Our family's annual summer camping trip. We don't always go to the same place every year, and this year, we are headed to the Finger Lakes, a new destination for me, even though I grew up in Upstate NY.
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Our last stop on our way out of town was lunch at Ithaca Beer Co. We went on the recommendation of a friend, and it did not disappoint. It's a microbrewery with a restaurant, both indoor and outdoor seating. The patio looked tempting but with the kids, we opted to sit inside. My litmus test for a new restaurant is the burger, and the burger was good, especially with my Flower Power beer. This place gets a thumbs-up for having good food, being kid-friendly and having great customer service.
Oop! I fell behind. This is the green building at the Cornell Botanical Garden. If you are into gardens and horticulture even just a little bit, this place is worth a visit. The grounds are spread out away from the welcome center but we stuck to the gardens directly behind. This was a stop on the way out of town, and we knew the kids wouldn't have the patience for a long stroll. (Tip: First hour of parking is free and there is no admission fee.) At the gardens, we found a healing herbs section, a section devoted to cooking herbs and one all about plants found in literature, which was fun! If you're interested in a particular plant, there's an interactive touch screen in the lobby that allows you to search the gardens and get information about each plant. If you have time, do go beyond the welcome center!
The highlight of our camping trip was visiting the Watkins Glen Gorge. It's actually a very short hike, only about 1.5 miles, though it is not one you want to rush through. For starters, the waterfall makes for slippery conditions. I'm not going to lie-- hiking it with three kids under the age of 9 was a little nerve-wracking for me, with constant reminders to not run, to not climb the rail, etc etc. But I think the kids were duly impressed with the awesomeness of the gorge and Henry, the geology nerd, was able to explain all the natural phenomena that shaped the gorge.
Some trail notes:
Like I said, the trail is quite short. You'll want to take your time because of the wet conditions, but also because it is just so amazing to look at and be in. We were there on a weekday, before many schools were out for summer break, so it was not too crowded. I've heard there can be throngs of people on the weekends. Plan accordingly. There is currently construction going on at the bottom of the Gorge and some areas have restricted access.
There are two main ways to enter the gorge. If you are not staying in the park, you enter at street level and pay an admission fee ($8, I think, but don't quote me on that) and walk up to the start of the Gorge trail. If you are inside the park, you enter just past the swimming pool. (If you are camping or swimming, admission is included in the fee.) From there, you can walk down to the bottom and start from there, or you can take Couch's Staircase. I did not see the point in walking down to the street level, especially since Couch's Staircase gets you right in the Gorge immediately.
You will get wet. How wet you get depends on how wet you want to get. :) There is an opportunity to walk behind a waterfall, which was exciting and scary for the kids.
The Gorge is mostly steps for the first mile. The last half mile stretches out flat until Jacob's Ladder. Our three year old walked the last half mile without a problem. We kept him in the backpack for the first mile because of all the stairs and slippery conditions.
Don't miss the heart shaped pool! <3
After you climb Jacob's Ladder, you can reward yourself with ice cream or a drink at the gift shop. There is a playground and bathrooms there as well. (There are no bathrooms or water fountains on the trail!)
At this point, you can walk back down or, if it is a weekend, you can take the shuttle back down. The kids were in no mood to walk back down, so Henry went down to enjoy a leisurely, kid-free hike and drive back up to get us. We hung out on the playground while waiting for him.
There are also two rim trails, on which dogs are allowed. Dogs are not allowed on the Gorge trail, though there is a woman in town who will walk your dogs while you hike the Gorge. Her name is Donna and her phone number is 607-228-7301. (Not an endorsement, I haven't used her services-- I just saw her sign in a restroom in the park.)
For more information about Watkins Glen, visit the NYS Parks page: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/142/
Road tripping and camping with kids means being flexible and adjusting itineraries. We decided to make our first stop Wegmans in Ithaca, for lunch and to buy food for the next two days. We explored the cafe before the kids decided on tuna subs, and we enjoyed a sit-down lunch. Then it was time to shop. Have you been to Wegmans? It was my second time in a Wegmans and the size was...overwhelming. Henry decided to wait outside with the kids. I had a short shopping list but it took FOREVER to find what I needed. One neat thing about Wegmans, if you happen to find one on your route, is the bulk section, which has a trail mix station. (I made a big bag of trail mix with peanuts, dark chocolate, craisins and banana chips.) I came back to the car to find that we already had our first boo-boo of the trip-- the little guy ripped his finger open after getting it caught in his car seat. No one was in any mood for the Botanical gardens. A quick stop for wine and we headed straight to the campground. I handed out chocolate chip cookies and Mickey Mouse band-aids and we were ready to roll, literally. I wish I could show you the road that took us from Ithaca to the campground but my phone camera could not do it justice. Suffice to say, when the kids said it felt like a roller coaster, it wasn't off-base! Camping with Kids 101: Flexibility is the name of the game.
Here we go! I planned our route using Google's MyMaps, which let me play around with the order of the stops for maximum efficiency. Our first stop is Wegman's in Ithaca, since we're arriving around lunch time. We'll grab lunch and stock the cooler. We've decided to keep meals simple this time. We're doing Nicky's Pit BBQ take-out for dinner tonight, eggs and bacon or pancakes for the two mornings, sandwiches for lunch and hot dogs & beans for dinner tomorrow night. From home, we bought a carton of eggs, a jar of maple syrup, peanut butter and a loaf of bread. We're on a shoestring budget with this trip! We plan to maximize our time in the park, with free admission to the Gorge. We're also visiting the Botanical Gardens at Cornell while we are in Ithaca, which is free.
The trip represents a major milestone for us... the first time in nine years of camping with kids that we're diaper-free! We celebrated by getting the little guy his very own sleeping bag, just like his big sisters. (We love the kids' sleeping bags from REI.)