"Bag tied in the middle" is the rough translation of the Iroquois word Chautauqua, which gives its name to the lake and county in New York where I grew up. Just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Pittsburgh, it’s mostly known for being a warm-weather getaway for out-of-towners a couple months out of the year.
However, if you make your way up 79 North in the winter, you’ll find a much quieter version. The bars are filled with year-round locals and you never have a problem finding parking. Some of the coffee shops, restaurants, and wineries are closed for the season, but there’s no shortage of things to see and do.
Sleigh rides inside the Chautauqua Institute offer an intimate tour of the community. You can’t help but be blown away by the beauty of the Athenaeum Hotel, built in 1881, that overlooks the lake. For those homes that haven’t been winterized, rentals are fairly affordable. The Hall of Philosophy is also a popular spot for weddings.
If winter sports are your thing, there are a ton of snowmobile trails through towns like Mayville and Sherman, or you could hit the slopes at Peek’n Peak at nearby Findley Lake. But for those who like to keep things slow, given that the lake is frozen over, cross-country skiing and ice fishing are also popular Chautauqua attractions.
One thing I was surprised to hear upon my most recent trip to the area was that the city of Jamestown opened up the National Comedy Center, the first of its kind. Attached to the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum (Ball was born along Chautauqua Lake in Celeron), the center held its grand opening ceremony in August with some world-famous comedians, including Amy Schumer and Dan Aykroyd.
If you plan on making a road trip up to Chautauqua in the winter, always be prepared for snow. Snow bands along Edinboro, Pa. and Sherman, N.Y. are known to accumulate significant amounts of snow, creating visibility so low you can barely see the car directly in front of you. As a native, my advice is to pull over and let it pass if you’re not comfortable driving in such conditions. But I promise it'll be worth it once you get into town and cross the bridge over Hadley Bay and witness the winter wonderland that engulfs the town when it snows. In the winter, Chautauqua Lake is a picturesque snow globe.