Discover and Explore the Finger Lakes
Formed more than 200 million years ago as a result of receding Ice Age glaciers, the Finger Lakes are comprised of 11 freshwater lakes and surrounding forests, making it the ideal vacation spot for outdoor enthusiasts. Located in upstate New York, this region has more than 1,000 waterfalls, countless quaint towns and vineyards, and an abundance of national and state parks. Relax amongst the serene natural landscape or head into one of the nearby cities like Syracuse or Ithaca.
A unique climate is created by the lakes’ presence, which protects the region from the harsh winters and hot summers, forging the perfect location for cultivating grapes. Naturally, the area is known for its more than 100 wineries and farm-to-table culinary scene, which heavily incorporates locally-sourced products.
Lakefront vacation rentals are the perfect place to take in the breathtaking scenery surrounding this part of upstate New York. With a plethora of state parks, the Finger Lakes’ outdoor activity options are endless; hike or bike through the trail system that extends over 950 miles, visit “The Grand Canyon of the East” at Letchworth State Park, admire waterfalls of Watkins Glen State Park, and explore the food and wine scene on tours covering everything from wine and beer to sweets and cheese.
Popular towns and cities:
- Canandaigua Lake — Just 29 miles outside of Rochester, this lake is home to dozens of cottage vacation rentals and one of only two islands located in the Finger Lakes. Paddle out to Squaw Island in canoes or kayaks to explore the state’s smallest Fish and Wildlife Management Area or relax on land at the city pier. In the summer, locals light up the lake’s perimeter with flames to uphold an old Native American tradition known as the Ring of Fire.
- Cayuga Lake — The longest of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga offers plenty of outdoor activities from fishing to strolling the vineyard at Izzo’s White Barn Winery. Cyclists can cruise along the scenic byway or ride the entire stretch from Ithaca, at the northern tip of the lake, to Taughannock Falls. This route is great for riders of all ages as it allows you to avoid biking on the highway.
- Honeoye Lake — As one of the smallest and shallowest of the 11 lakes, Honeoye is ideal for both swimming and fishing and often less crowded. Much of the surrounding land is home to vacation rentals and cottages, sharing the landscape with rolling hills and farmland. At the north end, spend the day at Sandy Bottom Beach Park or head to the north east side to explore the Wesley Hill Nature Preserve.
- Keuka Lake — This Y-shaped lake covers nearly 20 miles and is surrounded by a number of charming small towns. Lakefront rentals in Hammondsport at the southern tip allow for easy water access and keep you close to the scenic vineyards. On the western side of the lake, Pulteney and Branchport offer relaxing, small town vibes with an abundance of natural scenery and outdoor activities. Keuka Park and Penn Yan, located at the northern tip, are home to more vineyards. While in Penn Yan, check out the Keuka Lake State Park or the Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium. The lake is flanked on the east by Barrington, which boasts endless hiking and skiing trails.
- Skaneateles Lake — Savor the serene, crystal-clear cerulean waters of Skaneateles Lake, located about 20 miles outside Syracuse. Enjoy your stay on the water in a vacation rental and take advantage of nearby Clift or Thayer parks. Head into the quaint and historic downtown to peruse local shops, dine at notable restaurants, and attend regular festivals and events.
- Syracuse — Offering big city attractions with a small city feel, Syracuse sits just outside the Finger Lakes region on the northern tip of Onondaga Lake. Catch a NCAA game at Syracuse University during basketball season, take a trip to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, stroll through Clinton Square, or explore one of the many museums.
- Rochester — Head an hour north of the Finger Lakes to visit the city of Rochester, located on Lake Ontario. This eclectic city offers a variety of outdoor and indoor activities, including an arboretum in Highland Park, the Genesee Riverway Trail, the Strong National Museum of Play, and the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse. Known as “the festival city,” Rochester has countless exhibits, festivals, and events that take place between the spring and fall.
- Seneca Lake — The largest and deepest of the Finger Lakes, Seneca is home to the Seneca Lake Wine trail, which boasts the most wineries in the region. Just 25 minutes away is the Finger Lakes National Forest with a five-acre blueberry patch and 30 miles of trail for hiking, snowmobiling, or cross-country skiing. Stay in one of the many lakefront or cottage vacation rentals available to enjoy prime views of the beautiful landscape.
Things to do:
- Wine Trails — Experience the Finger Lakes’ renowned vineyards during one of the many tours and enjoy on-site wine tastings.
- Breweries, Cideries, & Distilleries — Aside from the award-winning wineries, visitors can enjoy local beer on one of the many craft brew trails; sip on gin, whiskeys, and vodka at nearby distilleries; or taste cider (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic) made fresh from the region’s many apple orchards.
- Farm-to-table dining — With an abundance of local farms and produce, the area’s restaurants offer a top notch culinary experience.
- Waterfalls — Explore the State and National Parks for a glimpse of some of the northeast’s most magnificent waterfalls, including Taughannock Falls with a 215 foot drop off.
- State and national parks — Aside from waterfall viewing, the area’s parks offer outdoor activities for everyone, including hiking, biking, and outdoor picnicking.
- Summer activities — Hit the lakes in the summertime to enjoy swimming, boating, fishing, kayaking or canoeing, and rafting.
- Paddleboard — Take advantage of nearby paddleboard rentals and spend the day drifting on the lakes.
- Winter activities — Take advantage of the outdoors all year long with winter activities such as downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.
- Museums — Head into nearby cities to take advantage of unique museums like the Corning Museum of Glass, Branchport’s Finger Lakes Museums and Aquarium, and Rochester’s Strong National Museum of Play.
- Underground Railroad — Much of the Finger Lakes region played an important role in the underground railroad system. From Rochester to Syracuse, you can walk the historic Heritage Trails to learn more about the time period.
- Pick-Your-Own fruits — Warmer months allow for berry and cherry picking while autumn is favorable for apple, grapes and pumpkin harvesting.
- Festivals — From arts and jazz festivals to boat regattas and outdoor concerts, there is no shortage of annual events in the Finger Lakes. Dozens of festivals take place throughout the year, especially in Rochester, so check the schedule of events while planning your trip.
- Canandaigua City Pier — Stroll out onto the pier, located just past the New York Wine and Culinary Center, and take in the peaceful view. Along the pier you’ll find a group of about 80 brightly painted water homes known as Boathouse Row.
- Tioga Downs Casino — Place your bets and try your luck at one of 950 slot machines or head to the casino’s race track to catch a horse race.
Looking for more local information about the Finger Lakes Area?
Join our local Finger Lakes Facebook Group and ask away!
Navigating the Finger Lakes can be a bit tricky as there are many rural areas with limited access to public transportation, so it’s recommended that you plan your mode of travel in advance. A car is highly recommended.
Getting to the Finger Lakes:
- Driving — If traveling from the northeastern area of the U.S., driving is the easiest way to reach the Finger Lakes as it’s located with a few hours of most major cities.
- Flying — For people traveling from further out, there are two major airports nearby—the Greater Rochester International Airport and the Hancock International Airport in Syracuse.
- Bus — Greyhound buses leave from many major cities and stop off in Ithaca, Syracuse, and Rochester.
- Amtrak — The train also travels to Syracuse and Rochester from major cities, including New York City and Boston.
Traveling within the Finger Lakes:
- Car — Renting a car or driving your own is the most convenient way to get around the Finger Lakes as many of the small towns closest to the lakes do not offer public transportation systems. If you want to the freedom to zip around to other towns and cities nearby, car is likely the best way to travel.
- Water Taxi — While there are boat tours aplenty, some areas also offer water taxis that will bring to your destination by boat. This mode of transportation is convenient when visiting nearby locales but limited in destinations.
- Taxi — While in the bigger cities such as Ithaca, Syracuse, and Rochester, hailing a taxi is a quick and efficient way to get around.
- Bus — Public buses are available in Ithaca, Syracuse, and Rochester. Within the smaller towns, vineyards often provide shuttles to and from their locations.
The Finger Lakes are a unique and fantastic place to visit any time of the year with a bounty of both warm and cold weather activities. If you’re looking to spend more time on the water and enjoy the lakes, summer or spring are the best times to stay at a lakefront rental. Go swimming or fishing, spend the day kayaking, or head into the wilderness for a hike.
For winter sports lovers, cottage vacation rentals during the colder months are ideal. Hit the slopes for skiing or snowboarding. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling are also popular during the winter months.
Though festivals take place throughout the year, autumn welcomes a large number of these events.