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Finger Lakes area, New York

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Did You Know … ?

  • The 100-plus wineries in the Finger Lakes region produce 40 million bottles a year.
  • Angela Bloomer, for whom bloomers were named, was born in the village of Homer (1818).
  • Syracuse is the site of America’s longest-running state fair, from 1841.
  • The Finger Lake’s first wine vintage was bottled in 1832 in a town called York.
  • The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester houses the world’s largest collection of dolls and toys.

The fingers of God

The Finger Lakes area covers a huge chunk of west-central New York, from Lake Ontario in the north to the Pennsylvania border. The 9,000-square-mile region is noted for its wineries and distinguished by 11 roughly parallel finger-like lakes that give the area its nickname.

The lakes are one feature of a widely varied topography that includes rolling hills, dramatic gorges and rivers with more than 1,000 waterfalls. The lakes were dug in the earth as the glaciers retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, or to hear Native Americans tell it, they were created by the hand of God as He reached down to bless the land.

Visitors may believe they are blessed, given the variety of activities open to them, ranging from numerous water sports and fishing to skiing and hiking. There are many places to pursue these interests including 27 state parks and historic preservation regions plus the Finger Lakes National Forest. The area also includes a Lake Ontario shoreline and 100 miles of the historic Erie Canal.

In addition, the lakes moderate the northern climate facilitating grape growing on lakeside slopes and, hence, a major wine industry.

The Finger Lakes region is largely rural, but it encompasses two of New York’s major cities, Rochester and Syracuse.

Its towns and cities were the settings for history-making events that provide additional reasons to visit. Most notably:

  • Joseph Smith founded the Mormon church in Palmyra. Several sites associated with the church’s 1823 founding are open to visitors, and an annual pageant tells the Mormon story.
  • America’s women’s rights movement was born at the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls. The site of that meeting is part of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, as is the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House. Also of interest, the Susan B. Anthony House is in Rochester.
  • The area provided “stations” for the Underground Railroad, a piece of history that is highlighted in museums in Syracuse and Rochester. Former slaves Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman were the most famous of the area’s resident abolitionists.
  • Also, George Eastman, a high school dropout, helped found the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester (1881).

Things to do for Venturers

  • Get high in a glider from the Harris Hill Gliderport near Elmira. Also, in Elmira, try a flight simulator at the National Soaring Museum.
  • Go camping in the Letchworth State Park, Robert H. Treman State Park, the Watkins Glen State Park or any of scores of other campsite choices in the area.
  • Make your own glass souvenirs at the Corning Museum of Glass. Tour the museum, too: It houses more than 45,000 works in glass covering 3,500 years of glassmaking.
  • Get out on those lakes for rafting, tubing, waterskiing or windsurfing. Or, go canoeing or kayaking on Finger Lakes rivers or lakes. Choices are mind-boggling.
  • Rent a canal boat and cruise the Erie Canal, passing through the locks as you go. For perspective, see the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse.
  • In October, run in the Wineglass Marathon, from Bath to Corning.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Follow a wine trail of choice on a self-drive itinerary. Or, choose a chauffeured itinerary — and “chauffeured” could mean anything from a party bus to a private limousine.
  • It may be wine country, but you may opt to quaff beer made by local breweries.
  • Choose your winter sport. You have options for downhill or cross-country skiing, as well as snowboarding and snowshoeing.
  • Take a fall foliage tour aboard the Tioga Scenic Railroad in Owego.
  • Make the Underground Railroad a theme. See exhibits at the Onondaga Historical Association in Syracuse and at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Include on the itinerary, the Auburn home of Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who led others to freedom, and the Rochester grave of Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave and world-famous abolitionist leader who lived in Rochester 25 years.
  • Abolitionists and women’s advocates supported each other. For a companion trip theme, in Seneca Falls, tour the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, which includes the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House. See the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, too.

Things to do for Authentics

  • The Finger Lakes alone offer close to 134,000 acres of water just waiting for the angler in you. Go fishing there or along the rivers. In New York state, the last full weekend in June is Free Fishing Days, which means you would not need a license at that time.
  • Shop for Amish and Mennonite goods as well as a whole lot of other items sold by more than 200 vendors at the Windmill Farm and Craft Market in Penn Yan. In rural areas, be on the lookout for Amish and Mennonites on bicycles or in horse-drawn wagons.
  • Enjoy fresh local foods paired with local wines at lakeside restaurants. Vary that with a dinner cruise.
  • Schedule your visit to coincide with the Finger Lakes Wine Festival, in July, in Watkins Glen.
  • In July, attend the free Hill Cumorah pageant called “America’s Witness for Christ,” recalling the story of the Mormon church, in Palmyra.
  • Take the kids to the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, the world’s only museum devoted to play.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance at