I’ve visited New York state more times than I can count (and even lived in Manhattan for a year) and never knew an area known for world-renown wineries, glacier-made lakes, quaint towns, and heaps of natural splendor was just a few hours north of where I once called home.
Rich with Native American origins, this area includes 9,000 square miles of pristine lake views, rolling farmlands, world-class vineyards, craft breweries, historical museums, ancient landmarks, and even boasts an award-winning farm-to-table food scene.
The Finger Lakes region makes traveling easy with accommodations from 5-star resort spas to charming B&B’s and spacious campsites suitable for all budgets.
A plethora of farmer’s markets, local produce stands, quirky bistros and locally owned business are conveniently sprinkled throughout the region along with over 200 wineries, 74 breweries, 400 historical sites, 24 state parks, and over 900 miles of hiking trails giving life to the term “something for everyone”!
Know Before You Go
I embarked on this road trip from the small town of Redwood, New York during early August. The region is easily reached (2 hour drive or less) from Buffalo, Rochester, Albany or Syracuse and is only a 5 hour drive north of New York City, all of which host their own international airports and rental car centers.
The area hosts a 4-season climate that can be enjoyed year-round with accompanying activities. May-September has the best weather for enjoying all the region has to offer since days are warmer and rain is minimal.
Phase 3 of the New York reopening strategy was in play during my trip and all reopened businesses had many safety standards in place. Wineries and popular tourist attractions are not allowing large groups or tour busses which meant fewer crowds and a better experience-lucky me!
Most wineries and specialty restaurants are only open Thursday-Sunday. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this beforehand and missed out on a few recommended kitchens: William Ryan Vineyard (closed Tuesday & Wednesday), Rio Tomatlan (closed Monday), Thirsty Owl Bistro (closed Mon-Thursday).
I like to be flexible during road trips and almost always plan nightly stays the day of, this trip was no exception. Although a couple of nights we did not get our first choice there are plenty of lodging options available (even during high season, June-August).
If you are short on time, cut this 7-night itinerary down into 5 nights or even 3 if a few highlights or a specific area is all you are after. On the other hand, if you have more time, there is enough to see and do around the Finger Lakes to keep you busy for weeks on end!
This 300-mile driving itinerary will take you through the major five (and most scenic) Canandaigua, Kekua, Seneca, Cayuga and Skaneateles Lakes over 7 days while showcasing an impressive array of exciting adventures along the way!
Road Trip Itinerary (7-days, 6-nights)
Day 1: Canandaigua to Hammondsport
Start your road trip from the town of Canandaigua, at the north end of Lake Canandaigua. Stay the night in Hammondsport at the south end of Keuka Lake.
Best things to do around Canandaigua
- Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion (north end) -restored 1800s mansion with gardens, waterfalls, and greenhouses
- Boathouses at City Pier (north end) – colorful and cute!
- Canandaigua Sailboard (north end)- for water sport rentals
- Canandaigua Lady Boat Tour (north end)- Dinner, Lunch and narrated excursion tours
- Craft Breweries
- Brew & Brats
- Three Huskies
- Young Lion
- Twisted Rail
- Scenic Drive down W Lake Rd./Road 16 (west side)
- Grimes Glen (south end; closed on Sundays)- waterfall hiking
- Town of Naples (south end)- historic old town, cafes, wineries, and the BEST grape Pies in the world!
- Carolabarb Park– Picnic space with incredible views of the Lake
It is easy to spend ½ a day exploring the north end of Canandaigua lake. I loved strolling down the pier and snapping photos in front of the colorful boathouses.
Grab a tasty cocktail at the Sandbar Cafe on their outdoor patio (call ahead to ensure availability due to new COVID regulations) or get 5-star service at the famous NY Kitchen known for their interactive and educational cooking classes and second-floor restaurant where ingredients are seasonally fresh and locally sourced.
If you get an early start and the sound of flowering gardens and beautifully restored historical mansions brighten your day, you may want to explore Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion before heading south. Plan about three hours to explore the 50-acre estate complete with cafe, gift shop, and 10+ unique gardens and greenhouses.
Once you’ve got your fill of North Canandaigua Lake, head to the south end via State Route 21 along the west side of the lake to the village of Naples.
Have a meal at the Roots Cafe for the “freshest, most beautiful food in the area” (they are not kidding- I can vouch from experience) or relax with a wine tasting overlooking manicured vineyards at Inspire Moore Winery, next door to Roots Cafe.
Stop for a world-famous grape pie (and other delicious baked goods) at Monica’s Pies– you haven’t lived until you tried their Key Lime. Enjoy your goodies at Carolabarb Park (located at 7083 Co Rd 12) only a 3 min drive away with breathtaking views of the lake.
To get to Carolabarb Park (going south on Rte 21), make a sharp right-hand turn just past Monica’s pies onto County Road 12. It’s about ½ a mile up the road, you can’t miss it!
Around the same area is Grimes Glen Park. It is a fun pit stop for an upstream waterfall walk (closed on Sundays). It’s an easy 1 mile out and back trail through Grimes Creek. You will have to walk in ankle-deep water to make it to the last waterfall and swimming hole, but don’t let that stop you, it’s worth the effort!
I wore these Columbia sport sandals on the Grimes Glen hike and they were so comfortable and easy to hike in (this is an Amazon Affiliate link, which means if you purchese through this link I may earn a small comission (at no extra cost to you).
Continue south (about 36 min, 25 mi) from Grimes Glen to Hammondsport (south Cayuga Lake) for the night.
Where to stay in Hammondsport
Day 2: Keuka Lake to Corning
Drive around Keuka lake, stopping along the way before heading to Corning for the night.
Best things to see and do around Keuka Lake
- Keuka Lake State Park (north east branch) -waterfront park for picnics & water sport rentals
- Keuka Outlet Trail (North end)- easy and scenic 13.3 miles out and back trail between Keuka and Seneca Lakes.
- Windmill Farm and Craft Market– South of Penn Yan on State Route 14A . “Friendly leashed dogs” welcomed.
- Sweet Melissa Charters- 1/2 day and full day fishing charters
- Finger Lakes Boating Museum (south end)- open daily, great for kids
- Glenn H. Curtiss Museum (south end)-antique aircraft, automobiles, motorcycles, and more near Hammondsport
- Keuka Lake Wine Trail-over 20 wineries
Some of my favorite wineries are around Keuka Lake (highlighted below) and Keuka had some of the best views too! The scenic route is about 90 mins nonstop via Route 54/54A. If we had more time we may have gone fishing for trout, largemouth bass, or landlocked salmon. Keuka Lake has the healthiest population of native fish of all the Finger Lakes.
My favorite Keuka Lake Wineries
- Bully Hill Vineyards– Wine tastings, open-air restaurant (closed Tuesdays), wine Museum and gift shop atop a hill overlooking Keuka Lake and vineyards
- Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery– one of the oldest wineries in the region, credited with launching the NY Wine Region into international statue in the 1960s with their award-winning Rieslings
- Keuka Spring Vineyards– awarded numerous “Best of” awards over the years and hosts tastings on their open-air patio overlooking gorgeous Keuka Lake.
We LOVED our lunch at Bully Hill Vineyards. The sprawling vineyard views were amazing and they have the most delicious homemade pineapple wine slushies I’ve ever tasted (and I’ve tasted a lot).
Most wineries are open from 10 am-6 pm, and take their last tastings earlier. Some wineries are reservations only so make sure to call ahead and plan your wine stops accordingly.
After some fun around Keuka Lake, head south to the town of Corning for your second night (about 35 mins, 29mi from Hammondsport).
We planned a night in Corning specifically to see the Corning Museum of Glass, (I’m so glad we did) but if you have limited time or are not interested in the Corning Museum of Glass, cut out Corning and head straight to Watkins Glen (south Seneca Lake) for the 2nd night.
Where to stay around Corning
- Hilton Garden Inn (walking distance to the Museum of Glass) $$$
- Rosewood Inn Bed & Breakfast $$
- Ferenbaugh Campsite $
Day 3: Corning to Watkins Glen
Explore the town of Corning before driving through Montour Falls and to Watkins Glen (south Seneca Lake) for the night.
Best things to see and do in Corning
- Corning Museum of Glass-modern wing recently added
- Gaffer District- historic downtown full of art galleries, locally-owned boutiques, and restaurants
- Rockwell Museum– Western Art Museum
- Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes-history buffs will love
- National Soaring Museum– 20 mins from Corning in the town of Elmira
Start your morning at the Corning Museum of Glass. Arrive when they open to avoid crowds. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn and walked over in under 10 mins. We spent almost 4 hours exploring the museum and had a snack at their cafe.
On our way out of town, we stopped in the Gaffer District, a trendy area with lots of dining and locally owned boutiques. We devoured fresh-baked cupcakes from Poppleton Bakery and a piping hot pizza pie from Aniello’s Pizza that did not disappoint.
After you had your fill of Corning, head to Watkins Glen. If you are in the mood for some waterfall chasing and lite hiking stop at the village of Montour Falls.
Montour Falls showcases four waterfall sites all within a 5 min drive of each other.
- Shequaga Falls -scenic overlook
- Eagle’s Cliff Falls in Havana Glen Park- short hike with stairs
- Deckertown Falls – short muddy hike
- Aunt Sarah’s Falls– scenic overlook
In early August the falls were not at their peak but the hike to Eagle Cliff Falls was lovely- be prepared to climb some steep stairs. If you make it to the falls, look for the carved out eagle in the rock wall. Can you see it in the photo above?
We finally made it to Watkins Glen around dinner time and filled up with tasty seafood at Seneca Harbor Station Restaurant overlooking the Seneca Town Pier, a great place to watch the vibrant summer sunsets.
Best things to see and do in Watkins Glen
- Watkins Glen State Park -hiking the gorge trail is a must!
- Watkins Glen International -“The Glen”- Automobile racetrack
- Captain Bill’s Seneca Lake Boat Tours -guided lake tours
- Horseback Riding -north of Watkins Glen on the east side of Seneca Lake
- The village of Montour Falls– waterfall chasing
If you don’t do anything else in Watkins Glen, hike the Gorge Trail in Watkins Glen State Park. Plan two hours to complete the route, and bring your camera! This park was voted NY’s #1 state park by USA Today for good reason!
There are over 800 stone stairs along the way, 19 waterfalls, caves, stone bridges, and tunnels chiseled through the massive rock formations.
The trail is only 1.5 miles one way and no “turn arounds” are permitted (COVID measures). You’ll head back through the Rim Trail which is another great trek along the gorge’s edge.
Where to stay around Watkins Glen
Day 4: Watkins Glen/Seneca Lake to Geneva
Exploring the east side of Seneca Lake and heading to the town of Geneva (northwest side Seneca lake) for the night
Best things to see and do around Seneca Lake
- Finger Lakes Welcome Center (Geneva)
- Photo op: I LOVE NY sign @ the Welcome Center
- Sidewalk stroll along the waterfront
- Smith Opera House – Historic Theater Venue with live performances
- Rose Hill Mansion– Tours of a 19th-century estate
- Hector Falls- Scenic view along Route 414
- Seneca Lake State Park – North end, something for everyone
- Sampson State Park – East shore, great for camping and boating
- Watkins Glen State Park– Most famous State Park in the Finger Lakes
- Keuka Lake Outlet Trail (west side of the lake)- an easy 13.3 miles out and back trail between Keuka and Seneca Lakes.
- Craft Breweries
- Grist Iron Brewing Company– Microbrewery with comfort food and live music events
- Climbing Bines Hop Farm and Craft Ale Company– Fresh off the farm brews created with sustainable agriculture in mind
- Wagner Valley Brewing Co– “Only the finest Malt, Hops, Yeast and Water can be used in the production of beer”.
- War Horse Brewing Co.– handcrafted microbrews, hard ciders, and sodas.
- Seneca Lake Wine Trail – Largest wine trail in New York
- Scenic driving routes– Route 414 & Route 14S
Seneca is one of my favorite lakes to explore, not just because there is a Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream shop in town but because of the variety of activities you can do around the lake such as boat tours, horseback riding, fishing, hiking and so much more!
Coming from Watkins Glen head North on 414 and explore the east side of Scena Lake today making sure to stop along New York’s longest wine trail. If not for the wine, for the delicious food, lush green vineyards, and beautiful lake views.
Some of my favorite wineries on Seneca Lake are:
- Ryan William– delicious red wine and the best tapas- spinach artichoke dip is a must-try!
- Leidenfrost Vineyards– the host was amazing and so was the sparkling pink!
- Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards– for the oasis, wine slushies and outdoor vibes
- Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars – outdoor tastings only, reservations requited
- Idol Ridge-homemade fudge and a relaxing porch
- Three Brothers Wineries and Estates – Three tasting rooms, one brewery, sparkling vineyard views, and a delicious food menu
- Ventosa Vineyards-Cafe with striking vineyard and lake views off the patio.
Make some time for a pit stop at the Finger Lakes Welcome Center in Geneva (north end). It is a great spot to enjoy a multipurpose space with a coffee bar, snack cafe, and outdoor patio. Take photos with the iconic I LOVE NY sign and walk along the paved trail for sprawling lake views, the fishing pier, lakefront park, and an ice cream hut.
If you are looking for a gastronomical experience try F.L.X Table (seats only 12 so reservations required) or Kindred Fare, both inspired by farmhouse cooking and spirited gatherings in downtown Geneva.
Geneva is also home to Belhurst Castle and Winery (10 mins south of the Welcome Center). Entranced by the word “castle” I stayed here for a night and was pretty underwhelmed with my experience.
The property is well manicured, has two restaurants, a tasting room, and beautiful views of Seneca Lake but I’d skip staying here for the night. You could always go for a wine tasting and look around the property if you are as curious as me.
I stayed in the “modern” wing (all that was available) at Belhurst and it’s not worth the high season price tag. The room was outdated, and lacked the unique character I thought we’d get when staying in a “castle.”
Where to stay around Geneva
- Geneva on the Lake $$$$
- Hampton Inn Geneva $$$
- Holiday Inn Express $$
Day 5: Geneva/ Cayuga Lake to Ithaca
Get up early to make the most of your day exploring the west side of Cayuga lake and settling into Ithica for the night (south end of Cayuga lake)
Best things to see and do around Cayuga Lake
- Town of Seneca Falls– Historic Gateway to the Finger Lakes
- The Women’s Rights National Historical Park
- The National Women’s Hall of Fame
- the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry
- The Seneca Falls Heritage Area Visitors Center
- “It’s a Wonderful Life” Bridge and Museum
- Cayuga Lake State Park – great for fishing and camping
- Taughannock Falls State Park-the tallest free-falling waterfall east of the Mississippi.
- Ithaca– Home of Cornell University and over 100 waterfalls
- Boat Tours- Discover Cayuga Lake (Ithaca), Bianconi Tours (Aurora), Ithaca Boat Tours (Ithaca)
- Town of Aurora-Charming town reinvigorated by American Girl Founder, Pleasant Rowland
- Aurora Farmers Market- Saturdays only
- MacKenzie-Childs– home design center
- Cayuga Lake Wine Trail-16 wineries
- Cayuga Lake Beer Trail– 100+ breweries
- Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway– Routes 89 (west), 90 & 34 (east)
Start the day by filling up on car riding snacks at Saunders Market in Seneca Falls before continuing through town.
Stretch your legs on the short Ludovico Sculpture Walk along the Seneca-Cayuga canal (trailhead is at the intersection for Canal St. and Bridge St.) or enjoy a historic downtown museum such as the National Woman’s Hall of Fame before continuing south down Route 89 on Cayuga’s west bank.
Although never proven, Seneca Falls is famed for being the inspiration for the fictional town of Bedford in the popular 1940s movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” and has a free museum full of memorabilia from the set.
There are plenty of brewers and wineries along the way. We didn’t make it to any breweries but these are my favorite Cayuga Lake wineries.
- Swedish Hill Vineyards– For the white flight and Donkey mascot Doobie and miniature horse Sven live on the property
- Buttonwood Grove Winery– relaxing atmosphere, open-air deck overlooking the lake and acres of vineyards. Also the home of Merlot, the vineyard kitty
- Thirsty Owl-Onsite Bistro (closed Tues & Wed) and large tasting room with serene waterfront views
Further south (about 32 miles south of Seneca Falls) is Taughannock Falls State Park. It is worth a stop even if it’s only for the scenic waterfall overlook. There are hiking trails and few different viewpoints of the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi.
Drive another 10 miles south and stop in Ithaca for the night. The beautiful Cascadilla Gorge Trail is located in downtown Ithaca and there are plenty of outdoor dining options to end the day.
If you are short on time, skip staying the night in Ithaca and continue to Skaneateles for the night.
Where to stay near Ithaca
- Argos Inn Historical Boutique Hotel $$$$
- Canopy by Hilton $$$
- Camping in Robert H. Treman State Park $$
Day 6: Ithaca to Skaneateles
Drive northeast up Cayuga lake on Route 34/90 through King Ferry and Aurora. Stay the night in Skaneateles
Best things to see and do around Ithaca
- Hiking & Camping
- Cascadilla Gorge Trail
- Robert H Treman State Park
- Buttermilk Falls State Park
- Liquid State Brewing Company
- Lucky Hare Brewing
- Ithica Beer Co.
- Ithaca’s Farmers Market – open Saturday & Sunday
- Cornell Botanic Gardens– consists of 25 acres of botanical gardens and 150 acres of the F.R. Newman Arboretum
- De Witt Park-Historic district with 45 building, one site, and three historic objects
If you didn’t get a chance to stroll down Cascadilla Gorge, make time to do that before you leave. It’s an easy 1 mile out and back trail (with a few stairs) overlooking a beautiful gorge with bridges and multiple flowing waterfalls. It’s really a beautiful scene and apart of Cornell University’s Botanical Gardens.
There are a number of other waterfall hikes and trails in Ithaca. We went for a 5-mile hike in Robert H. Treman State Park (gorge + outer rim) and had plans to visit Buttermilk Falls. The parking lot was full when we arrived at 12pm so make sure to get an early start if visiting multiple state parks.
Continue your day by heading north on the east side of Lake Cayuga along route 34 to 34B.
Drive through Kings Ferry if your trip is in early August for the Sunflower fields. Stop at Turek Dairy Farms for pictures. The owner is really nice and loves to see people enjoying his fields. These flowers are plowed and turned into birdseed usually by the 3rd week in August, so you have to time it right!
Turek Farms is located on the left, less than a mile west of the intersection 90 & 34B – If they are in bloom you can’t miss them!
If you like handcrafted pottery in vibrant quirky designs stop at the MacKenzie-Childs Design Center in Aurora. Their free property tours were shut down when we visited (COVID-related) but their retail shop, farmhouse, gardens and goose house can all be explored by foot.
From Aurora, Head north on 90 and take a right on 326 going through the town of Auburn onto Route 20 toward Skaneateles.
Auburn is home to a few historical sites and art museums such as the Schweinfurth Art Center and is another great pit stop on the way to Skaneateles. It’s home to Strawberry Fields Farm where you can handpick strawberries growing in water instead of soil. The farm also has a gift shop of locally made items, farm tours and a sunflower maze, blooming yearly in early August.
Best things to see and do in Auburn
- Strawberry Fields Hydroponic Farm– You pick strawberries (July-October), Gift shop, guided tours, and a sunflower field (blooming early- mid-August)
- Schweinfurth Art Center– offering more than a dozen contemporary art exhibitions each year, plus classes and workshops for children and adults
- Cayuga Museum of History and Art – Historical mansion educating individuals about local art and history and the invention of sound on film
- Harriet Tubman House- Visit the 19th-century residence of the namesake abolitionist who rescued slaves via the Underground Railroad
- Emerson Park-135-acre waterfront park featuring a historic pavilion, playground, boat launches & picnic shelters
- Auburn-Fleming Trail– Short and flat 1.5-mile hike
Where to stay near Skaneateles
Day 7: Skaneateles to home
Enjoy your last day in the Finger lakes before making your way home. The closest airport is Syracuse Hancock International (SYR) Airport, only 29 miles; 40 mins away.
Best things to see and do around Skaneateles
- Skaneateles Village-main drag for entertainment, shops & restaurants
- Mid-Lakes Navigation– Sightseeing and guided lake boat tours
- Skaneateles Marina-Water sport and Pontoon boat rentals
- Anyela’s Vineyards– Daily tastings of world-class wines
- Lockwood Lavender farm– 120-acre flower and fiber farm with you pick bouquets (June & July)
- Scenic Route – Drive north on East Lake Road (east side of the lake) for picturesque rolling hills and pristine lake views.
Skaneateles Village borders the waterfront and is crawling with boutiques, specialty shops, locally owned business, outdoor dining, and my favorite local bakery, The Skaneateles Bakery. They serve breakfast and lunch and sweet treats until 4 pm daily (Sunday until 2 pm). Their toasted Gruyere Cheese Sandwich is so rewarding after a long week of traveling (and so are their baked goods).
We enjoyed a guided sightseeing tour of the crystal clear lake with Mid-Lakes Navigation. The Caption was very entertaining while sharing the history of the lake and even revealed some lake resident secretes.
Mailboat cruises are also available. One of the only operating US Mail boats hand-delivers mail to residents of the million-dollar mansions surrounding the lake beginning July 1st through the Tuesday after Labor Day each year.
Anyela’s Vineyards is a great place to relax and unwind. Tastings at $20 each are a bit pricy compared to other Finger Lake wineries but I took the plunge and blissfully enjoyed the atmosphere and scenery with no buyers remorse.
Before you leave Skaneateles make sure to enjoy the lakefront, even if that means people-watching from one of two picturesque parks, Clift or Thayer Park.
If you have a long car ride ahead, a stop at Navarino Orchards off of Route 20 (just outside of Skaneateles) is perfect for car riding snacks and you pick orchards (June-October).
As you can tell there are so many fun areas to explore around the Finger Lakes. Whether you are a hiker or fisherman or prefer to catch a buzz at endless wine tastings, I’m sure you will love adventuring around the Finger Lakes region as much as I did!
One last tip, don’t try to pack too many activities into one day. Make sure to enjoy the atmosphere and scenic views along the way!
Alternate Road Trip Itinerary Suggestions:
- 3 days/2nights:
- pick one lake/area to enjoy
- 5 days/4nights:
- Day 1: Canandaigua Lake
- Night 1: Hammondsport
- Day 2: Kekua Lake
- Night 2: Watkins Glen (S Seneca Lake)
- Day 3: Watkins Glen
- Night 3: Geneva (N Seneca Lake)
- Day 4: Geneva/Auburn
- Night 4: Skaneateles
- Day 5: Skaneateles
- More than 7 days:
- Spend more time in each location
- Add in Letchworth State Park (at the beginning of the trip)
- Add in Honeya Lake at the beginning
- Add in Oswasco Lake at the end
- Spend time exploring Rochester at the beginning
- Spend time exploring Syracuse at the end
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