Chasing Waterfalls and Wine in the Fingerlakes

In upstate New York, the Finger Lakes region brings together two fabulous experiences for an active traveler like me who likes a tasting reward at the end of a hike – numerous trails that lead to waterfalls (literally hundreds of them!) and a wine region with lots of vineyards for tastings.

And get this – many of the wineries also produce their own craft beer, so if you would rather go that route to quench your thirst after a day of hiking, that is an option too in the Finger Lakes.

There are several of these long (yet deep) Lakes in the region – the main ones to focus on if you have just a few days for exploring are Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. You can literally drive around the lakes and expect a winery every 5 minutes or so. Both lakes are situated close to many of the beautiful state parks that feature hiking trails to all the waterfalls.

I stayed at The Showboat Motel, which is on the west side of Seneca Lake, about halfway up. It was a perfect central location for everything I wanted to do, without having to pack up and move to different accommodations each night. The Showboat, which opened in 1958, has a dynamic history of stars and celebrities who have stayed there, including Michael Landon and Rod Sterling. The Showboat’s new owner: Mark Cronin, is sprucing up the property, while still maintaining its rustic – cottage type charm. Get one of the waterfront rooms and experience some of the most amazing sunrises over the lake to start your day.

Here’s a 3-day itinerary you can follow for an adventure in the Finger Lakes:

For your first hike, I’d suggest heading over to Watkins Glen State Park, just south of Seneca Lake. Here you can do the 1.5-mile Gorge Trail that features 19 waterfalls. It’s an enchanting setting and the spectacular stone trails you’ll walk on were crafted by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. There are over 800 steps on this trail, but plenty of places to stop, rest and enjoy the views along the way. There is a decent amount of shade as well in the canyon.

Afterwards it’s time to hit up the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. There are roughly 40 wineries on this lake (Seneca) so taste away (safely)! I stopped at Wagner Vineyards and Ventosa Vineyards first. Both were great with amazing views. Another awesome feature of the Finger Lakes is the creameries scattered around that you can do tastings at. I made a stop at Muranda Cheese Company where they let you taste about 10 of their cheese varieties. The last winery of the day I went to was Miles Wine Cellars. It’s a beautiful and scenic winery with an elegant and majestic mansion Consider dinner this evening at the century-old historic Belhurst Castle overlooking Seneca Lake.

Head out the next morning to Robert Treman State Park and get warmed up doing the .5 miles round-trip loop on paved flat surface to view Enfield Falls. (But if you are feeling spunky today you can do the 2 miles Rim to Gorge Trail.) Not far away is Buttermilk Falls State Park and you can do the 1.5 mile Gorge and Rim Trail Loop to their falls.

Today’s tastings will be on Cayuga Lake, which touts itself as having America’s first wine trail. There are about 20 wineries on this lake. I visited Varick Winery . They have a nice little country store there also. Lucas Vineyards is a good stop as it is the lake’s oldest winery. Most of the wineries have docks, so you can do a Cayuga Lake Boat Cruise Wine Tasting Tour. Captain Matt with Bianconi Tours can take you around for that.

If you have time after your tastings, consider visiting the Corning Museum of Glass and dinner afterwards both in Ithaca

On your last morning in the Finger Lakes, go to Taughannock Falls State Park and do the Gorge Trail. It is a 2 mile out and back hike to the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains!

You will definitely “Falls” in love with the Finger Lakes and once you get a “Taste” of it you will want to go back again. If you are visiting during the health crisis, please adhere to all mask and social distancing requirements. You will still have a great experience.

I will be hosting a Waterfall Hiking and Wine and Craft Beer Tasting Tour in the Finger Lakes in the Spring of 2021. Let me know if you would like to come along with us on a small group tour and experience this splendid region in upstate New York.

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Jack Witt