This New York State Region Is One of the Best Places to Go in 2022 — With Wineries, Waterfalls, and Charming Hotels
Named one of the best places to travel in 2022 by Travel + Leisure editors, the Finger Lakes region in central New York maintains a distinct identity. The "centrally isolated" geographic positioning of FLX, as it's been dubbed in recent years, means denizens take great pride and intentionally invest in this dispersed assortment of towns and sites full of rich, diverse histories. Ever since Ukrainian immigrant Dr. Konstantin Frank planted his first vitis vinifera vines in 1958 on 188 sloping acres along western Keuka Lake, the Finger Lakes' profile as a wine region has quietly been on the rise. A new generation of restaurants and hotels is evolving into a robust hospitality ecosystem, making the range of Finger Lakes experiences on offer better than ever.
From the base of the 1848 women's rights convention in Seneca Falls that catalyzed the suffrage movement to a comprehensive Native American heritage site and Harriet Tubman's home in Auburn, history buffs can investigate pressing questions related to the past and present. Nature lovers can explore the famed, glacially formed gorges and waterfalls and astonishingly scenic vistas around the 11 slender bodies of water — the largest three of which are Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga — located roughly in the triangle formed by the cities of Rochester, Syracuse, and Corning. Food and beverage enthusiasts can sate themselves touring the Finger Lakes' wineries (there are more than 100) and delving into the impressive culinary scene rooted in elevating local and seasonal ingredients.
The Best Times to Visit the Finger Lakes
The seasons express themselves intensely and fully in the Finger Lakes. With the exception of active winter sports destinations like Greek Peak Mountain Resort and Bristol Mountain in Canandaigua, winter travel is a niche preference that comes with challenges, namely, an obscene amount of lake-effect snow. (This climate, however, accounts for the world-class rieslings and other varietal wines that thrive in low temperatures.) Unsurprisingly, summer and fall are glorious. Both seasons allow for long hikes followed by invigorating swims, whether in a lake or waterfall, and vendors' stalls are piled high with colorful organic summer produce at the Ithaca Farmers Market. Fall ushers in the grape harvest and technicolor displays of fall foliage as the school year gets underway at Cornell University and other school campuses in the area.
The Best Things to Do in the Finger Lakes
Ambitious outdoors adventurers can consult the Finger Lakes Trail website for routes, itineraries, and other resources related to the 950-plus-mile-long network. Letchworth State Park, a.k.a. "the Grand Canyon of the East," contains myriad opportunities for adventure, from cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in winter to whitewater rafting and hot air balloon rides. Letchworth State Park is also home to the Autism Nature Trail, an innovative, neurodiverse-inclusive program.
For trails of a different sort, FLX has five established wine trails to help guide visitors eager to investigate the wineries around Canandaigua, Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka lakes. If making your own itinerary, don't miss the tasting rooms of FLX OG winemakers Hermann J. Weimer Vineyard and the aforementioned Dr. Frank. And for a sense of how the art and science of wine has evolved here beyond the better-known (deservedly so) winter-friendly rieslings, labels such as Heart and Hands, Forge Cellars, and Red Tail Ridge Winery are making impressive strides with crafting red wines using FLX-grown pinot noir and cabernet franc, among other varietals.
Beyond the fruit of the vine, the Rochester/Finger Lakes Craft Beverage Trail highlights breweries, cider houses, and distilleries that have kicked into high gear in recent years, primarily in Ontario County. The world of cider is quite compelling, as visitors to Finger Lakes Cider House in Interlaken on Cayuga Lake quickly learn. The rustic-chic dining room also serves an outstanding menu with views of the Good Life Farm and the lake beyond. From its Seneca Drums gin to McKenzie whiskeys, Finger Lakes Distilling has put the region on the map for spirits production using locally sourced grains and fruits.
Outstanding among the other unique cultural institutions in FLX is the Corning Museum of Glass. The sprawling facility is an immersive look into the fascinating intersections of craft, art, and design, along with American industrial history. The glass company's unrivaled collection starts with ancient specimens and continues through contemporary cutting-edge art, while the institution pushes the medium forward through its education, research, and artist residency programs.
Finally, for a water-oriented outing toward the eastern edge of the Finger Lakes, the town of Skaneateles, at the northern tip of its namesake lake, is another enchanting destination. Book a cruise with Mid-Lakes Navigation, which offers cocktail and dinner cruises aboard different vessels.
Visiting the Finger Lakes' Waterfalls
"Ithaca is Gorges" is a well-known tourism motto and easy conversation starter when spotted outside of the town itself. This geologic feature is certainly worth bragging about and makes the surrounding area one of the most stunning destinations for hiking and swimming in naturally formed channels. Download the Ithaca Waterfalls Challenge digital passport to keep track of its 22 waterfalls and other natural attractions, from the more gentle slopes of Buttermilk Falls and Buttermilk Creek to the diving board perched over a deep swimming hole at Robert Treman State Park. The 215-foot waterfall drop at Taughannock Falls in Trumansburg is a perfect Kodak — OK, Instagram — moment.
Watkins Glen State Park near the southern tip of Seneca Lake merits dedicating several hours in order to extensively hike the dramatic trails that hug the glen and take in the breathtaking sight of its 19 waterfalls. (Much of the ingenious infrastructure here and at other nearby sites that carefully respect their contexts were built under the aegis of agencies created during the New Deal.) And the options are plentiful, since FLX counts over 200 waterfalls.
The Best Hotels in the Finger Lakes
The Inns of Aurora on Cayuga Lake is a community and hospitality passion project from native Pleasant Rowland, founder of the American Girl empire. The five unique luxury properties that make up the Inns of Aurora each convey their own aesthetic and atmosphere (most are landmarked historic structures). The newest inn is the restored Zabriskie House, which blends retro styling with selections from Rowland's modern art collection and features 11 guest rooms. Inns of Aurora also has a brand-new wellness center, an on-site Ayurvedic counselor, a demonstration kitchen where guests can take cooking classes, and two restaurants.
The ultra-chic Lake House on Canandaigua signaled a shift in the FLX hospitality scene when its 125 guest rooms and suites in the re-envisioned retreat debuted in summer 2020. Third-generation family owners who operate the design firm Post Company (formerly Studio Tack) and development arm Brooklyn Home Company breathed new life into the site-sensitive buildings with a fresh take on understated, contemporary luxury. TLEE Spas designed the comprehensive wellness program at the Lake Houses's Willowbrook Spa, which opened in summer 2021.
Whether it's for a classic cocktail at Bar Argos, an evening with friends in the funky, welcoming Argos Warehouse outdoor lounge, or an overnight stay at the Argos Inn, any or all of these plans provide a taste of Ithaca's eclectic character. The creative reimagining of this historic house has been adapted into a modern bed-and-breakfast where no two spaces are alike.
Firelight Camps, situated just a short drive outside of Ithaca, is the best of both worlds, allowing guests to be close to nature but with the all stylish and creature comforts of a well-designed, modern, bohemian-inflected glamping site. Another perk: co-owner Emma Frisch's culinary expertise makes this your-not-so-typical camping excursion.
Camping in the Finger Lakes
The camping options in the Finger Lakes run the gamut and can accommodate anyone, from camping veterans to novices. The Corning KOA Resort south of Watkins Glen splits the difference, with a campground and deluxe cabins, plus a pool and waterslide. Sampson Park at Seneca Lake Resorts in the town of Romulus (one of the many whose names evoke Greek and Roman history) hosts campers, cabin dwellers, and RV drivers. The New York State Parks system operates camping areas with fewer frills but no less awe-inspiring settings, including the Taughannock Falls, Watkins Glen, and Robert H. Treman State Park campgrounds.
The Best Restaurants in the Finger Lakes
Elevated homeyness of the best sort sets the tone at Hazelnut Kitchen in downtown Trumansburg. The menu is both sophisticated and hearty, whether you opt for fresh fish or a New York strip steak served with fries and caramelized onions. Alternately, the kitchen designs a tasting experience based on whatever is in season, and it's well worth trying if you're an adventurous diner.
F.L.X. Table in Geneva takes an experimental yet highly convivial approach to hospitality, curating prix-fixe menus designed for intimate groups of diners. This venture is part of master sommelier Christopher Bates and restaurant industry pro Isabel Bogadtke's ambitious F.L.X. Hospitality group, which operates multiple concepts including the Quincy Exchange in Corning's Gaffer District, F.L.X. Weinery in Dundee on Seneca Lake, and Roc Brewing Co in Rochester.
The Moosewood restaurant became a quasi-household — yet still niche — name thanks to its iconic, best-selling vegetarian cookbooks. Now, the physical space that launched an institution back in 1973 is onto its next chapter, under new ownership. Ithaca native Danica Wilcox, whose mother was a longtime member of the Moosewood collective, has revamped the beloved restaurant, located on the ground floor of downtown Ithaca's Dewitt Mall, as of early 2022. She and her team kept the warm, comforting touchstones of the space and the spirit of the menu intact, while evolving the food and beverage program to engage with the community and host events including FLX-focused wine tastings with local experts.
The laid-back vibe at Ithaca Beer Co., home to award-winning brews like Flower Power and Apricot Wheat, make its brewery and taproom outside of town an easy pleasure. When the weather permits, the idyllic arrangement, with views of rolling green meadows and outdoor games, is ideal for families and large groups. Tasting flights pair seamlessly with the menu that's heavy on top-notch comfort food and bar classics.