These day trips weren’t so different from our 2019 day trips except they were a little less frequent, with less stops and less people. I still drove 3,800 miles around our beautiful backyard, though that’s down from 4,600 the year before.
I spent time wandering around quiet village Main Streets peering in on empty chairs at empty tables. And even more time finding solace and solitude in nature.
My 20 favorite day trips in 2020
These were the most special, each for their own reasons.
- Akron Falls
- Peak Fall Foliage
- Christmas Lights
- East Aurora
- Livingston County
- Genesee River Alliance Guided Walks
- Genesee Country Village
- Highland Park
- Sandy Bottom Nature Park
- Havana Glen
- Holley Canal Falls
- Webster Arboretum
- Watkins Glen
Plus, take a look at the other places we went each month.
1. Akron Falls
For years, people have suggested I visit Akron Falls Park. And I made note of it should I find myself out that way. It’s hard to see every waterfall.
But WOW! I have to say I sorely regret not having explored there sooner. And I am so happy to have arrived early on a mid-summer morning. The thick green canopy and the rush of Murder Creek made this place serene and calming, but it became very popular very quick as the day progressed.
I visited in November as well, but plan to go again during peak leaf season in late-October 2021. The trail along the creek is spectacular and perfect for walking with your dogs or kids.
2. Peak Autumn Leaves
Over the course of two days in mid-October I visited 10 of our 22 Fabulous Fall Hike locations around Monroe County. The days were warm and sunny, and the forests were magnificent!
My husband and I celebrated 27 years of marriage this year and spent the day hiking around Turning Point and Seneca Park.
Fall foliage was exceptional this year. Small blessings.
3. Christmas Lights
Every year I drive around to all of our favorite houses a week before Thanksgiving (roughly 90 miles) to make sure they are still decorating this year.
Then throughout December I revisit again to see them all lit up, plus enjoy other beautiful homes along the drive.
I’ve heard from many of you who agree that more homes were decorated this year than in years past, and were lit even before Thanksgiving.
I truly would like to thank this entire community for sharing a little joy together.
Our sunflower fields are extraordinary! And while I’m usually content enjoying the Hopkins Farm on Clover, this year I was excited to get to all of the big farms to experience their sunflower activities.
Stokoe Farms at twilight was unique, as were the beautifully staged photo ops at Wickham Farms. And Sunflowers at Sandborn is absolutely worth the drive, especially if you’re heading out toward Lewiston or Niagara Falls.
I spent a beautiful sun-filled late-August Saturday driving around Skaneateles Lake and wandering through the village. It’s one of my favorite villages to spend time in, but I usually find myself there for Dickens Christmas and not in the summer.
When you’re driving, there are only so many places you can stop and take a photo, so trust me when I say there are beautiful views and fascinating sights found all around the lake that just cannot be captured.
6. East Aurora
Of all the places I visited this year, I walked the most on this day trip.
In addition to wandering around Darien Lakes and Knox Farm state parks, I explored the main and side streets throughout East Aurora, appreciating the art and architecture, unique boutiques and dining options, and all of the instances of the arts-and-crafts font style. It’s seriously everywhere, from the rail bridge pictured above to business signage to trash cans.
Most of my day trips I take by myself, but I was able to spend a gorgeous Saturday in August exploring Lewiston with my husband. It’s so nice to have someone else do the driving and share the experience!
Lewiston is an excellent village to wander around, and there is so much to do between Rochester and Lewiston making for a great road trip.
I find myself in Letchworth several times a year. And despite the overwhelming popularity of the three main falls, there are miles and miles of trails and spaces far from the crowds.
Even the pool was more accessible with the capacity restrictions this year so my daughter and I spend her hot July birthday cool in the pool after a hike down to Lower Falls.
Even though I find myself in and around the area several times a year, I spent a beautiful November weekend (two day trips in a row) intentionally exploring specific places I’ve always wanted to go.
10. Livingston County
I started the first few days of the new year exploring all around Livingston County, driving to many of their villages like Dansville, Geneseo, and Livonia, with stops at historic sites along the way.
In early-February, my husband and I enjoyed a tour of the Wadsworth Homestead.
In late-February my bestie and I did more exploring with brunch and boutique shopping in Caledonia, stopping at the Abbey of the Genesee on the way to Letchworth, with dinner in Mount Morris. Definitely one of the last “normal” day trips in 2020.
11. Genesee River Alliance Guided Walks
I was so much looking forward to this once-a-month guided walk series!
The plan was brilliant! The description from the Genesee Land Trust website reads, “Rochester’s urban corridor along the river is about 13 miles long, and in 2020 the Genesee River Alliance wants to explore most of it by walking at least a mile a month!”
The hikes were to be roughly 2-3 miles each month, exploring one mile of river round trip on and around the Genesee Riverway Trail from Genesee Valley Park to Ontario Beach Park.
We were able to begin the tour together in January through Genesee Valley Park, and March in the PLEX section including the University of Rochester rail bridge and Ford Street Bridge. I think February was too cold so I either skipped it or it was cancelled, I can’t recall.
They quickly encouraged use of the new Tour Blend iOS app for independent walking tours along the river.
I’m hoping that the guided group tours return in the future. This storytelling around the river’s history, significance, and environmental impacts is so valuable. And sharing it with a community of people who appreciate The Genesee adds so much meaning to its impacts on our lives, and our impact on its health.
I made several trips to Geneva this year. I felt drawn there for some reason. Maybe because I love the drive along 5 & 20. I sometimes loop back on NY-96 and drive through Clifton Springs or Phelps and Victor. It’s also a perfect stopping point on the way home from Skaneateles, Auburn, Montezuma and Seneca Falls.
I love the architecture and the city’s position on Seneca Lake. The waterfront trail is so interesting and accessible, and the Finger Lakes Welcome Center is cozy. Plus, it’s a central point to explore around Seneca Lake to Watkins Glen, over to Cayuga Lake, up to Seneca Falls and back again, with stops at scenic and world-renowned wineries along the way.
I’m looking forward to spending more time there enjoying a bustling Linden Street.
13. Genesee Country Village
I got more out of my Genesee Country Village & Museum membership this year that any other year before!
I find the village is a great place to escape the 21st century, especially this year, and wander through history. Every time I go I take a different set of streets, wander behind and between homes, sit for a spell on a different porch. I enjoy sitting on the porches and listening to the activities in the square.
And the nature center has miles of trails that are less popular than our county and state parks making it more likely to see deer and other woodland and meadow critters.
14. Highland Park
I used to visit Highland Park roughly once a month on lunch or after work to witness the subtle changes each season brings. This year, I made it there 4 times, mainly because I used to work right down the street, but now it’s a trek from where I live.
Highland was full of odd moments this year, which is why I’ve added it to my top favorites.
First, the Conservatory was closed early on so they brought the Spring Show outside.
Second, the tulips, because of reduced human presence in April, were eaten by deer! But the ones that remained (pictured above) were just as beautiful.
Third, after all of these years exploring, I found a new favorite spot in Highland, also pictured above. It was a hot, sunny day during which would have been Lilac Fest. Trying to avoid the main pathways, I wandered between the magnolias to the grass path that runs midway up the hill between the lilacs. Under this canopy of shade, the cool breeze carried the sweet fragrance of 1,200 lilac bushes. Heaven on Earth.
15. Sandy Bottom Nature Park
I had decided one beautiful weekend morning to take a drive around Honeoye Lake, down the west side under Harriet Hollister toward the inlet, and back up the east side to the marina and the overlook on 20. I noticed a sign for Sandy Bottom Nature Park and stopped.
I think most people come to this boardwalk system from the lake and Sandy Bottom Beach. But I stumbled onto it from East Lake Road and walked the trail along Mill Creek.
For a picture-perfect day, I only saw three other people around the boardwalks, and no one along the trail between East Lake and the start of the boardwalk.
This was a great secluded spot in the middle of a village. The walk to Honeoye Lake and back again was truly enjoyable.
16. Havana Glen
I had no expectation of what I would find when I stopped to check out Havana Glen. It was just another waterfall on a long list of waterfalls I should see, like Akron Falls above.
It was a spontaneous decision after hiking Taughannock, walking along the swimming area at Buttermilk Falls, and now driving toward Montour Falls and Watkins Glen. But I figured I was right there and might as well have a look.
I don’t think I’ve ever used gobsmacked in a sentence before, but there you have it. I was gobsmacked. Seriously. A hidden gem.
It’s clearly a place the locals fully appreciate, within a town park and campground. You don’t know what beauty awaits you there until you start along the short cliff-hugging trail toward Eagle Cliff Falls.
17. Holley Canal Falls
On the day I visited Holley Canal Falls, I hadn’t actually planned to. I was up by Lake Ontario on the Genesee Riverway Trail, thinking about the fall foliage and suddenly a drive out toward Orleans County sounded like a good idea! (My mind works in mysterious ways.)
Plus, I had lived in Holley for a few years 20+ years ago and haven’t visited many times since moving south of Rochester.
So maybe it was intuition, but I don’t believe I could have visited on a more perfect afternoon. The temperature was great for a hike in the woods, the canal was still full, and the parking lot wasn’t.
On that note, if you ever find the parking area at the base of the falls is full, park up near the canal bridge on East Ave, or at the top of the drive near the old train depot. Holley Canal Falls is just a part of the larger Holley Canal Park and it’s a wonderful loop walk regardless of whether you start at the bottom or the top.
18. Webster Arboretum
I’ve spent a few day trips in Webster Arboretum but always seemed to miss the daylilies in bloom, but not this year! This year I made a point to go in July. Webster Arboretum has 240+ daylily cultivars of exceptional color and beauty.
Over the years, I’ve primarily visited Ganondagan during the dance festival on or very near my birthday. It’s a truly special event.
This year, I found myself there during each season, wandering the grassland trails atop the hill and around the longhouse. With no one else around, it was easy to spend time envisioning what the hill must have looked like when the village was in it’s prime, before its destruction.
20. Watkins Glen
I had not been to Watkins Glen in years. Not because I wouldn’t have loved to go, but the massive crowds in New York’s most popular state park were enough to deter me. It is hard to get there during the week, or early on a weekend to beat the tour buses.
With park capacity limited in 2020, and no tours coming out of NYC or Toronto, it felt strange having long stretches of the glen to myself on a hot July Saturday afternoon.
I highly encourage you to visit once the gorge trails reopen in late-May. Watkins Glen is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and only 90-minutes from Rochester.
Other day trips throughout the year
Here are even more day trips, listed month-by-month. And the crazy thing is that this isn’t even everything! This doesn’t capture all of the places I stopped along the way. It doesn’t include scenic drives or vistas I went out of my way to see.
What’s beautiful about a day trip are the things you don’t plan for or expect to see when you’re just driving along; things you can’t capture with a camera.
In addition to exploring so many places around Livingston County—one of our top 20 favorites above—I began the year with a First Day Hike at Letchworth, with stops along the Greenway near York and Piffard.
We were so very lucky to drive to Savannah, GA for my daughter’s wedding the first week in March, with a night in Gettysburg on the way home. Back in Rochester, with post-vacation shopping to do, I headed to Wegmans not knowing the toilet-paper-hording crazy I was about to encounter.
We all spent a little more time at home in March in a haze of uncertainty. I made trips to two of my favorite places, Highland Park and Mendon Ponds Park, because they each are exceptional places to enjoy nature at her finest.
April was filled with little attempts to keep exploring places that favored solitude.
Plus some small or less popular spaces like Rotary Park, Hemlock Lake, Rush Oak Openings, Papermill Falls, the Lehigh Valley Rail Trail at Rochester Junction, Sibleyville Nature Reserve, and Christine Sevilla Wetland Preserve.
And driving around appreciating Rochester’s architecture and wall art.
In addition to exploring Geneva over a few different days, with a stop to wander around Clifton Springs, and a memorable trip to Akron Falls—two of our top 20 favorites above—I took a wide-array of day trips.
In addition to exploring Letchworth, Highland and Ganondagan over this and several months—three of our top 20 favorites above—I spent some time driving around Honeoye Lake, over to Silver Lake and and down to Wiscoy Creek Falls.
I’ve wandered around Washington Grove on Cobb’s Hill several times now, but this was the first time we were able to catch an artist at work. It was a privilege to see Justin Suarez working with several others on new art on the water towers.
In addition to exploring all of the major sunflower fields around Rochester, plus Lewiston, East Aurora and Skaneateles—four of our top 20 favorites above—I enjoyed long walks through Darien Lakes and Knox Farm state parks.
I stopped into Bergen Water Gardens at the right time as it seems late-July through August is the perfect time to visit when the lotus are in full bloom. According to the website, “It’s best to visit before 1:00 PM as the single flower lotus will still be open.” I realized once I was there that I had never seen lotus except in artwork and symbolism, and I was absolutely fascinated by them! Such a strange and unusual flower, but not recommended for people with Trypophobia.
I had the chance to take a long walk around the South Wedge and over to Genesee Gateway Park with an old friend I have not seen in at least decade!
If I could take any month off from my full-time job it would be September. I love September because it’s still full of summer’s life but much cooler and great for spending lots of time outside.
I took a cruise on the Colonial Belle for the very first time ever! A 3-hour tour from Fairport to Lock 32 and back. I even sat next to a friend-of-a-friend, discovering our connection half way through the trip. I miss conversations with strangers. You never know where they’ll lead and what they’ll reveal.
As part of a lovely lake-shore drive to Pultneyville, I took a hike through Cornwall Preserve and wandered along the lake at B. Forman Park. Both exceptional properties for enjoying a sweeping Lake Ontario view.
I made lots of quick trips to places like the Rochester Public Market, Maplewood Rose Garden, Rochester’s Hidden Sidewalk, Helmer Nature Center, Powder Mills Park, Thomas Creek Wetland Trail, and Mount Hope Cemetery.
In addition to exploring so many beautiful places to enjoy fall foliage around Monroe County, Genesee Country Museum and Holley Canal Falls—three of our top 20 favorites above—I met up with my sister’s family in Ontario County Park to explore the Jump Off. We then headed down to Grimes Glen, The Olde Country Store, Joseph’s Wayside Market, and Monica’s Pies.
Spent lots of time exploring pumpkin farms like Ford Farm, Powers Farm Market, Stokoe Farms, Wickham Farms and Long Acre Farm.
Some short walks at Black Creek Park and along the Genesee Riverway Trail.
Another trip with my bestie to Mount Hope Cemetery on Halloween because it really is the most beautiful time to visit. I try to go every Halloween. And once you start veering off the beaten path, you discover some great stuff, like the photo above that reads, “Now I Know Something You Don’t.” Things that make you go hmmm…
In addition to two days spent exploring the Buffalo-Niagara region and several looking at Christmas Lights—two of our 20 favorites above—I spent some time at the Rochester Public Market and Lamberton Conservatory.
I also went to see Rochester’s newest wall mural on State Street near Four Corners: I Am Speaking. I am listening.
Otherwise, November was rather uneventful. The post-Halloween spike in COVID-19 cases and colder weather made leaving the house a little less desirable.
In addition to exploring dozens of amazing Christmas Light displays in Monroe County—one of our top 20 favorites above—I was able to spend a few hours with my mom at Lamberton Conservatory enjoying the holiday show.
Another short walk at Black Creek Park rounded out the year.
What were your favorite day trips around Rochester in 2020?
Your insights and experiences are valuable. Please share them in the comments.