Essential CNY: A Summer Day Trip in the Finger Lakes
The first LivableCNY day trip starts with two Central New York institutions, and then a drive through a postcard Finger Lakes village on our way to a jewel of a State Park. We stroll a world-class university, and finish at a roadside barbecue stand before returning home.
July and August in Central New York are glorious. While the West Coast suffers through drought, the threat of wildfires and highway gridlock, the South swelters in the tropical heat and humidity, we enjoy summer the way it’s portrayed in nostalgic books and films.
This day trip gives you an essential CNY summer experience with three meals out, a bit of walking, and views of the Finger Lakes. Starting in Syracuse, we wind through Skaneateles, Moravia, and Homer before returning to the Salt City. You’ll need a cooler to keep your picnic lunch fresh, plates and cups, a small cutting board, and a bread knife. Bring a camera to document the hike, and wear good walking shoes. Bring a light sweater for the evening (maybe).
8 am Breakfast at The All Night Egg Plant (5781 Bridge St, East Syracuse). It’s a little kitschy and always crowded, but this is where you go for a hearty breakfast. The online reviews say the pancakes are best, we like eggs over with corned beef hash. Get there hungry enough and it all tastes good. Smile at the waitresses and they’ll smile back. Before you know it you’re a regular and they treat you like an old friend.
9:30 am Shopping at Wegmans (6789 E Genesee St). When our publisher was in graduate school, he met a newly-arrived Australian at the Ithaca airport. They shared a ride to the Cornell campus and on the way the Aussie said “Tell me about this super market Wegmans, the folks back home who visit here say its amazing!”
That’s right, CNY; you live near a world-famous grocery chain. Sometimes it takes someone from far away to help us see what’s right in front of us.
For this day trip we recommend staying in the brick-floor section of the store. Get some cold cuts, maybe a few pre-made salads or some olives from the Mediterranean Bar, and two CNY cheeses—a Lively Run chevre and an Adams Reserve cheddar. Add a few bottles of water (for the hike) then pop over to Liquor City in the Wegmans Plaza for a bottle of Swedish Hill Chardonnay, or a Dr. Konstantin Frank Semi Dry Riesling.
10:00 Drive through Skaneateles on the way to Filmore Glen State Park in Moravia. We recommend parking soon after entering the village and walking to Patisserie (4 Hannum St) just west of the Skaneateles village center, to pick up a loaf of stretch bread. If you’re lucky, they’ll have some loaves just out of the oven, and the rest of your drive will be perfumed by the smell of fresh bread.
Walk back to your car along the lake (maybe even take a detour onto the long jetty) to enjoy the view, then get back on the road and drive along the lake before turning south west to connect to NY State Route 38A into Moravia.
Driving the back roads is important because that’s where the reality of the CNY economy becomes clear. The Finger Lakes act like the much larger Great Lakes to generate local lake effect precipitation making this area verdant and fertile. The rolling terrain is farm country, and as you drive you’ll see acres of corn, beans, and alfalfa framing the waters.
11:45 Hike stage 1, Upper Pavillion. Park your car in the wide open lot, then bring your minimal picnic kit to the upper pavillion for lunch. We recommend keeping things light so you can hit a trail after a quick bite.
12:30-2:30 (or so) Hike a trail. You have three choices, the Gorge, South Rim and North Rim trails. For our money, the Gorge Trail is the most beautiful. The same glaciers that carved the lakes also gouged out many beautiful gorges throughout CNY, and this trail takes you through one of the best. In just over a mile you cross 11 bridges and traverse a breathtaking series of micro-climates. Take your time. The good life is made of experiences like the one you’ll have here. The Gorge trail connects to the South Rim trail at the 8th bridge and if you want some variety on your walk you could make the 300 foot climb to the South Rim trail. This is considerably less scenic than the Gorge trail, so if you want beautiful views, stay close to the water. We’ve budgeted 2 hours for the walk because you should stop often just to listen to the water, take photos, and enjoy every bit of the changing landscape.
3:00 Poke around the park. After the hike you’ll likely need to freshen up. To cool off your feet you could wade into the swimming pond under the stone bridge, and there are bathroom facilities near the swimming area and in the Park Pavillion. There’s a replica of the log cabin Millard Filmore (13th President of the US, namesake of the park) was born in standing not far from the parking lot. It’s minimal but interesting, and seeing how he lived makes it clear why Filmore installed the first bath tubs in the White House.
3:30 Stroll the Cornell Campus. During the summer the Cornell Dairy Bar serves some of the region’s best ice cream in the shop in Stocking Hall. The Department of Food Science makes high-end research delicious. Enter the campus on Tower road up by the veterinary college.
Park your car across the street from the abstract milk bottle sculpture, and have a scoop of whatever the newest flavor is. If you get it in a bowl you can sit and savor, otherwise get your ice cream in a cone so you can walk. Stroll down Tower Road toward the clock tower, check out the specimen gardens outside the Ag Quad, then make a right at Day Hall and head over to the Johnson Museum of Art. When we tested this day trip, we stumbled into the installation Leo Villareal: COSMOS, a stunning exhibit made of 12,000 LED lights installed in the ceiling above the Mallin Sculpture Court. The tribute to Cornell professor Carl Sagan is mesmerizing, night or day. Everyone in the test group said this was a memorable and unique experience, and we actually went back the next night to get the full effect.
For an equally breathtaking view, head up to the 5th floor of the museum. The Asian Art gallery is another one-of-a-kind CNY experience where you can be looking at 4,000 year old cuneiform tablets, then turn around and look miles down Cayuga Lake. Architect I.M. Pei understood that the museum’s site was itself an artistic treasure and he designed the building to frame spectacular views of the campus and the lake.
5:30 drive to Bob’s Barbecue in Homer. We’re willing to bet that every summer weekend, somewhere in Central New York, there’s a church, or volunteer fire brigade, or other type of local group holding a chicken barbecue to raise money, and every one of those is using the famous “Cornell sauce” invented by Dr. Robert Baker. The vinegary salty marinade is now ubiquitous in CNY, and to us it’s a summer essential. Dr. Baker’s family sold barbecue chicken at the New York State Fair for decades, and that’s why the other name for the marinade is ‘State Fair Sauce.’
For our day trip, we leave Ithaca on Route 13, connect to Route 281 and drive through Cortland into the village of Homer to find Bob’s Barbecue. This roadside barbecue shack sells pulled pork and ribs, but we recommend getting the classic half-chicken and a couple of sides. Bob’s has picnic tables on the large lawn next to the cook house, and there’s a covered pavilion for days when the weather warrants a roof.
After dinner, you’ll be ready to call it a day. There’s something wonderfully exhausting about being active outside, and with a stomach full of barbecued chicken the time to to relax is fast approaching. If you live in Syracuse (where this day trip began) you’re in luck. Bob’s is a quick 5 minutes from Interstate 81 and on to home—maybe to have a relaxing drink with friends so you can tell them what they missed.
Check back soon for our next CNY Essential day trip through Cazenovia and Utica, and back to Syracuse for the national pastime.