Located within driving distance of many major East Coast cities, New York’s Finger Lakes region is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. There, you’ll find everything you need for a few days’ respite: charming bed and breakfasts, excellent wineries, gorgeous state parks, tasty restaurants, antique shops, and more. Oh, and it’s all clustered around a group of scenic, finger-like lakes left behind by retreating Ice Age glaciers.
Have you booked your trip yet?
Where M and I live, Memorial Day weekend is all about the beach. (Or, if you’re going to New Jersey, the shore. As I quickly learned after moving here, there’s a difference). People swarm to the coast to celebrate the holiday, resulting in huge crowds and a festive atmosphere as people revel in the beginning of summer.
This year, we decided to do something different. We’d been talking with friends of ours about doing a little trip together, and it just so happened that stars and schedules (and babysitters, in their case) aligned so that we could take full advantage of the long weekend and get out of Dodge. Rather than heading to the beach, though, we decided to road trip to upstate New York. A weekend getaway in the Finger Lakes – full of lake views, wine tastings, outdoor activities, and zero WiFi – seemed like just the ticket to recharge our weary souls.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Finger Lakes is a region in central New York that contains almost a dozen long, narrow, glacially-carved lakes. Because they run roughly north-to-south in a row across the state, early explorers and mapmakers thought they looked like human fingers, and the name stuck. The lakes are surrounded by lovely forests, state parks (including Watkins Glen, which is perhaps the most famous), charming small towns, and a plethora of wineries. This makes them an ideal getaway spot, particularly for those looking to escape the hectic pace of life in the nearby major cities of the northeastern USA.
With a special focus on Keuka Lake, here are my recommendations for how to structure your itinerary for a long weekend getaway in the Finger Lakes!
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Itinerary at a Glance
Day 1: Arrive in the Finger Lakes and start to unwind!
Day 2: Watkins Glen and Keuka Lake
Day 3: Keuka Lake Wine Trails and Hammondsport
Other Sights and Activities Around Keuka Lake
Tips for a Great Finger Lakes Weekend Getaway
Day 1: Embark on your Finger Lakes weekend getaway!
Even though we didn’t leave our home base in the Philadelphia area until mid-morning and took a leisurely lunch stop, we still arrived by mid-afternoon. It was a pretty drive, and this country girl was excited to see the city and suburbs fall away and to finally be surrounded by greenery, hills, small towns, and farms again.
Our home for the weekend was a fabulous Airbnb along Keuka Lake, which, unlike its fellow finger-like lakes, splits into two branches about halfway up its length. It’s a quieter lake, with a smaller tourist focus than its larger and more well-known neighbors Seneca and Cayuga. Even so, we had a wine trail practically at our doorstep and the fun shops and restaurants of Hammondsport a short drive away at the southern end of the lake. It was perfect.
The setting of our Airbnb could not have been more scenic, as it was located at the top of a vineyard that sloped gracefully down toward the lake. We were completely out of sight and earshot of our nearest neighbors, which made for a quiet, peaceful retreat.
Our home away from home was a cute, rustic, cabin-like building that is attached to the main house (the owner’s vacation home) but still felt private and secluded. There was plenty of natural light, the kitchen was well-appointed, and we spent as much time as the weather permitted eating, drinking wine, and relaxing out on the spacious deck.
The best part of our Airbnb experience that weekend was undoubtedly our gracious host, John. He was more than happy to answer our questions about the area, recommend restaurants and things to do, show us a few features of the vineyard, and generally ensure that we had a comfortable and enjoyable stay. I also have to be honest: that sentence really doesn’t completely capture the full extent of John’s hospitality, which was unparalleled in my experience using Airbnb. All I can say is that if you stay at his place, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Our first evening in the Finger Lakes was all about unwinding from the stresses of our daily lives and workloads. Much of the time was spent around the dinner table, wine glasses clinking through the lively and plentiful conversation, as the sun disappeared beyond the hills behind us and the stars came out in all their unobstructed glory.
We knew we were in for a great weekend.
Day 2: Explore Watkins Glen and the Keuka Lake area
Away from the demands of children, jobs, chores, and other responsibilities, we gleefully refused to set any alarm clocks and instead enjoyed a leisurely morning of coffee, reading, relaxing on the deck, and a nice big breakfast. With so many things to do in the Finger Lakes, it would be easy to think that you should rise and shine early in the morning to take advantage of it all. I would encourage you to resist that urge and take some time to simply enjoy the peace, quiet, and natural beauty around you.
The four of us hit the road by mid-morning, bound for the town of Penn Yan at the northern end of Keuka Lake. We had heard there was to be a big farmer’s market and festival downtown, but we arrived to find it much smaller than our source had suggested. Unfazed, we continued south along Route 14A toward Watkins Glen and were excited to come across a big farm and craft market called The Windmill about ten minutes away. It was already busy with visitors, so we swung into the parking lot to see what all the fuss was about.
If you’re looking for a fun way to spend a couple of hours, the Windmill is a great option. Boasting almost two hundred food, craft, antique, artisan, and other vendors, there was plenty to see, do, and eat. M and I refreshed ourselves with some fresh-squeezed lemonade, and our friend Luke couldn’t resist the siren call of the kettle corn stand. Munching happily, we wandered the shops and admired the varied wares. M and I try to purchase a Christmas tree ornament whenever we travel, and we were able to find a great, handmade one from a woodworking artisan!
We didn’t stay long, intent on our goal of Watkins Glen, but I would definitely recommend swinging by the Windmill, if only to grab lunch or a snack along your way!
Next on our list: Watkins Glen State Park! I’ve covered this natural wonder in much more detail already, but suffice it to say that you should absolutely make this gem a priority during your time in the Finger Lakes. Located at the bottom of Seneca Lake, the park boasts gorgeous forests, lots of hiking trails, and a truly incredible gorge that has been carved into the rock by thousands of years of erosion.
I mean, with views like these along the Gorge Trail, how can you resist? We spent a few hours wandering the various trails, admiring the unique topography, and enjoying the fresh air.
With a nice hike under our belts, it was time to reward ourselves with a good local brew. The Brewery of Broken Dreams, despite its depressing name, had been recommended to us by numerous people, so we swung by their tasting room in Hammondsport. Located in a historic building with stone walls and exposed wooden beams, it was a cozy place to grab a celebratory beer and rest our weary feet.
The rest of the night was spent cooking supper back at John’s place and eating it out on the deck as the sun set the vineyard and the lake aglow. After dark, we built a fire in the fire pit and enjoyed the coziness of the cottage before collapsing into our beds!
Make sure to check out my tips on visiting Watkins Glen State Park before your visit!
Day 3: The Keuka Lake Wine Trail and Hammondsport
Another lazy morning – the Finger Lakes make them so easy and delightful! Generally, M and I are up-and-at-em travelers, but this place certainly turned that on its head. Again, we took our time, made a decent breakfast, and headed out a little before noon. The weather was gloomy again, so we decided to visit the town of Hammondsport and wander through the shops.
Our Airbnb host, John, suggested we take the “upper road” to Hammondsport, which runs along the top of the hill that parallels the lake. He told us that it would be more scenic, with impressive views of the lake and lots of wineries lining either side. He was right. It was a pretty drive and deposited us nicely in the middle of town, where we spent some time exploring the different antique, gourmet, and gift shops that surround pretty Pulteney Square.
Continuing his hot streak of great recommendations, John had also offered a few wineries for our afternoon enjoyment. The guy really knows his stuff, suggesting a variety of places based on different criteria such as the
After enjoying a late lunch overlooking Keuka Lake, we tried some of the wines in Bully Hill’s tasting room. I missed out on that part, having just found out a couple of weeks before – days after committing to a vacation to a renowned wine region! – that I was pregnant. I also was feeling a bit under the weather by that point, and although I offered to continue visiting wineries my companions were more than happy to return to John’s for some rest and relaxation before our planned dinner out later that evening.
My recommendation for the rest of your afternoon would be to continue along the Keuka Lake Wine Trail and stop into any wineries and breweries you find along the way. Lovers of sweeter wines will delight in the Finger Lakes region, as the Niagara grape features prominently and many estate-grown wines are white and/or sweet. I’m more of an oaky, full-bodied red kind of gal, which isn’t so much the region’s specialty, but there were lots of varieties to try no matter your preferences! Two in particular that John recommended for the quality of their wines were Dr. Konstantin Frank and Heron Hill.
Later that night, we headed back to Hammondsport for a delicious dinner at Union Block Italian Bistro right on Pulteney Square. It’s a small, intimate place with friendly service and fresh, hearty fare. Pasta dishes come in either half or full portions, and the half is more than sufficient for most people. They don’t take reservations, but you can put your name on the waitlist using the No Wait app. We added ourselves before we embarked on the twenty-five-minute drive to the restaurant and still had a bit of time to take a short walk through town when we arrived. Most of that was spent admiring the sunset on the lake from Depot Park.
An evening out with good food and good friends was the perfect way to spend our last night in the Finger Lakes!
Other Sights and Activities Around Keuka Lake
- If your weather cooperates, I recommend that you try to get out on the water on one of the lakes. This was a priority for us when planning the trip, but unfortunately, the weather was too gloomy to give us much confidence in renting a boat. All along the lakes, there are numerous options for procuring everything from kayaks and pontoons to motorboats and jet skis, and I know that that will be at the top of M’s list when we return.
- Multiple people recommended the Finger Lakes Boating Museum, though we didn’t have time to stop by. Featuring 150+ boats spanning over 100 years of Finger Lakes boating history, it would make a great rainy day activity or stop for nautical enthusiasts. (Bonus: it’s kid-friendly!) Adult admission is $8.
- Across the lake from
ourAirbnb was Keuka Lake State Park, a less famous cousin of Watkins Glen that offers its own charms. Campsites, picnic areas, walking and hiking trails, and great views abound.
- The roads and little towns around Keuka Lake offer dozens of craft, antique, gourmet food, and other fun little shops that you could spend hours wandering if you were so inclined.
Tips for a Great Finger Lakes Weekend Getaway
- There’s a lot to do in this region, and it covers a pretty sizable area. Resist the temptation to hit all the best hiking spots, vineyards, and restaurants and don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to fit everything into a single trip. Part of the beauty of visiting the Finger Lakes is getting to relax and enjoy your surroundings. Don’t be afraid to take it slow.
- If you need (or would prefer) to travel by air, there are a couple of regional airports in the area, or you can fly into the larger Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) or Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) depending on either’s proximity to your final destination.
- Impress the locals by knowing the correct way to say “Keuka” – it’s pronounced “
kyoo-ka.” You’ll undoubtedly see lots of stickers and t-shirts that say “Q-Ka” on them (or some variation thereof).
- While this article focused on Keuka Lake, there are almost a dozen Finger Lakes in total, each with its own hiking trails, parks, wineries, cute places to stay, and other charms. (The Seneca Lake Wine Trail features over thirty wineries and is perhaps the most famous in the area.) Feel free to explore further afield, or consider multiple short trips to relax and unwind in different parts of the region!
- While we would absolutely stay at John’s Airbnb again, the Finger Lakes would be the perfect place to book a bed and breakfast.
After such warm hospitality, good food, and natural beauty, it was tough to pile back into our vehicle and head south toward home. We all agreed, though, that the Finger Lakes make a perfect long weekend getaway, and one to which you can return over and over when you need a break from it all. We’ll just have to keep heading north, trying new wineries and food, and unplugging whenever possible!
I hope you have a similarly great experience!
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Have you been to the Finger Lakes? What was your experience like?
Where do you go to “get away from it all”?
What was the best Airbnb you’ve ever visited?
A Guide to Hiking in Watkins Glen State Park
The Pros and Cons of Airbnb
Midwestern Delights: A Long Weekend in Iowa and Nebraska
This guide to a long weekend getaway in the Finger Lakes was originally posted on June 11, 2018, and last updated on July 2, 2021.
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Great post, Gwen. I have driven past (under) the Finger Lakes many times on my way to Toronto which is one of my family’s favorite summer destinations. My wife and I would look longingly north and always wanted to spend time there but really didn’t have a clue about where to go, what do do and where to stay. And what do you know? This wonderful little blog just dropped in from the ether and voíla! All my questions (and some I didn’t know I had) answered. Linda is unable to hike (due to knee issues), so would we still find Watkins Glen worthwhile?
Please keep up the good work, Gwen. You are opening up our eyes to a world not seen, or reminding us of places dear to our hearts.
Thanks, Alan! I think you and Linda would have a lovely time in the Finger Lakes. To be honest, Watkins Glen may give her a bit of trouble depending on how many stairs she can take with her knees. Many of the trails were smooth, but the Gorge Trail would be pretty arduous given the number of steps and how slippery some of them can be. There’s a pretty significant elevation gain into and out of the most stunning section of the gorge. If she wanted to give it a try, I would recommend entering at the Main Entrance, as that is at a lower elevation than the others and would deposit you at the end of the gorge. You would go through a tunnel and climb a few stairs (I don’t remember there being many, maybe 10 or fewer?, with a handrail for support), and then she would have some nice views of the bottom of the gorge before she would have to climb any more steps. You could also take advantage of the picnic areas.
That said, there are plenty of other places to enjoy some great scenery, from the view from Bully Hill Vineyards to some of the other state parks around the area. John told us about a chapel with a beautiful view in Keuka Lake State Park; not sure how much walking would be involved to get there, but I can find out if you ever decide to go!
Thanks so much for your continued support!
Hi Alan. Friend of Gwen here! When reading your comment, I thought Taughannok Falls State Park would be nice for you. It is on Lake Cayuga, and not far from Ithaca. The falls have a scenic overlook which is beautiful. We saw it late in the day, and in the middle of winter and it was gorges (see what I did there?). For other specific ideas near Lake Cayuga check or my comment below. Hope this helps!
Thanks, Marisa! Great add 🙂
Hey Gwen! I always love reading your pieces! We went to the Finger Lakes in January (definitely off season), and loved it! Here were some things we loved:
We stayed at the Aurora Inn in Aurora. Historic Inn from the 1800s, beautiful, amazing Cayuga Lake views and top rated restaurant in the area.
Mackenzie-Childs store for some eccentric home furnishings (think Alice in Wonderland).
Ithaca for walking around and some great food options!
Skaneateles is a little town at the northern end of Lake Seneca. Beautiful views, beautiful upper class village with Victorian homes to admire and many small shops to visit.
Taughanok Falls State Park has beautiful waterfalls and hiking trails.
Lake Cayuga wine trail – America’s first wine trail. Nice people and great Riesling, amongst other wines!
Such a great trip!
Marisa, that sounds like such a wonderful trip! I love that we both spent a weekend in the Finger Lakes and yet had none of our experiences overlapped! I really appreciate your recommendations and will keep them in mind for our next trip. We loved our AirBnB and Keuka Lake, but I think I would want to take in Seneca and/or Cayuga Lake on our next visit. I took a quick look at the Aurora Inn and it looks fabulous!
My priorities for our next trip would definitely be to spend more time exploring wineries and hiking, so I think the area you described would be perfect 🙂
Thanks again for commenting!
Hi Gwen! Love that photo of the view from Bully Hill Vineyards! We visited the Seneca Lake area over 7 years ago in October and it was wonderful. Stayed at a charming little place called the Savannah House Inn in Himrod, NY – 17 miles north of Watkins Glen State Park. (It’s actually a motel – but it was still charming! It really is a lovely area. One thing we enjoyed was stopping in Corning, NY on our way home to visit the Corning Museum of Glass. It was a really interesting place and perfect for a rainy day.
Thanks for the comment, compliment, and additional tips! I love how everything in the Finger Lakes, even something that you wouldn’t think of as having much character like a motel, just seems to exude charm! I’ve heard good things about the Corning Museum – we might have to put that on our itinerary for the next trip!