9 Unique Things To Do in Yates County

Blog written & published by: Danielle Benjamin, Wanderlust on a Budget
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About Penn Yan

First, let me tell you a little about Penn Yan. Where’d the name Penn Yan come from? The area was originally settled by people from Pennsylvania and “Yankees” from the New England area starting in 1799. Hence the name Penn Yan!

Located in the beautiful countryside of Yates County, the village of Penn Yan was officially incorporated in 1833. It is in the heart of the Finger Lakes, just over an hour from both Syracuse and Rochester. The county itself is surrounded by lakes, Canandaigua to the west, Keuka to the south, and Seneca to the east. From the farmland in the rolling hills to the scenic lake views, Yates County is one of the most stunning areas in New York State.

I can’t write about all of the amazing things to do in and around Penn Yan without talking about how collaborative the local businesses are. The hills are full of farmland. They don’t call Yates County the Finger Lakes Countrysides for nothing! The custard shop and brewery use ingredients from the local farms. The restaurants feature drinks from the local wineries and breweries. The supportiveness they show to each other is incredible.

See the world’s largest pancake griddle

Yes, you heard that right! Penn Yan is home to the world’s largest pancake griddle, housed on the side of Birkett Mills. The pancake was made during the 1987 Annual Buckwheat Harvest Festival. The griddle, measuring 28 feet, 1 inch, cooked the pancake over a bed of hot coals. The pancake was so big that they used a cement mixer to mix the batter and a crane to flip it!

Birkett Mills has been continuously operating since 1797 and makes Penn Yan the buckwheat capital of the US. Who knew?!

Bike the Keuka Outlet Trail

Originally referred to as the Crooked Lake Canal, the Keuka Lake Outlet connects Keuka and Seneca Lakes. In the early 1800s, it was another way for farmers and manufacturers to sell their goods through its connection to the Erie Canal.

The Keuka Lake Outlet Trail runs alongside the canal, stretching nearly seven miles form Penn Yan to Dresden. Visitors can walk, bike, or ride horseback through the scenic route. Along the trail you’ll find two waterfalls: Cascade Falls and Seneca Mills Falls, along with more gorgeous natural views.

The best way to explore the whole length of the trail is on bicycle. And if you didn’t bring yours with you, no worries! Rent one at Shoreline Rentals, right on the shores of the canal in Penn Yan.

Drink beer in an abandoned barn

Okay, okay. To be fair, the barn is no longer abandoned. Otherwise how would you get beer there? But the barn that houses Abandon Brewing Co. was abandoned when the owners purchased it. The staff shared photos of the 1800s barn from when they first took ownership. Now, they have restored it just enough to house the brewery, while still leaving as much of its history intact.

All of the beers produced by Abandon are made with locally sourced ingredients from farms around New York State. The head brewer has a mission to use the freshest ingredients possible!

While you’re enjoying your Abandon brews, take advantage of the back deck on the barn. The views from the deck are some of the most incredible views in the Finger Lakes!

Sample wine in a South African inspired winery

With hundreds of wineries to visit in the Finger Lakes, it’s always interesting to hear each of their stories and what makes them unique. When I first arrived at Tabora Winery, I was immediately struck by the beauty and originality of the buildings. Of course, then I quickly fell in love with their wine sandwiches, and baked goods!

While sampling some of their delicious offerings, I got to hear the story of Tabora. The owners, Jane and Roger Eatherton, previously owned an orchard in Pennsylvania for 20 years. They specialized in ciders, baked goods, and jams. When they relocated to Yates County, they reestablished Tabora as a vineyard.

Both the name and the Cape Dutch style of their buildings are a reflection of Jane’s childhood home in Cape Town, South Africa. The logo of Tabora is a guinea hen, another South African component to their story. If you’re lucky while you’re visiting the winery, you’ll find the three resident guinea hens roaming the 250-acre farm.

Explore a historic chapel 

One of my favorite things to do in Penn Yan is to just drive along the country roads. The views are incredible! In every direction. Some of the best roads for scenic drives are East Bluff Drive, West Bluff Drive, and Skyline Drive.

While you’re driving along Skyline Drive, keep a lookout for a pull-off and a wrought iron fence along the side of the road. That’s where you’ll find Garrett Memorial Chapel!

The chapel was built by the Garrett family, who were once one of the largest wine producers in the United States. Although the interior is closed this summer, the grounds are open for visitors through the end of October. And I highly recommend exploring the exterior! The stone facades, intricate doors, and creative design elements are such a treasure. Plus, the views of Keuka Lake from the second floor balcony are unbeatable.

Eat custard made from duck eggs

It’s not secret how much I love ice cream. Like, I really love ice cream. I would eat it every day if I could – even in the dead of winter. So when I discovered that Spotted Duck Creamery makes custard flights, I was in dessert heaven!

The owners, Elizabeth and Daniel Hoover, both grew up on organic farms – and they wanted to continue that tradition. They took their dream to make ice cream and took it one step further – custard! Custard is made with eggs, which makes it richer and creamier. They first started with chicken eggs, but then decided to try duck – and it was a hit! Because duck egg yolks are larger, the custard is phenomenal.

All of the flavors are made with locally sourced ingredients. And no artificial flavors or additives! Some of their incredible flavors include:

Fudgie Wudgie – dairy-free dark chocolate that tastes like a fudge pop!
Chai Tea – vanilla with black tea and spices
Squashed – butternut squash with maple and walnuts
Black Button Brunch – made with Black Button’s bourbon cream, maple sugar, and bacon

While you’re enjoying your ice cream, don’t forget to say hello to the famous Ancona ducks in the field behind the building! Plus, the hill views are pretty incredible too.

Discover an old family cemetery in a state park 

It’s no surprise that Keuka Lake is home to Keuka Lake State Park. Filled with miles of trails to explore, the surprising part is that hidden among the trails is an old family cemetery. If you take the trail across from the the main parking lot, about a half mile in you’ll find Beddoe-Rose Cemetery. The cemetery, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, contains fourteen members from the Beddoe and Rose families. They were among the earliest settlers in the area.

There are more trails to explore throughout the park, along with a beach and playground area. The state park is home to 150 campsites for both tents and trailers. So it’s a great budget-friendly place to stay in the heart of the Finger Lakes. And the lake views don’t hurt!

Enjoy a cocktail inspired by the speakeasy era 

The newest addition from local Barrington Distillers, 18th Amendment is located in downtown Penn Yan. The atmosphere of the restaurant is reminiscent of the 1920s speakeasy era, and locals say that there used to be a speakeasy in the building next door. In addition, the great-grandfather of the owners was known as a bootlegger. They have plans to turn the basement into a speakeasy-style bar in the future.

The cocktail bar features an original menu of drinks created with the spirits made at Barrington’s. My favorite? The “Down the Rabbit Hole” made with bourbon, amaretto, black tea, rosemary, lemon, and usually CBD oil. Their chicken corn chowder is the star of the food menu, and is also made using Barrington’s whiskey. It’s delish!

Shop among hundred of crafters and vendors

Every Saturday from April til November, the Windmill Market is filled with nearly 200 crafters and vendors. Wineries, food stalls, crafters, home decor, fresh produce, baked goods, and so much more fill the market. Live music, buggy rides, and rotating demonstrations provide entertainment for the whole family.

And if Penn Yan reminds you of Lancaster, Pennsylvania – there’s a good reason for that! Many Mennonite and Amish families moved to the area from Pennsylvania Dutch country. You can get the best baked goods at the Windmill from the Mennonite bakers! My friend and I also had a lot of fun counting all the horses and buggies we saw while driving around the area.

A weekend in Yates County

With so many unusual and fun things to do in Penn Yan, where will you start? Hiking or biking the trails? Sampling the local beer, wine, and spirits? Or maybe visiting with the animals? Whatever you choose, you’re sure to have a great time in Yates County.