This trip was hosted by Explore Steuben, the county that plays host to Corning, the Finger Lakes, and so much more.
Can you imagine the puzzled reactions I got when I told my friends I was heading to Corning, New York for summer vacation? Our past few family vacations have involved destinations like Finland, Yellowstone, Romania, and, of course, Disney World. So a trip to Corning seemed a bit like a head scratcher, even to my family, when I proposed this destination.
Luckily, my family trusts me and agreed to make this part of our larger summer road trip. The only promises I made were waterfalls and a glass museum. But again, my family is used to simply showing up and it’s my job to make sure they have a good time. Fortunately, I had help in that department.
I was introduced to Steuben County, New York a few years ago when I attended a travel blogging conference and fell in love with Corning. I had always planned to make it back and thought this summer was perfect timing. With the help of Explore Steuben, we created a family travel itinerary that even had my teen smiling (if you have a teen, you know what an accomplishment that is).
If you’re looking for a relaxing, closer to home trip to a beautiful region of New York, just over the Pennsylvania border, use my trip as your guide and then do your own exploring with Explore Steuben!
What We Did
Corning Museum of Glass
As I mentioned before, my must-see on this trip was the Corning Museum of Glass. Little did I know that my family wasn’t super excited about this. But as we walked in and got oriented to the layout, the live demos, the historical collections, the art exhibitions, and the amazing gift shop, their eyes lit up.
In fact, my teen started the visit by saying, “this place is way cooler than I thought” (kudos to the visual impact) and ended the visit by saying “there’s a lot more to glass than I thought” (kudos to the educational aspect). These words were so memorable, I actually wrote them down!
We loved the hands on demos showing us glassblowing techniques. But I think our favorite was glass breaking where we saw first hand demonstrations using “regular” glass, tempered glass, and laminated glass.
We spent a half day there (bonus: kids and teens are free!) but we could have easily done a full day there. After a morning inside though, we were ready to get outside… and Mother Nature didn’t disappoint as we headed to Watkins Glen.
Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen is a popular state park, known for its deep gorges and amazing waterfalls. But it’s so popular that it’s often uncomfortably crowded during the warmer weather. The gorge is surrounded by multiple trails, with most of them crossing over and under the falls. Because you’re walking along a rocky gorge, that means the path width is limited.
For this reason, I recommend visiting on a weekday, especially during the high season. Even on a Thursday afternoon, we had to skirt a lot of tourists and tour groups. But it was worth the effort. We parked at the South Entrance, and headed west on the trails to see most of the falls before heading east and hiking out through the Main Entrance into the town of Watkins Glen.
Bonus: We saw this amazing little Red Eft, the juvenile stage of the Red-Spotted Newt (yes, I’m a herp nerd!).
Mountain Rose Horse Farm
The next morning, we awoke to cloudy skies and a threat of rain but we trudged on hoping to avoid the storms for our morning ride at the Mountain Rose Horse Farm. I’ve gushed so much about our experience since we’ve been back that people have asked me if I’m a “horse girl.” Well, I wasn’t before but I am now!
With this being my first time horseback riding, I was a little bit nervous. But my experience couldn’t have been better than with Rachel and Emily, the two sisters who run this farm. After our meet and greet with their resident goat, Lucas, and their innumerable free range cats, we were introduced to our horses for the ride.
After a few brief riding lessons, we set out on a one hour trail ride through their Aspen-filled acreage. A few things I learned on my ride:
- Horses can really be just like big dogs
- Riding in nature is incredibly relaxing
- Yes, you will be a bit sore after riding, if you’re not used to it
- The horses that don’t get picked to ride will throw a hissy fit when they see you walk away
- When getting off your horse, make sure your feet are free from the stirrups. Otherwise, you’ll probably fall. Ask me how I know.
This experience surprised all of us by being one of our favorite activities on our entire vacation!
Mud Creek Bison Ranch
From horses to bison! We love wildlife and couldn’t get enough of the bison on our trip to Yellowstone last year. Mud Creek Bison Ranch is an up and coming attraction in Steuben County. This family owned and operated ranch raises bison for meat but they also have plenty in the pasture for visitors like us to see.
Upon arrival, you can purchase tickets for a driving tour, which takes around 20-30 minutes. Tune your radio to a local frequency to hear the owner himself narrate folklore and information about the bison as you drive through the property. You’re in your vehicle at all times so no chance of any bison mishaps. And if you’re lucky, you’ll see two of the canine ranch hands!
When you’re done, you can stop in to their MCBR Bistro for a sampling of their meat and shop the gift shop. We have a vegetarian in the family so we opted instead for lunch at our next destination.
Bully Hill Vineyards
For our final stop in Steuben County, we had a true glimpse of Keuka Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. The area is not only known for its beauty but for its wine so it made sense to head to Bully Hill Vineyards. Even if you’re not a wine drinker, the restaurant on site had excellent food and a beautiful view of the lake, even on a cloudy, rainy day.
After a leisurely lunch, we walked through the on site museum and learned the history of the Taylors (including the original Taylor winery founder Greyton H. Taylor and his son Walter S. Taylor, who founded Bully Hill). You’ll quickly learn what a talent and character Walter was. Be sure to ask about the statue of the goat stomping on the Coca Cola can!
If you are into wine, they have a fabulous tasting room and gift shop, where I tasted and shopped… and bought! I don’t care for the more regional specialities of sweet wines, but found four drier wines that I definitely wanted to take home.
What We Ate
As mentioned, we had lunch at the Restaurant at Bully Hill Vineyards. It’s a casual bistro vibe where you order at the counter, get served your wine or drink and then wait for them to bring the food to you. And if you’re lucky, you might even meet Mrs. Taylor behind the register!
They’re known for their smoked meats so I sampled their Smoked Turkey Sandwich (house-smoked turkey with sliced apple, Muenster cheese, lettuce, and cranberry mayo on a roll) while my husband went for the Smoked Wings (jumbo wings, rubbed, smoked, and flash-fried). And my vegetarian son was thrilled to have the option of the Falafel Salad (mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese with a Riesling Vinaigrette, topped with falafel).
We had this meal on our way out of town but most of our other meals were in Corning, as we used that area as our home base, In downtown Corning, we enjoyed several meals that we heard are favorites with the locals.
Aniello’s Pizza, we’re told, is the closest thing to NYC pizza you’ll get in Steuben County. While we indulged in this crispy pie, the real stars were the subs my family ordered: Eggplant Parmesan and the Veggie sub.
Just a block or so away, you’ll find Tossed, a great choice with a vegetarian in the family. This counter service restaurant offers bowls and salads, wraps and gyros. Initially, I was worried that the food might be a little “light” for my big eaters but we all walked away S T U F F E D with goodness. My husband got the Gyro Salad (which he couldn’t finish), my son got the Falafel Bowl (which he DID finish), and I fell completely in love with Cait’s Buddha Bowl offering a bed of spinach and rice, topped with garlic ginger chicken (or tofu), fresh avocado, homemade Thai peanut sauce, sweet potato, and sautéed onions.
We had one more meal on Market Street in Corning that was also a local favorite, Little Boomers’ Burrito Bar. “Boomer” refers to the late Fran “Boomer” Cleary who was a Corning fixture in the local food business. His kids are carrying on the tradition with this new eatery and I hope it sees just as much success. The food is fresh and the portions are huge, especially for the price. And if you plan to splurge like I did (hey, I was on vacation!), get their El Premo Margarita (only $2 more than the El Cheapo and you get to keep the cup!).
The only other food stop we made was in the town of Watkins Glen after we had made it halfway through our hike. We stopped at Seneca Sunrise Coffee, a little shop that you might miss unless you’re looking for it. It’s located in a residential area so for zoning purposes, it looks just like a house. But behind the garage doors, you’ll find a delightful barista who will serve up any number of drinks with a smile, even when you’re the last customer of the day. We sampled the Boba Tea, Turmeric Latte, Chai Latte, and kombucha.
We didn’t actually stop any place for breakfast because that came courtesy of our host hotel. More on that below!
Where We Stayed
When I stayed in Corning a few years ago, the accommodations were slim because the area was flooded with conference goers. With the crowds a little lighter (especially since it was midweek), we were fortunate to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn, a wonderful hotel within walking distance of the Corning Museum of Glass (5 minutes) and Market Street in downtown Corning (15 minutes).
With our family of three, a room with two queens was perfect. We also enjoyed their breakfast buffet in the lobby, as well as their coffee and tea station available all morning. Clean, comfortable, and a great work out room (which I looked at and skipped because… vacation!).
What We Missed
We had only two nights in the Corning area and we saw a lot but we didn’t see everything. In fact, it’s often not until you spend some time somewhere that you see things you’d like to come back and explore.
We missed shopping on Market Street because we were too late from our activities to catch most of the shops that closed around 6pm. We missed exploring more of downtown Watkins Glen, because we’re slow and late (see above). We missed Letchworth State Park, often called the “Grand Canyon of the East,” because the weather didn’t cooperate. We missed the Glenn H. Curtis Aviation Museum, which my husband would have loved, simply because we didn’t know about it!
And I missed exploring more of the Finger Lakes wineries, which I totally plan to do with some traveling girlfriends (let me know if you’re up for that!).
If you haven’t ever thought of Corning and the Finger Lakes as a destination, consider this an introduction. And if you have been there, I hope I opened your eyes to some new places and activities that you and your family (including your teen) will really enjoy.