The spectacular Finger Lakes Region is located in central New York State. It is one of the most beautiful and enchanting areas in the United States.
The Finger Lakes Region consists of a series of lakes resembling the fingers on a hand formed from the remnants of the glaciers eons ago. There are actually 11 lakes in the Finger Lakes region, but the area generally refers to the five primary lakes of Skaneateles Lake, Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake, Keuka Lake, and Canandaigua Lake. The lakes, gorges, hills and vales are breathtaking, with pristine and unspoiled cold, clear waters. The sunrises and sunsets over the lakes and valleys are especially magnificent.
According to “I Love New York” (the official New York Tourism website), the central New York area of the Finger Lakes “consists of charming villages, exciting shopping, warm hospitality, and beautiful scenery.” The Finger Lakes Region welcomes travelers to explore its gorges and has outstanding recreational opportunities. One can travel on a 135-mile driving tour and discover how a Native American trail became the “Gateway to the Finger Lakes.”
From museums to world-class entertainment, the Finger Lakes Region has everything that a visitor hopes for. Tourism is a growth industry in the Finger Lakes and each year tourists spend some $200 million on vacations. The community is progressive yet retains the traditional charms of small town life.
New York’s Finger Lakes Region is an incredible area that our family has spent a lot of time exploring. After more than 10 trips to the area, we have put together a Finger Lakes Travel Guide to help you plan your own trip. From multiple wine trails, breathtaking state parks, indoor water parks, skiing, and new playgrounds they have a little bit of everything.
Table of Contents
Finger Lakes Travel Guide
Where to Stay in the Finger Lakes
- Hope Lake Lodge near Cortland, NY
- Inn of the Finger Lakes
- Belhurst Castle & Winery – Stay in a castle.
- Finger Lakes RV Rental
Wineries Worth Visiting in the Finger Lakes
- Montezuma Winery – The Montezuma Winery is by far my favorite winery in the world. Their wines are unique and award winning. Some of my favorites are Camper’s White, Diamond, Fat Frog Red, and Fat Frog White. If you like sweeter wines this is your place. They have lots of wines that are not sweet, but happen to have a large selection of both. Many wineries do not have such a variety of sweet wines. They have a gift shop too, that is absolutely adorable.
- Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
- CJS Vineyards – Small, but great wine. It is near Auburn.
- Lakewood Vineyards – In Watkins Glen. Plan to visit here when you visit Watkins Glen State Park.
- Hazlitt – Has an excellent Red Cat wine and they have wine slushies.
- Knapp Wineries – They have a wonderful lunch.
- Belhurst Castle – Has excellent brunch and it’s a cool place. They have peacocks on the grounds and it’s on the lake.
- Seneca Lake Wine Trail tour
Things to do in the Finger Lakes
Attractions and Recreation
The Finger Lakes excels with entertainment and recreational opportunities throughout the year, including the Watkins Glen Speedway, Cruises on the Lakes, Festivals, a Renaissance Fair in Sterling, Sonnenburg Gardens, Timespell Laser Show, Roseland Water Park, numerous golf courses, and even a train ride on the Finger Lakes Scenic Railway. Winery tours are very popular with over 100 wineries in the region. The Finger Lakes provides a host of winter activities including skiing, skating, and ice fishing. One of the most popular features are the 45 local and state parks such as Letchworth, Seneca, Sampson, or Chimney Bluffs available for camping, hunting or fishing. Thousands each year visit these parks.
- National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY
- Seneca Lake State Park
- Watkins Glen State Park – One of the seven wonders of the United States.
- Ithaca Sciencecenter – The science center features the Emerson Science Park, a large outdoor playground full of fun things for kids to do. They can climb, pull, make music, play with sand and water features, make huge bubbles, and more. Our whole family had fun playing with the levers. The kids were actually able to lift me! The outdoor area makes this museum stand out from other science museums. The outdoor area alone makes this worth the visit. They also have a neat putt putt area where each hole has a science lesson to go with it.Inside the museum you will find a whole assortment of handson exhibits, including a special place just for babies. My kids had fun playing with the water features and learning about space.
The Finger Lakes has many outstanding museums and art shows, including the Performing Arts Center, Granger Homestead & Carriage Museum, Sodus Point Lighthouse Museum, National Women’s Hall of Fame, Corning Museum of Glass, etc. The Region is also one of the richest communities for higher education with some of the best colleges in the country including Hobart and William Smith College, Keuka College, Ithaca College, Cornell University, and several excellent state and community colleges.
Shopping is a pleasure with numerous small town stores with distinctive flairs and novelties, as well as with the larger malls such as the Seneca Outlet Mall, Eastview Mall, or the Arnot Mall. There are outstanding antique shops, flea markets, gift stores and numerous specialty shops both in the malls and in small towns like Skaneateles.
Where to eat in the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes has a wide range of restaurants available at all price ranges including the Belhurst Castle in Geneva, Warfields in Clifton Springs, the Wildflower Café in Watkins Glen, Taughannock Farms in Trumansburg, Steamboat Landing in Canandaigua, the Aurora Inn in Aurora, and many others.
- Balloons Restaurant (Auburn) – I had the peppercorn steak and it was wonderful. The side I picked was the garlic mash and they were even better than the steak. I was with a lot of people and everyone was happy with their food. The service was great. The kids can get steaks for $10. My son accidentally threw his steak off of his plate and onto the floor while trying to cut it. The waiter was cool about it and replaced it. But he didn’t just replace it, he soothed our 7 year old, because he was super upset.
- Nickels BBQ – Located in Watkins Glen
Overall the region provides good health care, has a low crime rate, low traffic rate, and excels with a community spirit without the hassles of big city living. The real appeal of the Finger Lakes, though, is the beauty of the nature and land. The lakes, gorges, parks, and valleys are spectacular to behold and there is a natural connection to the region which is almost spiritual in nature. Many who come to visit, decide to stay.
Should You Get Travel Insurance?
Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a fan of Travelex insurance, because of the variety of options. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. I have gotten extremely sick twice now out of the country and Noah has had seizures in other countries, so I always recommend getting some sort of coverage. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.
If you are looking for a car rental I recommend getting the car at the airport. It will make things easier. This entire area is easy to drive around in. Get a $14 a day car rental!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.