New York’s Finger Lakes Region is a stunning landscape of glacier-carved lakes and rolling Appalachian hills, famous for its regionally renown wineries and charming Main Street villages. I knew all that and you probably do too. But what I didn’t know was that it’s also a top destination among those in-the-know for two of my favorite things – craft beer and backcountry trail hiking. So, when I was invited to spend a day exploring both those things – PLUS a chance to get out on the water – I jumped on it.
Note: This post focuses on the southside of Keuka Lake, just one of many charming districts in the broader Finger Lakes region.
The southern Finger Lakes region is a paradise for anyone interested in the outdoors, wines, craft brewing and distilling, or an amazing combination of all of these things. Late summer/early autumn is one of the best times to go, as the weather begins to cool and the leaves begin to change. Although many of the lake swimming opportunities pass by late September, the region is just starting to show its true colors as local harvests coincide with fall foliage, great weather and some of the nation’s best hearty brews to keep you warm on a brisk autumn night.
The following is a break down on how I spent a day merging New York State’s great outdoors with epic craft beverages. All of these options are mix-and-match, so feel free to do them in your own order or add a new favorite to the mix.
Note: The Green Gatsby recommends a designated driver or the use of a reputable local tour operator (see below) if replicating the following guide in its entirety. Uber and Lyft ridesharing services are also both active in this region.
Morning Hike on Finger Lakes Trail
Spanning 950 miles across some of the most scenic landscapes of upper New York State, The Finger Lakes Trail cuts right through the lower shore Finger Lake wine country, providing opportunities for breath-taking day hikes or longer-term through-hiking expeditions. The Trail is part of the much longer North Country Trail, which at 4,600 miles extends from eastern New York to North Dakota and is by far the longest National Scenic Trail in the United States, over double the length of the Appalachian Trail.
A perfect short-term hike to get your day started is the Finger Lakes Trail at Mitchellsville Creek, an easy hike with stunning views of mixed evergreen forest, a gorge and several waterfalls. Read more about this hike on my Trail Review, including how to get there.
Brewery of Broken Dreams
Just a short jump from the Pleasant Valley exit of the Finger Lakes Trail is the charming Brewery of Broken Dreams. Based in an historic stone farmhouse, this craft brewery has a broad range of styles, all of which are high quality. The brewery is strongly committed to the local community, producing all of their beers with 100% New York State hops and base malts.
So you can rest assured that not only will you be served a world class brew, but it will have a low carbon footprint and a positive impact on the Finger Lakes region. On a typical day, they’re generally pouring from 12 taps, including at least one rotating specialty ale, along with their set portfolio. I highly recommend the uber-rich Triskaidekaphobia strong ale.
Cruise Keuka Lake
After your first beer tasting of the day, it’s time to head back to New York State’s great outdoors. And in the Finger Lakes, there’s no better place to do that than on the lakes themselves. Unless you own your own boat, you’ll want to head over to Depot Park in Hammondsport to catch a cruise with OnKeuka, the Finger Lakes’ only water taxi company. The pontoon-based business offers everything from simple lake crossings to local waterfront restaurants to a fun array of longer beer, wine and sightseeing tours. Best of all, Captain Mary Jo will be sure to charm the hell out of ya along the way.
During summer months, deep lake swim excursions are available, but cruising on Keuka Lake is not just a hot weather activity. OnKeuka operates on the lake through the end of October in order to take advantage of fall foliage. And with steep hills rising up on all sides of Keuka Lake, there’s no better place to witness this autumn spectacle.
Finally two green thumbs up for OnKeuka. In an effort to reduce waste and potential littering in the lake, the company does not mass distribute brochures. Instead, they rely on a single laminated price list of their services onboard, which is also available at local hotels.
Lunch at The Switzerland Inn
You came all this way to enjoy lake country, so you just got to have lunch on the lake. The Switzerland Inn is the best place to do this. The restaurant features a pub-style menu and a spectacular assortment of regional brews on tap.
Stunning lake views abound, and a large outdoor deck can accommodate large groups during good weather.
Finger Lakes Beer Company
After lunch it’s time for more beer! This time head south along the lake to the Finger Lakes Beer Company. Disguised as an unremarkable roadside shack, the exterior of this place hides a wealth of local charm and quality brews right inside. The beer portfolio includes seasoned classics as well as more unusual innovations such as Watermelon Wheat and Cocoa-Nut Brown (infused with both chocolate and coconut, plus almond!). There’s always some seasonal brews on tap too because, well, these guys are festive!
Krooked Tusker Distillery
If hiking, beer, lake cruising, lunch (with beer) and more beer hasn’t been enough for you, southern Keuka Lake has one more surprise up it’s sleeve. The Krooked Tusker is the lake’s premier craft distillery. Featuring craft gins, vodka and whiskey, the distillery sits atop a mountain with breathtaking lake views. Named for the owner’s love for elephants, this distillery also believes in the power of giving back. All spirits are made from New York State grains and a portion of all proceeds go to benefit local charities on a rotating basis. When I was there they were funding a local community garden.
If this tour of Lake Keuka’s best craft beverages and outdoor adventures leaves you wanting more – and you happen to be staying in nearby Corning – I’ll leave you with one last recommendation. Try Market Street Brewing Company for locally crafted brews, and Hand + Foot for a seasonally crafted food menu, community-style dining and an impressive beverage menu of regional and global beers, wines and spirits. These spots will help you satisfyingly polish off a perfect Finger Lakes day.
Header Image (top of page): Keuka Lake. Photo: See1,Do1,Teach1/Flickr/Creative Commons
Featured Image (top of post): A sampler of brews at the Finger Lakes Brewing Company. Photo: Arlo Hemphill, The Green Gatsby
To explore breweries in other areas of the Finger Lakes region see FingerLakesBeerTrail.com