Your Ultimate Guide to Enjoying Fall in the Finger Lakes

It wouldn’t be fall in the Finger Lakes without apple cider tastings, fall festivals, pumpkin patches, eye-popping foliage, and that crisp autumn air. The stunning sunflower fields may be gone, but the corn mazes, U-Pick orchards, and festive farmers markets full of fresh baked goods are in full swing, ready for all to enjoy.

The Finger Lakes region is a year-round destination known for its world-famous wineries, miles of scenic roads (perfect for a fall road trip), lovely waterfalls, adventurous state parks, and charming small towns. The region explodes during the summer months with families, outdoorsmen, and women ready to enjoy the glacier-fed lakes, but come September, temperatures start to drop, and locals and visitors alike are ready to enjoy the best of fall in the Finger Lakes.

This post will share my favorite things to do and see in the Finger Lakes come fall. I’ve listed the best places to see fall foliage, the coziest towns to visit, some yummy restaurants, and the best farmer’s markets and lively festivals to help make the most out of your fall vacation in the Finger Lakes.

When is Fall in the Finger Lakes?

Fall in the Finger Lakes officially starts on September 1st and ends on December 21st. The end of September through mid-October is when the leaves start to change, and temperatures rarely rise above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. September, October, and November are all great months to visit the Finger Lakes but to make the most out of a fall get-a-away, aim for early to mid-October when festivals and farm stands are plenty. After October 31st, the community starts to settle down with less to see and do.

What is the fall weather like in the Finger Lakes?

Temperatures in the Finger Lakes are usually in the 50s and 60s in early fall. By December, expect snow and lows in the 20s-30s. The sweet spot for the best fall weather in the Finger Lakes is the end of September to mid-October for sunny days, a crisp breeze, little rainfall, and temps in the 40s-60s.

The Best Fall Activities in the Finger Lakes

There are many great activities, from nature trails and scenic drives to new harvest festivals and cider tastings. Early fall is wine harvesting season in the famous Finger Lakes wine region, where you can taste the latest blends and even have some fun stomping on grapes. There is plenty to see and do in the Finger Lakes in the fall, as the community loves celebrating the changing seasons.

Leaf Peeping

Of course, fall isn’t fall without stunning fall foliage. Even better, you don’t have to go far to see some of the state’s most vibrant colors. A simple drive down one of the many scenic routes (more on those later), a stroll around one of the many charming neighborhoods, or a short hike through nature is all it takes to experience the best part of fall!

Some of the best spots for leaf peeping are in the State Parks, Letchworth, Stonybrook, and Buttermilk Falls. They all have many hiking trails and eye-popping waterfalls set against forested greenery that change into those beloved fall colors every October.

Besides the side streets and back roads, the Taughannock Falls overlook and Lake View Point overlook of Canandaigua Lake are two other beautiful leaf-peeping spots.

Apple Picking

The Finger Lakes region is home to many U-Pick orchards perfect for picking your seasonal harvest. From berries and flowers in the summer to apples, grapes, and pumpkins in the fall, U-pick orchards are a great way to have some family fun.

Try Apple Barrel Orchards in Penn Yan, Crooked Line Farm & Orchard in Bath or Apples & Moore in Watkins Glen. If it’s grapes you are after, Jerome’s U-Pick fruit offers over 20 varieties of grapes located just south of Naples near Canandaigua Lake. Navarino Orchards has a great selection of apples and pumpkins every fall. Their apple orchard has a few farm animals, and their general store is top-notch if you are looking for locally-made goods and homemade pies.

Cider Tasting

The 1911 Tasting Room at Beak & Skiff Orchard is a fantastic place to shop, sip, eat and pick apples from the orchard. Their property is beautiful, and the cider tastings are so good. They have an event calendar with live music and attractions for all ages during the fall.

CK Cellars brings WortHog Cidery to life with tastings at Torrey Ridge Winery in Penn Yan.

The Finger Lakes Cider House is another solid stop on a cider-tasting tour. They offer tastings with educated staff and cheese boards. They are located on the west side of Cayuga Lake in Interlaken, NY.

Wine Tasting

There are almost 150 wineries in the Finger Lakes region, with Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga lakes at the heart of wine country. There are multiple wine trails with plenty of wineries that offer first-class tastings, vineyard tours, and delicious farm-to-table menus with ingredients coming right from the local community. Most wineries are open year-round and have community events every weekend, but hours are limited in the low season, so make sure to call ahead. Some of my favorite wineries are Ryan Williams Vineyard, Three Brothers Wineries and Estates, Buttonwood Grove Winery, Fox Run Vineyards, and Treleaven Winery.

Craft Beer Tasting

If you rather sip an ice-cold beer, try some of the hand-crafted breweries popping up all over the Finger Lakes region. Bottomless Brewing is open Thursday – Sunday and now serves chicken wings alongside their craft beers. Steuben Brewing Company is another family-owned farm with their take on local flavors, and the Naples Brewing Company is great for small-batch brews. Head to the LyonSmith Brewing Co. to taste their UK-inspired craft beers or chill out with some live music and great views of Seneca Lake at Two Goats Brewing.

Middle falls in Letchworth State Park in the finger lakes during fall
Letchworth State Park

Hiking

Fall is the perfect time to hit the Finger Lakes trails and a great time to go waterfall chasing for some beautiful fall views. The waterfalls may not be at peak flow, but many are located in wooded areas that transform during fall for a splendid display of warm reds and golden yellows. Many state parks in the region offer ample hiking through gorges and creeks, such as Watkins Glen State Park (the gorge tail is stunning), Stony Brook, and Buttermilk Falls State Park.

For an enjoyable walk through nature, try the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail, and if you are near Ithaca, the Cascadilla Gorge Trail is a short and easy paved trail through multiple falls and over a stone bridge connecting downtown Ithaca to Cornell University.

If you want something more dramatic, head to Letchworth State Park. Its three massive waterfalls are stunning with a fall backdrop. The falls are easy to access along the paved gorge trail. Just be prepared for some steps.

If you are up for a more challenging hike, the 12 falls trails in Conklin’s Gully in Naples should be on your list. It is only a 2.3-mile hike, but it is challenging, with an uphill climb over rocks with ropes and some drop-offs. Another longer hike that is less treacherous is the popular 11.3-mile Interloken Trail near Trumansburg, NY.

Fall Festivals

Come fall, you’ll have a never-ending list of fun activities, including festivals celebrating things from fall harvests and Halloween to food, beer, music, and so much more. Many festivals are suited for families of all ages, while some are for the 21 & up crowd. No matter your interests, there is bound to be a fun fall festival for all.

A quick “Fall Festivals in the Finger Lakes” Google search will reveal the confirmed festivals of the season, as many seasonal festivals were put on hold during the 2021 season.

Some popular fall festivals include the free admission Deer Run Winery‘s Octoberfest. It is a fun festival for those who want a taste of German fare and beers. The ever-popular Naples Grape Festival kicks off at the end of September and includes a grape pie-eating contest. Also, in Naples (south Canandaigua Lake), the Fall Folk Festival is perfect for music lovers while Cohocton also has an annual Fall Foliage Festival with local vendors and a car show. Bristol Mountain is another Fall Festival favorite that offers gondola rides, live music, and stunning leaf-peeping. Check their website for all the details.

Since 2010 New York has been celebrating the fall harvest with Cider Weeks all over the state to help cultivate an exchange between ciders and agriculture thus supporting local farmers. Ithaca celebrates the Apple Harvesting season coinciding with local Cider Weeks to help promote local farms and extraordinary culinary experiences usually at the end of September to 1st week of October.

The Purple Foot Festival at Casa Larga Vineyard in Rochester is another annual fall festival many look forward to every year. They celebrate the new harvest with grape stomping, live music, pie-eating contests, and opportunities to try local flavors and support family-owned businesses. It is one of the largest grape stomping festivals in the Eastern US and looks like a ton of fun!

The Best Scenic Fall Drives

If it is one thing I love, it is a scenic drive, and nothing makes a drive better than stunning fall foliage. Here are some of my favorite areas to drive in the Finger Lakes, with beautiful views and festive foliage around every corner.

Seneca Lake Scenic Byway; NY State Route 414

This route runs along the southeast side of Seneca Lake from the town of Lodi south to Watkins Glen. You will pass waterfalls and state parks, wineries and breweries that are all worth a stop. Watkins Glen is home to the Watkins Glen State Park where hiking and foliage are plentiful. Watkins Glen has a bustling main street (Franklin Street) with local boutiques and restaurants and some great sunset views over Seneca Lake at Seneca Harbor. It is a tourist town with plenty of activities and events popping up all year long.

I always wake up early while in Watkins Glen for a tasty treat at Glen Mountain Bakery, they also serve up breakfast sandwiches that are just as delicious as their baked goods.

Keuka Lake Byway; Route 54A

You can drive around Keuka lake in 90 mins which I recommend if you have the time. Otherwise, there are a number of shorter scenic routes with my favorite being the lower route following State Road 54A, West Lake Road. It hugs the west side of Keuka Lake from Hammondsport to Penn Yan; both are delightful towns to spend some time in.

It is mainly residential along the route, so there are not too many places to pull off and enjoy the views. You can stop at one of the marinas or eat at Lakeside Restaurant and Tavern for up-close lake views.

For an elevated view of the lake, take route 76 on the west side of the Keuka lake from Hammondsport. Stop by Heron Hill Winery, Keuka Lake Vineyards or Bully Hill Vineyards for lunch or a wine tasting on their patio to enjoy local eats and the lovely fall weather.

You can also follow the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail along Outlet Road (turns into Ridge Rd.) from Penn Yan to Dresden for another pretty fall drive. There is parking for Seneca Mills Falls along this route if you feel like stretching your legs on a quick hike.

Skaneateles West Lake Rd; NY Route 41A

Skaneateles’ is a must if you are looking for a neighborhood full of fall charm. There are good views of the lake along routes 40 and 41A and pretty tree-lined streets along Route 20 heading in and out of town. For views of beautiful Victorian homes nestled in the prettiest of fall colors, drive down West Lake Rd. It is not a long route, but there are some beautiful homes and beautiful foliage. You can even turn down Skaneateles Country Club Dr. for more leaf peeping and turn around once you reach the clubhouse.

Lake View Point Overlook

This isn’t a drive but a scenic overlook that is stunning around sunset when the sun’s rays illuminate the trees lining Canandaigua Lake. The park is located off of Naples Rd. Route 12. It is only 3 minutes from Monica’s Pies- my favorite sweet stop in the Finger Lakes (it closes for the season in early September).

Country Roads and Turbines

If you follow Route 21/371 from Naples and Cohocton, you’ll see some beautiful valley views, rolling hills, red barns and get a glimpse of the majestic wind turbines. I have taken this route from Naples to Bath and on to Corning and stopped at the Old Country Store and the Park and Cafe Bakery along the way.

Festive Fall towns to visit in the Finger Lakes

Another fun thing to do when exploring fall in the Finger Lakes is taking some time to enjoy the small towns and villages seemingly plucked right from a Hallmark movie. Hammondsport on the southern end of Keuka Lake has a lovely lakefront park and central square perfect for a picnic lunch.

Naples is one of my favorite small towns as it is the home to Roots Cafe, Joseph’s Wayside Market, the annual Grape Festival, Monica’s Pies, and Grimes Glen Park which has a fun gorge hike to a few different waterfalls.

Famous for the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning’s historic district is filled with beautiful Victorian homes and tree-lined streets. In contrast, its main street offers restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and locally-owned boutiques.

Aurora is said to be one of America’s best-kept secrets- and I don’t disagree. It is one of the smallest villages in the Finger Lakes but has that perfect fall ambiance. American Girl Creator Pleasant Rowland spearheaded a restoration project in this town that revamped several historic buildings in the best way possible. Old school houses are now luxury Inns and boutique stays with 5-star dining options. Aurora is also the home to the MacKenzie-Childs design house, an iconic lifestyle brand with hand-made pottery set on an estate with its own farm.

Also, consider Elmira, the final resting place of American Author Mark Twain. Watkins Glen gets a bit more attention for the International Speedway, gorge trail, and its location on Seneca Lake but it’s still a gem to visit during a fall Finger Lakes road trip.

Skaneateles is another popular small town with charming streets, good eats, local shops, and seasonal lake activities. It is my favorite town for leaf peeping as the neighborhood streets are beaming with some of the best foliage trees I’ve ever seen.

Bakeries and Farmers Markets

There is nothing better than fresh baked goods and sweet treats made by locals with local ingredients. Don’t be surprised to see fresh farm stands on the side of the road selling eggs and corn to flowers and honey- all working off the honor system. Amish-covered wagons with fresh baked goods are a regular site, and even families selling vegetables right out of their gardens is quite the norm during fall in the Finger Lakes.

While you can’t always predict where a farm stand will pop up, there are many established markets, cafes, and bakeries selling the most delicious goods made right from the heart.

  • Skaneateles Bakery– in Skaneateles, NY. Try the Grilled Guerre Cheese sandwich with tart apples and caramelized onions.
  • Cameron’s Bakery- Auburn, NY arrive early for the best selection
  • Joseph’s Wayside Market– Full of fresh produce and baked goods with some holiday decor and local art in Naples.
  • Roots Cafe– another Naples staple great from brunch
  • Monica’s Pies– Opened seasonally in Naples, NY. Known for their Grape Pies, but the Key Lime is the best I’ve ever had.
  • Glen Mountain Market and Bakery– in Watkins Glen, Local Honey and jams with a lunch menu and a nice bakery that sells out fast.
  • Navarino Orchard– close to Syracuse. The perfect spot for U-pick berries, pumpkins, and apples with a country store stocked with homemade jams, pies, muffins, cookies, dipping sauces, and more.
  • Beak and Skiff General Store– another homemade market with local products located east of Otisco Lake.
  • Crystal Valley Produce– Go for holiday decor, fresh organic produce, baked goods, plants and a ton of pumpkin varieties.
  • Seneca Falls– Sauders Grocery Store, it has a country flare made possible by the Mennonite community
  • Simply’s Cookie Kitchen– In Kings Ferry at Treleaven Wineries.
  • Tabora Farm & Winery– A delicious deli, bakery, and market selling meats, salads, pies, cookies, chocolates, coffee, and lots of locally made treats.
  • Old Country Store & More– A treasure chest of gifts, local art, and tons of candies in Cohocton, NY

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I hope this fall in the Finger Lakes guide helps you plan your next adventure to the Finger Lakes region. If you have a week to explore, my One-week Fall in the Finger Lakes Itinerary (coming soon) is the perfect guide to help you explore the best of the Finger Lakes, taking you through the most dazzling fall towns, fun festivals, and scenic viewpoints perfect for a fall get-a-way.

Hi, I'm Sam

After a lay off from the corporate fashion world I decided to SEE the world. Sharing all my bucket list experiences to help spark your wanderlust and inspire your next adventure!

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