Our regular readers know we have published multiple articles on the Finger Lakes wine region of New York, its wineries, suggested itineraries, histories and more. However, there’s more than wine to discover in this scenic region, and while I typically spend my days visiting several wineries, there are times I want to explore some of the Finger Lakes outdoor activities off of the wine trail.
This is especially the case when the whole family comes along, and I have to say of all the wine regions I’ve visited, the Finger Lakes is one of the most family friendly. In all honesty, there really is something for everyone here: outdoor activities, charming towns, shops, museums, festivals and so many great dining options. And even better, it’s a friendly, welcoming community that will make you feel part of the family.
As a seasoned traveler, I’ve had my share of adventures: random, like the time I stood up in a wedding in the Dominican Republic for two Canadians I had met only days before; awe inspiring, like the time my husband and I got lost on a treacherous, one-way dirt road in my rear wheel drive sports car in the mountains of Arizona, only to emerge at a summit for a stunning sunset; and some wild experiences, like the time a black bear came to the door of our cabin in the woods of Colorado.
While I could fill a book with my travel stories (and some mishaps!) around the world, some of my most magical moments were experienced in the Finger Lakes. I’ve joined people I just met to play guitars lakeside, sang with the band in a restaurant, ended up on the cover of the regional magazine, tied vines at our bed and breakfast, took a lap in a race car, listened to my daughter’s Stevie Nicks-like voice echo on the lake as she belt out “Hallelujah,” gone behind the scenes at wineries, cruised the lake at sunset with friends, poured Champagne for the first U.S. bonded winery, and my favorite, met the many people I now consider family. This is the real treasure of this region – the community – and it extends far beyond the wineries.
It really is no secret that I’m an unofficial ambassador for this wine region. It had me from the first sip, and as Winetravelers, I think it will impress you too. So, as you plan your visit whether coming as a family, couple, or with friends, here are several options for things to do off the wine trail in the great outdoors (and I’m barely scraping the surface).
Outdoor Activities to Experience in the Finger Lakes
Watkins Glen, New York
Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks. Within two miles, the glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along the path. The paved trail winds over and under waterfalls and through the spray of the Cavern Cascade. Additional rim trails overlook the gorge for equally dramatic views. Hikers can hike up or down the trail, or you can take a shuttle bus to the top for $5 and hike the trail back down to the parking area. And in the summer months, there’s even an Olympic-size pool, picnic facilities and fishing in nearby Seneca Lake or Catherine Creek.
Penn Yan, New York
Don’t have your own boat? No worries! You can rent one and cruise Keuka Lake for a day with Morgan Marine. The local boat shop offers half-day, daily and weekly rentals of Ski Boats, Pontoon Boats, and non-powered boats. It’s an incredible way to spend a day with views that will have you spellbound.
Elmira, New York
This is a fun and affordable way to spend an afternoon with your family (or mini-golf and ice cream date). Harris Hill offers everything from kiddie rides to miniature golf, concessions including hot dogs, French fries and sodas, and an ice cream shop. (The Go Karts are a ton of fun too!)
Elmira, New York
You can meander over 10 miles of trails, attend educational programming for children and adults, and check out more than 40 native and exotic animals. The Nature Center and Museum is always free to visit.
Watkins Glen, New York
Fans of fast cars can come check out the action at Watkins Glen or “Drive The Glen!” You can actually find out what it feels like to drive this famous road course while piloting your personal vehicle around the 3.4-mile Grand Prix circuit behind a paced vehicle. (Watch for special events including the Finger Lakes Wine Festival!)
Corning, New York
Market Street is filled with coffee bars, bistros, cafes, bakeries, and candy shops perfect for popping in following an afternoon of shopping. From handcrafted local merchandise and antiques to toys and clothing, there are treats and souvenirs for all interests and ages. (If you’re lucky you can catch live music in the Gaffer District!)
Hector, New York
Summers at Hazlitt’s are full of events including live music most Friday evenings. Food and drinks from the Oasis are always available and you will occasionally find a local food truck on site too. Families are welcome and there are games, swings and dancing for anyone and everyone to enjoy. (Kids will love to feed the koi in the pond – fish food is available at the bar for 50 cents.)
Ithaca, New York
Robert H. Treman State Park features the rugged gorge called Enfield Glen as the highlight. Winding trails follow the gorge past 12 waterfalls, including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls. The park offers nine miles of hiking trails and swimming in a stream-fed pool beneath a waterfall. Swimming is allowed in lifeguarded area only.
Ithaca, New York
Buttermilk Falls State Park takes its name from the foaming cascade formed by Buttermilk Creek as it flows down the steep valley side toward Cayuga Lake. The upper park has a small lake, hiking trails through woodlands and along the gorge and rim, picnic areas and playing fields. The lower park has a campground, natural pool and playing fields, beyond which is Larch Meadows. Larch Meadows is a wetland area through which a nature trail winds.
Dansville, New York
Feeling adventurous? Soar high above the Finger Lakes Wine Country with the Finger Lakes Soaring Club on a glider. Rides are usually available from May through October, Saturday and Sunday by reservation or on a walk-in basis. The Club has a fleet of five gliders and two tow planes. (Call in advance to avoid bad weather or long delays waiting for a flight.)
As 6th generation premium Finger Lakes wine grape growers the Hazlitt family farm began in 1852. Sawmill Creek provides quality fruit to over two dozen award-winning local wineries and once a year, July only, you can experience picking sweet and sour cherries in their beautiful orchards. (Make sure to walk down the farm road a bit for one of my favorite views of Seneca Lake! And if you brought the kids, ask Tina about pit spitting contests!)
More Itineraries & Travel Guides To Explore The Finger Lakes
For more ideas, check out the Finger Lakes Wine Country site. And I wasn’t kidding about the magazine cover! You can find it here. Now that’s a story for ya sometime! See you in the Finger Lakes.