The first Women's Rights Convention, the foundation for the modern struggle for civil rights, was held at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Seneca Falls in 1848. The Women's Rights National Historical Park, 136 Fall St. (tel. 315/568-2991; www.nps.gov/wori), which is run by the National Park Service, commemorates the struggle initiated by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and others (the abolitionist and women's rights movements were linked from early on); such happenings at Seneca Falls expanded the definition of liberty in the United States. The extant remains of the original chapel, where 300 people gathered on July 19, 1848, and the landmark "Declaration of Sentiments" was drafted, is next to a museum that's jampacked with information about women's and civil rights history. The museum does an excellent job raising issues to think about for visitors of both genders and all ages, which is why it's also a great place for kids, who can also be made "Junior Rangers." The museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm; admission is free.
Seneca Falls has, quite understandably, become a place of pilgrimage for people with a specific interest in women's and civil rights. A host of related sights, including the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House, 32 Washington St. (tel. 315/568-2991; www.nps.gov/wori/historyculture/elizabeth-cady-stanton.htm; guided tours $1; sign up at Park Visitor Center), are located in and around Seneca Falls; pick up the booklet Women's Rights Trail, at the museum gift shop. Down the street from the Historical Park is the National Women's Hall of Fame, 76 Fall St. (tel. 315/568-8060; www.greatwomen.org), which is a good place to see, in name and achievement, how far women have come since the days of that legendary convention. It honors the achievements of American women in diverse fields. It's open May through September, Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday noon to 5pm; October through April, Wednesday to Saturday 11am to 5pm; admission is adults $3, students and seniors $1.50, families $7. Also worth a brief look, especially for those with an interest in the upstate canal system across the street, is the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry, 89 Fall St. (tel. 315/568-1510), which tells the story of transportation and industrialization in the region.
Today, Seneca Falls is relatively quiet and unassuming as compared to its tumultuous past. Van Cleef Lake, forged as an expansion of the New York State Barge Canal, is one of the prettiest (and most photographed) spots in the Finger Lakes. The banks of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal are being prettified with benches and paths. The downtown area, essentially a main street with two bridges over the canal (one of which distinctly recalls that pivotal scene in It's a Wonderful Life), is charming, and Fall Street is lined with nice shops, including the very appropriate WomanMade Products (91 Fall St.; tel. 315/568-9364; www.womanmadeproducts.com), a very enjoyable place to while away an afternoon.
At the north end of Cayuga Lake and 5 miles east of Seneca Falls, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, 395 routes 5 and 20 east, Seneca Falls (tel. 315/568-5987; www.fws.gov; daily 8am-5pm; visitor center Apr-Oct, Mon-Fri 10am-3pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4pm; Nov, weekends only 10am-3pm; closed Dec-Mar), established in 1938, is a magnificent spot for birding and a fantastic spot for families to get up close and personal with wildlife. The marshes in this part of the Finger Lakes are a preferred rest stop along the Atlantic Migratory Flyway, and the 7,000 acres of wetlands attract thousands of waterfowl and other water birds -- including Canada geese, blue herons, egrets, and wood ducks -- on their long journeys from nesting areas in Canada (at the height of migration, as many as 2 million birds occupy the area). During the fall migration, the peak for geese and ducks is mid- to late November; for shorebirds and wading birds, mid-August to mid-September. During the spring migration that is less flashy than fall, waterfowl peak in late February through April, while the peak of warbler migration is mid-May. In addition to walking trails, there's a self-guided Wildlife Drive (in winter, there are cross-country skiing and snowshoeing). Ask in the visitor center for the location of the bald eagle's nest.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.