Camping trip to Ithaca 

One afternoon I stumbled across a photo like the one just above these words and decided we must go to wherever it was. Turns out this place wasn’t middle earth but Robert H Treman State Park in Ithaca, upstate New York and only 4 hours away.

When people think of America they imagine Los Angeles with the Hollywood sign, fat people cramming themselves into NYC yellow cabs or Disneyland, with all of the horror’s of excited and tired children. Maybe the bad political system or the lack of affordable healthcare or perhaps that there is absolutely no decent food whatsoever. I’ve found people of my parents age and older have this strange grudge against America that they pretend not to have but find hard to let go of. I personally think it’s down to a certain catastrophic event when a rather large amount of tea ended up not with milk and sugar. Although I know my parents have a different reason for not liking America (a family event), the thing that made me notice this odd grievance was Halloween. I was never allowed to go trick or treating and when I asked why, the answer I received was ‘it’s an American holiday.’ The one year I was permitted to join in, I never made it out but spent the whole night throwing up thinking of the costume I’d never get to wear. What struck me as irregular was that I was encouraged to celebrate and participate in other holidays that weren’t American. Eid, Chinese New Year, Diwali, but luckily not Ramadan! 

The history of Ithaca takes us back 20 years or so after the ‘tea incident’ to 1790 when white man first settled there. Of course the Native Americans had been there since as early as 1657 but because the six Iroquois nations had allied with the British, raids were organised to destroy their villages and crops. The land was sectioned off and given as payment to Veterans of the war as part of the Central New York Military Tract Program. The city became a transshipping hub for salt, a railroad was built and in 1865 the ivy league university of Cornell was established. 

These days Ithaca is known for; state parks, being a liberal college town, vineyards, the farmers market and being near to the Finger Lakes. Walking, nature, wine & food- all our favourite things and we were determined to fit them all into our 2 day weekend. We left Friday night after Sahar had finished work, battled with the New Jersey traffic and then spent most of our time driving through Pennsylvania. Once we exited the highway we rolled the windows down and savored the tiny rural communities we drove through. People were sat on their porches as the sun dipped behind the tree’s, cows grazed in the fields and old, rusty silo’s towered above us with trails of ivy reaching for the sky. It was good to be back in the countryside.

There’s 3 state parks within a 20 minute drive of town that offer camping but the only one that wasn’t fully booked on any weekend was Taughannock Falls state park. When we’ve stayed at other state parks in Florida they’ve always been excellent and this one was no exception. We were a 5 minute walk from the start of 3 walking trails which we went to explore after a breakfast of bacon sandwiches. The northern rim trail took us up into the forest onto the cliffs edge and gave us an amazing view down onto the river below. Birds of prey circled overhead above the Upper Falls which tumble down for 66 m, 10 m taller than the infamous Niagara Falls. To get a better impression of the height we descended down to the valley floor to complete the gorge trail. 

After working off at least 10% of our bacon sandwich’s, we concurred it was time for a treat and headed to the Ithaca farmers market. It’s been going since 1973 with over 160 vendors from a 30 mile radius. It has expanded over the years to numerous locations and is held year round. We were lucky enough to be there on the day that it is at the pavilion at Steamboat landing, a beautiful wooden structure with lights strung across the ceiling and open sides. Fresh cut flowers, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, craft products, local made cider, organic meat and not to mention the food stalls for taking advantage of whilst you’re there! We bought berries to snack on during the afternoon and some vegetables for dinner, vowing to return to do our weekly shop before driving home on Sunday. 

After our visit to the farmers market and a quick jaunt around town, we headed out to begin following the wine trail around Cayuga Lake. I’d marked some down before we left because unlike Australia you have to pay for tastings and I’m very fussy when it comes to wine (my friends might say otherwise.) Our first stop was Bellwether Hard Cider which I was a bit apprehensive about because American’s really aren’t into cider at all. If you go to a bar, there might be one on draft if your lucky or some horrible Strongbow type thing in a can. The cider wasn’t that special but they had a lovely cat, so big bonus points there. We got briefly distracted and somehow ended up in the parking lot of Cayuga Lake Creamery, not sure how that happened. Anyway moral of the story is don’t order 2 scoops in America because it equals to 4 scoops in the UK.

Our second stop was Myer Farm Distillers who produce a selection of vodka, gin, whiskey & bourbon. Sahar came away with a bottle of whiskey which he’s been on about buying for months so hopefully that’ll shut him up. Toro Run was probably my favourite of the day, I’d read that it had the best views of the lake and boy they weren’t kidding! Set right up on a hill you could see for miles over what frankly looked like an ocean instead of a land locked body of water. We made it as far as the Boathouse Beer Garden which was only next door before we decided to bail and go have a nap.

We finished our day off by attending a concert by the lake which is part of the event schedule they organise every summer. We took our camp chairs, a bottle of wine and enjoyed the final rays of sunshine whilst reflecting on what we’d been up to. You could tell it was a huge social event, families were there with picnics, kids taunting dogs with frisbees, a huge crowd was dancing. It was such a nice atmosphere and great people watching too. We cooked dinner on the fire and then tested out our brand new marshmallow toasting forks whilst watching the fireflies in the bushes.

Sunday morning saw us up early but being up early means beating all the crowds to the beauty spots! Robert H Treman state park is the top rated activity on Tripadvisor in the Ithaca area, it was also one of the other campgrounds that was fully booked. On reflection I think where we stayed was much nicer, it was quieter and there were more tree’s surrounding the individual campsites. However the RHT park does offer some wonderful swimming holes and hikes. We started off on the gorge trail which takes you downwards following the river using a series of steps. Around every corner was another astounding view with many different waterfalls and impressive towering cliff edges. Squeaking chipmunks scampered in the undergrowth, bright orange day lilies grew along the path and the sunshine filtered through the leaves. We looped back around by taking the rim trail which made it into a semi-strenuous 4.5 m/7.2 km hike. 

We had one last trip to the farmers market to pick up some vegetables then headed to the Cornell Botanic Garden. Unfortunately we were short on time with a 4 hour drive ahead of us so couldn’t explore much of it. Honestly I think even if you lived in the area it would take years to see it all. The site consists of 25 acres of Botanic Garden and 150 acres of Arboretum. There was a lovely herb garden and a whole section dedicated to wildflowers like the ones we’d seen lining the roads on our travels. A quick stop at Buttermilk Falls state park just to see it and then we continued home back to New Jersey.

So we did manage to do everything on our list with some great time management but we both would love to return. The ‘problem’ with America is that the seasons have such a dramatic effect on the landscape and activities on offer, you really need to revisit somewhere at least 3 times to get the full experience!