My Finger Lakes travel experience was sponsored by Finger Lakes Wine Country and its partners. All opinions are 100% my own. This post may contain affiliate links. Click here for full disclosure statement.
The Finger Lakes Region of New York is one of those places that is so special, I am struggling to fit all it has to offer into one article. I can draw up different itineraries for families, for beer snobs, for outdoor enthusiasts, and then some. That would probably end up being obnoxiously long so, instead, I will break up my coverage into a series of articles. This first one will serve as an introduction to the Finger Lakes (for some). I know that until just a few years ago, I’d never even heard of the Finger Lakes Region of New York. And since my trip there this past summer, I’ve fielded dozens of questions from friends, neighbors, and readers, asking what exactly are the Finger Lakes? Well, I’ll tell you.
Where and what are the Finger Lakes?
The 11 Finger Lakes are located in Central New York. The region is roughly situated between the cities of Rochester and Syracuse, encompasses 14 counties, and covers approximately 9,000 square miles. The lakes began forming approximately 2.5 million years ago when glaciers started moving southward from Hudson Bay. As they traveled from north to south, these glaciers dug deeper into the existing valleys and started the series of events that allowed the lakes to form. The result: 11 lakes with long, narrow shapes that reminded early explorers of human fingers. And that’s how the Finger Lakes Region of New York got its unusual name.
Moving from west to east, the 11 Finger Lakes are: Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, and Otisco. Each of the lakes has its own set of characteristics. For example, Canadice is the shortest of the lakes, measuring just under 4 miles long. In contrast, Cayuga, at 40 miles in length, is the longest of the Finger Lakes. Hemlock Lake is the most underdeveloped and said to be the most pristine. Keuka (aka QKA) is as kooky as its name sounds. With its natural Y-shape (and its nickname, Crooked Lake), it is the only lake in the USA that runs both north and south. (Keuka is probably my favorite of the lakes but more on that down the road.) Seneca Lake is the deepest in the region with depths exceeding 630 feet.
The Communities of the Finger Lakes
With that many lakes and with stunning scenery surrounding them, it’s not surprising that the region is a favorite vacation and recreation spot. The surrounding cities and towns augment the region’s natural offerings with excellent dining, award-winning wineries, world-class learning institutions and museums, and a thriving craft-spirits scene. It would be extremely difficult to not be able to find something to suit everyone’s interests in the Finger Lakes.
Below is just a sample of what some of the Finger Lakes communities have to offer.
Ithaca. Even if you’re not familiar with the Finger Lakes Region of New York, you’ve probably heard of Ithaca since it’s the home of Cornell University. Surrounded by waterfalls, it’s also home to Ithaca College. Nearby is Taughannock Falls which is 3 stories taller than Niagara Falls!
Hammondsport. I totally get why Hammondsport was voted “Coolest Small Town in America” by Budget Travel readers. It also might be one of the cutest small towns in America. But despite its size, Hammondsport exudes tremendous amounts of character. The town sits at the southern tip of Keuka Lake (my favorite, remember?), has the cutest town square, the quaintest church steeple, and the most darling homes.
Watkins Glen. It’s the home of Watkins Glen State Park, where visitors can marvel at dramatically beautiful natural gorges and 19 different waterfalls. It’s truly a sight to behold. Watkins Glen also provides convenient access to Seneca Lake. At the pier, hop on a sightseeing boat tour or sign up for a schooner excursion. However you do it, get out on the water. Seneca Lake is a stunner.
Corning. The name of this town probably rings a bell for many people. As my smartass sister asked, “You’re going to a place called Corning? As in CorningWare?” Yep, exactly. While it is home to Corning Incorporated and the fantastic Corning Museum of Glass, there is much more to this town than glass and bakeware. There’s the Gaffer District (Corning’s charming, historic downtown); aviation and art museums; and my new favorite craft brewery, Liquid Shoes Brewing.
Elmira. Two things Elmira is known for: soaring and Mark Twain. Yes, soaring. Or gliding. Whatever you call it, the activity involves being in the air in a motorless aircraft. Not for the faint of heart as a participant, soaring is fascinating (and rather calming) to watch from the ground. Where does Mark Twain fit in? Well, for more than 20 years, Twain summered in Elmira at nearby Quarry Farm overlooking the Chemung River. It’s where he penned Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other classics. Elmira is also home to Elmira College and the Center for Mark Twain Studies.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of these magnificent Finger Lakes. I could go on and on. And I will. But not all at once. This has been just a taste. Soon, I will share more delicious morsels for you to savor and you’ll see why the Finger Lakes is one of my new favorite travel destinations.
Many thanks to Finger Lakes Wine Country, Corning & the Southern Finger Lakes, Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce, and Mark Twain Country for hosting me. Be assured that all words and opinions contained here, as always, are 100% my own. In fact, I loved the Finger Lakes so much, I am planning two separate return trips to the region for 2019.