[Note: This is Part Two of a three part series entitled: “First World Problems: Fulltime RVers Edition.” Part One concluded with our intrepid travelers realizing they were driving far too many miles and trying to visit far too many places after spending far too much time in Canada running from one town to another, all while caring for a sick dog. Not to be deterred by things like “common sense,” or “thoughtfulness,” our heroes soldiered on, heading into the Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York and made more dumb decisions that served only to compound and worsen their self-inflicted exhaustion…]

Learning Another Lesson

One thing we’ve figured out through this experience is that if we’re going to stay at commercial parks, we need to make sure they are are very close to things we want to see and do. If we’re camped in a glorified parking lot, but we’re within walking or biking distance of some great attractions (like we were in Saint AndrewsLunenburg, and New Orleans), we’re happy. But if we’re packed in like sardines AND we have to drive 40 minutes to get to anything, it makes the whole visit significantly less enjoyable.

The campground I booked for the Finger Lakes seemed like a good option because (a) it was centrally located between Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake, and (b) it was cheap. Because it was their low season, and because we are members of Passport America, we paid about half price throughout our stay. I had considered staying at Sampson State Park nearby, but it would have cost more per night for electric only. Knowing what we now know, we would stay at the state park, but at the time, paying less for full hook ups seemed like a better option. What I failed to consider was how far things were from our campground. Many of the attractions we wanted to see were at the northern or southern tips of the lakes, meaning, once again, we were driving all over the place.

Map of Finger Lakes Region with pins and stars.
The red pin was our campground. The yellow stars show various places we planned to visit while in the area.

And when we were done driving around all day every day, instead of coming home to a nice, quiet state park environment, we came home to yet another glorified parking lot.

The incredible view from our picnic table. Is there anything more relaxing to come home to after a long day of driving than your neighbor’s gigantic fifth wheel? Yes, Laura, there is. It’s called a state park. You should have stayed there, dumbass.

Making matters even more frustrating, our campground was always half empty, but for unknown reasons, the owners kept piling people on top of one other. There were about 12 parallel spots, but instead of spreading people out in spots 1,3, 5, 7, etc, they kept bunching people at the ends – so there were always RVs in spots 1, 2, and 3 and spots 10, 11, and 12, while the whole middle section was empty.

RVs parked parallel to one another at the top and bottom of a hill
The specific RVs would come and go, but the occupied sites were the same the entire time we were there.

And for several days of our stay, the folks who parked right next to us just happened to be dog show people… they travel around bringing their dogs to compete in these shows. And they had TEN dogs with them. In an RV. TEN. Oh, and the dogs were often off leash because if you have ten dogs in an RV, why would you need to keep them under control? What could go wrong????

X-Ray of broken leg

Where’s my Xanax?????

They happened to be very nice people, but I’m going to internet shame them anyway because really? TEN dogs in an RV and you’re not gonna comply with the campground’s rules and keep them on a leash? And no, I didn’t report it. I’ve heard about those dog show people…I’m reasonably confident the phrase “snitches get stitches” originated in the dog show circuit. I’d much rather passively aggressively shame them on my website.

Adding insult to injury, as we were sitting inside one evening, enjoying the lovely vistas of a Class A on our driver’s side and a Class C on our passenger side, I fire up Instagram and notice that fellow RV bloggers Watsons Wander, who were camping on public lands out west, had posted a picture from the inside of their RV looking out their front door.

So I look at the picture on my phone, then the view out my front door, then the picture on my phone, then the view out my front door, and I realize that I’m living in some weird Public Service Announcement / RV Life meme:

“What you think living in an RV will be like”:

Screen cap of Instagram photo of cliffs and sky outside RV door

“What living in an RV will actually be like”:

View from inside RV out front door showing another RV parked nearby. And yes, that IS our neighbor’s sewer hose that greeted us every time we stepped outside. Sweet!!

Anyway, when not tripping over beauty pageant dogs and coveting our Instagram friends’ campsites, we checked out the Finger Lakes Region….

Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen is the most popular park in the region for good reason. It encompasses a huge gorge with towering cliffs and some nineteen waterfalls. There are multiple trails one can hike in the park, but the real star of the show is the Gorge Trail. This relatively easy trail winds right along the water, taking visitors under, over, and sometimes through the various waterfalls. Whoever designed the trail is a genius. They took the naturally occurring elements – cliffs, waterfalls, and greenery, and brilliantly added in human elements – bridges, walkways, and stone walls to make it easily accessible and safe. Everything looks natural and perfectly fits the larger landscape….

Walkway on the Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park in New York

Of course, the main attractions are the waterfalls and this one is the most popular of all:

The Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park in New York

It looks like something out of Rivendell from Lord of the Rings.

You can actually walk behind it which is pretty cool…

The Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park in New York

There are numerous photo-worthy waterfalls, each unique and beautiful in its own way.

Waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park in New York

Waterfall at Watkins Glen State Park in New York

Waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park in New York

We visited the park twice. Once to scope it out and figure out what time of day to come back for better photos, and a second time with the DSLR and a tripod so we could attempt to capture some motion blur photos. (Photo Tip: Go on a cloudy day. If you go when it’s sunny, the light is really harsh inside the gorge and it makes taking photos very difficult.)

Waterfall at Watkins Glen State Park in New York Another standout park in the region is Taughannock Falls State Park – which boasts the largest waterfall in the area at 215 feet. Unfortunately, when we were there, there had been zero rain in weeks, so the waterfall was more like a water trickle.

Waterfall at Taughannock Falls State Park in New York

Still a cool place, but undoubtedly more impressive when it’s been raining.

Sauders

Sauders Store in Seneca, Falls New York

It’s rare that we get excited about a grocery store, but Sauders in Seneca Falls, New York is no ordinary grocery store. It is owned and operated by Mennonites, which makes no difference at all except that most everything they sell is homemade or brought in from local farmers and producers.

In addition to fruit and vegetables grown just down the street, you can get every type of bulk spice, grain, and candy known to man…

Jars of jam at Sauders Country Store in Seneca, Falls New York
Jams….
Bags of flour and grains at Sauders in Seneca Falls, NY
Flour….
Spices at Sauders Store in Seneca, Falls New York
Spices….

You can also buy a five pound bag of egg noodles because, as my friends at Sauders have accurately concluded, everything is better when served over egg noodles…

Large bag of egg noodles at Sauders Store in Seneca, Falls New York

Additionally, you can buy an entire bag of pie filling….

Bags of pie filling at Sauders

…for those nights when you just want to sit down with a bag of pie filling and a spoon and rail about the injustice of commercial campgrounds…

Anyway, if you find yourself in the area, it is well worth stopping by for provisions. We bought all kinds of stuff and everything we bought, we loved. They also have a deli where you can get a very filling, very inexpensive, lunch.

Wineries

We visited several of the Finger Lakes wineries while we were in the area. A couple stood out…

Three Brothers was particularly unique, and we could see where it would be a very fun place to come on a weekend with friends.

Entrance to Three Brothers Winery

The estate houses three independent wineries and a craft brewery. Each one is in a separate building and each has its own theme. You can go to a particular winery and pay for an individual tasting or you can buy this “tasting passport” for $15 (it says $25, but it was actually $15), and get five tastings at each of the wineries and the brewery.

Tasting Passport at Three Brothers Winery

The only downside is two of the three vineyards produce super sweet wines, so if you’re not a fan of dessert wines, it might not be worth it. On the other hand, it’s kindof a party place, with one place offering “wine slushies,” so if you enjoy eating Advil by the handful, you can definitely make a day of it. If none of that sounds appealing, the onsite suds option, War Horse Brewery, was excellent… good beers, fun atmosphere, nice folks.

Warhorse Brewery

Hermann J. Wiemer was the best vineyard we visited while in the area (Thanks for the recommendation, Molly!)

Hermann J. Wiemer Winery
Tastings are held in a beautiful renovated barn

The location is very pretty, the tasting is individualized, and the staff are really knowledgeable and personable. While chatting with the host there, we mentioned that we were from the DC area which prompted him to tell us that the winery had just been featured in a Washington Post article about vineyards in the Finger Lakes region. I mean, they didn’t have wine slushies or anything, but apparently they’re pretty legit.

Wagner Vineyards was another place that produced both wines and beers on the premises.

Entrance to Wagner Winery & Brewery

We liked everything we tried and very much enjoyed the tasting, but we came to the conclusion that visiting places like these during the week in their offseason can be kinda depressing.

Empty picnic tables next to Seneca Lake at Wagner Winery

As much as we like time to ourselves when we’re out in nature or at a campground, it’s nice to have a buzz of activity around you when you’re at a restaurant or a bar or a winery. Places like Wagner and Three Brothers are SO big, it’s obvious when they’re empty and they can seem a bit depressing. If we were to visit again, we’d try to go during the summer or on a weekend. (I know… we’re hard to please…)

Darien Lake State Park

After a week in the Finger Lakes, we headed farther west to Darien Lake State Park. After weeks of sub-par campgrounds (other than Crown Point), we were thrilled when we got to our site. It was everything we had been missing: Spacious, quiet, beautiful, spacious, quiet, beautiful, spacious, quiet…. you get the idea.

Here was the view from our campsite over the “busy” weekend:

Campground at Darien Lake State Park
See all that grass between our space and the road? That was OUR SPACE! YESSSSSSS!!!!!

And here was the view from our table once Monday rolled around…

Campsite at Darien Lake State Park

I mean, I’m not gonna lie, it was hard to get motivated to write when I no longer had a glorious sewer hose to inspire me, but somehow I found a way.

The whole park was just wonderful… well maintained, green, quiet, full of walking trails….

Darien Lake State Park, New York Pedestrian bridge at Darien Lake State Park, New York

Darien Lake State Park, New York

Simply lovely, and just what the doctor ordered….

We had planned to drive to Niagara Falls while we were at Darien Lake, but exhaustion was really setting in by that point and, somehow, a teeny tiny bit of common sense took hold and we made the good decision to pass on it for the time being. Presumably Niagara Falls will still be there when we circle back around, so it was added to the “to-do” list while we enjoyed a couple days of R&R at the park.

Next up: A lightening quick trip through Ohio and then into Indiana and Illinois.

19 COMMENTS

  1. I’m glad you finally made it to a state park now that you’ve paid your parking lot penance. Are you heading south for the winter? Sounds like its already getting cold in them northern parts (I say as I type this from Florida).

    • Yes! We’ll are southbound for the Gulf Coast over the next several weeks. We have, so far, remained in a nice band of 70 degree weather, but it’s looking like that will be ending soon, so we need to keep moving. And for the most part, we’ll be spending our time in state parks going forward… or, as much as I can make it work, anyway! Are you guys staying in Florida?

  2. Other than the crowded camp ground conditions, the rest of the pictures look beautiful! Absolutely love the warrrfalls and can’t go wrong with picturesque wineries, either!

    • It really is a very nice area, and the state parks were wonderful! We were very impressed with how beautiful and well maintained they all were. Watkins Glen is really incredible. I had seen a number of photos of it over the years and it really lived up to expectations. I’d never heard of Taughannock or Darien, but they were both gorgeous as well.

  3. Your waterfall photos are beautiful. In the beginning of our travels, I used to be irritated with RV Parks but eventually I realized everything in this lifestyle is temporary. Amanda has been staying in some stunning country…. some of my favorites. And trust me, the pictures don’t capture the true magnitude of the amazing landscape. Once you experience it, you’ll understand why many of us don’t venture east of the Rockies any more.

    • Oh yes, I can totally imagine. Not only are the landscapes so incredible out that way, but the availability of huge tracts of BLM land and national parks and forests will make “getting away from it all” so much easier. I am buried in the planning stages right now for our travels in Utah and Colorado next year. We really cannot wait to get out there! (And don’t worry – I’ll likely be hitting you up for advice as I continue to dig in. 🙂

  4. Oh Laura, I can feel your pain as I sit seething in the Freightliner parking lot.

    So glad your new digs are bringing you some bliss. Looking at your pictures definitely help calm ne down.

    • Ugh, yeah, I’ve been following your story and I can’t even imagine the level of aggravation. We’ve had to take our rig in twice for routine maintenance and just having to be out of it for a day is a pain, much less having it drag on for days and not knowing what the issue is, and dealing with non-communicative people who only work til 5. Yup….I can only imagine how you’re feeling right about now. I think it might be why god invented wine, actually. 😉 Hope things look up soon!

  5. Sounds like my out-the-door view photo came at just the wrong time for you! If it makes you feel any better, we spent last week at an RV park with a view of our neighbor’s sewer hose…so yeah, it’s not all roses even in southern Utah. Also, we stayed at Sampson State Park a few years ago and found it incredibly crowded and ugly. We were there during peak season and every single one of the 200+ was full. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best experience.

    • Yeah, I think so much of this is about balance. We had stayed in way too many commercial parks this summer and not enough state parks and we were just thoroughly fed up. But things are much better now (as we sit in a lovely COE park…) That’s interesting about Sampson. I had read Nina’s review on Wheeling It, and it sounded like a decent place to stay if you were in the right spots (she said some were much better than others…) but it sounds like they may have been there during a quiet period while you were not. Either way, what we’re really looking forward to is getting out west and finding those incredible wide open spaces you always find. THAT is gonna be awesome!

  6. Oh, Laura….you make me laugh! I agree….we hate commercial parks. I would rather have less amenities and a large, private site. We almost always stay in State Parks, NP’s, COE parks, unless we’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry.
    Check out FL state parks….they are gorgeous! And the BLM land out west is awesome.

    Your pics are beautiful!

    • Oh, we LOVED the Florida state parks we stayed in earlier this year. We were at Grayton Beach, Suwannee, and Three Rivers and loved them all. They are just so beautiful and well maintained. And we are currently sitting in our very first COE park and we are so incredibly happy. Our site is enormous, we’ve got privacy, lots of trees, and access to a lovely lake. All of the things we care about and none of the things we don’t care about (activity centers, etc). So yes, we are absolutely going to be prioritizing staying in these kinds of places going forward. They just make us happy!

  7. You’re enumerating so clearly (and with illustrations!) the challenges of RV life. I am SO ridiculously picky about where we stay. I don’t care if it’s only for a night, I want it to be wonderful. Hahahahaha. Truly, most of the time it is wonderful, because we follow the rules that you’ve discovered — stay in state parks/COE parks/national parks/somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. Or stay in an RV park if it’s really close to something we want to do. We’ve had neighbors inches from our rig (seriously!) even in state parks, but the park was so beautiful we were able to overlook it, and hiking trails were right out our door. And we’ve stayed in what looked like a parking lot, but walking distance to the ferry to San Francisco, and it was fabulous. We roll with whatever seems fitting for the situation.
    Your photos of Watkins Glen are the most beautiful I’ve seen. And Darien Lake looks idyllic!

    • YES! Exactly… I don’t know why it’s taken us so long to figure this out and come up with a set of rules for campgrounds. We’ve had mileage rules in place since the start, and those have served us well, but for whatever reason, I’ve just focused on finding campgrounds that fit along our route or were in our budget and kind of disregarded all these other things. Hopefully prioritizing these factors will make everything that much more enjoyable going forward. It is incredible what a difference being in a “nice campground” – whatever that may mean in a given location – makes!

  8. Beautiful photos! Those cans on the Sauders’ shelves?? Have you seen Sleeping with the Enemy? If you head to Niagara Falls, try Inniskillin!

    • Hmmmmm, I did see that movie, but it was a LONG time ago and my memory is not so good… you’re gonna have to give me some more hints….. Did the heroine of the movie kill her controlling husband with a bottle of jam?????

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