Just off the beaten path, a world of incredible places is waiting to be discovered. From secret gardens and enchanting waterfalls to breathtaking vistas and fascinating geologic wonders, exploring hidden places around the Rochester area is the ultimate way to add some spice to your travel experiences. You’ll get to see and do things that most sightseers never even know about, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
After much contemplation, I knew there was only one clear choice for the 23rd hidden place for 2023: ARTISANworks added to the list on June 21, 2023.
As of October 2023, I already have a short list of contenders for the 24th gem.
City of Rochester
This unique and immersive experience challenges the senses and defies conventional boundaries. Discover a world of vibrant color and intricate design. From the original works of Picasso and Warhol to the artist studios that showcase the creative process in action, this is a space where art lives. Explore the 360-degree canvas and discover hidden gems that can surprise, inspire, and sometimes shock you. Whether you are a seasoned art enthusiast or simply looking for something new and exciting, ARTISANworks promises an unforgettable experience. Admission fee. 565 Blossom Road, (585) 288-7170, artisanworks.net
2. Hidden Sidewalk
To access the secret half-mile-long sidewalk, start at Ontario Beach Park in Charlotte and walk west along Beach Avenue. You will find the main entrances across from Clematis and Cloverdale Streets, with smaller entrances between roughly every fourth house. Note that the lawns, gardens, and docks along the sidewalk are privately owned and not open to the public. Only the sidewalk itself is available for public use. Beach Avenue
3. Pure Waters Pedestrian Bridge
The 20-acre Seneca Park Zoo is a small portion of the 300-acre county park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1893. The zoo operates a seasonal ZooTram shuttle, transporting visitors between the extreme ends of the park for a nominal one-way fee. Many people walk through the zoo and take the tram back up to the main entrance, appreciating Seneca Park’s scenic views. Beyond the zoo, you will find a trout pond surrounded by pavilions, a playground, and hiking trails. The north trail leads toward Lake Ontario over a tiny but steep waterfall, with several risky descents to the river’s edge using deteriorating wood steps. The south trail ends at the scenic Pure Waters Pedestrian Bridge, part of the Genesee River Trail, which spans the river to connect with Maplewood Park. 2222 Saint Paul Street
4. Sunken Garden
In 1951, Monroe County Parks purchased the castle and grounds as an extension of Highland Park. The 1854 Gothic-style castle is now the headquarters for the Landmark Society of Western New York. In 1930, landscape architect Alling S. DeForest, who also designed the Eastman estate’s gardens, added the sunken garden to the property. Photographers often capture wedding and family photos in the park, but it can be a peaceful retreat if you visit when it’s not crowded. 5 Castle Park
5. Turning Point Boardwalk
The park’s most striking feature is a 3,572-foot-long bridge over the Genesee River Turning Basin. The boardwalk takes visitors onto the river, close to blue herons, swans, turtles, deer, and other wildlife. Consider starting your walk from the north at Petten Street by the marina and O’Rorke Bridge for minimal elevation change. This section shows the abandoned 150-foot Spirit of Rochester, which offered lake cruises from 1985 to 2004. To begin at the south end, park in the Boxart Street lot. Most people walk north and down the steep, paved road toward the river, but you can also take the train-grade path by heading south for a half-mile from the parking lot and turning left at the Genesee Riverway Trails split near Brewster Harding Park. This route through Bullock’s Woods follows a seasonal creek with a small waterfall. 260 Boxart Street
6. Washington Grove
Nestled between Culver Road, Monroe Avenue, and Highland Avenue, lower Cobb’s Hill Park is primarily recreational, but the hill makes it unique. Encircling the reservoir is a paved 0.7-mile walking path offering a panoramic view of the Rochester skyline. A trail through Washington Grove leads visitors through a tranquil urban forest of old oak trees to a series of ever-changing graffiti-tagged water towers.
7. Channing H. Philbrick Park
Irondequoit Creek drops 90 feet over one mile through this town park, creating the cascades that make it unique. While the Irondequoit Creek Trail spans the park’s length and beyond, the most exciting section lies east of Linear Park Drive. Near the kiosk next to the upper parking lot, find the easy-to-walk dirt path that follows the creek toward an unusual series of wooden footbridges. Or, walk across the pedestrian bridge that connects Linear Park Drive with North Washington Street to find the Mills Trail—a quick path that leads to the cascades along the creek’s south bank. Follow the Fishing Trail downstream to see the sandy cliff resembling Chimney Bluffs, complete with bank swallow nests. 1 Linear Park Drive, Penfield
8. Corbett’s Glen
To visit Corbett’s Glen North, start from the parking lot on Penfield Road. From there, you can follow stone dust, wood chips, and pine needle trails that lead toward the south end. The pathways are easy to navigate, though some parts of the trail, like the Stone Steps, can be steep. As you continue your journey, you will eventually reach the well-known Tunnel Falls and Postcard Falls along Allen Creek. Please note that wading in the creek is only allowed for trout fishing. If you prefer to start at the park’s south end, you can park along the designated shoulder on Glen Road. The trails here lead through marsh meadow, shrubland, and wetland. Walking through the park, you may notice that the paths pass by people’s backyards, and they do! These homeowners are passionate about protecting the park and want to keep it healthy for everyone’s enjoyment. North entrance: 415 Penfield Road, South entrance: 11 Glen Road, Brighton
9. Helmer Nature Center
Explore 45 acres owned and operated by the West Irondequoit Central School District as an outdoor classroom. Find one-and-a-half miles of combined dirt, wood chip, boardwalk, and gravel trails, with many spots covered in tree roots through the valley floor. The terrain is hilly and tree-covered, making Helmer an excellent place for peaceful woodland exploration. 154 Pinegrove Avenue, Irondequoit
10. Sara’s Garden Center
Every time someone posts a photo from Sara’s Garden Center on Instagram, the comments light up: “Where is this?!?” Sara’s seems like your typical, lovely landscaping shop. Wandering among the interesting plants, the shop appears reasonably normal. Then BAM! You round the bend, and a highly manicured, inspiring, inviting landscape is before you. Between the meandering pathways, stone structures, and diverse landscaping, it’s a great place to wander or sit for a while. It is hardly a secret to the Brockport community; the rest of us are just discovering this hidden gem. 389 East Avenue, Brockport
11. Thomas Creek Wetland Walk
This nature trail is perfect for observing Thomas Creek’s flow toward Irondequoit Creek. The wetland offers two separate paths—one is gravel, and the other is a boardwalk—that lead to a seasonal viewing platform and connect with the Erie Canalway Trail. At the beginning of the path, interact with an analemmatic sundial, constructed with stones from Newark’s 1849 Enlarged Erie Canal Lock 58, by observing your shadow’s position. The plaque reads, “Stand on the current month, press your palms together and raise them high in the air. Note where your shadow crosses the hour markers: standard time above, daylight saving below.” 43 Liftbridge Lane E, Fairport
12. Webster Arboretum
Covering 32 acres, the arboretum is maintained by local garden clubs and boasts a pond, winding paths, various trees and shrubs, and formal gardens with over 200 daylily cultivars. Kent Park, 1700 Schlegel Road, Webster
13. Grimes Glen
Following a short walk along the creekside trail, you must wade through the water for half a mile in order to find the first 60-foot waterfall. Continuing through the creek for another half mile will lead you to the second waterfall, a picturesque cascade of the same height. To make your way back to the parking lot, simply retrace your steps. 4703 Vine Street, Naples, Ontario County
14. Holley Canal Falls
Holley Canal Park offers a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy, including picnic areas along the canal, an impressive waterfall, and a peaceful nature hike. Overflow from the canal creates the beautiful Holley Canal Falls, which flows into the glen and merges with Sandy Creek. This picturesque location is perfect for capturing family photos, holding wedding ceremonies, fishing, and soaking up the natural beauty of the surroundings. 1 Holley Falls Park Road, Holley, Orleans County
15. The Jump Off
The accessible Gannett Hill Jump-Off affords one of the loveliest scenic views in the Finger Lakes region, with County Route 33/West Hollow Road, Bristol Mountain, and, occasionally, Rochester’s skyline viewable from the platform. Spectacular any time of year, the optimal time to visit is during the peak of fall foliage in late October. The Jump-Off Trail connects with the Finger Lakes Trail System’s Bristol Hills Branch Trail. 6475 Gannett Hill Park Drive, Bristol, Ontario County
16. Stony Brook
Most visitors hike in and out along the 0.75-mile Gorge Trail, enjoying the stream-fed pool, waterfalls, and stone bridges. The walkway beside Stony Brook is composed of shale and gravel, with some moderately challenging spots to navigate and dozens of steps to climb alongside each waterfall. The gorge trail is closed in winter. Admission fee. 10820 New York State Route 36, Dansville, Steuben County
17. Akron Falls
Start your hike from the main parking lot near the dam for a leisurely walk beside Murder Creek through a dense forest ravine, leading straight to a magnificent 40-foot waterfall. Alternatively, you can park near the Rock Garden in the lot above the falls for a steeper approach. Halfway down the paved path, turn right to find a platform to observe the waterfall safely. If you turn left, you’ll continue into the ravine. At the bottom, you’ll see a clear path to the left, but if you turn right, the trail becomes filled with boulders. Adventurous hikers can continue to navigate around the rocks and make their way toward the waterfall’s base, but they’ll see a sign warning them not to go any further. 44 Parkview Drive, Akron, Erie County
Day Trips Around Rochester, New York: The Book!
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18. Eternal Flame Trail
Walk along the trail from the parking lot to the creek bed and follow the water upstream. Cross back and forth through the creek using stones and fallen logs to find an optimal walking path. Remember that most people end up walking in the water at some point. The natural gas flame, sheltered in a tiny cave under a 35-foot waterfall, isn’t eternal, as its name suggests, so be sure to bring a lighter in case the flame is extinguished. The way may be more difficult after heavy rain, but the waterfall will be more impressive. This unique geologic feature is a stunning reward for your effort. Once you’ve enjoyed the waterfall, retrace your steps back to the parking lot. Chestnut Ridge Road, Orchard Park, Erie County
19. Fillmore Glen
The shaded trail offers a refreshing escape on a hot day, especially when combined with a swim in the stream-fed pool. Just beyond the pool, before heading up to the gorge, take a quick detour to the base of Cow Shed Falls. Stone steps—140 in the beginning and several along the trail—and muddy paths make this a moderately challenging hike. The 1.3-mile gorge trail leads across several footbridges to four waterfalls along Dry Creek. The shale walls have fractures that allow water to trickle in, fostering the growth of lush vegetation like mosses, ferns, and trees. To return to the parking area, you can retrace your steps through the gorge or take the North Rim Trail. Next to the parking lot, close to the tree line, is a log cabin replica of the birthplace of President Millard Fillmore. The gorge trail is closed in winter. Admission fee. 1686 New York State Route 38, Moravia, Cayuga County
20. Green Lakes
Green Lakes State Park in Fayetteville, 15 minutes east of Syracuse, is known for its turquoise-colored glacial lakes and old-growth forest. Privately owned boats are not allowed on the lakes because of their sensitive nature, but rentals are available, including clear-bottom tandem kayaks. The park offers walking trails, a swimming beach on Green Lake, and an all-terrain wheelchair to assist with beach and trail access. Admission fee. 7900 Green Lakes Road, Fayetteville, Onondaga County
21. Griffis Sculpture Park
Griffis Sculpture Park is a whimsical, fantastical, delightful art park in rural Cattaraugus County, roughly nine miles north of Ellicottville. There are over 250 large-scale sculptures integrated into the natural landscape. You’ll discover them in the open meadows and tucked into the woodlands. While you’ll need to explore the Mill Valley Road site on foot, enjoy the Rohr Hill Road site just by looking out the car window, where you’ll find impressive sculptures on both sides. 6902 Mill Valley Road, East Otto, Cattaraugus County
22. Havana Glen
McClure Creek and Eagle Cliff Falls are part of a more extensive town park and campground. A 0.75-mile trail, using a set of stairs secured to the gorge’s shale wall, leads to the base of the falls. Crowded on hot days and weekends, consider visiting on a weekday or early morning for a more peaceful experience. The gorge trail is closed in winter. Admission fee. 135 Havana Glen Road, Montour Falls, Schuyler County
23. Olcott Beach
The adorable seaside Hamlet of Olcott Beach makes for an excellent summertime day trip along the Lake Ontario Seaway Trail. Open May through October (7 days a week, Memorial Day–Labor Day, otherwise weekends only), Lakeview Village Shoppes is a quaint, pastel-colored collection of tiny stores overlooking Lake Ontario.
Olcott Beach Carousel Park is generally open on weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It’s the tiniest amusement park you’ll ever see, reminiscent of the 1940s and operated entirely by passionate volunteers. Enjoy a ride on the 1928 Hershell-Spillman carousel and five other vintage kiddie rides. There is no admission fee to enter the park, and rides are just $0.25 each.
Don’t miss the replica lighthouse, open daily for visitors, and Krull Park‘s Ye Olde Log Cabin, open on weekends. 5867 Ontario Street, Newfane, Niagara County
24. Destination 2024 TBD
I’ve started choosing a new hidden gem each year, so I’ll add the 24th destination in 2024. Hidden gem #24 may be among the places listed below, and I already have a few contenders in mind. Do you have a favorite spot I should add to the list below? Contact me to let me know!
More Hidden Gems to Explore
This is a list of the places you suggested as candidates for the 22nd hidden gem leading into 2022. My hope is to add a new one every year to the list above.
City of Rochester
Google Map of Locations
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