A Long Weekend in Upstate New York: Ithaca and Watkins Glen

New York City is great and all but personally, city life can weigh me down and I need a nature retreat every once in awhile. My boyfriend and I drove four hours up to Ithaca for a long weekend last month to escape the urban jungle and fell in love with this part of upstate New York.

We stayed at an airbnb about 15 minutes from downtown Ithaca which was the perfect decision. Our host was an extremely friendly and helpful young woman with three adorable cats and a beautiful home. If you're checking out the area and interested in staying at an airbnb, shoot me an email and I'll link you to the place I stayed at. Downtown Ithaca is approximately 16 square blocks with a few dozen restaurants and eateries, arts and crafts boutiques and even a startup accelerator space. The small town was charming and a breathe of fresh air from cramped city sidewalks.

We had two full days to explore and took advantage of the "gorges" state parks in the area. The first we visited, and our personal favorite, was Watkins Glen State Park. Watkins Glen is actually a neighboring town about an hour away from Ithaca. Who would have known that such natural beauty existed in upstate New York?! As a lifelong New Yorker, I had never heard about these natural landforms and parks until I started doing research on this area.

The primary reason I wanted to visit this area was so I could take a tour of Farm Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization that rescues abused animals and advocates for their humane treatment. I've known about this place for years and have been meaning to go but it's a five hour drive from New York City so it's definitely a weekend commitment.

It was a valuable experience to get up and close personal with many of the animals from turkeys to hogs to cattle. Each individual animal has its own personality and while I admit I'm not going vegan anytime soon, it really makes you think twice when making decisions about consuming animal goods. The farm is tucked in the hills of Watkins Glen and the scenery is simply amazing. I highly recommend visiting Farm Sanctuary if you are in the area. They have two locations in California as well for any West Coast folks.

This wasn't really a foodie adventure but we did have a couple of nice meals. On our first evening, we had a light tapas dinner at Just a Taste in Ithaca. The indoor eating area is small and old-timey and the outdoor seating in the back of the restaurant has a lovely charm to it.

We ordered a couple of plates but the tastiest and most memorable was definitely the cheese stuffed squash blossoms. The menu seems to change according to what ingredients they have on hand but this was a very interesting dish that was perfect in terms of flavor and texture. 

Another fun place to visit if you like food is the weekend farmer's market. There are dozens of stands selling lunch fare, fresh produce and other local goods.

I wasn't especially hungry that afternoon but I had a serving of crispy corn fritters with an aioli dip and shoyu sauce. It was an indulgent lunch but just what I needed to give me energy to tackle two hikes around Ithaca that day.

Buttermilk Falls State Park is a very popular place for people of all ages. The falls here are relatively gentle and over time, pools of various depths have formed. As you can see, people have taken to jumping (illegally) into these pools. We stood and watched for a good 20 minutes before continuing our walk along the path. It looked like a lot of fun but I don't think I'd be able to get my feet off the ground!

We started from the top of Buttermilk Falls State Park and walked down via the gorge trail which ends at a lifeguard supervised natural pool. Then we took the rim trail back up for half the way until we somehow ended up back on the gorge trail.... I'm not the best at navigating hiking trails. 

After catching our breath from Buttermilk Falls, we headed to Taughannock Falls which is supposedly the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rockies. If you take the gorge trail at Taughannock Falls State Park, you'll have a leisurely flat walk that is rather pleasant. The trail at Watkin's Glen State Park was definitely the most tiring out of all the three we did but also our personal favorite so totally worth the effort.

In addition to all the hiking and nature-exploring, we also walked around the Cornell University campus since you can't visit Ithaca without stopping by the Ivy League school. We squeezed in a lot of cuddling with the cats we were airbnb-ing with. We could not have asked for a more relaxing (yet physically exhausting) long weekend. After spending a few days in this environment, we're seriously wondering whether the struggles of city life are worth it.

Where are your favorite nature retreats? Do you prefer city life or a quieter area?


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