Recommended Time: 1 week
We’d be remiss not to include the Finger Lakes in our Summer Road Trip series. We’re fortunate enough to call the country’s second-largest wine region home. With more than 130 wineries and more than 50 microbreweries, distilleries, and cideries, there’s a favor to tantalize even the pickiest of palates. And, of course, summer is the best time to enjoy those eleven glacially-carved, finger-like lakes that stretch across south-western New York. Warm summertime temperatures bring with them lots of opportunities to enjoy those lakes—whether you want to swim, kayak, boat, or just lounge lakeside with a glass of Riesling. Let’s not forget those idyllic small towns found at the head and foot of each lake. Each town has its own set of charming characteristics, compelling visitors to keep going from one to the next.
Start your Finger Lakes journey with a visit to Skaneateles (pronounced Skinny-atlas), a small village at the north end of Skaneateles Lake. Here, you can browse art galleries before boarding a cruise with Mid-Lakes Navigation to help deliver the mail via water—one of the only places in the country where this still happens.
Next, head to Ithaca, home to Cornell University, and lots of fantastic along Cayuga Lake (pronounced Kay-you-ga). “Ithaca is gorges,” indeed, with scenic hiking trails and Taughannock Falls, the tallest waterfall in New York State—yes, even taller than Niagara!
Photo: Brook Ward
Continue your wine tour in Watkins Glen on Seneca Lake, which is home to more than 70 wineries, and year-round festivals to celebrate all the favors coming from them. Make sure your itinerary includes stops at Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, Wagner Vineyards (which has a brewery), and Finger Lakes Distilling on the east side of Seneca Lake, and Hermann J. Weimer Vineyard and Glenora Wine Cellars on the west side. No visit to Watkins Glen is complete without hiking the trails to see 19 waterfalls at Watkins Glen State Park, or driving your own car around the famed NASCAR racetrack at Watkins Glen International.
Hop one lake to the west, and rent a vacation home on Keuka Lake (pronounced Q-ka), if you have the time. “Y-shaped” and the most scenic of all the Finger Lakes, Keuka is known for its pristine beauty and world-class vineyards. Tour Pleasant Valley Wine Company, the oldest winery in the Finger Lakes circa 1860, and taste the most award-winning wines in the Northeast at Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars.
Make Corning your final stop on your Finger Lakes itinerary, and allot for a couple of days to explore this arts and culture mecca nestled in the heart of Wine Country. Corning has been dubbed the “Crystal City” for its deep roots in the tradition of glassmaking.
The Fortune 500 company Corning Incorporated (maker of products like Gorilla Glass that covers your smartphone) has its headquarters there, and the world-famous Corning Museum of Glass draws 440,000 visitors a year to this small city of 11,000 people. Plan to spend at least five hours at this amazing museum, where you can not only explore 35 centuries of glass art, but you can watch live glassblowing shows all day every day, and even make glass yourself. The museum recently opened a new Contemporary Art + Design Wing, which is absolutely incredible, and will—without a doubt—make you see glass in an entirely new light. And if you plan to visit, drop me a line! I work there and would be thrilled to give you a tour.
Spend the rest of your time exploring the vibrant downtown Gaffer District, which has been the model for many a Main-Street restoration project. Also stop in to see the Rockwell Museum, which features art about the American experience. It’s unusual to find such a large collection of Western art east of the Mississippi, but this museum showcases it with great flair!
Have you been to Finger Lakes Wine Country?
Skaneateles, NY, United States
Ithaca, NY, United States
Watkins Glen, NY, United States
Hammondsport, NY, United States
Corning, NY, United States