So here is the thing. Looking for vacation ideas? Perhaps a 3-4 day long weekend getaway? Like a diversity of awesome things to do? Then the Finger Lakes Region is one place for you.
Our family has lived in upstate New York, in and around the Finger Lakes Region for over 35 years. We have also lived for short assignments in the Space Coast of Florida, the Maryland Chesapeake area, and Southern California. Some great places. So we know what we are saying when we state that the Finger Lakes region New York has awesome things to do.
Better than those other areas, though they were very nice places to visit. Let’s discuss our favorite things to do here in the Finger Lakes:
Where else in the US can you find 6 major lakes with the two largest 40 and 38 miles long? 124 THOUSAND acres of water. 5 public marinas and 9 additional boat launches with all types of boating, fishing and water sports. When bringing a boat is not an option, renting one may be. There are many rental companies throughout the lakes; here are 5 of our recommendations.
Basin Park Marina Rentals are available for 1/2 day, per day or per week. They offer Manitou Pontoon boats with 60 HP outboards and open bow ski boats with optional skis, tubes and other water toys available. Located in Branchport at the Northwestern tip of Keuka Lake.
Reagan’s Canoe and Kayak Livery – If you are fans of the quieter self-propelled kind of boats for taking in the scenery, canoes and kayaks may be your choice. Reagan’s makes it easy as they’ll even deliver them to you. Located in Himrod, on the western side of Seneca Lake.
PuddleDockers Kayak Shop – These guys are a great place to rent kayaks. Located in Ithaca at the Southern end of Cayuga Lake.
Morgan Marine – On Keuka Lake in Penn Yan. They are near the village on Route 54, and rent from paddleboats and kayaks to ski boats. Located on the Northeastern end of Keuka Lake.
Roy’s Marina – They have fishing boats, run-abouts and 24 foot pontoon boats. They are on the West side of Seneca Lake, about 5 miles south of Geneva.
Today we’ll discuss our favorite couple of Finger Lakes wineries and why we liked each. There are many good wineries in the 100 + in this region. We toured more than a majority this past summer and our inputs are based on our selection criteria and our travels.
Thirsty Owl Wine Company
Good wine selection and quality, but we really love two other elements of this winery … its Bistro (and particularly its chef) and its gorgeous patio overlooking the vineyard and Cayuga Lake. It is the perfect setting for lunch from the Bistro. If you have a boat, you can tour this vineyard from the lake by tying up to their dock and giving them a call to pick you up for the drive up the hill (short golf cart drive, but too distant to walk). There are 3 other Cayuga wineries that can be toured by boat … this will be a subject of a future article, as we gave it a go this summer.
Another of our long term favorites located about 20 miles north of Ithaca on the western side of Cayuga is Hosmer Winery. This family run business was a grape producer for 15 years before it added its wine production in the mid 1980’s. They make excellent Rieslings among its award winners.
Glenora Wine Cellars
Another of our long term favorites for 2 reasons … its great location just up the road from Watkins Glen and its great wines. It now is integrated as part of a nice resort and restaurant. Its cellar tour is also of note to see.
Towns on the lakes
There are 6 towns on the lakes as options for places to stay, eat, shop, and explore. Our favorites and why we like them so much:
What makes Ithaca unique? Is it the towering waterfalls, lush ice-age gorges, endless panoramic views? Is it the hiking, the biking, the boating? Is it the beauty of Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes? Perhaps.
But perhaps it’s something more. Maybe it’s the fact that this very much a college town (Cornell University and Ithaca College). You feel it everywhere—in the museums, the galleries, and in restaurants. You see it downtown on our pedestrian mall, the Ithaca Commons, where students cross paths with street musicians and families stroll the solar system on an interactive “planet walk.”
An interesting town that includes one of the best state parks in the region almost in the heart of town. And a perfect place to tour Seneca Lake and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.
For those who crave adventure and the beauty of nature, there are plenty of activities to check out. Trails, lakes, waterfalls and much more are just waiting to be explored.
Or perhaps you’ll want to see some of NASCAR’s biggest stars. On any given weekend during the season, you are bound to be astounded by all of the cars in town or on the track – from sports, to NASCAR, to historic, to your own sweet ride! Watkins Glen is home to Watkins Glen International, hosting NASCAR, and sports club car races- alike! When NASCAR isn’t racing the track, famous car clubs are.
Our favorite town on the lakes is Skaneateles. Perhaps because the main street of the town itself is truly on the northern part of the lake. Perhaps it is because the town seems to be the most quaint in the region. The historic downtown district, shops and galleries are housed in restored buildings dating back to 1796. Browse for unique foods, distinctive fashions, original art, home accessories, and a special antique. Lots to explore.
The Finger Lakes are home to some of the most incredibly scenic hiking trails in the northeastern United States. Plunging waterfalls and dramatic gorges provide the backdrop that draw hikers and outdoors enthusiasts to the trails of the Finger Lakes. Parks and preserves can be found throughout the region. Among our favorites are the trails that exist in these parks:
Watkins Glen State Park
This park is located in the village of Watkins Glen, on the south side of Seneca Lake. The park features three trails by which one can climb or descend the gorge. The Southern Rim and Indian Trails run along the wooded rim of the gorge, while the Gorge Trail is closest to the stream and runs over, under and along the park’s 19 waterfalls by way of stone bridges and more than 800 stone steps. The trails connect to the Finger Lakes Trail, an 800-mile (1280 km) system of trails throughout New York State.
Taughannock Falls State Park
The 3 hiking trails offer spectacular views and unique geological formations including 215′ Taughannock Falls, which is 33 feet taller than Niagara and is the highest vertical single drop waterfall in the Northeastern U.S. It can be seen from two lookout points: one from below at the end of the 3/4 mile Gorge Trail, the other from above at the falls Overlook on Taughannock Park Rd.
The Finger Lakes Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail follows the rim of the gorge for 2.5 miles. One access to this private property is at a field of grapevines at the crossroad known as Pleasant Valley. From there you can cross Cold Brook on a wooden bridge and make the gentle climb into a forest of white pine and hemlock trees onto the trail. Before you know it, you will be looking down steep rock walls into an impressive glacial cut. The depth at which Mitchellsville Creek flows is two to three hundred feet below.
State parks and marinas
There are many public marinas throughout the lakes, but not many state parks with lots of amenities and marinas. Our favorites are:
Taughannock Falls State Park
Visit one of the highest waterfalls east of the Rocky Mountains. Watch as water cascades down from the 215 foot ledge above, and enjoy the magnificent beauty of the surrounding area. Aside from the falls, the park has a range of activities throughout the year. In the warmer months, enjoy camping at one of 76 campsites. Go swimming in Cayuga Lake, take advantage of the boat rentals, or stop by during the summer concert series.
Long Point State Park
This park on the east side of the lake, provides boat launch facilities, a beach with swimming area, picnic areas, and fishing access. Outdoor amenities include: boat dock; picnic tables; fire ring and grills; and small lawn area.
Seneca Lake State Park
Seneca Lake State Park overlooks blue water, creating a relaxing experience for swimmers and picnickers. Children will be especially delighted with the Sprayground and Playground facilities. The Sprayground is the first spray park of its kind built in the New York State Parks system with over 100 water jets that spontaneously spray water. Neighboring the Sprayground is the playground with equipment for children ages 4-12. This park also offers 2 excellent marinas, with a total of 132 electric slips and 84 non-electric slips. Transient slips available at both marinas.
Awesome things to do including sightseeing
History buffs could spend an entire vacation visiting the region’s historical sites and still run out of time before seeing them all. We recommend the homes of famous politicians, industrialists and suffragists such as William E. Seward’s mansion in Auburn and the nine themed gardens and arboretum at the Sonnenburg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park. The Susan B. Anthony’s home in Rochester and Gideon Granger’s Homestead and Carriage House with more than 40 vehicles is cool and different attractions to see. The Ganondagan State Historic Park has a very interesting exhibit about American Indian history of the New York tribes.
Dinner Cruises on the lakes
Twenty tour boats operate on the lakes, sailing past steep, wooded hillsides and historic homes and villages. There are 4 companies that offer dinner cruises, including upscale dining and dancing under the stars on four of the lakes.
The Esperanza Rose
The Esperanza Rose is a 65-foot vintage wooden ship serving upscale lunch and dinner cruises, scheduled from May until the end of October with Mondays reserved for private cruises. The Rose sails from the Esperanza Mansion at the northern tip of the west branch of Keuka Lake.
The Seneca Legacy
The 270-seat Seneca Legacy sails from the southern end of Seneca Lake and offers both seated dining and full buffet cruises. The ship sails from Captain Bill’s, a lake destination with a miniature golf course, restaurant and gift shop that offers sightseeing cruises.
Cayuga Lake Cruises
The M/V Columbia and the historic M/V Manhattan, a 1915 Brooklyn ferry, sail from the southern tip of Cayuga Lake offering lunch, brunch, dinner, and cocktail cruises. The Columbia sails from Corks and More, a high-end wine bar and lounge with a tasting menu that includes small plates of appetizers and desserts.
Mid-Lakes operates two boats on Skaneateles Lake serving lunch, brunch and dinner cruises. A “take-out” cruise, with guests picking up a meal at a local restaurant beforehand, lasts an hour and a half. Mid-Lakes also operates on the Erie Canal and offers sightseeing cruises without a meal.
Winery tour by boat
Wine tasting trips by boat? A real novelty and more. A relaxing way to combine a boat tour of Cayuga Lake and a wineries tour.
As far as wine trails in the US, this is the only place where you can do a wineries tour by water. Not even on any of the other Finger Lakes. The experience is likely to be the most leisurely and relaxing Finger Lakes wine tour you’ve ever taken.
If you are planning a vacation, consider the Finger Lakes. We don’t believe you can find a much nicer area.
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Mike Schoultz is a digital marketing and customer service expert. With 48 years of business experience, he consults on and writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+, Facebook, Twitter, Digital Spark Marketing, and LinkedIn.
8 Awesome Things to Do in the Finger Lakes Region