10 Things to Explore in Schuyler County
County has 44 waterfalls, 20 wineries, hiking trails, art shops and great places to stay, and, of course, world-class racing
By Sandra Scott
Schuyler County is gorge-ous. The distinguishing feature of the place is Watkins Glen State Park but there are other great things to see and do. Within the county there are 44 waterfalls, 20 wineries, hiking trails, art shops and great places to stay; and, of course, world-class racing. There are a variety of accommodations from campgrounds to B&Bs to motels to the waterfront Harbor Hotel right in the center of the village.
1. The Glen: Watkins Glen State Park is a two-mile gorge that descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs and 19 waterfalls. The park placed third on the USA Today Reader’s Choice Poll for best state parks in the US. There are informative storyboards along the Gorge Trail. The Gorge Trail opens in late spring and visitors can walk the Rim Trail. At the top is a campground with an Olympic-size pool. There is an entry/parking fee. An Empire Passport ($65) allows access to most state parks for the season.
2. The Lake: The village of Watkins Glen is located at the south end of Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes and the deepest lake in the state. For those without a water craft there are kayaks, canoes and pontoon rentals. The fishing is great, especially for trout. Take a romantic sailing trip on the Schooner “True Love,” the sailboat that was featured in the 1940 “Philadelphia Story” and “High Society.” Captain Bill’s has sightseeing cruises as well as a do-not-miss dinner cruise.
3. The Race: The original open-road circuit of the Watkins Glen race is on the National Register of Historical Places, and anyone can drive – not race the circuit using the self-guided brochure. Today the purpose-built Watkins Glen International is a Mecca for racing enthusiasts hosting a variety of events from Can-Am, Trans-Am, Formula 5000, and even concerts. “Drive The Glen” allows people to drive their personal vehicle two laps around the 3.4-mile Grand Prix circuit behind a pace vehicle. The International Motor Racing Research Center in the village is basically for research but their video “25 Years of Speed” is worth watching. There is always a racing car on exhibit. On village sidewalks there are plaques honoring notable racers called the Walk of Fame.
4.History: The historic Brick Tavern Museum in Montour Falls is home of the Historical Society and has many exhibits relating to Schuyler County’s history. The 1828 Brick Tavern is on the National Register of Historical Places. There are exhibits dealing with Native Americans, the Victorian Era, musical instruments and textiles. Check out the place beside the door where tavern-goers had to store their guns while in the tavern. Called the Glorious T is a National Historic District in Montour Falls with many 19th century structures. It is a part of the Points of Inspiration Architecture Driving Trail in the Southern Finger Lakes.
5. Arts: The arts are alive and well. There are several galleries including the Franklin Street Gallery and Quintus Gallery which features innovative artworks and offers workshops. The Old Havana Courthouse Theater in Montour Falls offers several original plays each season. During the summer LaFayette Park hosts Tuesday Night Concerts.
6. Nature: Other than Watkins Glen there are many other falls including 449-foot Montour Falls which is right in the village. Havana Glen Park is home to Eagle Falls accessed by a short hiking trail. The 9085-acre Sugar Hill State Forest is home to the 40-mile Six Nations Recreational Trail System is primarily designed for horses and snowmobiles but hiking is allowed. Hiking is popular on the 7.5-mile Queen Catherine Marsh Loop Trail; it is part of the Finger Lakes Trail System. Queen Catherine Montour was an influential prominent leader during the 1700s. There is a one-mile Willow Walk Trail near Montour Falls.
7. Imbibing: Schuyler County is part of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail and the Finger Lakes Beer Trail. Check out Castel Grisch Winery, Silver Spring Winery and Lakewood Vineyards. Finger Lakes Distilling is a NYS Farm Distillery, which means that it is a small operation making a handcrafted whiskey, gin and other spirits. They have viewing windows detailing the distillation process. Grist Iron Brewing Company makes a variety of craft beers.
8. Shopping: O’Shaughnessy Antiques has estate jewelry and does appraisals. T.J Antiques also has handcrafted furniture. Every piece of colonial pottery is unique and stamped by the artist. Skyland Art Barn in Burdett displays an amazing variety of unique items created by 300 different artists. They have Qi Gong classes in the morning and a zen labyrinth. A must for the fishermen is a stop in Moutour Falls at the Rod & Reel where they custom make fishing rods. Don’t forget your pet. Shop for your four-legged friends at Wags to Riches operated by the Humane Society and located in the heart of Watkins Glen.
9. Events: Don’t miss the Cheese Festival with a stop at the family-owned and operated Sunset View Creamery where you can buy artisan cheese year-round and tour its working farm. Many of the wineries host musical groups and other events, including Deck the Halls in November. The Watkins Glen Waterfront is the place for a variety of festivals year-round, including the Cardboard Boat Regatta. There are farm tours, craft shows, and First Fridays. Watkins Glen International hosts a variety of races and concerts.
10. Unique: Farm Sanctuary is the only Farm Sanctuary on the East Coast whereby injured farm animals are taken care of. The mission of Farm Sanctuary is to protect farm animals from what they consider to be cruelty and to promote vegan living. The visitor center has displays of enclosures used in the farming of animals along with a lot of free printed material to peruse. There is a short video explaining their point of view some of which is quite graphic. According to Farm Sanctuary, an ideal world would be one where there were no factory farms or stockyards. They offer guided tours and have reasonable accommodations for two or four people.