What happens when you combine four campsites, five state parks, five wineries, and 50+ waterfalls into a five-day road trip? A kind of crazy, but oh-so-fun Finger Lakes adventure! You already know that New York is home to one of the coolest cities in the world, but it also encompasses some seriously incredible landscapes for road tripping. The Finger Lakes are just four hours from Manhattan, but you might as well be on another planet. No other area east of the Mississippi can boast of more wine sipping and gorge-hiking goodness than western New York. Throw in more than 150 waterfalls and a few perfect campsites, and you’ll want to pack your bags before you finish reading.
Our recent Finger Lakes road trip took us on a five-day adventure, where we sipped on local wine, hiked into deep, ancient gorges, and camped our way across 218 miles of some of New York’s most gorgeous scenery. While the weather wasn’t always on our side, the wine certainly was, and now we’re just asking ourselves why we didn’t make this trip sooner. Want to embark on your own wine and waterfalls road trip through the Finger Lakes region of New York? We’ve created a perfect itinerary for five days of relaxing adventuring.
Day 1: Hike to Chittenango Falls, lunch and a wine tasting at Owera Vineyards, and a farm stay at Heart’s Desire in Truxton
Total Driving Time: 47 minutes (33.9 miles)
At first glance, Chittenango Falls State Park looks like a typical day-use area. There’s a grassy picnic area with tables and grills, a row of port-a-potties, and some nice woodland trails. The highlight though, is Chittenango Falls, a 167-foot waterfall that cascades over a wide swath of sculpted bedrock. The base of the falls is home to a rare snail that isn’t found anywhere else on earth. We didn’t actually see said snail, but it’s cool knowing it exists. The gorge trail is an quick 1-mile loop (gotta ease into this road trip).
Next stop, Owera Vineyards, an award-winning winery and cafe with some of the best local food you’ll find anywhere. We devoured the Mediterranean board with a flight of whites, and then — locally crafted chocolates and a heavenly chocolate mousse. I highly recommend the semi-dry Riesling to have ‘round your campfire later on. It’s kind of a shame that Owera was our first stop on our wine trail, because it was far and away our favorite stop, for both food and wine.
Now that your belly is full of good things, head south to Heart’s Desire Farm in Truxton. This is a 400-acre dairy farm with incredible views of the surrounding valley. Pitch your tent in the woods or pasture — your hosts will happily transport your gear in the ATV, provide you with a portable fire pit and wood, and leave you to your stargazing.
Day 2: Montezuma Winery and a Canal-Side Yurt
Total driving time: 1 hour, 25 minutes (63.6 miles)
After a leisurely morning petting goats, and frolicking with calves, it’s time to head north again. Your next camp is actually a yurt, nestled right next to the Cayuga-Seneca Canal in the town of Waterloo. No waterfalls today, but if you need a stretch, you might want to meander around the 10,000-acre Montezuma National Refuge. There are plenty of easy walking paths and awesome opportunities for birdwatching.
Next, a stop at Montezuma Winery and Marsh Distillery in Seneca Falls. The winery is more of a quirky gift shop with a tasting counter, but the staff is friendly, and for a small fee, you can score a souvenir wine glass so you don’t have to drink out of your camp mug. We walked away with the Dragonfly black currant and apple wine, which went well with our s’mores.
The Fabulous Finger Lakes is eccentric in the best possible way, with camping trailers nestled in the woods next to chainsaw sculptures, and a yurt perched right on the edge of a dock (and next to the houseboat). Cable TV and free Wi-Fi means you’re definitely not camping, but we won’t complain about that.
Day 3: New York’s Tallest Waterfall and a Yurt on a Forest Farm
Total driving time: 1 hour, 12 minutes (54.2 miles)
Taughannock Falls is the crown jewel of the region — At 215 feet tall, it’s the highest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. The gorge trail in Taughannock Falls State Park is a flat ¾ of a mile hike that meanders along the stream. There are several places where you can walk right through the stream if you’ve got the right footwear, and the views of the gorge from the water are spectacular.
For a longer hike, start in the upper parking lot, hike the north rim trail down to the lower parking area (1 mile), and then head to the bottom of the falls on the gorge trail. The rim trails are fairly quiet, but you’ll share the gorge trail with plenty of other hikers, no matter what time of year you visit. Once you get your first glimpse of Taughannock Falls, you’ll understand why.
You’re bound to need some refreshment after all that hiking. Americana Vineyards is just 5.5 miles north of the park. Fuel up with diner fare at the Crystal Lake cafe, or head to the tasting room to get right to business. We had a lot of trouble choosing a wine here. There’s a huge selection, but we went (again) with a semi-dry Riesling, and we weren’t disappointed.
Ready to relax? Wellspring Forest Farm in Trumansburg has everything you’re looking for in a Finger Lakes getaway — comfort, privacy, and farm-fresh goodies. It’s way beyond camping, or even glamping. If fact, if you’re not into road tripping (or camping) and just want to explore the parks around Ithaca, come here. The yurt B&B is located on the edge of the forest and surrounded by gardens. Small touches make a big impact here — you can buy shiitake mushrooms from your hosts for breakfast, brew up some local coffee, and stroll along the many farm paths through fields and forest.
Day 4: Too Many Waterfalls to Count, and a Woodland Playground
Driving Time: 1 hour, 11 minutes (47.8 miles)
Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes parks, taking visitors on a magical journey through caverns and tunnels, across bridges, and past 19 magnificent waterfalls. It opened as a private tourist attraction in 1863, but has been run by the state since 1906. The CCC crafted the gorgeous walls, bridges, and walkways in the 1930s, most of which has been beautifully preserved. Wake up early for this one to beat the crowds, and after you’ve walked the gorge trail (3 miles round trip), consider taking a dip in the Olympic-size swimming pool.
Next, head east toward Ithaca and make a stop at Robert Treman State Park. I had never heard of this park before, and it totally blew me away. First of all, the swimming area is situated at the base of an incredible waterfall. Most visitors we encountered were lugging their picnics and beach bags to these lower falls. Like the other gorge parks, this one allows you to head straight into the gorge on the gorge trail (2.05 miles) or combine it with the rim trail for a loop (total 4.3 miles). We recommend starting in the lower parking area, hiking the rim trail to the upper lot, and then descending through the gorge trail back to your car. On a hot day, it’s very important to cool off below the falls before continuing on your journey. This makes for two refreshing dips in one day!
Not far from Ithaca, in the little hamlet of Newfield, you’ll find a relaxing sanctuary in the woods that will bring out your inner child. You can sleep in a tipi, swing into the setting sun, or hide in a tree stand and look for wildlife. This private camping retreat is quiet, beautiful, and close to town. The best part? It’s just you and the fireflies up here. No campground craziness to make you long for home.
Day 5: Buttermilk Falls, Ithaca, and Six Mile Creek
Driving Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes (43.7 miles)
By now the Finger Lakes waterfalls are starting to all resemble one another, but truly, you could visit 50+ more today without leaving town. Since we had to narrow it down, we decided to check out Buttermilk Falls because it’s right on the way to downtown Ithaca. The gorge trail in Buttermilk Falls State Park is a short .62 miles (one way). You can certainly combine it with other trails for a longer hike, but we were looking to take it easy. Meander along the gorge trail, take a dip at the base of the lower falls, and head into Ithaca for lunch. For quick, inexpensive, and delicious, I recommend Luna Street Food on North Aurora Street.
Early afternoon is a good time to meander around town. If you’re a shopper, you’ll find all kinds of fun boutiques on s
State Street. If you love waterfalls (and you must if you’re reading this), you should totally check out Ithaca Falls. If you’ve got tips for visiting Ithaca, you should leave a comment, because we’ll definitely be heading back that way, and it deserves a little more of our attention.
Fancy another tasting before leaving the area? Locals recommended Six Mile Creek Vineyards, just 3.5 miles from downtown Ithaca. What a beautiful setting! The sprawling vineyards are a perfect backdrop for wine sipping on the deck, live music is common, and the wine is awesome too. We bought our first red of the trip here — Ithaca Red, and packed it away for a long drive home.
Final thoughts on Road Tripping through the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes might not be a well-kept secret, but it certainly wasn’t on our radar when we impulsively planned our road trip. We have never seen so many incredible waterfalls in one area. In fact, we were so spoiled by amazing waterfalls in the Finger Lakes, that nothing has compared since then. Hiking through fabulous gorges is up there with climbing peaks for me now, and I can’t imagine why I didn’t realize that sooner.
As for the Finger Lakes wine, it’s world famous for a reason. Those Cayuga white grapes create some pretty incredible flavors, and while I’ve never been a fan of white wine before, the Owera semi-dry Riesling has converted me. Bottom line – a perfect combination of beauty, adventure, and relaxation. Time to hit the road and check out the Finger Lakes.
Finger Lakes Resources
- Visit Ithaca – Lots of information about the area, including waterfalls and wineries. This was our primary planning resource for figuring out our trip.
- Hipcamp – All properties in our itinerary were booked through Hipcamp.
- New York State Parks (Finger Lakes Region) – Very helpful for figuring out adventures, hiking, and camping in the region.
- Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance – This site covers the whole Finger Lakes region and includes information about lodging, dining, shopping, recreation, and special events in the area.
- Cayuga Wine Trail – For information on local vineyards and wineries, plus a great list of local events.
Want more wine and waterfall goodness in New York? Check out this post on the Hudson Valley.
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