Eastern Finger Lakes, Finger Lakes Travel Guide
Eastern Fingerlakes Region Summary
- A scenic area of central New York, with rolling hills and valleys
- Pleasant driving roads and very little traffic
- Four distinct seasons (beautiful fall foliage!)
- Wine trails on two Finger Lakes: Seneca and Cayuga
- Upscale restaurants sprinkled throughout
- World-class culture from Cornell University’s Ivy League Campus
- Water activities, such as snorkeling, sailing, kayaking and fishing
- Snow sports, such as Nordic/downhill skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and tubing
- Spectacular waterfalls and gorges for hiking
- Numerous 18-hole golf courses
- Farmer’s markets and ‘U-pick’ berry fields
- Outdoor music and arts festivals
- Museums and historic mansions
- Contemporary hotels are few and far between
- Need a car to get around
- Snow conditions for winter sports can be hit or miss
- Driving in snow conditions may be difficult
- Limited nightlife options
- Ithaca: A classic college town -- home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, offering culture, restaurants and scenic gorges.
- Seneca Lake: Home of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail (with the highest number of wineries in the region), and a destination for sailing tours
- Geneva: A lakefront location boasting a charming Main Street -- a nice base for the Seneca wine trail!
- Seneca Falls: This town is said to be the inspiration for Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life.
- Cayuga Lake: Home of the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, with 15 wineries.
- Cortland: This town is home to the SUNY Cortland campus, as well as historic mansions, a ski resort, year-round adventure park, indoor water park, and world-class spa.
- Auburn: At the North end of Owasco Lake, this town offers notable museums like the William H. Seward House Museum and the house of Harriet Truman.
- Taughannock Falls: The tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi for outstanding hiking and views.
- Watkins Glen: On the southern end of Seneca Lake, this area has small waterfalls and a famous international race track.
- Waterloo: A village located between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake.
What It's Like
Though the Fingerlakes Region in Central New York has long been appreciated for its natural beauty, the area has experienced steady tourist growth, thanks in large part to its many wineries. Not only is it the largest wine-producing area in New York state, but it is also considered East Coast’s version of Napa Valley -- and the reputation grows each year.
There are 11 lakes in total and they can be divided into two regions: eastern and western. The Eastern region includes the five easternmost lakes, most prominently Seneca and Cayuga. Both lakes have their own wine trail, and many wineries offer tastings as well as bottling tours and cafes or restaurants.
If wine tasting is not high on the list, these five lakes offer summer recreation in the form of sailing, swimming, waterskiing, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing. In and around Seneca and Cayuga, in particular, are a number of scenic waterfalls and gorges for hiking. Notable ones include the Taughannock Falls State Park, Watkins Glen State Park and Robert H. Treman State Park.
During autumn months, leaf-peepers are drawn to the region’s country roads for the colorful trees across the picturesque hills and valleys, while in wintertime, locals and visitors head to the nearby slopes. There are numerous trails for Nordic skiing and snow-shoeing as well as ice-skating, sledding and snow tubing.
As for the towns themselves, Ithaca -- home of Cornell University and Ithaca College -- provides a quintessential campus fix for performing arts, restaurants and bars. Gourmet food enthusiasts will be able to choose from a number of upscale restaurants dotting the area, thanks in part to Cornell’s world-renowned School of Hotel Administration (many graduates have opened their own businesses nearby).
The area is relatively free of traffic, and scenic country roads allow for one pretty vista after the next. Historic towns like Geneva, Cortland and Auburn, with their quaint downtowns and historic mansions and museums, are just a drive away.
Where To Stay
Admittedly, there are no shortage of standard chain options in the area, but boutique hotels and resorts are popping up throughout the region. Many of these have panoramic views, modern amenities and easy access to a number of outdoor activities.
Staying in downtown Ithaca puts travelers close to cultural activities, bars and restaurants. This location also puts guests a few miles away from the Taughannock Falls and the Cayuga Wine trail.
The Cortland area is home to Greek Peak Mountain Resort for skiing, snowboarding, and a year-round Adventure Center with a ropes course, zip-line tours, a mountain coaster, and snow tubing. Hope Lake Lodge is across the road, offering a water park and quality spa. There are also some reputable restaurants in the area.
The charming town of Geneva offers lake views and easy access to Seneca Lake Wine Trail. There are hotel options here, as well as on the southern end of the lake near Watkins Glen (home of gorges and waterfalls).