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What happens when you combine four campsites, five state parks, five wineries, and 50+ amazing Finger Lakes waterfalls into a five-day road trip? A kind of crazy, but oh-so-fun Finger Lakes vacation! 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, and the Finger Lakes fits the bill perfectly.
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 Finger Lakes 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.
For this particular road trip, we took advantage of Finger Lakes camping spots that we found on either Airbnb or Hipcamp (we will link to the property when possible), but almost all of the state parks had camping too, and there are great hotels and inns throughout the region if you don’t want to rough it.
Want to embark on your own wine and waterfalls road trip through the Finger Lakes region of New York? We’ve created a perfect Finger Lakes road trip itinerary for five days of relaxing and adventuring on your next vacation. But first, a few details.
- Where are the Finger Lakes?
- What are the 11 Finger Lakes?
- When is the Best Time to Visit the Finger Lakes?
- A Perfect Finger Lakes Road Trip Itinerary for Wine, Waterfalls, and Camping
- Final thoughts on Road Tripping through the Finger Lakes
- Finger Lakes Resources
Where are the Finger Lakes?
The Finger Lakes Region encompasses 9,000 square miles in Western New York, and includes 14 counties and 11 lakes. The area is approximately 5 hours from New York City, 3.5 hours from Boston, 3 hours from Albany, and 6 hours from Washington DC. The nearest airport is Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR), which is about an hour away from the heart of the Finger Lakes Region.
Because the area is so vast, we find that the easiest way to get around is by car. Car rentals are often the most expensive part of a trip. Our favorite tip? Use a car rental comparison website to find the best deal. We have had great luck with Discover Car Hire, which has lots of options from major car rental companies.
What are the 11 Finger Lakes?
When observed from above, the 11 Finger Lakes really do look like fingers stretching from north to south. From west to east, the 11 Finger Lakes are Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, and Otisco. All of the Finger Lakes empty into rivers in the north as they make their way to Lake Ontario. The Finger Lakes are glacial lakes that were formed more than 100 million years ago.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Finger Lakes?
While the Finger Lakes Region is certainly a four-season destination, if you are road tripping, we recommend visiting between May and October. The earlier in May you visit, the fuller those lovely Finger Lakes waterfalls will be.
If you want to swim and camp, then June and July are a better bet. You can find amazing swimming everywhere you go in the Finger Lakes. Finally, if you’re hoping to do some leaf-peeping in the Finger Lakes, head to the area in late September or early October. We haven’t visited the region in the autumn, but we’re hoping to plan a trip soon.
Road trip tip: We’ve created a free, printable version of this Finger Lakes Road Trip Itinerary! It’s perfect for times when you find you find yourself GPS-free with no cell service. Be sure to download the itinerary so you know exactly what’s next!
A Perfect Finger Lakes Road Trip Itinerary for Wine, Waterfalls, and CampingFinger Lakes Wine and Waterfalls on Roadtrippers
How you tackle this road trip is entirely up to you. We drove in from Vermont, so I created the itinerary to go from east to west in a very loose loop. This will also work well if you fly into Syracuse, as the first stop (Chittenango Falls State Park) is just 25 miles from the airport. The Roadtrippers map above includes travel to and from the airport.
Psst… Roadtrippers is one of our favorite apps for planning trips, and the premium version is 100% worth every penny. You can save $5 off the Roadtrippers app by using the code BTR5QTP. You’re welcome!
Day 1: Chittenango Falls, Owera Vineyards, and a Farm Stay
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 a quick 1-mile loop (gotta ease into this road trip). Our first Finger Lakes waterfall, Chittenango Falls, was one of the prettiest on our journey.
Next stop, Owera Vineyards, an award-winning Finger Lakes 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 Finger Lakes 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, which you can book on Hipcamp. 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.
Plan B: If you aren’t traveling with camping gear or don’t want to rough it, head into downtown Cazenovia and check into Lincklaen House, which is a lovely historic hotel that has been operating for more than 170 years.
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 Finger Lakes camping spot 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. This Finger Lakes 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 when you get to your campsite. We walked away with the Dragonfly black currant and apple wine, which went well with our s’mores.
The Fabulous Finger Lakes, which we also found on Hipcamp, 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. We love glamping as much as we love pitching a tent.
One of the nice things about this Finger Lakes Yurt rental is that kayak and canoe rentals are included in your stay. Paddle the canal as the sun sets for a magical evening on the water.
Day 3: New York’s Tallest Waterfall and a Yurt on a Forest Farm
Total driving time: 1 hour, 12 minutes (54.2 miles)
Today we’re heading south between two of the biggest Finger Lakes, Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. The drive takes you through rolling hills, vineyards, and farmland to Taughannock Falls.
Taughannock Falls is the crown jewel of the Finger Lakes waterfall 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 vacation — comfort, privacy, and farm-fresh goodies. It’s way beyond camping or even glamping. In fact, if you’re not into road tripping (or camping) and just want to explore the parks around Ithaca, come here. This amazing property can be booked on Airbnb. New to Airbnb? Use our referral link for $55 off your first stay.
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)
Not much driving today, but we’re visiting two awesome state parks with dozens of Finger Lakes waterfalls, plus the chance to cool off twice in one day!
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 Finger Lakes waterfalls. The park 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 have 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. This is waterfall swimming at its very best!
Like the other Finger Lakes State Parks that feature amazing waterfalls, 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! Now it’s time to head to your next campsite.
Not far from Ithaca, in the little hamlet of Newfield, you’ll find a relaxing sanctuary in the woods (booked on Airbnb) 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 Finger Lakes 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.
Plan B: Again, just because we love to camp on our road trip, doesn’t mean you have to. If you don’t want to sleep in a rustic tipi or pitch a tent, we recommend renting this little cabin just outside of Ithaca.
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 on our last day road tripping through the area. Meander along the gorge trail, take a dip at the base of the lower falls, and head into Ithaca for lunch. For a quick, inexpensive, and delicious meal, I recommend Luna Street Food on North Aurora Street.
Early afternoon is a good time to meander around Ithaca. If you’re a shopper, you’ll find all kinds of fun boutiques on State Street. If you love waterfalls (and you must if you’re reading this), you should totally check out Ithaca Falls, which you can walk to from downtown. 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 wine tasting before leaving the Finger Lakes? 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 wine 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 Finger Lakes waterfalls, 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 – Many of the properties in our itinerary were booked through Hipcamp. If you haven’t signed up with Hipcamp yet, it’s a great way to find private and unique camping opportunities. Get $10 off your first booking by using our referral link.
- 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 our wine and waterfall vacation in the Hudson Valley.
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