A Winter Weekend Getaway: From Niagara Falls to Wine Country

Niagara Falls provides a majestic and magical backdrop that any traveler is lucky to experience in the summer. As winter descends on the area, it becomes a snowy paradise that even fewer people have the privilege of seeing.

Crowds seemingly disappear overnight, leaving those who visit with the best views, ranging from the “frozen” falls to snow-capped trees. Couple a trip to Niagara Falls with some of the best wineries throughout New York Wine Country and the Finger Lakes, and your trip will evolve into an unforgettable experience.

Niagara Falls formed 12,000 years ago, creating one of the many marvels of the world. The Niagara Falls State Park is open every day year-round, offering a beautiful nature scene to explore. Start your three-day itinerary on the U.S. side to make it easier to travel to the Finger Lakes and New York Wine Country.

Getting to the falls only requires a short drive from Niagara Falls Airport. Once you arrive at the airport, your best bet will be to rent a car before taking the 15-minute drive to the State Park where your adventure begins.

DAY 1 – NIAGARA FALLS STATE PARK

Upon arrival at Niagara Falls in New York state, begin by visiting the “frozen” falls and the statue of Nicola Tesla. You can access this point at the Stedman’s Bluff on Goat Island. Keep an eye out for the local wildlife as you walk to the viewing point. This area is excellent for capturing incredible photographs. As a quick note—the waterfalls never freeze; they only appear to be frozen, which helps create an even more magical experience.

View of the Bridal Veil Falls from the Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls, New York.

After hiking for a few hours, you can trek to the Cave of the Winds Pavilion. This museum on Goat Island offers insight into Niagara Falls’ history with images and interactive multimedia exhibits. It’s an excellent educational experience and helps you warm up for a few minutes before entering the chilly weather again. If you’d like to get closer to the falls, you can take a Cave of the Winds excursion, which offers even more spectacular views.

Next on the docket is finding a spot for lunch; luckily, the Cave of the Winds has a snack bar that should help you stay full until dinnertime. This snack bar includes pizza, fries, ice cream and more. Those planning on exploring more may want to grab a few extra items for the road.

Unfortunately, the Maid of the Mist water voyages are not running in winter. However, you can still spend time at locations like the Aquarium of Niagara. This aquarium features 30+ exhibits which range from jellyfish to sharks and stingrays.

Where to Eat & Stay Near Niagara Falls State Park

Cap off the evening with an early dinner at Brickyard Pub and Grill just outside the park. This restaurant is well-known for its large portions of BBQ food that will help you recuperate your energy after exploring the falls. Another dinner option is Bella Vista Ristorante—a lovely Italian restaurant with a warm fire and classic Italian dishes.

Get an early night’s rest at one of the available hotels nearby Niagara Falls, as you’ll be heading out early in the morning to reach the Finger Lakes. A favorite stay is the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino, featuring amenities like live shows, a pool, fitness center and beautiful views of the falls.

DAY 2 – FINGER LAKES REGION

Staying at the Seneca Niagara Resort has an additional benefit—a buffet breakfast available as early as 5:30 a.m. Start your day with a plate full of food, then continue on your route to the Finger Lakes wine country.

Seneca Lake in New York during the winter. Photo Courtesy of eflon.

It will take slightly longer than two hours to reach Seneca Lake, a 38-mile stretch of land. Along the way to the Finger Lakes wineries, you’ll be driving through incredibly scenic areas with waterfalls, rolling hills and stunning lakes like Canandaigua Lake. Start your winery experience at Geneva, which sits at the top of Seneca Lake.

You can travel state Route 14 to Red Tail Ridge Winery, which features delicious Italian reds to indulge in. They also offer a lovely cabernet franc that’s a must-try. This winery accepts walk-ins and leashed pets, though you’ll fare better if you make reservations beforehand.

Another must-stop is the Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, which offers incredible Riesling tastings. It’s only about a 15-minute drive depending on traffic, so it’s a great second stop. This winery was one of the first to open in the Finger Lakes area. Make a reservation and head to a wine tasting in their rustic barn.

An aerial shot of Montour Falls, New York. Photo Courtesy of Andy Arthur.

After spending time at the Wiemer Vineyard, make the trek south to Montour Falls, a charming village. There are quite a few restaurants on the way to Montour Falls, though you’ll want to stop at Classic Chefs to grab lunch to go. They’re famous for their hot turkey sandwiches.

After picking up a sandwich, take your lunch to the Shequaga Falls, the tallest in Montour Falls. You can reach the falls after a short 5-minute walk. Enjoy the relaxing sounds of the cascading water as you eat your lunch.

After lunch, it’s time to head back up to Geneva for the evening. Make it a point to stop at the Microclimate Wine Bar along the route. It’s the ideal wine-tasting venue for shorter trips, as you can enjoy wines from various areas of the Finger Lakes.

Where to Eat & Stay Near Geneva

Once you arrive back in Geneva, you can taste seasonal, locally sourced food at the Kindred Fare. This restaurant offers flatbreads, burgers, and charcuterie board options. With an elevated rustic barn atmosphere and a long list of cocktails, this restaurant will be a favorite stop on the trip.

If you still have energy left, you can travel to the Linden Social Club for an after-dinner drink and live music. There are many hotels and accommodations nearby that you can stay at, with the Belhurst Castle being the closest to Geneva’s restaurant and bar scene.

DAY 3 – NEW YORK WINE COUNTRY

The final day will be spent exploring another area of New York Wine Country—Rochester. Rochester is only about a 45-minute drive from Geneva, allowing you to sleep in if you need to on day three of the trip.

Grab a bite to eat at Edgar’s at Belhurst, one of the on-site restaurants, before heading to your first stop of the day, Rochester Public Market. As you reach the market, you’ll notice an array of seasonal produce, meats, cheeses and nearly any food you can think of. You can stock up on snacks and grab a few items to enjoy for lunch on the road.

A crowd at the Rochester Public Market in New York. Photo Courtesy of Brian Boucheron.

While Rochester is also known for its wineries, it’s also home to some must-see distilleries and breweries. Within walking distance from the market is the Black Button Distillery, which proudly carries the title of one of the initial grain-to-glass distilleries to open after prohibition. Black Button Distillery boasts an ingredients list that is 90% sourced from natural New York ingredients.

After taking a quick break to munch on your finds from the market, it’s time to head to the Living Roots Winery. This winery is an urban winery that was founded in 2016. The grapes for the wines are sourced globally, creating unique wines that you won’t find in many other locations. Try their one-off wines, as you’ll likely never be able to try them again.

Living Roots is found in the Neighborhood of the Arts, where you’ll spend the remainder of the afternoon and your trip. One of the most popular activities is the ARTWalk. This permanent trail of art leads to various galleries and museums throughout Rochester. Short on time? The Anderson Alley Artists Studios is an excellent way to appreciate various art mediums all in one place.

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