Summer is coming and you’re gonna wanna be ready for it! If you’re anything like me then you’ve already started day dreaming about all of the warm weather possibilities that are right around the corner. You absolutely have to set aside a long weekend to explore the beauty and charm of the Finger Lakes region this year! From wineries to waterfalls and so much more, this magical region needs to be on your bucket list for SO many reasons. Come along and see some of our favorite highlights from our anniversary weekend in this New York hotspot!
Where to Stay: Ithaca, NY made for the most perfect home base to explore the region. Ithaca is a destination in its own right but also puts you in striking distance to both Seneca and Cayuga Lakes and is less than an hour from Skaneateles. We opted for peaceful airbnb with major farmhouse vibes. This relaxing private cottage sits on 22 sprawling acres of private woods complete with hiking trails near Acorn Preschool. It was a total dream!
How to Get There: Ithaca is just a short 2.5 hour ride from Buffalo, NY just under 4 hours from Erie, PA making it the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. A good portion of the drive is thruway driving which means it’s an easy drive but there will be tolls so make sure you’re prepared.
Wineries: We broke up the drive by adding a few little detours along Seneca and Cayuga Lakes because how can you pass that many wineries and NOT stop?!? Our first stop was probably the most fun because there was so much to do all in one place. If you’re more of a bar hopper and less of a stay in one place person then Three Brothers Wineries & Estates is the place for you my friend! With 3 unique wineries, a brewery, cafe and gift shop, this place has a little something for everyone and all within walking distance.
Stony Lonesome (near the front of the property) is the place to start. Kick off the tasting with a dry wine and a little something from their dessert case if you’re feeling fancy. Then follow the dirt path to the back of the property and head on over to Bagg Dare and find yourself a sweet wine that you can sip by the pond. Mosey on over to War Horse where you can try a variety of custom ales, lagers, hard ciders and craft sodas. Be sure to “Pint it Forward” by pre-purchasing a pint for a veteran (such an awesome idea). Don’t forget to grab some grub at the Iron Heart Cafe then circle back around to Passion Feet Wine Barn for something more bubbly! You could seriously spend the whole day here.
The next stop on our trip was Ventosa Vineyards for a little taste of Tuscany smack dap in the middle of the Finger Lakes. Grab a glass of one of their award winning red wines, pair with an artisan pizza and take it outside for a stunning view of Seneca Lake. Bon appetit!
As we worked our way down to Ithaca, we criss crossed over towards Cayuga Lake and came across Americana Vineyards. As you enter the tasting room and gift shop, you’re sure to be greeted by Lilly and Maverick, two of the sweetest rescue Labs!! Once you get a quick lil dog snuggle in, be sure to take some time checking out the structure itself. The tasting room started off as a functioning swing barn about 5 miles down the road in the 1820s. After rescuing it from demolition the barn was meticulously dismantled and reconstructed to its new address where it firmly stands today as one of the founding members of the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail.
Take some time to enjoy this beautiful property. Wander over and peep the hanging grapevines, check out the barns on the property, relax on the back patio or plop yourself right on the grass and enjoy a picnic. Just don’t be in a rush to leave this place because it truly is a hidden gem. Be sure to stock up at the gift shop too! My hubby loved the flavored horseradish dipping sauces. Next time he’ll be clearing the shelves!!
For dinner we headed to famous Ithaca Commons, a two-block pedestrian mall home to upscale restaurants, shops, public art, and community festivals in the downtown portion of Ithaca. You’ll find something to please every palette on Restaurant Row. Did you know Ithaca, NY has more restaurants per capita than New York City!
We loved the laid back vibe of The Ithaca Ale House and since the weather was perfect we took advantage of their outdoor dining. I went with the Bacon Jam Burger while hubby devoured a bowl of the 6 Onion Soup and a delicious Reuben. The fries were pretty solid too! After dinner we headed back to our Airbnb which was just a 10 minute drive from this area.
Day two was all about chasing waterfalls, starting with the tallest, Taughannock Falls. I recommend starting at the overlook viewing area to get a full unobstructed view of this 215 foot waterfall in all its glory. The parking area for the Taughannock Falls overlook can be found along Taughannock Falls Road at the following coordinates: 42.538629, -76.608090. This amazing view is just steps away from the parking lot and great for those that don’t have time to make the full hike. As an added bonus there’s also restrooms available if you need to make a pit stop and parking is free.
Wanna get a closer look? Take the 1.9 mile gorge trail to get a more up close and personal view of the falls. The parking lot for the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail can be found on Route 89 along the shores of the lake at the following coordinates: 42.545351, -76.599001. It’ll cost ya $7 to park but your parking ticket stub can be used to get into any of the state parks in the area for 24hours.
This hiking trail is mostly flat and great for all skill levels. One thing I learned on this trip is the gorge trails are usually easily hikes. Anything that said rim trail had a whole lot of up and down inclines and were more difficult hiking wise. This region is known for its hilly terrain.
The gorge trail ran along a creek which at the time of our visit was completely dried out. Jeff (pictured above) is actually standing in the middle of the completely dry creek bed.
Last summer was so dry that Taughannock Falls was down to just barely a trickle. I would love to come back and visit in the Fall when all the colorful leaves serve as a backdrop to this marvel. It must be quite the view! And speaking of views, you’ll want to note this waterfall is for viewing only. Swimming is not allowed so be sure to stay on the designated paths.
After our little hike we headed across the street to Cayuga Lake. Pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic overlooking the water. There are plenty of picnic tables available as well as a playground, boat launch, a swimming area and shower facilities.
The Finger Lakes region offers some swimmable waterfalls as well. If you’re brave enough, jump in the swimming hole at , Robert H. Treman State Park with Enfield Falls as your backdrop. Now you might be thinking to yourself, brave enough? But that doesn’t look scary at all! Well the water temp was a brisk 56 degrees at the time of our visit in early September. We briefly waded out far enough to go completely underwater and scurried back out pretty quickly! There were plenty of people that didn’t seem to mind though. Swimming season is projected to open July 1st this year.
Take the very scenic gorge trail which passes 12 waterfalls, including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls. Robert H. Treman State Park has a large number of campsites available making this a perfect place for families. Changing facilities and bathrooms are available at Enfield Falls and of course there are life guards on duty too.
Next on our list was Buttermilk Falls State Park. This 80 ft waterfall was much bigger than the last. The designated swimming area at the base of the falls is deep enough to accommodate diving. Swimming is permitted on weekends only during July 2nd through August 14th with life guards on duty. This state park offers camping year round, changing areas, a snack bar and plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the day.
The Rim and Gorge Trail hike is an absolute must do! The 1.6 mile loop is pretty steep at the beginning but it’s well worth the effort in the end. There are some stairs involved too so don’t say I didn’t warn ya! Along the trail you’ll find 9 segmented waterfalls and plunges ranging from 5 feet to 35 feet high.
Be sure to stop and take LOTS of pictures on this hike. The photo ops just don’t stop and it gives ya just enough time to catch your breath. Keep in mind swimming is not permitted in the natural pools along the trail, only at the base of Buttermilk Falls during designated hours, but we didn’t see any harm in dipping our toes in since the water levels were especially low this season.
Ports of New York is not just a winery it’s a storytelling experience. Hosted by husband and wife team, Frédéric Bouché and Joanna Luks, our wine tasting started with a quick lesson on the process of how these European style vinos are made. Bouché is a fifth generation wine maker and all of the wines here are created using grapes that were grown in the finger lakes region. Be sure to check out the museum next store too!
Sitting on a hilltop just 4 miles from downtown Ithaca is where you’ll find South Hill Cider. Founder Steve has been bottling cider since 2003 using wild foraged apples grown organically with no synthetic chemicals. His cider is something you can truly feel good about. And these hilltop countryside views are enough to make you feel pretty darn good too. Snag an Adirondack chair near the fire pit and waste the day away here! You can thank me later.
A trip to Ithaca and the Finger Lakes region wouldn’t be complete without a stop to Ithaca Beer Co. Put Flower Power IPA at the top of the list of beers to try. It was named as one of the “25 Most Important American Craft Beers Ever Brewed” by Food & Wine magazine. The food was great here too! After a long day of hiking our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. We sampled the Cheddar Ale Soup, the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich, and the Three Cheese White Garlic Pizza. So good!!
After finishing up dinner we headed back to our Airbnb for the night and crashed. I was so pooped that I didn’t even photograph the food which if you’ve been following our blog you’ll know that doesn’t happen very often!!
In the morning we snuck over to Ithaca Falls to catch a glimpse of this easy to access waterfall. With a drop of 150ft and width of 175ft, Ithaca Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in the area. Even during a dry year this massive waterfall had plenty of water flowing. You can easily view it from the sidewalk of Lake Street Bridge but I must insist that you venture closer.
The walk to this waterfall is only about 150 yards and very flat. Absolutely no swimming here due to the lead contamination in the water left behind from Ithaca Gun Company and other factories and mills that were once present. So look but don’t touch!
Are you ready to plan your Finger Lakes vacation? Don’t miss Part 2 of How to Spend a Weekend in the Finger Lakes!