One of the most beautiful places to visit in the Northeast US is upstate New York at the Finger Lakes region. Famous for its wine and scenery including things to do in the Finger Lakes NY including visiting waterfalls, gorges, state parks, and the lakes this spot has become a great summer vacation spot for people in the neighboring states.
We visited and realized the Finger Lakes is easily one of the most underrated destinations in the US. This region deserves alot more attention and once you see the beauty of this entire region from the natural scenery to the amazing small towns and Finger Lakes attractions you’ll understand why.
Check out our complete guide for best things to do in Finger Lakes NY. Also, don’t miss our guide for where to stay in the Finger Lakes.
With over 100 wineries in the region, wine tasting is one of the best things to do in the Finger Lakes NY. There are several wine trails and on our week in the Finger Lakes we were able to check out two, the Keuka Wine Trail and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.
While visiting every single winery on a single trip would be impossible you can definitely visit quite a few following the different wine trails all while enjoying the views and scenery along the way.
Here are a few of our favorites and best Finger Lakes wineries:
Keuka Wine Trail
Keuka Spring Vineyards
This ended up being our favorite winery and one of our favorite things to do in the Finger Lakes. When you walk into the tasting room you are overwhelmed with how many awards there on display from their wines. We sampled an array of their whites including a few of their Gewurztraminers to their reds, all were so amazing we had to manage some space in our luggage to take a few bottles home.
Hunt Country Vineyards
Another favorite of ours on the Keuka Wine Trail with amazing wine and farm to table lunch on their beautiful farm. We especially loved the sustainable agriculture efforts of the Hunt family running their vineyard and farms on solar power energy and certified organic. It is worth a stop and asking about some of their sustainability efforts. We learned they use things like clove oil mixed with molasses for the weeds which was incredibly fascinating.
This is what to do in the Finger Lakes if you’re keen on learning more about sustainable wine growing.
Dr. Konstantin Frank
Overlooking Keuka Lake is one of the best wineries in the region and Dr. Frank himself is responsible for making the wine region what it is today and one of the best Finger Lakes activities to enjoy. He introduced the vinifera grape varieties to the region which in turn introduced European wines to the Northeastern US.
This is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in the Finger Lakes if you’re really into wine. They offer a great food and wine pairing in their 1886 Food & Wine Experience as well a tour and the history of Dr. Frank.
Another one of the best things to do in Finger Lakes NY on the Keuka Wine trail. Known for their vinifera wines from the grapes they grow, McGregor has exceptional wine to choose from. Their tasting room is a fun experience and ordering the warm brie is a must when doing your wine tasting here.
Seneca Wine Trail
Besides being an amazing winery Wagner offers up their own craft beers as well. With a gorgeous location with a view of Seneca Lake and the vineyards, you can’t help but just love this place. Visiting Wagner is especially one of the best things to do in the Finger Lakers on Friday nights during their Pub Night on the Brew Deck where there’s live music, dancing, and a great barbeque meal that brings out all the locals.
Glenora Wine Cellars
Not just another winery at Glenora Wine Cellars, besides offering up a tasting room and vineyard to visit you can spend an evening having a romantic dinner at their on-site restaurant Verasions with a gorgeous view of the vineyards. We enjoyed the steak and seafood dishes here with the wine pairings and it was fantastic. This is what to do in the Finger Lakes if you’re looking on splurging on a fancy and delicious dinner.
Another fabulous vineyard to visit near Watkins Glen is Fulkerson Winery. With great wine their tasting room may make you want to try and make some of your own wine, which is why they sell the equipment in their gift shop! Located on a beautiful farm, you can sip on wine and even rent out their farmhouse for the week overlooking Seneca Lake, one of the most incredible Finger Lake attractions.
Would you ever guess that one of the best Finger Lakes activities is to sip on suds along the beer trail in wine country? The region is not only known for its wine, but the emerging beer scene as well. One of the best things to do in the Finger Lakes is check out the beer trail too! With over 75 craft breweries you can easily fill an entire vacation with this. We sadly didn’t get to check out the beer trail on our week trip to the region, but this is something we’d be more than willing to come back for.
You can find out more information on the Finger Lakes Beer Trail website.
One noteworthy brewery to stop at near Watkins Glen on Seneca Lake is Two Goats Brewery. Besides serving up amazing draft craft brews there is a killer sunset view overlooking vineyards and Seneca Lake and a fun atmosphere in a little red barn.
Find out why the slogan for Ithaca is Ithaca is gorges. With over 150 waterfalls within a 10 mile distance of downtown including Ithaca Falls in the heart of downtown and the impressive Taughannock Waterfall, which is technically 33 feet taller than Niagara Falls, you can easily see why this place is gorges, or gorgeous!
We love the clever and true slogan. Located on Cayuga Lake you can easily see why so many think this is one of the best things to do in the Finger Lakes region.
Besides amazing waterfalls and gorges, you can also visit the campus of Ivy League school, Cornell University while you’re at it.
Another one of the best things to do in the Finger Lakes is visit Watkins Glen. We used this as a base for a few nights and loved the area so much we’d return in a heartbeat. Located right on the south tip of Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen has an adorable main street filled with places to dine and the scenic Seneca Harbor just footsteps away.
Spend a morning walking through Watkins Glen State Park gorge trail where you can witness one magical waterfall after another. The path takes you through 19 gorgeous cascading waterfalls that look straight out of Fern Gully, who knows what we are talking about here?
The two-mile path doesn’t take long to complete and is suitable for all ages. You seriously feel swept away in a fairy tale walking through the gorge under waterfalls, over bridges, and through the magical path.
This was one of our most favorite Finger Lakes attractions to explore and highly urge everyone to see this popular spot for themselves. Try to get there first thing in the morning to avoid the surge of midday tourists who all also want to enjoy the magic of this place.
Enjoy an unforgettable sunset from Watkins Glen at the Seneca Harbor aboard the schooner, “True Love.” This beautiful schooner not only is a great way to enjoy Seneca Lake but also has a cool backstory.
The schooner was used in a 1940 Hollywood Classic Film starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in, “A Philadelphia Story.” We’ve never seen the film ourselves but found this incredibly interesting!
Sit back and enjoy the two-hour sail while the crew passes out local wine and hand-picked berries and locally sourced cheeses until sunset which is accompanied by music. This is a great thing to do in the Finger Lakes for couples but also for a group of friends.
Don’t miss our guide on best things to do in Watkins Glen.
Letchworth State Park
Another one of the best things to do in the Finger Lakes that we regrettably didn’t make it to due to time this trip is Letchworth State Park. Dubbed as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” you could easily spend an entire vacation just enjoying the splendor of the area and renting a cabin for the week. With three large and impressive falls to see accompanied by as many as 50 more smaller waterfalls that flow through the Genesee River as well.
Spend your days picnicking, hiking on the 66 miles of trails, swimming, whitewater rafting, fishing, or kayaking within the park. There are endless outdoor activities to enjoy with gorgeous scenery.
Another one of the best small towns and best things to do in the Finger Lakes is visit Corning. We used this as another one of our base points during our trip in the region and just fell in love with the small town charm and aesthetically adorable Market Street.
You’ll want to stroll down Market Street when you’re hungry for any meal of the day there’s something great. One of our all time favorite meals was at Hand & Foot and is definitely worth a visit even if you are not staying in Corning during your trip to the region. Poppleton’s Bakery is a great breakfast spot and Market Street Brewing Co is an awesome lunch choice with great craft beers on draft.
Don’t miss out on all the great shops and boutiques in downtown Corning either. We popped in the feminist bookstore at Card Carrying Books & Gifts and window shopped at all the adorable boutiques.
A trip to Corning isn’t complete without visiting the Corning Museum of Glass where you can easily spend an entire afternoon getting lost in the world of glass through glass blowing demonstrations, hands-on glass blowing experiences, galleries of mind-blowing glass art sculptures, interactive optical illusion glass exhibits, and the world’s largest collection of glass dating thousands of years back.
Also, be sure to check out the Rockwell Museum housing a beautiful collection of American Art. The museum is a Smithsonian affiliate and has a beautiful terrace overlooking the town of Corning.
Soaring on Harris Hill
One of the more unique and adventurous things to do in the Finger Lakes is seeing the region from a bird’s eye view. Take a glider motorless plane from Soaring on Harris Hill to see the beautiful scenery overlooking the Chemung Valley through the clouds as you soar through the sky.
A tow plane will guide you up to the sky until you get to 4,000 feet before your glide plane is released. Don’t worry, you have an experienced pilot with you to make sure nothing happens! The glider planes seat two people, a real pilot, and one passenger. So if you intend on going with a group you will want to plan on waiting and taking turns.
The first time we came to enjoy this Finger Lakes activity we couldn’t because the weather forecast changed. However, we went back and had better luck! Each flight is around 20 minutes, Scott enjoyed his flight easy breezy and I, unfortunately, had to land early because I suffer from motion sickness.
Not lost if weather interrupts your plans as there is also the National Soaring Museum next door showcasing the world’s largest collection of motorless sailplanes dating all the way back to 1890 and have other cool aviation artifacts like cloth from the wing from the Wright Brothers Kittyhawk plane.
If you have kiddos in tow then down the hill there’s a playground and park as well!
A stop in Hammondsport is another great thing to do in the Finger Lakes NY. This small town USA is located on Keuka Lake and is home to the Finger Lakes Boating Museum, Glenn H. Curtiss Museum, and near tons of wineries including Dr. Konstantin Frank mentioned earlier as another pick for best things to do in Finger Lakes NY.
Exploring downtown Hammondsport is incredibly charming with shops and eateries to check out right along Keuka Lake. Its adorable downtown is a Finger Lakes activity of its own.
We also recommend stopping at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum where you can learn about the Elon Musk of the late 19th and early 20th century. Curtiss was a transportation mogul known for his work in the aircraft and aviation industry as well as a motorcycling pioneer. He fought it out with the Wright Brothers for years disputing over patents. You can learn more about his intriguing history and see the amazing collection of his airplanes and motorcycles in this wonderfully curated museum and Finger Lakes attraction.
Another amazing stop and one of our picks for best things to do in Finger Lakes NY is taking a historical stop at Elmira. Not located on any of the actual Finger Lakes, Elmira is easily overlooked by tourists but shouldn’t be.
Elmira was the summer home for famous American writer, Mark Twain for over 20 years. He wasn’t born in the area, but his wife was from Elmira and after they married they spent alot of time here and Twain professed his love of the area which inspired much of his work including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which were written in his study that you can visit today.
Visit Mark Twain’s study, his burial spot in Woodlawn Cemetery, and more beautiful historical homes in Elmira on the Mark Twain trolley departing from the Chemung Valley History Museum.
Besides geeking out on American Literature you can also check out the fabulous wine selection and great craft brews on draft at the Finger Lakes House. This is a great stop to taste and sample some of the areas best wines and brews.
There are also some other great Finger Lakes activities surrounding Elmira including paddling down the Chemung River with Southern Tier Kayaking Tours. This is what to do in the Finger Lakes in the warmer months, a knowledgable guide will take you on a historical canoe that was used by fur tradesmen on the lakes. As you paddle along you will learn about the local ecology and enjoy pretty views of the surrounding area from the water.
We also recommend checking out Tanglewood Nature Center for some lovely walking trails. Before or after you’re walking you can check out their rescued birds on-site and their educational museum. This is what to do in Finger Lakes if you’re traveling with kids or you just want to enjoy a pretty, scenic walking trail.
One of the most underrated things to do in the Finger Lakes is explore the historical town of Owego, New York. Titled as one of America’s coolest small towns and full of charm we recommend spending an afternoon and night here to see why so many who visit fall in love.
This is definitely one of the most overlooked Finger Lakes activities since its not located on one of the lakes, but don’t let that fool you.
Be sure to walk down Front Street where you’ll find plenty of adorable boutiques and independently owned shops as well as some delicious eateries. We really loved eating at the Owego Kitchen, Las Chicas Taqueria, and The Cellar Restaurant and Bar on the River.
We loved how uniquely charming this town is from the scenic bridge over the river leading to the town hall to the great antique shops and an amazing book store. Take time to shop through all the small family-run shops and businesses here for a welcoming experience you just don’t get at your local Target.
Another highlight and reason why we recommend spending the night in Owego is their beautiful historic homes and buildings turned into Inns and B&Bs.
Our favorite was the Belva Lockwood Inn, run by a local couple who restored a gorgeous home from 1872 into a 5 room quaint Inn that’s more than just a hotel bed for the night, its an entire experience. So much care is taken into your stay with each uniquely designed and restored room to the morning picnic basket breakfast delivered to your door.
Also, don’t miss out on the history lesson about Ms. Belva Lockwood herself, a former Owego resident who started fighting for equal rights at the age of 14 in the 1800s before women could even vote. She was also the first female to run for president, not once but twice in 1884 and 1888. Her history is truly fascinating and the owners are more than happy to share her history and help make more people aware of this incredible woman forgotten in history.
Tioga Downs Casino Resort
Feeling lucky? This next thing to do in Finger Lakes NY is for gamblers. Tioga Downs Casino Resort has a horse race track and a casino. We aren’t huge gamblers but we like to play with a few bucks here and there. I was lucky enough to win double my bet on a horse race, even though it was only a $2 win it felt pretty good! If you’re wanting to stay here there’s a full resort on site as well.
Where to stay in the Finger Lakes
Both Watkins Glen and Hammondsport are about a 30-minute drive from Corning making it a great in-between point to explore these areas right on Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake. Radisson Hotel Corning is a great option for where to stay in Corning and a great base for traveling around the Finger Lakes region. The hotel is walking distance to all the attractions in Corning. The hotel has a terrific location, cozy rooms, great outdoor patio with fire pits, and just a few minutes walk to Market Street. There’s a fitness center on the property as well as plenty of parking.
Watkins Glen is an awesome place to stay in the Finger Lakes region if you’re looking to do all the great activities around Seneca Lake. Watkins Glen is also about a 40-minute drive to Ithaca and a 30-minute drive to Hammondsport making it a good in-between destination if you wanted to stray away from the Seneca Lake area.
We stayed at the beautiful Harbor Hotel located right on the harbor at the south end of Seneca Lake. Some rooms even come with balconies overlooking the lake. Rooms are contemporary and have the most comfortable beds as well as a complimentary bottle of wine and cheese plate in your mini-fridge.
Don’t miss out on the outdoor fire pits in the evening with a drink or the complimentary morning coffee and tea stations around the hotel. This is the perfect location for where to stay close to all the incredible things to do in Watkins Glen.
Ithaca is naturally a great choice for where to stay in the Finger Lakes region, not only is there plenty to do in Ithaca but your just a 40-minute drive to Watkins Glen and other amazing waterfalls in the region. With Cornell University here there are a few great options for accommodation here. We recommend The Hotel Ithaca in the heart of town. The rooms are brightly decorated and cozy, suites offer separate living rooms and parking is free. There’s a heated indoor pool accessible year round and a lovely deck with lounge chairs.
As mentioned earlier, we highly recommend spending one night in Owego even though its not on one of the Finger Lakes. This charming town has some of the best quaint Inns and B&B experiences in the region which is a Finger Lakes attraction of its own. Not to mention there are plenty of little shops and amazing eateries to try out. From here you can move on to explore more of the Finger Lakes attractions to the other areas mentioned in this post.
We recommend the Belva Lockwood Inn as it’s more than just a hotel room for the night, it’s an entire experience. The owners take extraordinary care of their guests and make you feel like you’re at home away from home under their roof. This property was also featured on an episode of House Hunters and the owners have put their heart and soul into redoing this historical home and making each of their five rooms a unique experience.
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