stunning views, delicious farm-to-table food, farm-to-glass beverages, and immersive local vibes. In my experience, locals know the best spots, the shortcuts, the scenic route, the tips that are not in the guidebooks. Input from locals is integral to the adventures I create and recommend. 

I’m sharing four of my personal favorite vacation-like experiences in Upstate New York with insider information and tips for the best ways to enjoy them.

The Niagara River Gorge 

The hiking trails of the Niagara River Gorge are one of the hidden treasures of the Western New York Region. You’ll feel like you are in Costa Rica, but you’re still in New York State. Wave across the striking blue-green water to the Canadians as you hike along and above the roaring rapids. The water is naturally this color due to dissolved salts from the limestone bed. The gorge is a seven-mile long, 300-foot deep chasm along the US–Canada Border, downstream of Niagara Falls. There are stunning views from hiking trails on both sides of the river. The American side is located in Niagara Falls, an hour and a half west of Rochester and a half hour north of Buffalo. 

A favorite scenic trail among locals is the Whirlpool Rapids Trail. A large flat rock extends to the water’s edge providing an oasis with wading pools, scenic views, and close proximity to the rapids. It’s a peaceful spot to sit and soak in nature’s healing vibes. This is a three-and-a-half-mile hike, which will take about two hours down and back. Park your car in the free lot at Whirlpool State Park, then walk toward the building, where you’ll find the trailhead. Walk right on the trail and, after just a few minutes, look to the left for the stairs leading down into the gorge. It’s not well-marked and easy to miss. Walk down the 400 stone steps to the bottom of the gorge where you can hike along the water’s edge. At the base of the stairs, turn left (water will be on your right). When you get to the flat rock, that is your turn-around point.

Grimes Glen 

The Naples area is full of glens and gullies. Grimes Glen is easily accessible if you know where to find it. A short hike brings you to three waterfalls and crystal-clear pools framed by majestic hemlock trees and shale bluffs towering up to 200 feet. The trail at the beginning of the gorge has a bridge that crosses the creek you’ll eventually be walking in. Expect to get your feet wet.  Further down the trail, you’ll walk right in the water to get to the waterfalls, which are each around sixty feet high. I recommend sneakers that you don’t mind getting wet or hiking sandals for this adventure. Also wear a bathing suit if you want to dunk in the cool water beneath the falls. 

The first two waterfalls are easy to get to. A shallow swimming area is at the base of the second. Most people stop at the second falls. You have to do some strenuous and possibly dangerous climbing to see the third waterfall. This hike will take about an hour to the second falls and back. Add time to swim, wade, take photos, and hang out at the base of a waterfall. This is definitely a vacation-like experience. Find the Grimes Glen trailhead at the end of Vine Street, which intersects Main Street in Naples. The small parking lot is often full. Additional parking, at the municipal lot in town, adds a few minutes of walking.

Keuka Lake Outlet Trail 

The scenic Keuka Lake Outlet Trail runs between Keuka and Seneca Lakes. Along the seven-and-a-half mile trail, you’ll see two waterfalls, old mill site ruins, and rocky ravines. The trail follows a railroad corridor that traced a former canal dug along the natural drainage of Keuka Lake Outlet. 

The trail is mostly gravel, so if you are biking, you’ll want a hybrid or mountain bike. If you want the full trail experience covering fifteen miles round-trip, you can start on either end of the trail. If you are traveling from Rochester, the closest parking area is the Penn Yan Boat Launch in Penn Yan. Another cool aspect to this trail is that there is a brewery at each end. Laurentide Brewery is a few streets away from the Penn Yan parking area, and Seneca Stag Brewing is a little beyond the trail’s end in Dresden. At each end of the trail, you can put the names of the breweries in your phone’s GPS to find them. Even though they are close, you don’t see them from the trail. Whether you like beer or not, both are great FLX destinations to visit with other beverage options, great outdoor spaces, food, and live music. For an off-trail detour that promises a delicious treat, visit Spotted Duck Creamery, renowned for organic farm-to-cone ice cream. It’s one mile from Seneca Stag on Route 54. Be careful of traffic for this portion of riding off-trail. Additional options include a number of fantastic beverage trail spots on Seneca Lake that you can drive to by car after your hike or bike ride.

Honeoye Lake Kayaking Adventure 

Honeoye Lake is not exclusive to having an outfitter offering kayak and SUP (stand-up paddle boards) rentals; however, this lake has something unique. Birdhouse Brewing offers farm-to-table food, live music, and a great outdoor space with a path that leads from the brewery to the lake. There are kayaks for rent through Honeoye Lake Paddle Adventures. HLPA rents single and double kayaks and SUPs. They can deliver your rentals to the launch, or you can use a provided wheelie cart to get them to the water (which I highly recommend). It’s part of the fun to enjoy the scenic path (just a ten-minute walk) from the brewery to the water. Create your own kayak brewery tour and paddle to Twisted Rail Honeoye, another brewery on the lake. When at the kayak launch, look for the large white roof along the left side of the lake. You’ll see patio umbrellas when you get closer. It will take you about forty-five minutes to paddle there from the launch. On the right side of the deck is a shore area you can pull your kayaks onto. Park them there and walk up the deck. A swimming and a picnic area are near the launch. The Birdhouse Brewing music schedule is posted on Facebook but typically is Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. The A-List Adventure event series hosts group adventures in Upstate New York infused with local food and beverage experiences. If you want to join a group of like-minded people, have a guide, and enjoy exclusive tours and tastings, find the A-List Adventure schedule at rochesteralist.com.

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