Weekend Destination: Finger Lakes

weekend destination finger lakes composite

By Julie Madsen

Why: lakes, waterfalls, and wine
How far: 3-3.5 hours

The land surrounding the eleven long and narrow lakes resembling fingers in Central New York is filled with much natural beauty to behold -- and many libations to sample.

The Finger Lakes region is New York's largest wine producer, boasting over 100 wineries. There are also plenty of little towns to explore, as well parks and lakes to take in. And it's an easy summer weekend getaway from the Albany area.

Here are a few ideas to get you started...

Explore Watkins Glen

watkins glen state park

Hike: Watkins Glen State Park
This is a place of legendary beauty. Take the Gorge Trail and within two miles you will go over, under, and stand right beside 19 waterfalls. The park is very popular, so get there as early as possible to beat the crowds. For your return hike consider creating a loop by taking the Rim Trail for a quieter woodsy experience. 1009 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY 14891

Lunch: Glen Mountain Market
After hiking this is a solid lunch choice on the main drag. You'll find a variety of deli sandwich options, specialty drinks, and bakery treats. The BLT with sprouts on it was tasty, and the focaccia bread was out of this world. Breakfast is served as well. 200 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY 14891

Lakewood Vineyards Watkins Glen

Winery: Lakewood Vineyards
The backdrop for this vineyard is Seneca Lake, the deepest of the Finger Lakes with a depth of over 600 feet. But you're here for the wine. Staff is friendly and informative, tastings are $3 (free if you purchase a bottle) and you can choose between flights of dry and sweet. 4024 NY-14, Watkins Glen, NY 14891

Race track: Watkins Glen International
"The Glen" is New York State's only site for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Check the schedule for any events going on over the summer. The track also offers the opportunity to drive the course (speed limit 55 mph). 2790 County Route 16, Watkins Glen, NY 14891

Go a little farther: Southern Tier

corning museum of glass glassworking

Museum: Corning Museum of Glass
This place is way cooler than I could have ever expected! You will find a huge intricate collection of glass objects, a number of informative demonstrations, and a "make your own glass" experience. Projects range from beads and ornaments to sea slugs and glass flowers. (I made a sun catcher and my mom made a wind chime, every time I see our colorful glass pieces I am reminded of our wonderful weekend getaway.) On exhibit this year (through January 8, 2017) are glass marine invertebrate models from the 19th century, made to study sea creatures. 1 Museum Way, Corning, NY 14830

Dinner: Hill Top Inn
If you're looking for dinner with a view, this is it. Sit on the patio near the fireplace at the top of the hill and soak in a sprawling scene of Elmira and the Chemung River below, made extra special at sunset. The food and service are great (they have the biggest pepper grinder I have ever seen), and on certain nights there is live music. 171 Jerusalem Hill Rd, Elmira, NY 14901

Explore Ithaca

Ithaca, located on the southern end of Cayuga Lake, is gorges. (Ha.) So pick a waterfall in town:

ithaca falls ithaca ny

Ithaca Falls
Quiet, impressive, and feels almost secret. Located in a residential area, take the short walk to get to the magnificent falls, a powerful 150ft tall by 175ft wide. This is a sight you won't soon forget, a great option if you don't want to spend very long hiking- and it's free. Lake St. (Off Lincoln St.), Ithaca, NY

Buttermilk Falls State Park
A bustling park perfect for cooling off on a hot day. Take a dip in the natural pool at the base, or join the others along the Gorge Trail (just over a half mile) cooling down in small pools and under the many attractive waterfalls. Return through the woods on the slightly longer Rim Trail, or explore one of the many other trails that extend deeper into the woods. Campgrounds are available. 112 E. Buttermilk Falls Rd. (Off Rt. 13 S) Ithaca, NY 14850

ithaca farmers market gooseberries

Choose your lunch: Ithaca Farmers Market, or...
A beautiful covered pavilion set beside a lake, this wonderful market runs until 3 pm on weekends. There are two satellite markets as well, Dewitt Park (Tuesdays) and East Hill Plaza (Wednesdays). Everything is produced within 30 miles. There are crafts, prepared foods, fresh and interesting variety of produce, and vendors offering food from cuisines including Cambodian, Mexican, Sri Lankan. A light meal of spring rolls and hibiscus iced tea from the Thai food vendor was perfect on a hot day. I also tried gooseberries for the first time and saw local mushrooms for sale of the same variety we had seen while hiking! Steamboat Landing, 545 3rd St, Ithaca, NY 14851

lunch moosewood restaurant ithaca ny

Lunch: Moosewood Restaurant
This restaurant is a bit different, as it is owned by a collective -- 19 members who share responsibilities. You may be familiar with one of the 13 published Moosewood Collective cookbooks. If any of this sounds intriguing, then try out their food with a heavy emphasis on natural and vegetarian options. (And try to get a spot on the patio.) The restaurant is located within the Dewitt Mall. 215 N Cayuga St, Ithaca, NY 14850

Shop: Ithaca Commons
A pedestrian mall with a plethora of shops, galleries, restaurants, and great murals. Try out Angry Mom Records for records and CDs and Autumn Leaves for used books. Ithacamade has, you guessed it - locally made products and is located in the small and local Dewitt Mall.

Pick a museum
+ Located on the Cornell University campus the Johnson Museum of Art showcases diverse works from all over the world.
+ Did you bring the kids? The Sciencenter is a hands-on museum that also houses an outdoor science playground and mini-golf course.
+ The Museum of the Earth tells a tale about the natural history of our planet, located within the Paleontological Research Institution. You can dig for fossils and see gigantic dinosaur and mastodon skeletons. There is an adjacent nature center.

Taughannock Falls Trumansburg NY

Go a little farther: Taughannock Falls State Park
About a 20 minute drive north of Ithaca along Cayuga Lake, Taughannock Falls State Park includes the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, 215 feet tall! The trail to the waterfall is A pleasant walk, just under a mile. And the shore of Cayuga Lake is close by, an ideal spot for swimming and relaxing. There are boat rentals, camping, and a summer concert series. 1740 Taughannock Blvd. Trumansburg, NY 14886

Julie has got the travel-bug. Whether it's day trips, weekend getaways, or wandering around the world -- she's always up to something. Read more about her adventures at juliejourneys.com.

Earlier on AOA: Day trips: wine touring


Buttermilk Falls State Park (Ithaca):
If swimming, don't expect the water to be too warm. I went in Aug. of 2014 and it was 62°. If you can stand the cold water, it's a beautiful setting.

If camping, don't expect a lot of privacy. The sites are pretty close together. Pretty typical NYS campground.

Hiking was not difficult and offered some good views.

Very short drive into town for food or rentals on Cayuga lake.

I have always wanted to go to Museum of the Earth!

What a trip that was. Viewing all the beautiful waterfalls and yes the water was cold and refreshing. Magnificent views and quaint little towns. Breakfast in the gazebo and the Corning Glass Factory were amazing!!

Love Watkins Glen! Highly recommend the Glen Mountain Bakery, they make amazing vegan sandwiches. Don't forget to visit Farm Sanctuary. Great article.

And just one winery mentioned?
I believe there is about 100 total, most of them offer tastings..
Don't drink and drive! Get a van and choose designated driver...

Just returned from Ithaca and found Ithaca Falls closed for construction until October!

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