In recent years, the Finger Lakes have rightfully earned a spot on vinophiles’ maps thanks to its bustling wine country scene. Maybe the Finger Lakes have made a cameo on your Instagram feed because of the region’s winning fall foliage and impressive waterfalls. Or maybe they’re on your radar thanks to Watkins Glens International, the famed NASCAR racetrack.
And while wine, waterfalls, and fast cars are all good enough reasons to plan a trip, here’s a better one: adventure that’ll get your adrenaline pumping. With demanding trails, remote backcountry, and challenging thrills galore, the Finger Lakes is a real prize for those seeking outdoor excitement. Here’s the scoop on what to do, where to get a great beer and a meal, and the best places to stay this summer.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking to camp, our vote goes to what some call the “Grand Canyon of the East,” or The Mighty Letchworth State Park (pictured, above). For something equally enticing, try off-the-grid tenting in the National Forest to traditional wooded lakeside sites and cabins in Finger Lakes National Forest.
For something a bit different, consider these treehouse cabins on GlampingHub (pictured below). Canopy life comes complete with a gas barbecue, a charcoal barbecue, a fire pit, two kayaks, life jackets and more, all along with a 45-foot deck, a 25-foot patio, and 100-feet of beachfront.
Another great option is Firelight Camps in Ithaca at La Tourelle Resort & Spa, where you can rest your sore limbs after exploring the resort’s 70-acre property, ending at Ithaca’s famous gorge waterfalls (Hence, all those Ithaca is Gorges shirts you’ve seen). There’s a complimentary happy hour with local Finger Lakes wine and beer and free s’mores kits by the communal fire. What more could a hiked out dude want?
For more furnished safari tent vibes, consider Seneca Sol, each decked out with private balconies in a quiet forest backdrop. Recently, Seneca Sol also launched accommodations with queen beds and a comfortable sitting area if that’s more your thing. Bonus: You could easily spend a few days without leaving the Seneca Sol grounds, which has private hiking trails, an indoor commons area and kitchen, and a modern bath house. Even better? Seneca Sol offers private wine tours, evening campfires, WiFi, and concierge service a stone throw’s away from Seneca Lake wineries, waterfalls, and restaurants.
The Best Things to Do
Start in Ithaca, a college town with equal parts natural wonder and groovy downtown curb appeal. Hike your way through Robert Treman State Park where the 115-foot Lucifer Falls is a sight to behold and swimming (allowed in lifeguarded areas) is a lively scene in the summer. After you’ve followed the gorge past 12 waterfalls you can check off more waterfalls with an excursion to Taughannock Falls, which features a drop of about 215 feet (that’s a larger drop than Niagra Falls).
Other favorites: Onondaga Lake Park for its car-free shorelines and sporting competitions, and Watkins Glen State Park (pictured below), which bisects downtown Watkins Glen and boasts 19 waterfalls, impressive cliffs, and two miles of terrain that goes below bridges and over stone tunnels.
In addition to camping, that “Grand Canyon of the East” we spoke of, Letchworth State Park, is ideal for biking and hiking, with cliffs hitting the 600-foot mark and the Genesee River rushing its way through the gorge over three big waterfalls. Book a whitewater rafting trip with Adventure Calls Outfitters through class I & II rapids. Note: If river levels call for it, you’ll be swapping the raft for sit-on-top kayaks.
For something different, treat yourself to a night hike (check the calendar of events here), guided by Park Naturalist, Doug Bassett and his staff. On the “Crepuscular Walks,” you’ll have a chance to see animals up-close, so bring a flashlight. To challenge your inner Nick Offerman, the Wilderness Way School based in Owego, NY, offers immersive programs in outdoor survival skills in topics like wild edible plants and more. If you’re not looking to bust a sweat but still want to spike your adrenaline, some clutch choices include glider rides with Finger Lakes Soaring Club and driving the Grand Prix circuit at Watkins Glen International.
Where to Eat
Countless restaurants in this region are more farm and table than farm-to-it, with chefs making the best of the season’s bounty with creative dishes sourced from the spot’s own “backyard” or neighboring farms. Read: You really can’t go wrong.
But we’d be remiss in not pointing you in the direction of a few of our favorites. First, there’s Hook & Spoon, on the northern cusp of Conesus Lake. If you aren’t sold on the indoor and outdoor dining, two full bars, lakefront campfire pit, frequent live music and 16 boat slips for dock-and-diners, you’ll be sold on the piquant black bean burger and the weekly fishmonger’s pick.
Next, Kindred Fare in Geneva is helmed by the supremely talented proprietor, Susie Atvell, and Executive Chef, Samantha Buyskes. No corners are cut here, from baking bread from scratch to each dish’s artistic plating.
To round out the mix, book a reservation at FLX Table. Also in Geneva, the idea here is feasting on a five-course meal at a communal table with strangers (who will become friends thanks to plenty of Finger Lakes wine), as if you were at a dinner party.
Where to Drink
If you’re coming to the Finger Lakes for wine, we’re guessing you’ve already carefully crafted a list of the dozen or so wineries you intend to visit on your trip upstate. If you’re coming for beer and craft spirits, you have tons of great spots to choose from.
The self-guided Craft Your Adventure trail through Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes will steer participants towards standouts like Grist Iron Brewing Company, LyonSmith Brewing, and Four Flights Distilling.
A must-visit farm brewery: Climbing Bines Hop Farm. Located in Penn Yan, there’s no better way to spend a summer afternoon than playing cornhole and frisbee golf before a beer tasting and chilling by Seneca Lake. Steuben Brewing in Hammondsport has a similar vibe, and like Climbing Bines, offers community events, food trucks, and live music in the summer.
Heading north? The ROC/FLX Craft Beverage Trails will direct you towards 30 wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries in the Rochester and Northern Finger Lakes. Canandaigua, with Peacemaker Brewing Company, Young Lion Brewing Company, and Naked Dove Brewing Company, is a hell of a town for beer drinking, especially if you’re pregaming for a show at CMAC, which has John Fogerty and ZZ Top, Sturgill Simpson, and Steve Martin and MArtin Short on their summer lineup.
If your home base will be Ithaca, Ithaca Beer Co. has a bustling lawn and runs brewery tours on the weekends and by reservation (be sure to sneak extra sips of the Flower Power IPA).
For a complete catalog of breweries, tours, and suds-centric events in the entire region, visit FingerLakesBeerTrail.com—don’t blame us for going over on your growler budget.