By: Joshua M. Bernstein

How to pair outdoor activities with locally brewed beer

Cold beers always taste better if you buy them with sweat equity. The Southern Finger Lakes region gives active beer fans ample outdoor escapades for earning their fresh IPAs, pairing adventures with nearby breweries offering equally adventurous beer. From hiking forest trails to wandering amid waterfalls, gliding across a lake in a kayak, and soaring sky-high on a glider, here are our favorite activities for raising your pulse before raising a few pints nearby.

Outdoor Tasting at Steuben Brewing courtesy Cagwin Photography

Walk Among the Waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park

Prepare to get wet at Watkins Glen State Park. Located around five minutes southeast of Seneca Lake, the picturesque state park is packed with gorges and a collection of 19 waterfalls, which you’ll visually drink up as you ascend nearly 600 feet on the popular 2.4-mile trail loop. It features more than 800 carved-stone steps that take hikers over bridges, beneath cascades, and past 200-foot cliffs, water frothily crashing under your feet. And remember to pack a swimsuit: The park contains an Olympic-size swimming pool that’s open during the summer.

Hike Among Waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park

The Pint Payoff

After you dry off, drive three miles to the town of Watkins Glen and prepare to wing it at Nickel’s Pit BBQ (205–207 North Franklin Street, Watkins Glen; 607-210-4227). You can keep it traditional with smoked chicken wings that are slicked with a variety of sauces, including garlic Parmesan and Nashville hot, or go whole hog with “pig wings.” Long-smoked St. Louis–sliced ribs are finished in a fryer, then coated with your favored sauce or rub. Partner the grub with great locally brewed beer from the likes of Lucky Hare, Rooster Fish, or Steuben Brewing. If you still want to wet your whistle, head north about five miles to the Beerocracy (4520 State Route 14, Rock Stream; 607-216-8369), Seneca Lake Brewing Company’s Tudor-style pub that serves fresh pints of cask ale, like Archie’s Dark Mild, a roasty yet light-bodied ale.

Taps at Seneca Brewing
Seneca Lake Brewing Company courtesy Cagwin Photography

Take to the Sky at Harris Hill

Aviation fills the clouds around Elmira, long considered America’s capital of soaring gliders. The region’s high-flying history of motorless flight dates to the 1930s, when the area started hosting soaring competitions and served as home to a military glider program during World War II. The tradition continues today with the Harris Hill Soaring Corporation, which offers passenger rides to thrill-seekers hunting the high life. An engine-powered plane will tow your two-person glider—a pilot joins you on board—to around 4,000 feet above sea level, then lets wind and gravity work their magic. Each flight lasts around 15 to 20 minutes and provides bird’s-eye views of the region’s lush, rolling hills and lakes, before you return to solid ground.

Glider at Harris Hill

The Pint Payoff

Following the up, up, and away adventure, drive 15 minutes east to Upstate Brewing Company (3028 Lake Road, Elmira; 607-742-2750). Upstate opened in 2012, during the dark days in New York when breweries could not serve beers by the pint. “You can’t turn a taproom over fast enough with five-sample flights,” says owner and president Mark Neumann.

So Upstate focused on distributing its beers statewide instead. The brewery was an early adopter of canning beer, notably its darkly refreshing Common Sense Ale that resurrects the historical Kentucky Common style. Now that it can legally serve pints, the brewery has focused on the taproom experience by creating an everyone’s-welcome environment—you too, pooch—and an ambitious slate of beers. Here you’ll find hop-saturated IPAs as fruity as OJ; mole-inspired stout seasoned with cinnamon, hot peppers, and cocoa nibs; and the iced coffee–like Roasted brown ale that’s packed with coffee beans. No matter the style, “our name means quality,” Neumann says.

Upstate Brewing
Upstate Brewing courtesy Cagwin Photography

Get Your Kicks on the Keuka Outlet Trail

History is layered like a cake on the Keuka Outlet Trail. In 1830, construction began on the Crooked Lake Canal, a waterway that connected Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake, a.k.a. Crooked Lake due to its unusual Y shape. The canal operated from 1833 to 1877, its path later traced by a railroad that ran until 1972. Today, the rail bed serves as the multi-use Keuka Outlet Trail. It winds nearly seven miles from Dresden to Penn Yan, past bygone boat locks and dilapidated grist mills and sawmills that were powered by Seneca Mills Falls, one of the many highlights the path affords to hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, and horseback riders alike.

Keuka Outlet Trail Cascade Falls
Hiking Near Cascade Falls on Keuka Outlet Trail courtesy Evan Williams

The Pint Payoff

Leaving the trail is the start of another adventure, one with two top choices. Fans of farmhouse ales and, well, farmhouses should steer southwest to Abandon Brewing Company (2994 Merritt Hill Road, Penn Yan; 585-208-9088) for rustic saisons and barrel-aged beers of all stripes. They’re served in a red barn built in the 19th century, the patio overlooking grape vineyards and Keuka Lake. The rich, complex, and subtly spicy Stoneworks Abbey Ale is always a good choice, no matter the view.

Outdoor Tasting at Abandon Brewing
Outdoor Tasting at Abandon Brewing courtesy Cagwin Photography

IPA aficionados should drive east toward Seneca Lake and Climbing Bines Hop Farm and Craft Ale Company (511 Hansen Point Road, Penn Yan; 607-745-0221). The working farm features nearly two acres of hop fields, yielding estate-grown hops regularly used in the brewery’s highly fragrant pale ales and IPAs. Equal parts fruity and resinous, even Big Ivan’s Red, an amped up amber ale, benefits from the addition of Cascade, Chinook, and Nugget hops harvested on site.

Outdoor Tasting at Climbing Bines Hop Farm and Craft Ale Company
Outdoor Tasting at Climbing Bines Hop Farm and Craft Ale Company

Dive into a Lake of Possibilities on the Water

It’d be silly to visit the Southern Finger Lakes and not spend a single second on the region’s signature bodies of water. Slip into your swimsuit and take a dip at the 621-acre Keuka Lake State Park, near Bluff Point, where the amenities include a well-maintained sand beach, playground, and a boat launch.

Come without a kayak? No problem. Head to the southeast corner of Keuka Lake, in Hammondsport, where Keuka Watersports rents kayaks, paddleboards, and even jet skis for cruising the waterway. We recommend working up a thirst by paddling to the lake’s namesake park at the top of the west branch, starting in Hammondsport and ending some 15 miles away. But if your weary arms need a break sooner than that, make a pit stop for a couple cold beers at The Waterfront Restaurant and Bar.

Kayaking Keuka Lake
Kayaking Keuka Lake courtesy Stu Gallagher

The Pint Payoff

If you’re near Hammondsport, there’s an easy choice for beer. Head a few minutes west until you spot a former winery with a slanted roof and a sign featuring a black loon, a single tear falling from the bird’s red eye. Welcome to the Brewery of Broken Dreams (8319 Pleasant Valley Road, Hammondsport; 607-224-4050), which is a far sunnier spot than the name might suggest.

Douglas Schuckers and his partner, Shelly Fisher, named the brewery after the loon, a Native American symbol of dreams reawakening. And tears are earmarked for sadness and joy, in this case a years-long mission of owning a brewery. The duo opened for business in late 2014, embracing the state’s hops and grains in their range of traditional Belgian and British beers. “We’re taking advantage of what’s grown here,” says Schuckers, who brews on a small three-barrel system. Among the standouts are the Crying Loon, a balanced English pale ale, and To Bee or Not to Bee, a dry saison made with blueberry honey.

It’s a sweet end to any adventure.

Tasting at The Brewery of Broken Dreams
Tasting at The Brewery of Broken Dreams courtesy Stu Gallagher

Written by Joshua Bernstein in partnership with Finger Lakes Wine Country