Plan the Perfect Fall Weekend in Oneida County, NY
October 16, 2019
Central New York is one of the very best places to visit in the fall. From gorgeous fall foliage, to farm experiences and craft beer & wine, it doesn’t get much better than this. Being from Syracuse, I’ve become an expert on autumn in New York state, and it has always been my favorite season here. Apple picking, haunted houses, pumpkin spice-everything… what’s not to love? And I’ll admit, I’m often guilty of traveling west to the Finger Lakes region or south to Ithaca when I’m planning a day or weekend trip. But, there is so much to be explored by wandering east! Keep reading to find out how to plan the perfect fall weekend in Oneida County.
Thank you to Oneida County Tourism for hosting me on this incredible fall weekend and planning such a great itinerary!
Clinton Cider Mill
In the fall, you’ll be challenged to find a better way to start the day than a visit to the Clinton Cider Mill. The place oozes with autumn goodness, and there’s nothing more classic than fresh squeezed apple cider on a crisp fall morning.
The Clinton Cider Mill has been in operation for over 100 years and is currently run by the Fehlner family. Even more fascinating is that the press itself is over 130 years old! And it still works like a charm. The best part? You can watch as they feed the apples into the mill, fold the layers of chopped apples in cloth, and then press them to squeeze all the juices out. It’s quite an experience to watch!
How it’s made
Each pressing uses about 20 bushels of locally-sourced apples (900 pounds of about 3,000 apples). Each batch of cider contains at least four different varieties of apples to give it the best taste and color. At the mill, you can buy fresh cider – cold or hot. I prefer hot, mixed with mulling spices – it’s perfection!
The family has also expanded their offerings to include homemade soups and fresh cider donuts. They also sell other locally-made foods including pies, honey, maple syrup, cheese, and more. This is the perfect opportunity to treat yourself!
What happens to the apples? Once they are fully pressed and all the juices are out, the apples get dry and leathery, forming a ‘pomace’. Don’t worry! They don’t go to waste. The pomace gets brought to a local farm and fed to the cows.
North Star Orchards
Fall just isn’t complete without some apple and pumpkin picking. Luckily, at North Star Orchards, you can do both! Take the wagon ride out to the orchards and pick all the pumpkins and apples your little heart desires. Back at the store, there is a wide selection of fresh baked goodies and locally sourced foods to choose from. Of course, you can also buy your pre-picked apples and pumpkins there too. Word of advice? Their pumpkin half-moon cookies are delicious! Also, the orchards are very popular, especially on weekends. Be prepared for it to be crowded; you may have to park across the street!
Adirondack Scenic Railroad
Another classic experience to have during fall in New York state is riding the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. The train departs from Union Station in downtown Utica and travels to different places in the Adirondacks based upon the tour. The railroad has become most famous for their Polar Express experience in the winter. Kids love this experience that recreates the book and movie while they enjoy cookies and hot cocoa! But, the scenic railroad is most beautiful in the fall.
There are several different tours available, depending on who is going and when. Daytime tours are more family-friendly and offer the best views of the fall foliage. Most tours go up to Remsen or Old Forge and back. some of the other special experiences include:
Family Halloween Family Train – kids are encouraged to wear costumes Soda Fountain Train – includes a stop at the 50s-themed restaurant in Remsen Beer & Wine Train – Friday nights on the train with drinks and live music
The Beer & Wine Train
I got to ride on the beer & wine train and listen to Shawn ‘Big Sexy’ Smith perform. He was fantastic! The way the train works is you pick up your pint or wine glass at the Adirondack Scenic Railroad office in Union station. Head over to the train to get on and find a seat. Then, as soon as the train starts moving, you’re free to room around – so head to the music car! I gave it about 10 minutes so the lines could die down, but then I spent the rest of the ride in that car.
On one side there is a bar for beer, the other side of the car had a bar for wine. You can buy individual drinks or by the bottle/six-pack. The bottles of wine (from local Prospect Falls Winery) were only $20-21 each, so a really good deal! The musician performs in the middle of the train car, and since it’s small, you get an up-close-and-personal performance. It was cozy but a lot of energy and a lot of fun! Definitely a great way to spend a Friday night.
Jones Family Farm
To be fair, Jones Family Farm is located just outside Oneida County in Herkimer. But, it’s close enough to be included in this itinerary – trust me, you’ll want to include it. Run by Peter & Suzie Jones, the farm is known for being one of the locations on the Central New York Cheese Trail. When I found out that Suzie was offering a mozzarella stretching class on Saturday, I said ‘heck yes!’ and made sure it was on my weekend itinerary.
When I got to the farm, I quickly made friends with the farm cats, Beano and Toot, and the dogs, Amy and Archie. Peter & Suzie bought the farm over a decade ago and have been making cheese there for about 10 years. They have a large herd of goats out in the field – yes, I visited with them too! But they also source cow’s milk from a neighboring farm. With both types of milk, they make both cheese and ice cream!
Cheese & Ice Cream
In their newly built creamery, Peter and Suzie make a variety of cheeses, including mozzarella, goat cheese, feta, cheddar, bleu… I was lucky enough to attend Suzie’s very first class to learn how to stretch mozzarella. Her warm and friendly personality mixed with her cheese-making expertise made it such a fun experience! I learned a lot about the science behind the mozzarella curd and got to try some fresh, warm mozz. The best part? We got to take our freshly stretched mozzarella home! Well… to the car at least. My husband’s didn’t make it much further than that. 😉
They sell the ice cream in half pints, color-coded so you know what you’re getting. Green for goat’s milk caprilato, orange for cow’s milk gelato, and purple for dairy-free sorbetto. You’ll find more than just your typical flavors as well. Choose from Mexican chocolate, roasted plum & honey, blueberry-lemon cheesecake, and more!
You should also know…
Jones Family Farm has incredible views of the surrounding hills, and is the perfect spot to get some great fall foliage photos. Make sure to spend some time chatting with Peter & Suzie about the history of the farm. They are both so friendly and knowledgeable, you’d be missing out if you didn’t. Lastly, if you can’t make it to the farm, you can also find their products in local stores and restaurants.
Cayo Industrial Horror Realm
With so many haunted houses to choose from in the Central New York area, I was excited to finally be able to check out Cayo Industrial Horror Realm. In previous years, Cayo was located in Utica and had five different houses to choose from. Because of a last minute location change, this year there is only one house – featuring many of the previous houses combined. The cost is a bit steep at $25. And you’ll be inclined to pay $10 more to skip the line since it can easily get to over 2 hours long. It’s a good scare if you’re looking for a local haunt, and it takes about 15 minutes to get through the house. But I also have it on good authority that the haunt will improve with more time at the new location.
Cayo is open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from October 4th through November 2nd. Tickets are sold from 6:30 until 10:30pm; cash only.
Beer & Wine
Woodland Farm Brewery
Woodland Farm Brewery is one of the only breweries in the area to regularly serve cask ale. Rightfully so, they were also the host of the 2019 New York Cask Ale Festival last weekend. We got to enjoy cask ales created by several of the local breweries, including a handful from Syracuse. There was even some cheese from Herkimer Cheese – spreads made in collaboration with Woodland beer. Yummy!
A typical day at Woodland though is like a retreat, with its woodsy setting and cozy atmosphere. Feel free to enjoy some popcorn, but if you know what’s good for you, you’ll order some of the food cooked onsite. It’s creative and delicious! Woodland has also recently boom known for their fantastic brunches (featuring French toast made with Black Button’s bourbon cream!) followed by live music. They also have acoustic performances on Tuesdays and trivia on Thursdays. Definitely a great place to hang out!
Brimfield Farm Winery
Brimfield Farm Winery is one of the most unique wineries I’ve ever visited. Why? Because they also have a driving range on site! Though he denied it, I’m pretty sure my husband was bummed he didn’t have his clubs in the car so he could hit some balls while I enjoyed my wine.
The farm has been family-owned for generations, and has seen the days of winter squash harvesting to dairy cow farming and now wine selling. The history of the farm is prevalent in every little detail. The winery is housed in an old cow barn, refurbished with cedar wood from trees chopped down on their property. The lights above the bar? Repurposed milking machines. SO COOL. Above the tasting room is a loft with old black-and-white photos from Brimfield’s history. And the best part? THE VIEW. Seriously though, I couldn’t think of a better way to enjoy a Sunday than with a glass of wine on the desk overlooking the driving range and the surrounding hills. Perfection.
Please note that both the driving range and winery are seasonal. While they are open every day of the week, they are both closed between late November and April.
About the wine
The owners of Brimfield, John and Teasha Hughes, were incredibly welcoming and very excited to share the history of the farm with me. John explained their partnership with Hosmer Winery on Cayuga Lake, and the difference between wine makers and wine sellers. The Hughes’ sell the wine that is made at Hosmer, though they collaborate on the flavors and names. You’ll notice some of the wines are named after landmarks on Brimfield Farm. My favorite? The Cayuga White – made from a local grape with just the right amount of sweetness.
While you’re enjoying your wine, be sure to complement it with some local cheeses, also from the CNY Cheese Trail. The gouda was perfection! I also purchased some of the cheese curds to take home… it was definitely a very cheesy weekend!
Villa Verona Vineyard
If you’re looking for a more inclusive experience, Villa Verona is the spot for you. There are actually two buildings on site: the one on the right is the tasing room, and the other is the full restaurant.
In the tasting room, you’ll be able to taste a variety of Villa Verona wines as well as New York state craft beers. You can select your own, or choose between preselected dry or sweet wine flights.
In the bistro, you can choose from a full menu of options, as well as a brunch menu on Sundays. My suggestion? Get one of the cheese dishes! Sourced from Herkimer Cheese (another member of the CNY Cheese Trail), the cheeses are to die for. We shared a plate of sliced baguette topped with camembert cheese infused with Villa Verona’s cabernet, drizzled with a balsamic fig glaze. So. Good. Rumor has it there is another Herkimer Cheese/Villa Verona collaboration in the works with a chardonnay… I can’t wait to try that one too!
Weekend in Oneida County
Now that you have a full weekend of things to do in Oneida County, when are you going to go? While this list is geared mostly toward young adults, there truly is something for everyone to enjoy. Be sure to check out some of the local restaurants and waterfalls to further enhance your weekend in Oneida. Plus, if you go in the fall, you’ll want to pull the car over every few minutes because the views are absolutely incredible. Honestly some of the best I’ve ever seen in the fall!
If you’re looking for a place to stay for your weekend in Oneida, be sure to check out the charming bed & breakfast Blueberry Brooke. Have you ever visited the places mentioned here? Tell me all about it in the comments!