The Best Things to Do in the Finger Lakes, NY

The 15 Best Things to Do in the Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes region is renowned for its crystal clear lakes, New World wineries, and beautiful waterfalls, making this one of the best vacation destinations on the East Coast. With a central location in upstate New York, it’s only a short drive away from major cities like NYC, Toronto, and Philadelphia, so it’s a prime destination if you’re road-tripping around the region!

With its waterfront inns and enchanted forests, the Finger Lakes region conveys an atmosphere of magic and romance. Whether you’re visiting on your own, as a couple, or with a group, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in the Finger Lakes!

What you’ll quickly notice is that inhabitants of the Finger Lakes are incredibly dedicated to the region. Whether that means preserving massive state parks, distilling whiskey from local grain, or restoring historic landmarks, you’ll get swept up in what living like a local means in this amazing slice of the Northeast.

With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in the Finger Lakes for you. Stick to these fun and unique Finger Lakes bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this gorgeous region of the US!

Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 15 Best Things to Do in the Finger Lakes

15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in the Finger Lakes

1. Taste the New World on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail

There are many wine trails dotting the Finger Lakes region, but the Seneca Lake Wine Trail is the largest and most popular. This wine trail comprises 27 member wineries spread out over 320 square miles!

Seneca Lake is the deepest of the Finger Lakes. That factor, alongside the many mesoclimates along the shores, makes this a unique area for viticulture specializing in the production of cool climate wines.

Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, sparkling wine, and ice wines are just a few of the classic styles you’ll find here. You can also add New World French-American and Native American varietals to your Finger Lakes wine-tasting bucket list!

Planning your itinerary here is easy. You can find tasting schedules and special events right on the website, and you can export them as a spreadsheet if you want! Wineries are only a few minutes apart by car, so we’d recommend driving or arranging transportation.

If this doesn’t satisfy your inner sommelier, we also recommend the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, which is the first in the US. The Keuka and Canandaigua wine trails also feature tons of award-winning wineries.

2. See “Gorges” Hourglass Pools at Watkins Glen State Park

Best Things to do in Finger Lakes: Watkins Glen State Park

The iconic Watkins Glen State Park is representative of the waterfalls and gorges that the Finger Lakes region is known for. The unique hourglass-shaped plunge pools here are some of the best sights in the Finger Lakes that you simply have to check out!

The trail has gone through many iterations since opening in 1851, and it’s now achieved perfect harmony between nature and craftsmanship. You’ll find trails, bridges, and tunnels sculpted from natural stone that blends seamlessly with the landscape.

The waterscape can be described as a repetition of cascading waterfalls (19 in total), crashing flumes, and deep pools embedded into a ribbon-like streambed. Layers of exposed sandstone and shale speak to the glaciers that once belonged to a vast inland sea and receded to reveal this natural wonder.

This is a popular destination for the reasons we’ve just described, so arrive early if you can! The trail is only one mile long, but expect to spend two to three hours here to really take in the sights. 

The rim trails are open year-round, but the popular Gorge Trail is generally closed from late fall to early spring, so take that into consideration when planning your trip.

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3. Swim Beneath Buttermilk Falls

Finger Lakes Bucket List: Buttermilk Falls

A 90-foot waterfall set in striated gorge rock takes center stage at Buttermilk Falls State Park. The falls then give way to a deep pool and open swimming area, which is definitely one of the Finger Lakes’ most dramatic sights.

The verdant lawn at this state park is perfect for picnicking, photography, and, of course, a quick dip. While the base of the falls is usually crowded, the hiking trails tend to be quieter.

Hiking the trails here is like walking back in time. The upper gorges resemble what the lower gorges once looked like, before whirlpools and erosion sculpted them into the deep potholes they are now.

Buttermilk Falls is connected to Lake Tremn via the Bear Trail, which is accessible via the Gorge Trail. This quieter lake trail offers a dramatic contrast to the rushing waters in Buttermilk Falls, and it’s worth the detour for a bit of privacy and calm.

This state park has something for everyone, whether you want to hang out by the falls or explore the gorges. Just keep an eye out for closures of the Gorge Trail.

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4. Go Kayaking on Canandaigua Lake

Best Things to do in Finger Lakes: Canandaigua Lake

Canandaigua Lake is the most popular of the Finger Lakes for water sports. Expect to see paddleboarding, water skiing, tubing, sailing, windsurfing, swimming, and fishing all happening on the water and near the shore. 

That’s not to say it’s crowded. At 15.5 miles long, you’ll still have plenty of space and privacy to enjoy the lake. Around the north end, you’ll be able to paddle around Squaw Island, one of only two islands in the Finger Lakes.

Colorful boathouses line the lake, giving it a lovely nautical personality. The water here, as in all the Finger Lakes, is both pristine and beautiful. This lake supplies drinking water for communities nearby. All in all, this spot provides the perfect blend of fun, peace, and charming sights on the water!

Humphrey Bogart spent his summers here, so you can paddle easy knowing that this lake has a golden-age stamp of approval.

The town of Naples borders the southern end. This cozy community offers you plenty of local eateries and wineries where you can wind down after a long day on the water.

5. Relax on a Wine Tasting Boat Tour

Best Things to do in Finger Lakes: Wine Tasting Boat Tour

Wine trails are great, but what if you just want to lean back, sip wine, and enjoy the water at the same time? If that’s the case, just put a wine-tasting boat tour across Cayuga Lake on your Finger Lakes bucket list!

These leisurely tours will take you to award-winning wineries on both shores of Cayuga Lake, a historic winemaking region. Sample the wares, then bring some back to enjoy onboard. The lakefront views provide the perfect accompaniment to any wine.

Tours range from four to seven hours, depending on which one you choose. This leisurely pace gives you plenty of time to enjoy tastings, nip at a cheeseboard on deck, and soak up the sun. 

Check out Bianconi Tours or Water to Wine, both of which offer public and private bookings and a multitude of vessels for you to choose from. Regardless of which one you choose, a wine-tasting boat tour is one of the most fun things to do in the Finger Lakes!

6. Forage Wild Plants along the Finger Lakes Trails

Must do things in Finger Lakes: Wild Plants

The Finger Lakes have a super diverse forest ecology. Wild herbs, edible flowers, and medicinal foods grow freely along the trails here, and foraging for them will give you a unique appreciation for the land.

Easy to identify, you’ll find plenty of wild apple and pear trees throughout the region, as well as berry bushes, which abound after spring rains. If you keep an eye on the ground, you might even spot rare fungi like morel mushrooms, reishi, and lion’s mane.

If you’re not familiar with foraging, look for a guided tour. We love the FLX foraging hikes because they’re super hands-on and teach the practical skill of plant identification. You’ll have the chance to get up close and personal with a variety of wild northeastern plants with an experienced forager.

For those specifically interested in fungi, Maidenhair Mushrooms offers hikes and classes focusing on the vast fungal world that thrives just beneath our feet. Whether you’re on a tour or not, this is an opportunity not to be missed for those curious about the natural world!

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7. Eat, Drink and Gather at the Finger Lakes Cider House

What to do in Finger Lakes: Cider House

While New York’s wine trails are famous, the state’s cider houses are not to be underestimated. In fact, visiting them is one of the top things to do in the Finger Lakes, and we personally love the Finger Lakes Cider House for its amazing cider selection and rustic vibe.

The highlight of this cider house is the restaurant, which takes the farm-to-table concept very seriously. Many of the ingredients are grown on-site, and those that aren’t are sourced from other local producers. This is where to go if you want to support small-scale organic farming in the region while also having an amazing meal.

We recommend the cheese and charcuterie board paired with a seasonal hard cider. There are over 20 varieties to choose from, ranging from dry to sweet. Check out the extra-special ice ciders made of Golden Russet or Honeycrisp apples for something truly unique.

For the complete experience, you can tour the cidery to see how the magic happens and enjoy a tasting. And for a little something to bring home, the cidery offers an organic “U-Pick” of seasonal fruits, vegetables, and flowers through their Good Life farm!

8. Camp Out in Taughannock Falls State Park

Unique Things to do in Finger Lakes: Taughannock Falls State Park

There are plenty of places to camp in the Finger Lakes region, and Taughannock Falls State Park is our personal favorite. The cabins and campsites overlook Cayuga Lake, and this beautiful area also includes a marina and beach nearby where you can enjoy the water.

Pitch your tent, then head off for a hike through the many trails in the park. Taughannock Falls’ namesake waterfall is one of the coolest Finger Lakes attractions. It plunges 215 feet past rocky cliffs high above the gorge, offering amazing views from above and below. It’s actually one of the highest falls in the region!

Of note is the South Rim Trail, which is a gentle 1.2 miles but leads to a spectacular view of the upper gorge. From here, it’s easy to make a loop onto the North Rim Trail, which crosses a railroad bridge and several other overlooks.

Perfect for families, this campground offers convenient playgrounds, and the park’s Gorge Trail can be enjoyed by all ages and goes past several smaller cascading waterfalls.

9. Sit Down for an Experience at F.L.X. Table

Finger Lakes Things to do: FLX Table

If you’re looking for unique things to do in the Finger Lakes, look no further than F.L.X. Table in Geneva. This tasting menu restaurant serves only 16 guests per evening in an intimate setting. Think dinner party, but nationally recognized!

F.L.X. Table aims to deliver an intimate, communal dining experience, inspiring connection among guests and chefs. We love that there isn’t a boundary between the guests and the kitchen and that you can see the work being done to prepare each dish.

Ingredients come from the best local sources in the Finger Lakes region and occasionally from exclusive producers elsewhere. Wine pairings are curated by a master sommelier, and the result is an incredible 5-course meal that captures the essence of the region.

Aside from eating delicious food and drinking wine curated by a master sommelier, the goal is to truly break bread with one another – person to person. That unique atmosphere really sets F.L.X Table apart from other fine dining experiences in the region.

Due to limited space, you’ll want to book this premier dining experience at least one month in advance to be safe.

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10. Sample Microbrews at Last Shot Distillery

Unique Things to do in Finger Lakes: Last Shot Distillery

If you’re in the mood for spirits, Last Shot Distillery is a must-visit if you’re planning a trip to the Finger Lakes. Opened in 2015, this small-batch, family-owned distillery punches way above its weight class in quality and originality. You’ll find it right in downtown Skaneateles, so it’s super convenient if you’re planning a trip to Skaneateles Lake.

The distillery specializes in whiskey, and you’ll find an amazing variety here: a Japanese-style four grain, a rye-wheat hybrid, white, and bourbon. You’re sure to find something that hits home, whatever your tastes!

These whiskeys are also found in the distillery’s incredibly unique, award-winning liqueurs. Chocolate Crème Brûlée and Orange Crème Lightning are just two examples. Don’t leave the Finger Lakes without trying these!

Last Shot also produces a subtly sweet corn and wheat vodka and a balanced New World gin made with water right from Skaneateles Lake. They have a collection of sweet maple-based brews too.

What’s amazing about Last Shot is that the ingredients in every brew are locally grown. These ingredients are what impart natural flavors like sweet corn, buttery wheat, and earthy malt into every batch.

We’d recommend visiting the distillery itself, but keep an eye out for Last Shot products in local shops, too!

11. Shop and Picnic at the Ithaca Farmers Market

Fun Things to do in Finger Lakes: Ithaca Farmers Market
Images credits to Credits to Allison Usavage

The Ithaca Farmers Market is the best in the region, and visiting this place is always one of the most fun things to do in the Finger Lakes. It’s the most established, the largest, and the most fun farmers market around! The Ithaca Farmers Market has been around since 1973, and since then, the cooperative has swelled to over 130 active members.

Every food vendor, artisan, and business at the Ithaca Farmers Market produces their wares within 30 miles of Ithaca, making this a truly local market – and exclusive to boot! Each vendor has been put through an application process that includes a jury to guarantee quality.

Aside from produce, you’ll find plenty of stalls serving entrees and freshly baked goods. We especially recommend the local meats and cheeses, but you can also find specialty foods and fine arts and crafts if you’re looking for something to take home.

The market operates year-round, four days a week, and there are three locations: two in downtown Ithaca and another at Steamboat Landing, right on the Cayuga Lake waterfront. 

There’s really nothing better than picking up fresh farm produce and picnicking right by the docks. Over 5,000 visitors flock here each day, so you know it’s something special. If you’re Ithaca-bound, make sure you put this one on your Finger Lakes bucket list!

12. Browse Exquisite Antiques in Skaneateles Village

Best Things to do in Finger Lakes: Skaneateles Antique Center

Skaneateles Village sits directly on the lake, and that’s where you’ll find the Finger Lakes’ most charming antique stores. If you want to find truly unique furnishings, glassware, and jewelry, this is the place to look.

First and foremost is the Skaneateles Antique Center. It’s spread out over two floors totaling more than 4,000 square feet. It would be easier to list what you wouldn’t find here versus what you could. There’s so much to peruse, and the offerings change every week!

We especially loved the vintage records and books, and the maps are bound to be popular for the jet setters among us. There is so much cool stuff to check out you could really browse for hours. Plus, the shop is right by the lake, adding to the peaceful ambiance of it all.

If you have something specific in mind, White & White Antiques might be able to help. This shop stocks fine furniture and decorative accessories, including rugs, paintings, and jewelry. Visits are by appointment only, so call ahead!

Outside of Skaneateles Village but situated on the lake’s western shore, you’ll find Brown Dog Boutique, a quirky, laid-back shop that happens to stock delightful antique wares.

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13. Shop Ceramics in Storybook Aurora Village

The entirety of Aurora Village is a registered historic district. Once a quiet Northeastern hamlet, Aurora has undergone extensive restoration over the years. This village has a special storybook charm that’s completely unique, and spending time here is one of the coolest things to do in the Finger Lakes. 

Charm and warmth are the words we’d use to describe Aurora. Walking along the tree-lined streets, you feel like you’ve gone back in time to see classic Americana at its best. Think old-timey post clocks, quaint storefronts, a vintage theater, and more!

Yet, Aurora still contains many of the amenities of a modern, urban neighborhood: excellent cafes, craft breweries, and high-end boutiques. What’s special about Aurora is that this is the home of NYC-famed ceramics maker MacKenzie-Childs, which was founded in Aurora.

The iconic ceramics producer has opened the grounds of their production studio to the public, and you can immerse yourself in a world of irreverence, fun, and color by visiting their sprawling gardens and going on a tour of their farmhouse gallery. Be sure to grab an exclusive design on your way out!

14. Absorb Local Art and Culture in Corning

Best Things to do in Finger Lakes: Corning Museum of Glass

Located near Elmira, Corning is located at the southern edge of the Finger Lakes, just below Watkins Glen. Between the Corning Museum of Glass and Rockwell Museum, this small town has a lot to offer for those interested in history and artistry.

The Corning Museum of Glass was established in 1951, and it is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of glassware, a library on glass, and a glass working school.

Here, you’ll be able to appreciate glass in a new light and get a peek into how this material, which we often see as commonplace, tells a story about craft, design, and technology. This world-famous collection covers 3,500 years of history in 50,000 pieces!

Just a few minutes down the street, you’ll find the Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian-affiliated center for American fine art. Housed in a historic town hall building, this diverse collection covers a range of eras and mediums, from 19th-century paintings to contemporary photography.

If you’re interested in visiting both museums, they offer a ticket bundle to make your visit easier!

15. Explore a Winter Wonderland in the Finger Lakes

Fun Things to do in Finger Lakes: Winter Wonderland

There’s nothing like a crisp winter trek or an impromptu ice skating trip across frozen ponds. That makes a visit to Taughannock Falls State Park one of the best things to do in the Finger Lakes during the winter. With its variety of multipurpose trails, the frozen gorge is something to behold.

If you want to enjoy the weather the old-fashioned way, try nearby Rice Hill. This quiet area is perfect for sledding and skating with the whole family, and there’s a warming hut in case things get frosty out there.

Ice fishing is amazing on the lakes. At Seneca Lake alone you’ll find lake trout, Atlantic salmon, and walleye in season. Tack on some bait and give this unique winter activity a shot. At the very least, you’ll make some great memories.

If you’re really itching to strap on your skis and take on the hills, we recommend Letchworth State Park and Hammond Hill State Forest. These are among the most beautiful cross-country ski trails in the Finger Lakes!

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There you have it! The 15 best things to do in the Finger Lakes. What’s your favorite thing to do in Finger Lakes?

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About the Author:

  • Valerie Wheatley

    Val grew up in Portland, Oregon but moved to Oahu on a whim back in 2013. She sold her house and all of her belongings and bought a one-way ticket. Since then she’s taken two around-the-world trips and has visited 60-ish countries while living out of a duffel bag.

    Val started documenting the Wandering Wheatleys travels back in 2013 as a way to update friends and family about her whereabouts and to relay humorous daily interactions. The only readers were her mom and her mother-in-law but that didn’t stop her!

    These days you’ll find Val dreaming up future trips, creating new travel content, managing a team of amazing travel enthusiasts, and chasing around her two adorable but naughty kids.

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