7 Amazing Things to Do in the Finger Lakes

Disclosure:  In order to keep providing you with free content, this post may contain affiliate links.  If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  So, a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links.


Growing up, whenever somebody mentioned New York, my mind immediately went to New York City.  Although NYC is an amazing, immense and energetic world, I had no idea there was so much more to this wonderful state until I visited the Finger Lakes.  We will discuss 7 amazing things to do in the Finger Lakes.  Get ready to pack your bags for New York’s wine country.

Before we dive into the list, let’s cover a little basic information on the Finger Lakes.

FINGER LAKES INFORMATION

What are the Finger Lakes?

The Finger Lakes are a group of eleven long, narrow lakes in northern New York.  They are in close proximity, all running north and south.

This area could not be any more different from NYC.  Where NYC is populated with skyscrapers and busy humans, the Finger Lakes region is filled with vast forests, sprawling farms, and vineyards against the backdrop of gorgeous lakes.  

Why are they called Finger Lakes?

A Native American legend tells a story of the lakes being formed by the hands of the Great Spirit.  The Great Spirit laid his hands on the land to bless it.  When he raised his hands, the finger imprints left behind were filled with water.

Others claim that the lakes simply look like fingers on a map.  I much prefer the Native American legend. 

Names of the Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes from east to west are:

  • Otisco Lake
  • Skaneateles Lake
  • Owasco Lake
  • Cayuga Lake
  • Seneca Lake
  • Keuka Lake
  • Canandaigua Lake
  • Honeoye Lake
  • Canadice Lake
  • Hemlock Lake
  • Conesus Lake

Finger Lakes fun facts

  • Longest Lake:  Cayuga, 38.1 miles.
  • Deepest lake:  Seneca, maximum depth 618 feet.
  • Shortest lake:  Canadice, 3 miles.  Ironically, the Native American translation for Canadice is “long lake.”
  • Shallowest lake:  Honeoye, maximum depth 30 feet.

REASONS TO VISIT THE FINGER LAKES

There are many reasons to visit the Finger Lakes.  We can sum it up with the three W’s.

W-2

Thank the Great Spirit, we are not discussing tax forms!  

If you like the two W’s, you will love the Finger Lakes.  What are the two W’s you ask?  Water and wine!  

The first is obvious.  If there are eleven lakes, you will have a lot of water.  I must say, the views of these lakes are breathtaking.  Take it in and enjoy!  

The second W is wine.  My lord, it seems as if there is another winery every 100 yards.  Touchdown!  

If you like wine, there are more wineries than you can possibly get to in a few days.  Please designate a driver if you take this as a challenge.  It is not intended to be one.  

The Third W

What is the third W on our list?  The Finger Lakes offer many divine waterfalls.  I know.  Technically, this is water.  

Since waterfalls are such a distinctive natural phenomenon, they deserve a mention of their own.  The lakes proudly display tranquil beauty while the waterfalls refuse to be ignored with their alluring power.  Both are worth your time. 

AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN THE FINGER LAKES

The list of things to do in the Finger Lakes is a mile long.  It can be quite intimidating.  To make your decisions easier, we will share our recommendations for the top 7 things to do.

Watkins Glen State Park (Elementary, my dear Watkins)

Watkins Glen State Park in Finger Lakes region, NY
Watkins Glen State Park

It is elementary.  Watkins Glen State Park is a must-see spot!  This place blew us away with spectacular view after spectacular view.  Watkins Glen has 19 waterfalls and 200 foot cliffs.  

It rained steadily the entire time we were there and it did not phase me in the least.  I was so enthralled with this place, I did not notice the cold, wet conditions.  

Of course, wearing my Columbia rain jacket certainly helped.  I love it!  This jacket is waterproof and breathable.  It is lightweight and easy to compactly fold.

Despite constant rain at Watkins Glen, I was warm and dry.  You can find Columbia rain jackets on Amazon.

Let me give you a heads up about the park.  From the main entrance, you will ascend over 800 steps to begin your hike.  The many treasures awaiting you make the journey worthwhile.

Cornell Botanic Gardens (Plants vs Zombies)

Cornell Botanic Gardens in Ithaca, NY
Cornell Botanic Gardens in Ithaca, New York

Do not be a zombie blindly following the winery circuit crowd.  If you enjoy wine, by all means visit some of the wineries.  You should.  They are fantastic!  

I encourage you to try something different as well.  Set aside a little time to see the Cornell Botanic Gardens in Ithaca.  Plants are often overlooked, but are powerful in their own way.  Just ask the zombies.  

There are many charming gardens spread out along the Cornell University campus.  This less traveled path is so pretty and peaceful.  It is a very nice change of pace.  

Never fear.  There are a few waterfalls in Ithaca.  It is well worth your time to check out this area.  

If nothing else, you can say you set foot on an Ivy League campus.  I realize it is not quite the same as an acceptance letter, but it will have to do.

Ithaca Farmers Market

Ithaca Farmers Market
Ithaca Farmers Market

While you are in Ithaca, be sure to stop at the Ithaca Farmers Market.  There are lots of stands with unique items.  You can find crisp produce, beautiful fresh cut flowers, hot coffee and tasty food.  

I will warn you that the parking area is a minefield of potholes.  Navigating this can be a bit tricky.  Your efforts will be rewarded with the best crepes east of the Mississippi.  

In all seriousness, be sure to visit the crepes stand.  Your taste buds will thank you.  A couple folks told us they regularly drive over an hour just for the crepes.  This stand offers various options for each of three different types of crepes:  breakfast, savory and sweet.  

Julie and I sampled both a breakfast crepe and a sweet crepe.  They were delicious!  I am salivating as I write this blog post…. Excuse me, I need to go to Ithaca.

Check the Ithaca Farmers Market website to verify hours.

Lakewood Vineyards (This place has gone to the dogs)

Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen, NY
Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen, New York

I want to share our favorite winery experience.  In full disclosure, I am not an oenophile.  I enjoy an occasional glass of wine, but certainly am not an aficionado.  

We really did not know what to expect when visiting wineries at the Finger Lakes.  Our best experience, hands down, was at Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen.  This is a family-owned winery that has great service.  We felt like we were visiting old friends.  

We participated in their wine tasting.  Our host was easy going and did a fantastic job of describing the flavor profiles of the different wines.  

Julie and I discovered that we have very different tastes in wine.  Her favorite was Abby Rose which is a fruity wine.  I prefer their Cabernet Franc which is best enjoyed with a grilled steak or smoked cheeses.  

Between the staff, up to seven dogs inhabit the winery.  We only met a couple of them.  Our furry friends were gentle and well behaved.  Julie played a short game of fetch with Fizzy.  

Lakewood Vineyards has a fun and laid back atmosphere.  The wines are delicious.  The people and dogs are friendly.  It is so cozy it feels like home.  We highly recommend it.

Taughannock Falls State Park

Taughannock Falls in Finger Lakes region of NY
Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls State Park is a bit northwest of Ithaca in the town of Ulysses.  The park’s main attraction is Taughannock Falls, a 215 foot plunge waterfall.  There are rim and gorge trails to view the falls from above and below.

We took the gorge trail.  It is mostly level and easy to hike.  The path is wide and takes you through an enchanting forest.  We saw quite a few people with leashed dogs making the trek.  This is such a peaceful hike.

The end of the trail reveals an amazing single-drop waterfall.  You can feel the powerful wind and mist coming off the waterfall. It is quite impressive.  We found our time here to be relaxing and rewarding.

Hector Falls (Roadside attraction)

Hector Falls - waterfall next to the road in Finger Lakes, NY
Hector Falls – a natural roadside attraction

Hector Falls is about 3.5 miles north of the lower entrance to Watkins Glen State Park.  We were just driving along our merry way and received a complete shock.  Right beside the road is this beautiful, powerful waterfall.  We had to stop for a closer view.

The first 50 feet is above the road.  There are two more drops below the road.  The entire waterfall is about 165 feet.  

For us, this marvel was an unexpected roadside attraction.  Even if you are aware of its existence, it is still a beautiful waterfall.  If you do not enjoy hiking, this one is for you! 

Sunset at the Finger Lakes

Watching a sunset at the Finger Lakes is a wonderful experience.  With tranquil lakes and sprawling vineyards, you almost can’t go wrong.  There are so many opportunities to view a breathtaking sunset.  

Whether you are sipping a glass of wine at one of the wineries or hanging out near a lake, the sunset is sure to be spectacular in this part of New York.  I encourage you to get outside at dusk.  

This place is so beautiful and peaceful during the day.  Sunset multiplies this effect.  A feeling of calm just washes over you as you enjoy a golden close to the day. 

We found the end of the rainbow

Rainbow at Seneca Lake, NY
Rainbow at Seneca Lake

Rainbows are somewhat rare.  Personally, I had never seen the proverbial end of the rainbow.  I realize we got lucky on this, but we literally found the end of the rainbow. 

We were parked on the edge of Seneca Lake waiting for sunset, when it started raining.  Sure enough, the rainbow descended into the lake right in front of our eyes.  We could not believe it.  The leprechaun must have slid into the lake to prevent us from getting his pot of gold… 

Two minutes later the rainbow shifted behind the lake in a thicket of trees on the hillside.  We were blessed to have this spectacular view for two whole minutes.  It is something I will never forget.  I guess the view was our treasure.  

I recommend visiting Seneca Lake for sunset, even if it rains. I cannot promise that you will see the end of the rainbow.  However, you will be blessed with plenty of beautiful scenery.

BEST TIME TO VISIT THE FINGER LAKES

You can visit the Finger Lakes year-round.  Each season has something special.

Winter

Winter brings plenty of snow.  You can go skiing or snowboarding.  The snowy vistas are fantasticCrowds are lower.

Spring

Spring brings warmer weather.  Blooming flowers brighten the landscape against the green grass and blue lakes.  Crowds still tend to be on the lower side.

Summer

Summer is typically the busiest time of year.  The average high temperature from May through September is in the upper 70s or low 80s.  It is very comfortableHiking and canoeing are popular during summer.

Fall

Fall, of course, brings foliage season when bright shades of yellow, orange and red light up the horizon.  It is beautifulCrowd levels are still on the high side.  The temperatures are cooler, but comfortable.  It is a wonderful time to hike or sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy the fall scenery.

Seasonal summary

Summer and fall attract the most visitorsWinter and spring offer a chance for more personalized wine tastings.  The scenery changes with the seasons, but is always beautiful.  Wine is always good…

PLAN YOUR VISIT TO THE FINGER LAKES

Where to start

  • Watch our video for additional travel tips.
  • Check out the Visit Finger Lakes website.  This is a great resource with information on:
  1. Places to stay
  2. Things to do
  3. Events and festivals
  4. Wineries and vineyards
  5. Area maps
  • Use the interactive map below.  You can view the area for a better sense of locations and distance.
  • Decide on your primary objectives for the trip. With 11 lakes, the area is large.  You can do a lot of driving.  What is your goal?
  1. Scenic drives – You can stay virtually anywhere.
  2. Wineries – The largest concentration of wineries is around Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga Lakes.
  3. Specific destination – If there is something in particular you want to see, try to stay in that area.
  4. Solitude – Try to stay near one of the smaller lakes if you prefer to escape the crowds.
  • Use Expedia or Booking.com to explore options on where to stay.  There are many hotels and bed and breakfasts in the area.  With so many options, we feel you are best served to use the recommended sites to conduct your search for the perfect place to stay.  We stayed at Lake Valley Legends Bed & Breakfast in Watkins Glen.  This place has several rooms and a large deck with a great view.  We were very comfortable and had plenty of personal space.  It is a great location to spend time around Seneca Lake.  It is a 30 to 45 minute drive to attractions in the Ithaca area.  Keep in mind that the drives are scenic.  A little windshield time in this area is a good thing.
  • Be aware that Interstate 90 is a toll road.  This highway runs across the top of the Finger Lakes.  Just know that it is a toll road.  You do not have to stop at toll booths.  Overhead gantries with sensors and cameras will photograph your license plate as you pass through.  You will later receive a bill in the mail for the tolls.  The good news is that you will not be bogged down by stopping to pay tolls.  The bad news is that you will still have to pay tolls if you use this highway.  This site has information about toll amounts and gantry locations

We spent most of our time near Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake.  So, our 7 amazing things to do in the Finger Lakes are all based around these two lakes.

There are plenty of wineries.  Cornell Botanic Gardens, Ithaca Farmers Market, Taughannock Falls and Hector Falls are all near Cayuga Lake.  Watkins Glen State Park and Lakewood Vineyards are near Seneca Lake.  Gorgeous sunsets can be found near any lake or vineyard in the region.

The Finger Lakes region is a wonderful place to visit.  If you love wine, it just might be heaven.  Even if you do not enjoy drinking wine, there is plenty to see and do.  

Between the lakes and sprawling vineyards, the landscapes are beautiful year-round.  With so much delicious wine and alluring nature, serenity will be yours.  Do yourself a favor and visit the Finger Lakes.

You might also like:

About the author

We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.

Leave a Comment