How to enjoy the region with friends, with your dog or on two wheels
Wineries, breweries and distilleries. Countless farm-to-table restaurants. Freeway-less drives with sweeping views of farmland, wineries and lakes. Waterfalls at every corner. Timeless towns and villages that are seemingly made for Instagram and look like Main Street, USA. It's easy to feel like you're in a different world when visiting the Finger Lakes.
Located roughly 430 miles from Columbus (less than a seven-hour drive), the Finger Lakes area is known primarily for wine, particularly a stunning array of Rieslings, from its 100-plus wineries that surround 11 long, finger-shaped lakes. A series of valleys and hills between these lakes (created by continental glaciers 2 million years ago) provide terrain that makes the area ideal for grape growing, waterfalling, hiking, farming and, well, visiting.
The Finger Lakes have a misleading name. While the lakes are difficult to ignore (nor should you want to), it's what's around them that you'll remember after your first visit. From ice cream stands to scenic hikes, we've compiled three different ways to visit the region. Plan to try all three, because one thing's for sure: You'll want to return.
Group of Friends
Season: Summer and fall
Region: Western Lakes
Home base: Honeoye
Pull your closest friends together and head east for a long weekend in the Finger Lakes. With a variety of activities from hiking to shopping to wine tasting, the region's close proximity to Columbus makes it a perfect getaway for adults. When planning your itinerary, consider a day for wine tasting, a day for exploring and a day for relaxing.
Available through Airbnb or Hipcamp, Turtle Rock Hollow in Honeoye is ideal for groups traveling together. Glamping at its best, this destination houses several “microcabins” for privacy at night and a main kitchen and dining area for your group to cook and share meals. A fire pit is central to the retreat and a perfect place to share a bottle of wine from daytime adventures. If cabin life is too fancy for you, you may be up for a night or two in Hiawatha, the retreat's furnished teepee for rent.
Artizanns Gifts from the Finger Lakes in Naples is a multi-story house filled to the brim with affordable, regional crafts, from blown glass and woodworks to photography and jewelry. Bring some water shoes to Naples so you can fully enjoy a hike through Grimes Glen. A 1-mile walk up the creek will reveal two waterfalls. If you don't mind getting a little dirty or wet, the second waterfall sits at the end of the gorge. While you may not spend much time on the lakes, you'll see breathtaking views of them as you traverse the area. State Route 21 (heading north and south on the west side of Canandaigua Lake) provides not only beautiful vistas, but also a stop at Bare Hill, a former meeting grounds of the Seneca Indian nation.
The village of Honeoye is easy to overlook, but it should definitely be a stop due to a duo of businesses in its center. First, head to The Cornerstone Market, a tiny store featuring grab-and-go baked goods and coffees, as well as a selection of products sourced from the region. Stock up on goods for a group meal back at Turtle Rock or a pastry for the road. Behind the store is Honeoye Pottery, a space that sells wares from New York-based artisans, including the ceramics and porcelain work of Springwater, New York, native Kala Stein.
Nearby Naples is home to a trifecta of dueling pie companies: Monica's Pies, Cindy's Pies and Jeni's Pies. While every local has his or her favorite, you really can't go wrong so long as you grab one featuring the region's Concord grapes. While in Naples, you won't want to miss Roots Café and Inspire Moore Winery. Roots serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner in an old farmhouse. If the weather's nice, head to the front porch and grab a burger and salad of the day. If you're inside and curious, open a drawer or two on the vintage kitchen tables for a surprise. After you eat, visit Inspire Moore for a wine tasting and head upstairs to the gift shop for incredible views of vineyards and a souvenir or two.
On your wine-tasting day, you'll head east. The Seneca Lake Wine Trail is densely populated with wineries. When visiting wineries, timing is everything. On the weekends, wineries close as early as 5 or 6 p.m. This limits overindulgence and irresponsible driving, but it also means that it takes a bit of strategy to hit the wineries you want to see. Get up early and head east to Seneca Lake. The drive to the north end of Seneca is about an hour. Spend the afternoon stopping at wineries and sights heading clockwise around the lake, and finish the day with dinner on the northern tip of Keuka Lake before heading back to Honeoye for the evening.
Fido Plus One
Season: Spring through fall
Region: Southern Finger Lakes
Home Base: Penn Yan
According to the American Pet Products Association, 37 percent of pet owners take their animals on the road, up from 19 percent about 10 years ago. And while there's plenty to do with your pup here in Columbus, the Finger Lakes region is an ideal destination if you prefer a vacation with a canine companion.
Airbnb is the simplest way to search through non-corporate lodging, and the site makes it easy to search for dog-friendly accommodations throughout the region. Find a location that doesn't openly welcome pets? It's always worth asking if you can pay a small cleaning fee. And while plenty of Penn Yan hotels (like Best Western, Hampton Inn and Microtel) accommodate pets with a small cleaning fee, the Fulkerson Farmhouse, an 1856 historic farmhouse on a working farm in Dundee (just south of town), is an idyllic and pet-friendly spot to rest for the night.
Getting exercise is crucial, and with parks and trails aplenty, there are no shortage of dog-friendly, picturesque hikes. For a waterfall-filled, woodsy hike through a deep gorge, check out Stony Brook State Park in Dansville, west of Kueka Lake. If that doesn't tire out Fido, grab a ball or Frisbee and head to one of the park's picnic areas for a game of fetch. Prefer a less rugged walk? Consider Spencer Crest Nature Center in Corning, which features 7 miles of dog-friendly trails, as well as Amelia Pond, where your pup can take a quick swim.
From fine art to fine wine, the Finger Lakes is a dog-friendly place, especially if you've got a pup who likes time on the road. At Spotted Duck Creamery in Penn Yan, an artisanal frozen custard stand between Keuka and Seneca lakes, a small fence protects the ducks whose eggs provide the fodder for extraordinary, scratch-made custard. While you enjoy a flight of custards (served in mason jars on a wooden plank), your dog will love a giant yard to run in, as well as a pup-sized portion of custard, complete with an organic biscuit.
Just 5 miles away (also in Penn Yan) is Seneca Farms, another place to grab a frozen treat. But this longtime ice cream shop doubles as a fried chicken joint with ample outdoor seating for the masses that stop by. Summer picnic favorites take over the menu (think: scratch-made macaroni salad with pieces of celery and green peppers to accompany). No pets are allowed inside, but there's enough picnic seating for 101 Dalmatians.
It's not the Finger Lakes without adult beverages, and many wineries welcome—and celebrate—canine companions. Large spaces, cement floors and detailed cleaning regimens make this possible. Even some of the most renowned vineyards will welcome dogs, meaning you can have your dog and your Riesling, too. Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard in Dundee, on the western shores of Seneca Lake,has a beautiful tasting room built from a repurposed, 90-year-old, scissor-trussed barn—plus equally beautiful Rieslings made from grapes grown from three estate vineyards. While you stand and taste, leashed dogs are welcome to rest at your feet. If you're not sure whether a winery will allow pets, it's worth a call in advance. Answers vary from “absolutely” to “only well-behaved dogs” to “only if the winery owner's dog isn't here.” But the overarching theme: yes.
For breathtaking views of Seneca Lake and its surrounding vineyards, hit up Two Goats Brewing on the southeast side of the lake. There are no bad views at this solar–powered, 19th-century barn with a wraparound porch. This lively location is perfect for trying a local beer and for catching some live music with your four-legged friend—leashed dogs are allowed on the patio.
Two Wheels, Please
Season: Summer and fall
Region: Seneca and Cayuga lakes
Home Base: Watkins Glen
It doesn't take long to notice a large number of cyclists traversing the roads throughout the Finger Lakes region. Light traffic and broad shoulders make the area's hilly roads a natural place to explore by bicycle. Additionally, a number of rail trails in the region allow for a variety of scenic routes for folks who aren't comfortable on roadways. Bring your own bike or rent one for the day from outfitters like Martin's Bicycle or Ithaca Bike Rental.
The roads between each lake attract cyclists of varying skill levels. The easternmost lakes offer longer rides (it's 38 miles from top to bottom of Cayuga, the longest lake in the region) and steeper terrain, while the western lakes—like Canadice and Honeoye—provide shorter routes. Seneca Lake is a great area to start with, as it is dense with activity (think: wineries and bike shops) and offers a variety of trails. Additionally, it's close to Finger Lakes National Forest and is home to both Sampson State Park and Lakeshore Park, offering 7- and 9-mile cycling loops, respectively.
You can make your trip 100 percent outdoors by opting to camp at Watkins Glen State Park. The central feature to the park is a 400-foot gorge surrounded by hiking trails with views of 19 waterfalls. Prefer to bring an RV or trailer? Watkins Glen has you covered there, too. The campground includes 305 tent and trailer campsites, restrooms, hot showers, a swimming pool and picnic facilities.
Keuka Outlet Trail is a 7-mile stretch over what used to be a canal connecting the villages of Penn Yan and Dresden. Waterfalls, vineyards, farmlands and remains of mills provide plenty of sights on this relatively level rail trail made of crushed stone and dirt. Stop by the historic Penn Yan Diner for lunch before returning back to Dresden and finishing up the trip with soft serve at
Mr. Twistees, an ice cream joint operating via a small window in a utility barn.
Starting in Watkins Glen, the Catharine Valley Trail is a mostly shaded, 12-mile rail trail leading directly south to Pine Valley. The popular trail is used by both cyclists and runners and goes through the village of Montour Falls. As its name indicates, the town is home to several waterfalls, including the majestic She-Qua-Ga Falls at its center.
If mountain biking is more your thing, the Black Diamond Trail (named after the former railroad route that the trail follows) connecting Taughannock Fall State Park and Ithaca will make a good day trip. The 8-mile trail is less established than its sister rail trails, but like the others, it provides beautiful foliage and waterfall-watching at nearby Willow Creek.
If you'd like to meet other cyclists and have logistics planned for you, several companies offer organized rides. Wilderness Voyageurs has a four-day trip, including winery and waterfall visits and lodging at local inns. And Carolina Tailwinds hosts a six-day cycling tour, complete with lodging at lakefront inns and a private boat ride.
A trip to Ithaca is not complete without a visit to Moosewood Restaurant, a James Beard Award-winning restaurant serving vegetarian fare since 1973. With a seasonal menu, it's a safe bet to go for the soup of the day. And don't leave without picking up one of the restaurant's cookbooks so you can take a taste of the Finger Lakes home with you.
While in Ithaca, be sure to stop by GreenStar Cooperative Market to stock up on snacks and picnic supplies, including juice from Red Jacket Orchards from nearby Geneva and nitrate-free capicola from The Piggery, a farmer-owned butcher shop headquartered just up the lake in Trumansburg.
Finish off a day on the road with a local wine or cider at Graft wine + cider bar in Watkins Glen. The bar and restaurant celebrates all things New York, and its drink menu is made up entirely of a variety of ciders, beers and wines from the state.
Jill Moorhead is a freelance writer who covers all things food and beverage. Her summer isn't complete without a trip to the Finger Lakes.