[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 Andrews, Lunenburg, 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.
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.
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.
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????
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”:
“What living in an RV will actually be like”:
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….
Of course, the main attractions are the waterfalls and this one is the most popular of all:
It looks like something out of Rivendell from Lord of the Rings.
You can actually walk behind it which is pretty cool…
There are numerous photo-worthy waterfalls, each unique and beautiful in its own way.
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.)
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.
Still a cool place, but undoubtedly more impressive when it’s been raining.
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…
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…
Additionally, you can buy an entire bag of pie filling….
…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.
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.
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.
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.
Hermann J. Wiemer was the best vineyard we visited while in the area (Thanks for the recommendation, Molly!)
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.
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.
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:
And here was the view from our table once Monday rolled around…
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….
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.