The Finger Lakes area offers unrivaled appeal with refreshing brisk temperatures; 11 gorgeous lakes; spectacularly colorful leaves; rolling farmlands; scenic roadways; top-notch wine, beer and spirit production; lively harvest festivals and restaurants that make the most of locally grown ingredients.
Gorgeous Leaves, Lakes, Gorges and Waterfalls
Shimmering blue lakes rimmed by vivid swaths of red, orange and yellow hues…. Pretty terrific, right? Well, it gets even better. The Finger Lakes region stages a truly show-stopping spectacle by peppering in the primal exquisiteness of gaping gorges and frothy waterfalls.
For scenic views of water, brilliant foliage and undulating hillsides and farmlands, you can follow curvaceous, easily navigated country roads along the shorelines of the lakes, which sit in a triangle between Syracuse, Rochester and Elmira-Corning. [See routes for accessing area highlights below]. Imagine a patchwork quilt of small charming towns with Edward Hopper-esque downtowns and 19th-century homes surrounded by wide-open fields, pastures and natural lakes, and you’ll get a sense of the wonders you can see from a car, bike or motorcycle.
But if you’re not content just to be an onlooker and want a more active connection to the landscape, walk into (or camp in) one of the region’s many splendid state parks. They’ll give you a far more intimate experience of the signature features of the Finger Lakes region—craggy glacier-carved gorges and world-renowned waterfalls.
Three state parks that are sure to cast a spell on you with their special hiking, waterfall and leaf peeping trails are Taughannock Falls State Park in Trumansburg, NY (it boasts a jaw-dropping 215-foot waterfall); Letchworth State Park in Mount Morris, NY, aka the ‘Grand Canyon of the East’; and Watkins Glen State Park in Watkins Glen, NY, which contains a whopping 19 waterfalls, plus an enormous gorge. All three parks feature trails that will give you up-close-and-personal access to stunning leaves and thunderous falls. Many other parks in the region also afford magnificent ‘waterfalling’ treks.
There are more than 100 wineries in the region—seven of the 11 lakes host wineries. And they not only offer a huge range of delicious wines but also sweeping lake views. Picturesque doesn’t been to describe them!
Named the top wine region in the USA Today 2018 10Best Reader’s Choice national poll, the Finger Lakes wine region is New York State’s biggest wine producer. The area’s renowned cool climate wines, particularly its varietal whites like Riesling and Gewurztraminer, benefit from the microclimate fostered by Lake Keuka, Seneca, Canandaigua and Cayuga. But the region is also renowned for red varieties including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, as well as much-loved white varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Are you a sparkling wine fan? Well, this region produces some of the best bubbly outside of the Champagne region of France.
Visitors from all over the world come to the Finger Lakes to sample the wines in the winery tasting rooms and dine in their fine restaurants, which serve up mouthwatering meals that rely on locally grown ingredients.
Sign up for a wine tour with a local tour company or head out on your own. But, either way, prepare to ogle, sip and snap.
Finger Lake wine trails: The Canandaigua Wine Trail from Canandaigua down the west side of Canandaigua Lake Naples (six wineries); Keuka Lake Wine Trail, Seneca Lake Wine Trail and Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
Wineries that provide great lake views: Seneca Lake from Lamoureaux Landing Wine Cellars, Glenora Wine Cellars, Wagner Vineyards, Standing Stone Vineyards, Leidenfrost Vineyards, Chateau Lafayette Reneau and Atwater Estate Vineyards; Keuka Lake from McGregor Vineyards, Dundee and Pleasant Valley Wine Co. Vineyards, Route 76, Hammondsport.
Cideries, Breweries, Distilleries
The region isn’t just known for great wines; it’s also a center for spirits distilling, craft beer- and cider-brewing, and farming. In other words, it boasts all the “ingredients” for great beyond-wine sipping experiences.
Apples have long been an ‘it’ crop in the Empire State and the fruit has given rise to an abundance of cideries producing delicious hard ciders with flavor profiles that range from fruity, light and sweet to acidic, dry and crisp.
Distilleries are also taking advantage of locally grown crops such as corn, rye, barley, grapes and other fruits to produce award-winning handcrafted vodka, whiskey, brandy and liqueur.
In addition, the region has over 80 breweries and brewpubs that are putting locally grown hops and malt to use to produce a broad range of extraordinary beers. To tap into the seemingly endless variety, check out the Cooperstown Beverage Trail, the Southern Finger Lakes Beverage Trail, Brew Central NY, Finger Lakes Beer Trail and the Sip on Syracuse Trail.
No autumn trip would be complete without sampling the handcrafted beer, cider and spirits in the various sipping and savoring destinations this hot spot offers.
Fall Pumpkin and Apple-Picking
The fertile farmlands in the Finger Lakes region yield amazing pumpkins and apples, and you can have your pick starting in September at any number of U-Pick Farms.
Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard Picks:
Meadeville Farm Pumpkin Patch, Seneca Falls: Pick more than 50 varieties of pumpkins in all shapes and sizes—or, paint ‘em and savor ‘em in a variety of treats.
Beak and Skiff Apple Farm, Lafayette: Pick apples on the rolling hills, ride a tractor and wagon, and wander through a corn maze
Smithhome Farms, Big Flats: Enjoy a pumpkin patch, corn maze
Super-fun harvest events and festivals celebrate the Finger Lakes region’s autumnal beauty and vast agricultural bounty. Best of all, they’re timed perfectly for September and October visits.
Three Top Harvest Festivals:
Naples Grape Festival (Sept.): Takes place at the Naples High School Grounds; wine, food, arts, crafts, live music, participate in the World’s Greatest Grape Pie Contest; sample all things ‘grape’
Apple Harvest Festival (Oct.): Held on the Commons in downtown Ithaca; entertainment, fresh baked goods, apples and other local produce
Bristol Mountain Fall Festival (Oct.): Happens near Canandaigua, at the base of Bristol Mountain; games, craft booths, food and great views of fall colors (hike up the mountain or take the chairlift); separate from the festival, you can take a Sky Ride on the Comet Express chairlift to the summit of the mountain from mid-Sept. through Columbus Day.
Six Fabulous Routes Through the Finger Lakes
Want an efficient way to get the ultimate fall experience? These Finger lakes driving routes (inspired by FingerLakes.com)offer the whole gamut of experiences, from lake and foliage views to wineries and parks:
- 1) Route 41, along the east side of Skaneateles Lake from Skaneateles to the iconic overlook at the Onondaga-Cortland County line;
- 2) County Road 16 to Route 21S, following Canandaigua Lake between Canandaigua and Naples
- 3) Route 14S, following Seneca Lake between Geneva and Watkins Glen
- 4) Route 89N, following Cayuga Lake between Ithaca and Seneca Falls
- 5) Route 38S, following Owasco Lake between Auburn and Moravia
- 6) Route 54A, following Keuka Lake between Penn Yan and Hammondsport
Read next: Fall Foliage Views – Aerial Experiences in New England, Colorado, Appalachia and Beyond. You won’t find more jaw-dropping views than these.