Best Things To Do in The Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes region of central New York is known as an outdoor lover's paradise. Home to several expansive state parks, including Watkins Glen and Taughannock Falls, the area boasts excellent hiking trails and spectacular waterfalls. What's more, the region's 11 glacial lakes offer opportunities for boating, fishing and water sports. Oenophiles will be happy to hear this section of the state is ripe with wineries and wine trails. Meanwhile, families will love the Strong National Museum of Play, while history buffs will enjoy touring the Corning Museum of Glass or the George Eastman International Museum of Photography.
Updated September 5, 2019
- #1View all PhotosfreeSkaneateles Lake#1 in The Finger LakesRecreation, Shopping, Sightseeing, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRecreation, Shopping, Sightseeing, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Located about 23 miles southwest of Syracuse, Skaneateles Lake is the sixth-largest of the Finger Lakes. The name means "long lake" in the Iroquois language and indeed, the 16-mile-long lake crosses three counties: Onandaga, Cayuga and Cortland. The historic Skaneateles Village dates back to the Revolutionary War and is filled with local shops, restaurants, inns and bed-and-breakfasts. The sparkling, clear lake is a favorite for boating and fishing.
Many recent visitors to Skaneateles Lake said it was a favorite stop and loved the charming, historic town, saying that both dining and shopping were excellent. Visitors also commented on the lake's calm and clean "crystal clear" waters and said that even though it's off the beaten path it's well worth a visit. Several recommended one of the local boat tours, such as those provided by Mid-Lakes Navigation, as a way to learn the history of the area.
- #2View all Photos#2 in The Finger LakesSkiing, SportsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDSkiing, SportsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
During the winter season, which runs from December through March, the Finger Lakes region is a destination for both downhill and cross-country skiers. The two major year-round resorts, Bristol Mountain and Greek Peak, offer a variety of winter sports from downhill skiing and snowboarding to snow tubing and snowshoeing.
Bristol Mountain boasts the highest vertical rise between the Rockies and the Adirondacks and recent visitors complimented the nice layout and great fall line skiing, as well as the separate beginner slope with its own dedicated chair lift. Greek Peak Mountain Resort near Cortland features both day and night skiing. Families who visited recently loved the convenience of on-site childcare and multiple options for dining, plus many were impressed with the ski school. Although both large resorts offer cross-country terrain, many locals and recent visitors love the unspoiled and less crowded trails in state parks like the Finger Lakes National Forest or the Cummings Nature Center.
- #3View all Photos#3 in The Finger LakesHiking, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
One of the most popular state parks within the region, Watkins Glen is known for its 19 waterfalls and picturesque trails, especially the Gorge Trail. This looped path, which spans 2 ½ miles, winds over and under the falls and through the spray of the Cavern Cascade. A shuttle runs to the top of the trail for those who prefer not to hike up the long slope. Both campers and day visitors also receive access to the park's Olympic-size swimming pool. What's more, the park offers picnic facilities and fishing in nearby Seneca Lake or Catherine Creek, known for its spring run of rainbow trout.
Recent visitors called the waterfalls "amazing" and said this park is a must-do for hikers and photographers thanks to the charming paths and stone bridges that blend into the natural environment. Some loved the scenic 2-mile walk, while others recommended taking the shuttle to the top and walking down.
- #4View all Photos#4 in The Finger LakesMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Corning Museum of Glass offers one of the world's best collections of art and historical glass, from a portrait of an Egyptian pharaoh to works by Tiffany and Chihuly. The museum's Innovation Center focuses on the science of glass, featuring hands-on exhibits and live glassmaking demonstrations. Visitors can also take a beginner's glassmaking class. If you bring your smartphone or tablet, you can download the museum's GlassApp, which includes videos, artist bios and photos you can reference while walking through the museum.
Many recent visitors raved about the free demonstrations and hands-on experiences, which cover everything from sandblasting to glass blowing. Reviewers were also quick to note that seats for demonstrations fill quickly and recommend arriving early to secure a spot. Others loved the exhibits showcasing work by Tiffany and Chihuly. On your way out, don't forget to stop at the museum store – another highlight for reviewers.
- #5View all Photos#5 in The Finger LakesSightseeing, Tours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Tours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The Seneca Lake Wine Trail, situated in the heart of the Finger Lakes wine region, is one of the most popular trails, offering more than 35 wineries, cideries and breweries in a concentrated area adjacent to the 75-mile shoreline, making it easy to visit several in a daytrip. Known for its excellent riesling, the region's varietals also include chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc and gewurztraminer.
Recent visitors said the Finger Lakes wine region ranks highly in comparison to well-known regions like Napa or Sonoma, and travelers loved the convenience of having a concentration of wineries in one area. Many recommended appointing a designated driver for a day of tastings and suggest researching your route in advance, as the products and quality may vary. In addition to the wineries, visitors were impressed with the cideries in the area, citing excellent hard cider and mead in particular. If you're visiting during high season (Memorial Day to Columbus Day), plan your daytrip during the week: weekends see long waits in the tasting rooms, according to travelers. Another tip from recent visitors? Most popular spots for lunch and dinner are on the east side of the lake. Doug's Fish Fry is a regional favorite.
- #6View all Photos#6 in The Finger LakesParks and Gardens, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Robert Treman State Park is known for its rugged and stony gorge, Enfield Glen, and the 115-foot Lucifer Falls. In fact, Lucifer Falls is just one of 12 waterfalls along the park's 9 miles of winding trails. The park also features a stream-fed swimming area beneath a waterfall, campsites, cabins and RV sites.
Recent visitors called Robert Treman the best state park in the region thanks to its gorgeous views, but caution that you must be in good shape to hike up the steep trail to the upper falls. Meanwhile, photography buffs said the old mill and Gorge Trail offer great photo ops. Animal lovers appreciated the pet-friendly hiking and camping.
- #7View all Photos#7 in The Finger LakesHiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The waterfall at Taughannock Falls State Park is one of New York's most spectacular natural sights, descending more than 200 feet over 400-foot-tall rocky cliffs above the gorge. Trails offer stunning views from above the falls and campsites and cabins line the sparkling lake, which also offers a marina and a beach. The park also boasts trails for cross-country skiing, sledding slopes and skating ponds, making it a year-round destination. In the summer, concerts are held along the lake shore.
Recent visitors were disappointed that a dry summer also dried up the fabulous waterfall, but even so, loved the easy walk to the viewpoint (nearly 2 miles up and back) and the new visitor center. Those traveling with kids were also pleased with the playground.
- #8View all Photos#8 in The Finger LakesMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Who wouldn't love a museum dedicated to play? The Strong National Museum of Play in downtown Rochester has something for kids of any age. From "Sesame Street," board games, dolls and books to the latest electronic games, the museum is home to the world's most comprehensive toy collection. Interactive exhibits include a replica Wegmans grocery store – where kids can shop and use a cash register – and an area devoted to the history of vehicles, from trucks and trains to planes and boats.
Many recent visitors, as well as local residents, call this interactive facility a "gem" and a great place to take kids and grandkids, saying it's great for children ages 2 to 10. Some parents recommend bringing drinks and snacks (you can picnic on museum grounds or dine in a designated area in the museum) and several say the butterfly conservatory is worth the extra money.
- #9View all Photos#9 in The Finger LakesHistoric Homes/Mansions, MuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHistoric Homes/Mansions, MuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Located in Rochester, this facility – the world's oldest museum of photography and one of the oldest film archives – is housed within the former estate of George Eastman, a photography and film pioneer. The National Historic Landmark pays homage to the history of photography and motion picture film, offering both permanent and temporary exhibits, an extensive library and a 500-seat theater, which shows more than 300 films each year. Past exhibitions have covered the relationship between photography and our national parks and the history of space photography.
Recent visitors called this museum "a must for the photography enthusiast" and said that even if you're not interested in film and photography, the historic mansion and gorgeous gardens are worth a visit. Reviewers also highly recommended the on-site cafe for lunch.
- #10View all Photos#10 in The Finger LakesSightseeing, Tours, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Tours, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Founded in 1865 by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White, this Ivy League private university is located in Ithaca. When you're not exploring Cornell's 745 acres, head to Collegetown for budget-friendly eats and university apparel, or nearby Cayuga Lake for more outdoorsy pursuits.
Recent visitors said the campus is gorgeous – especially in the fall – and an ideal place to take photographs thanks to the beautiful old academic buildings (many of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places). You'll also spot stunning views of the surrounding lakes from the campus's hilltop perch (specifically, the Libe Slope Overlook). Some reviewers bemoaned the lack of available parking and recommended visiting on a weekend when there aren't major university events (hint: avoid homecoming, commencement and home football games). You can view a calendar of events on the university's website.
- #11View all Photos#11 in The Finger LakesSports, Tours, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSports, Tours, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Since 1948, Watkins Glen has been one of the premier racing facilities in North America, hosting everything from the Formula One United States Grand Prix to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Legendary drivers, including Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Tony Stewart, have tested their skills on this course, and visitors can follow in their footsteps with the Drive the Glen program. Guests can take two laps on the 3.4-mile course and also receive a commemorative finish line photo. The venue also hosts large regional events, such as the Finger Lakes Wine Festival.
Visitors from all over the world love the Drive the Glen program, calling it the highlight of the trip, and recommend arriving early to avoid long lines. Others enjoyed watching practice rounds and taking in the scenic views of Seneca Lake (both of which can be experienced for free).
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