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Small Town Travel: New York State's Keuka Lake May Have the Country's Best Lake Culture

April 9, 2014 at 3:56 PM | by | ()

In yesterday's roundup of a few lakes to check out this summer, this writer left out Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, Upstate New York. I did that on purpose, because I wanted to go beyond a paragraph in explaining how much I love it up there.

Up there. You can hear the Manhattanites saying it, can't you? The small town of under 1,000 people sits at the south end of the Y-shaped Keuka Lake, about 20 miles in length and the place to be during the summer months. The wineries look down over it from the sloping hillsides, but as a resident told me, if you’re not on the water, you’re not experiencing Hammondsport.

The lake is nice to look at, but you don’t travel to sit on the sidelines. You can rent sport and pontoon boats by the day or week, an idea I would highly recommend. The sport boats are equipped for water skiing and wakeboarding, and first-timers can take a lesson for a “try something new” travel experience. Jet skiing is always a fun option, and I was able to get up to speeds of 50mph on the lake’s relatively calm surface.

One of my favorite parts of lake culture is that underdressed travel writers like myself fit right in. There's no need to run home and shower as you transition towards twilight. Bathing suits, tank tops, and sunglasses are the most common apparel at many of Keuka's salty dog bars. The Switz, for example, pumps out live music on a sun-soaked deck that makes it the go-to spot for a few drinks at the tail end of a summer day. Feeling salty and sun-faded, I enjoyed cheap drinks out on the patio as the relaxed vibe took over, the setting sun reflecting off the water as the boaters began to tie up. People got out of their seats to dance. It was tough to tell what went down quicker, the drinks or the sun.

Speaking of drinking, the lakeside wineries of Upstate New York offer a pretty awesome perch if you're not much of a water person. Riesling is the way to go, especially at Dr. Frank's, whose founder is responsible for starting the wine revolution in New York. And the tasting room at Heron Hill is considered by some to be one of the world's best. After putting down a few friendly pours, ask to check out the view from the tower above the tasting room, and you may just find yourself occupying the best seat in the house.

If you're really feeling adventurous, the Finger Lake region is absolutely incredible to see from the sky, whether it's from a hot air balloon or a scenic flight. It is from this vantage point that you will appreciate the way the wineries hover above the water, the plots of land neatly designed and beautifully positioned on the hillsides.

With the summer months now in sight, I'd get on making arrangements sooner than later. My first choice would be one of the small inns around the lake. If you're not a summer person, you can always book a trip for the fall to take in the area's epic foliage. That is, however, a whole separate story.

[Photos: Will McGough]

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