Overlaid by lush woodlands, rolling hills, wildflower-filled meadows, and, of course, the region’s namesake waterways, the Southern Finger Lakes region is truly unique. The area is a haven for wildlife, and an abundance of parks and natural areas provide endless options for nature lovers to explore. See this beautiful section of the country for yourself with these adventures that will take you on a tour of area’s wild side.
1. Breakfast with the Birds
The diversity of habitats encountered in the Southern Finger Lakes region makes the area a hotspot for birds. It’s also located along the Atlantic Flyway, the East Coast’s thoroughfare for migrating birds.
First things first with a pilgrimage to the shrine of American birding—the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, tucked away in the Sapsucker Woods. The Chemung Valley Audubon Society also offers a wealth of information for visiting naturalists.
In Caton, the Gleason Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary has several trails that mosey through forests of hemlock and pine, providing the chance to spot scarlet tanagers, pileated woodpeckers, and Northern flickers.
Alternatively, the Northrup Hill Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary outside Addison features a medley of forests and grasslands, harboring field sparrows, ovenbirds, and American goldfinches. Birders can also don the binoculars and head for the Spencer Crest Nature Center just outside Corning, a hotspot for migrating raptors.
2. Snorkel at Keuka Lake
Keuka Lake is understandably popular with boaters, paddlers, and anglers. But there are also plenty of adventures beneath the surface in the lake’s deep, crystalline waters. Don a mask, fins, and a snorkel and explore Keuka Lake’s underwater ecology, keeping an eye out for smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and the strikingly spotted rainbow trout. The lushest aquatic vegetation is located at the northern edge of Keuka Lake, along the body of water’s slender arm.
Besides fish, underwater explorers also have the opportunity to spot eastern painted turtles, northern water snakes, and stocky bullfrogs. Access the shimmering water at any one of the public beaches scattered around the lakeshore, including Champlin Beach in Hammondsport, Red Jacket Park in Penn Yan, or Keuka Lake State Park, nestled along the northern end of the lake.
3. Farm Foraging
Spread over an expanse of land trolled by black bears, coyotes, and birds of prey, the Healing Spirits Herb Farm embraces the concept of sustainable farming, always mindful of local ecology. In addition to offering a wide array of herbal products, the 30-acre farm and education center also regularly features classes, workshops, and educational walks for curious visitors. In the past, the farm’s classes have covered everything from wild mushrooms to medicinal plants to Crockpot soap-making.
4. Learn Orienteering from Experts
Get a taste of the topography of the Southern Finger Lakes region while honing those outdoor survival chops with a class offered by Ranger Outfitters. The Corning-based outdoor outfitter provides a range of skills courses with topics like map reading, survival skills, and the use of GPS devices. The shop also includes guide services, offering trips throughout the Southern Finger Lakes region, including day hikes and overnight adventures on the Finger Lakes Trail.
5. Geological Wonders
In addition to the slender lakes marking the landscape, the Finger Lakes region is also famed for harboring some of the East Coast’s most striking gorges, all chiseled by ancient glaciers. You’ll find several precipitous ravines and tumbling waterfalls on the trails lacing Stony Brook State Park in Dansville, Watkins Glen State Park at the southwestern edge Seneca Lake, or Robert H. Treman State Park, located just south of Ithaca.
Rather admire the region’s striking geology from the water? Southern Tier Kayak Tours offers a half-day “Paddle the Palisades” excursion showcasing a series of hulking cliffs spread along the Chemung River. STKT’s guides will often stop on one of the small islands to explore and discuss the river’s history and ecology.
6. Hotpots for Flora and Fauna
There’s lots of room to explore here, and chances are you’ll spot some of the local wildlife. Hikers have a high probability of bumping into white-tailed deer and eastern cottontails on the trails meandering through McCarthy Hill State Forest outside Addison. Just west of Corning, the oak and hemlock forests of the Erwin Wildlife Management Area harbor an array of woodland creatures, including black bears, wild turkeys, and grey fox, once the more common of New York’s two species of fox.
Consider trying the Japanese concept of “forest bathing”—shorthand for soaking up the therapeutic tranquility of natural spaces—at one of the region’s ecologically rich preserves. Spend some technology-free time wandering the trails at the recently dedicated Houghton Land Preserve outside Corning, and instead of checking that cellphone, listen to the songbirds chattering in the canopy.
7. Explore the Night Sky
The absence of light pollution in the Southern Finger Lakes region makes the night sky exceptionally vivid. Blossoming astronomers can discover the planet’s iconic constellations during Friday night observing sessions at the Collins Observatory in Corning. Then pack that constellation map and head to one of the campgrounds scattered throughout the Southern Finger Lakes region.
You’ll find waterside campsites dotting the shores of Sanford Lake in the Birdseye Hollow State Forest, or grab one of the family-friendly spots at Stony Brook State Park. Search for nebula from a backcountry basecamp in the 2,690-acre Urbana State Forest.
Visiting astronomers can also take advantage of the “Stargazing Special” at the Los Gatos Bed & Breakfast in Penn Yan, offering guests the opportunity to scour the night sky with the inn’s high-powered telescope.
8. Precious Pollinators
Despite their ecological importance, pollinators are in peril around the world—especially honey-bees. Learn about the vital roles these fascinating insects play in maintaining the planet’s ecological balance at one of the meetings or events hosted by the Steuben County Honey Bee Association. Then, explore the local honey-producing scene with a visit to Bonny Hill Honey in Bath. Finally, savor the end result of local pollinators at one of the region’s flourishing farmers markets, like the bustling Corning Farmer’s Market, located in the city’s historic Gaffer District. You’ll also find Leo’s Honey House excellent locally made honey at local farm markets.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated Media in partnership with Steuben County CVB.