Happy Thursday and almost weekend!
You’ve landed on my first official ‘travel’ post and I’m pretty excited to get the ball rolling. Let’s get to it!
This past weekend, my best friend and I hopped in the car, plugged in my old iPod and took a five and a half hour trip north of Long Island to Watkins Glen, NY and its surrounding towns.
Destination: Watkins Glen State Park
Ok, so why would we travel this far to go to a park, you ask?! The simple answer is that we both had been talking about wanting to go for a hike as soon as the Spring weather decided to make an appearance. While Long Island has many beautiful trails and nature preserves, we had heard great things about the hiking upstate, specifically in Watkins Glen! Having seen pictures of its bridges, waterfalls and picturesque views, we knew it was a place we wanted to check off our list. If you know myself or my best friend, Genna, you know that we will drive hours upon hours just to change the pace, even if only for a night. We took this as an opportunity to do just that.
Let me preface the rest of this by saying that if you’re a native of the Long Island area/five boroughs, you know that there are two separate versions of New York State. Based on what part you’re from, you will have lived a very different lifestyle than your counterparts and it’s sometimes hard to believe that you all share the same home state.
Let me explain..
Having grown up on Long Island, I have experienced both the bustle of one of the world’s largest cities, as well as the serenity of one of the island’s many beaches. I have never had to travel longer than 5-10 minutes to reach a store, restaurant, gym, salon or bar. It’s easy to assume that the rest of New York is just like Long Island and the metropolitan area..but, if there’s one thing that was deeply confirmed this weekend, it’s that this is not the case whatsoever.
As we slowly wound our way upstate, the stores turned into farm stands, the buildings turned into barns and the paved roads made way for beautiful rolling hills and pastures. Cattle and horses replaced the usual pedestrians and life suddenly became a lot slower. No coffee shops or department stores. No fancy restaurants or nail salons. Traffic? None. Just a John Deere tractor and some fishermen wading creekside along the road.
While I have briefly passed through the upstate area before en route to other destinations, I never actually experienced this part of New York aside from viewing it all through a car window.
After our lengthy car ride, we arrived in a little town named Horse Heads (yes, laugh if you must). This would be our home for the next 24 hours. We were starving and not at all surprised to find out that our food choices were extremely limited. Toss out whatever you’re in the mood for because Cracker Barrel, Texas Roadhouse, Panera Bread and Dunkin’ Donuts are running rampant! *deep sigh* We wanted something quick before our hike so we, (along with what seemed to be the town’s entire population) agreed that Panera Bread was the place to be!
Our post-lunch journey to Watkins Glen State Park was just as beautiful as the drive up. We counted numerous mom n’ pop ice cream shoppes every few miles and laughed as we tried looking for a potential post-hike bar on Watkins Glen’s tiny main street strip. (to no avail)
The lack of adequate directions or signs leading us to the park itself became an issue for us right away. Guys, let’s be real for a minute. I’ve lived in the same area all my life and still depend on my GPS heavily. If you’re the unlucky person who stops to ask me for directions, you might as well keep driving. Looking for the park, we found ourselves missing turns and retracing our steps more times than we could count. Even the GPS was stumped! My one recommendation for first-time visitors or people who are horrible with directions like myself, is to avoid the headache and head straight to the Watkins Glen Visitor Center in town before finding yourself lost down a winding road like us. The man that worked there was so kind and helped us right away. He provided us with directions to the park and a map of all the park’s accessible trails. We even signed a visitor log and got to see what other people were in town for. (Wineries and hiking! Woo!)
So you finally found the park. How was it?
Tucked away high up in the mountain side, Watkins Glen State Park is peaceful and secluded. The air is crisp and clean. You can automatically tell that this is no ordinary park or preserve. It’s an experience between yourself and nature.
There are several trails in the park that are open to the public, with access changing depending on the time of the year. Unfortunately, due to the timing of our visit, the Gorge Trail that included all of the waterfalls was closed for maintenance after the volatile winter we had. If you could push your trip back to mid/late May, I’d highly recommend it for this reason. You want to be able to see the park in its entirety. However, we did get to enjoy the Indian and South Rim Trails and they were equally as spectacular.
Personally, my favorite part of the park appeared almost immediately as we came upon a wooden bridge that stood high over the rushing stream below. Looking straight out through the trees you could see the rolling hills and farms off in the distance. Below your feet were the Gorges and winding steps and trails along the water. I walked to the middle of the bridge and closed my eyes for a moment, acknowledging the fact that the only noises I heard were created by the gentle flow of water and the birds in the trees. I was merely just a spectator.
We spent the next hour hiking steep, winding trails trying to find traces of sunlight through the tops of the trees. Every so often, we would reach a lookout point intended for waterfall viewing and took the opportunity to take some photos or observe the beauty surrounding us (head to my previous blog post to see the pic of me standing on one of these!). Although there were other hikers, we never once felt crowded or crammed. The spaciousness of the park allows you to feel like you’re on your own path and not following the lead of another group.
Unfortunately, the weather started playing tricks on us and the blue sky began to split into black rather quickly and briefly. We couldn’t tell if we were in Florida or upstate New York!
With just enough time to spare, we made it back to the car before a downpour ensued and decided that we would continue to make the rest of our day just as great as the first half was. We continued driving, site-seeing, and best of all..belting out our favorite old teenage classics.
Queue Rural Night Life…
Genna and I had been tossing ideas back and forth regarding what we would do once the sun went down in Horse Heads…was there even anything to do? We weren’t sure, but I was determined and knew I didn’t want to be bound to our hotel room. Out of our element for a night? Sure! Let’s find something and make it work!
A Texas Roadhouse Dinner. This probably wasn’t so surprising, was it? I’m pretty sure we have a couple of these on the island but this was my first dining experience at this restaurant and I have to say it did not disappoint. (the hot cinnamon butter glazed biscuits are still on my mind to be honest) If you love comfort food and all things country..make it a point to eat here! From the music and crushed peanut shells on the floor to the mounted deer heads on the wall, I felt like this place encapsulated everything we were experiencing in our travels. At one point, I wondered if a flannel shirt/camo attire was mandatory when stepping foot in the place. SO not used to this type of vibe back home. The staff was extremely friendly and the restaurant manager even gave us a complimentary appetizer platter once he found out we were first-timers. (jalapeño poppers, I adore you)
Whether I’m traveling near or far, I always make a habit of engaging with those that are native to the area. Whether I want to enhance my travel experience or learn something new, locals are always completely candid in telling you where and where not to go/what to do in their area. I knew that if we wanted to make the most of our night in Horse Heads, there was no better person to ask than our very own waitress.
She was even kind enough to scribble down a list of the town’s most popular bars (4 to be exact) and gave us a little run down of each.
- Thai Asian
- Beef Eater’s Tavern
After perusing social media to do a little research, we had made our decision..any guesses?
If you guessed Beef Eater’s….pat yourself on the back!
Okay, so we had already expected that any place we’d walk into would consist of a tumble weed and a few bar stools, but we didn’t really care. It was more the experience we were looking for.
At around 9:30PM, we rolled into what seemed to be a crowded night at ‘Beef’s’ and we practically couldn’t believe our eyes! More than one person at the bar? Check. Makeshift DJ booth? Check. It exceeded our expectations. I so wish I had taken a picture of the place but I’m sure Google will give you a bit of an idea if you’re really curious.
The best part of this bar was its no fuss, no muss atmosphere. Just a bunch of locals relaxing at the end of a very long work week. Back home on LI, it feels like the pressure is always on to look your best no matter where you’re headed. New outfits, fresh nail polish, perfect location and just the right amount of people…going out on the island requires a business module, really.
This is not to say that the great patrons of Beef’s didn’t look their best but it seemed as though the emphasis was placed more on the company and having a good time. If I could compare the situation to a song which I often love to do, I’d choose Toby Keith’s ‘I love this bar’ one hundred times over. It perfectly described where we were.
Two drinks cost us $8.00. (the price of one beer at home)
When the bartender said this, we almost fell over!
The remainder of our night consisted of Mets/Yankees debates, outdoor Jenga and lots of dancing. We finally left Beef’s when it was closing time and I think we were actually pretty sad about it.
Just like that, our little weekend getaway ended and we prepared for another long trek home on Sunday.
My takeaway from this weekend..
I’m sure many of you reading this are probably wondering how the heck I even took a 24-hour trip to a nature preserve and turned it into this long-winded story. To you I say, it’s all a matter of perspective and what you take away from each of your experiences. Trips, no matter where to, are character and experience builders. Thinking about this weekend truly makes me smile because I enjoyed every moment and took something of value home with me.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is unplug and recharge. Whatever that means for you. Experience life outside of what you already know. Do something you wouldn’t ordinarily go out of your way to do. Put your phone down. Have fun and be present. Appreciate life’s simplicities without the distractions of today’s world. Connect with people face to face. Make a friend, share a story.
Thank you to the little town of Horse Heads for showing me hospitality and the simplicity of life and to Watkins Glen for your beauty and clarity. I will definitely be back again!
If you’ve ever visited the upstate area or Watkins Glen, comment below and share your story! If you haven’t, I hope I’ve persuaded you to take the trip. 🙂