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Outdoor Activities in the Finger Lakes

Updated on August 6, 2014

Hiking in the Finger Lakes

Watkin's Glen offers spectacular views from the hiking trail.
Watkin's Glen offers spectacular views from the hiking trail. | Source

What are the Finger Lakes?

The Finger Lakes stretch from Rochester, NY in the west to Syracuse, NY on the eastern end of the state. Created by glaciers at the end of the ice age, eleven lakes grace the center of New York State. With temperatures moderated by Lake Ontario to the north, the region is well known for its vineyards and wineries. Beautiful gorges, state parks, waterfalls, and hiking trails are abundant in the Finger Lakes Region. The Erie Canal passes through this region for those with an interest in history.

Lake Seneca is the largest Finger Lake, dotted with wineries along the sides, the town of Geneva to the north, and Watkin’s Glen to the south. For people unsure of where to stay in the Finger Lakes, this centrally located lake offers a wealth of activities (and the ability to travel to other nearby lakes).

Lake Seneca, the Largest Finger Lake

A boat-side view of Lake Seneca.
A boat-side view of Lake Seneca. | Source

Helpful Hint for Watkin’s Glen

For those who would rather hike down the gorge rather than up the gorge, a shuttle is available at the lower visitor center. Simply park your vehicle and wait for the shuttle. For a nominal fee, the shuttle will carry visitors to the top of the gorge, where they can hike down the trail. The only negative of this approach is that the waterfalls are approached from behind, so take care to stop and look frequently!

Gorgeous Hikes in the Finger Lakes, NY

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cascades along the trail of Watkin's Glen.Stony Brook State Park includes natural water slides, waterfalls, and a swimming hole.Chimney Bluffs State Park is located on Lake Ontario and has spectacular spires created by glaciers.Stream hiking is a popular activity in the Finger Lakes. There are many beautiful streams in Fillmore Glen, Stony Brook, and other state parks.Salamanders (like the one in the photo), beavers, deer, otters, and other wildlife can be seen on hikes in the Finger Lakes region.
Cascades along the trail of Watkin's Glen.
Cascades along the trail of Watkin's Glen. | Source
Stony Brook State Park includes natural water slides, waterfalls, and a swimming hole.
Stony Brook State Park includes natural water slides, waterfalls, and a swimming hole. | Source
Chimney Bluffs State Park is located on Lake Ontario and has spectacular spires created by glaciers.
Chimney Bluffs State Park is located on Lake Ontario and has spectacular spires created by glaciers. | Source
Stream hiking is a popular activity in the Finger Lakes. There are many beautiful streams in Fillmore Glen, Stony Brook, and other state parks.
Stream hiking is a popular activity in the Finger Lakes. There are many beautiful streams in Fillmore Glen, Stony Brook, and other state parks. | Source
Salamanders (like the one in the photo), beavers, deer, otters, and other wildlife can be seen on hikes in the Finger Lakes region.
Salamanders (like the one in the photo), beavers, deer, otters, and other wildlife can be seen on hikes in the Finger Lakes region. | Source

Hiking in the Finger Lakes

Hiking paths are plentiful in this region. Watkin’s Glen is located at the southern end of Seneca Lake, and is a spectacular gorge with waterfalls, stone bridges, and tunnels along the path. Hikers will pass behind waterfalls and climb 832 steps to the top of the gorge from the lower visitor center. The park also contains an Olympic sized swimming pool and children’s playground at the top of the gorge, along with a shuttle bus to carry visitors back to the lower visitor’s center.

Stream hiking is an alternative to traditional hiking, and many people truly enjoy this sport. Stream hikers do not follow a trail, but simply follow the stream. Popular state parks for stream hikes include Watkin's Glen, Fillmore Glen, and Stony Brook. A sturdy pair of waterproof sandals or water shoes are wonderful for stream hiking, along with a walking stick to gauge the depth of the stream. Take care to note the length of the hike - make sure to hike only as far as you are willing to hike on the return trip!

Many visitors overlook Fillmore Glen and Stony Brook, which are amazing state parks. Fillmore Glen has more than 5 waterfalls and is located in Moravia (near Lake Owasco). Stony Brook State Park is located near Dansville (south of Conesus Lake) on the western end of the Finger Lakes. Stony Brook has a large playground and a natural swimming hole, waterfall, and lifeguards during the summer months.

Another spectacular area to hike is the Cayuga Nature Center. Located near Ithaca, the nature center has exhibits for families with small children, hiking trails, and a six story tree house to explore.

Chimney Bluffs State Park is another amazing state park, with stiff peaks formed by glaciers that jut out over Lake Ontario. The park is located in Huron, NY, north of Seneca Lake.

Pontoon Boat on Lake Seneca

Pontoon boats are a wonderful option for families with small children, as they allow a comfortable way to explore the lakes and canals.
Pontoon boats are a wonderful option for families with small children, as they allow a comfortable way to explore the lakes and canals. | Source

Canoe and Boat Rentals in the Finger Lakes

Rent a kayak or canoe and explore one of many rivers or creeks. While whitewater is not found in most of the Finger Lakes’ streams, there is “fast water” to be found. The Canandaigua Outlet has a great section of fast moving water between Manchester and Lyons (the area drops over waterfalls near the lake itself, so take care)!

The Catherine’s Creek Marsh is located near Watkin’s Glen at the bottom of Seneca Lake. Rent a kayak and venture out into the secluded wilderness. Great Blue Herons, beaver, deer, and turtles are plentiful in the region.

Another option is renting a powerboat or pontoon boat. Typically offered for 4-hour or full-day rental, these boats allow visitors to see more of the Finger Lakes and to stop at state parks alongside the lake. Our family has small children and recently rented a pontoon boat on Lake Seneca. We stopped at Sampson State Park, Seneca Lake State Park, and took a swim in the lake. We also motored (slowly) up a canal to get a great view of the local wildlife.

An Overview of the Finger Lakes, NY

Finger Lakes Golf and Disc Golf

The Finger Lakes region has a high density of "Frisbee Golf" or disc golf courses. A popular course is Denison Park in Corning, NY. There are many official courses scattered throughout local parks and recreational areas. Seneca Lake State Park near Geneva and Emerson Park in Auburn are other disc golf locations.

Traditional golf is another activity in the area. The Finger Lakes Golf Trail includes courses like Bristol Harbor, Ravenwood, Greystone, and Mill Creek. These golf courses are stunningly beautiful and many offer gorgeous views of the lakes and surrounding hillsides.

Geocaching

There is a wonderful geocaching trail in Chemung County, NY (south of Seneca Lake, near Corning). The Sojourn geocache trail includes more than 12 unique rubber stamps that can be placed into a passport. The coordinates can be found at geocaching.com, then visit the visitor's center in Corning to get a passport. Once the passport contains more than 12 stamps, visitors may return to the visitor's center to receive a geocaching coin.

Camping

There are numerous campsites and campgrounds scattered around the Finger Lakes. A popular site near Seneca Lake is the Watkin's Glen KOA, which has an indoor pool and a giant jumping pillow for kids. Be aware that this area becomes impossibly crowded during the Watkin's Glen International. This event typically occurs in August, so check the dates before booking a reservation (unless, of course, race cars are on the "must see" list).

A list of campgrounds can be found on the fingerlakes.org website, organized by general location.

Pick Your Own Farms

Pick your own blueberries (and more) in the Finger Lakes.
Pick your own blueberries (and more) in the Finger Lakes. | Source

Fruit Picking

There are numerous farms scattered throughout the region with "pick-your-own" orchards and fields. Blueberries, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, apples, and more are available to pick (in season). Before visiting a "U-Pick" farm, call ahead and ask the following questions:

  • What is the cost to pick fruit?
  • Do you charge by weight or by container size (i.e. quart or bushel)?
  • Do we need to bring our own containers?
  • Do you use pesticides on your crops?
  • Do you accept credit cards?
  • Are children allowed on the farm?

A wonderful list of pick-your-own farms in the Finger Lakes can be found on the ilovethefingerlakes.com website.

Seneca Lake Sprayground

The splash pad at Seneca Lake State Park is a great place to cool off.
The splash pad at Seneca Lake State Park is a great place to cool off. | Source

Playgrounds and Spraygrounds

There are many fantastic playgrounds located in the Finger Lakes region - a vital component to a vacation with young children. Seneca Lake State Park features a fantastic playground and a massive "sprayground," which is a a splash pad that shoots or sprays water out of the ground. A lifeguard is present to watch over the children playing, and many adults join in the fun (if only to cool off on a hot day).

Watkin's Glen and Stony Brook offer spectacular playgrounds, along with Sampson State Park on Lake Seneca.These activities are a great way to allow kids to burn off some energy, while the adults get a chance to cool off after a long day of hiking!

Carl Sagan Planet Walk

Located in Ithaca, the Carl Sagan Planet Walk offers a walk through our solar system (to scale). Stop by the Ithaca County Visitor's Center and pick up a passport for a nominal fee: the passport may be stamped at each station along the planet walk. When complete, the passport allows the holder to enter the Science Center in Ithaca for free!

This walk is only 0.7 miles long (about 1.2 km), and is easy for families to complete together. The beginning of the trail is in the Commons in Ithaca with the sun, and the trail ends at the Science Center with Pluto. A free audio tour (narrated by Bill Nye) and map are available.

Finger Lakes Outdoor Activity Map

show route and directions
A markerWatkin's Glen State Park -
Watkins Glen State Park, 3530 State Rt 419, Watkins Glen, NY 14891, USA
get directions

This park offers spectacular hiking trails.

B markerCayuga Nature Center -
Cayuga Nature Center, 1420 Taughannock Blvd, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA
get directions

This nature center has exhibits, hiking trails, and a six story tree house.

C markerChimney Bluffs State Park -
Chimney Bluffs, 8105 Garner Rd, Wolcott, NY 14590, USA
get directions

Located on Lake Ontario, this state park features rocky spires that jut out over the lake.

D markerFillmore Glen -
Fillmore Glen, Moravia, NY 13118, USA
get directions

Fillmore Glen has more than 5 waterfalls and offers stream hiking opportunities.

E markerStony Brook State Park -
Stony Brook State Park, 10820 State Highway 36, Dansville, NY 14437, USA
get directions

Stony Brook State Park has a swimming hole (complete with lifeguard), natural water slides, and a fantastic playground for children.

Finger Lakes at a Glance

Lake
Size
Location
Summary
Conesus
8 miles long with a maximum depth of 66 feet.
West Finger Lakes
A small and shallow lake on the far western end of the Finger Lakes.
Hemlock
7 miles long with a maximum depth of 91 feet.
West Finger Lakes
This lake has landlocked salmon and is popular with fishermen.
Canadice
3 miles long with a maximum depth of 95 feet.
West Finger Lakes
An undeveloped lake: water supply for Rochester, NY.
Honeoye
4.5 miles long with a maximum depth of 30 feet.
West Finger Lakes
A small, shallow lake with clear water - a popular vacation cottage location.
Canandaigua
16 miles long with a maximum depth of 276 feet.
West Finger Lakes
The closest Finger Lake to Rochester, NY.
Keuka
20 miles long and 1/2 mile-2 miles wide. Maximum depth of 186 feet.
Central Finger Lakes
Has a "Y" shape, unlike any other Finger Lake.
Seneca
38 miles long and maximum depth of 838 feet.
Central Finger Lakes
The biggest and deepest Finger Lake. Watkin's Glen and wineries are highlights.
Cayuga
38 miles long and 3.5 miles wide, with a maximum depth of 435 feet.
Central Finger Lakes
The longest Finger Lake. Ithaca, NY sits at the southern end of this lake.
Owasco
11 miles long with a maximum depth of 177 feet.
East Finger Lakes
This lake is small and shallow, and is excellent for swimming.
Skaneateles
16 miles long with a maximum depth of 315 feet.
East Finger lakes
A popular place for celebrities and politicians to vacation.
Otisco
6 miles long
East Finger Lakes
The smallest Finger Lake.

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    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 4 years ago

      Lovely hub! Thanks for your tips on these family-friendly activities. I hope to make a trip there some day and do all these things. Canoeing and fruit picking sound the most fun to me! Bookmarked and tweeted!

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      Om, the area is beautiful and well worth a visit! There is a "rails to stream" excursion by canoe, where you canoe downriver and then take a scenic train ride back to your car. There is also white water rafting in Zoar Valley, which is not in the Finger Lakes but doable from that area.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Great hub! Thanks. Wonder if I'll ever make it there; would love to after reading this good hub. Thanks.

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      It is a beautiful place to visit, GoodLady! I hope you make it here someday - the waterfalls and gorges are so beautiful they'll take your breath away!

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Wonderful overview and beautiful photos! I love your detailed suggestions. This looks like a great place a great place for people of all ages to take a vacation.

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Sounds like a good place to visit. Not sure when I can go to the States again, now that my daughter had completed her degree. Maybe when she decides to do her Masters, then we will go again! There's so much to see and do in the States, so many choices! My wife will probably prefer to spend her time in T.J. Maxx!!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I am ready to head out there! This seems like the ideal place for family fun and adventure. The fruit picking would be a great add for me. Wow, I could sit and watch the waterfall all day.

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      Randomcreative, the area is perfect for everyone from senior citizens to small children. We were there over the Fourth of July and loved watching fireworks over the lake (we stayed in Geneva on Lake Seneca).

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      Greatstuff, tell your daughter to go for a Ph.D. so you have enough time to visit all of the wonderful places here! There are T.J. Maxx stores everywhere, so your wife will be happy no matter where you go. Yellowstone is spectacular, though I have a soft spot for the gorges and waterfalls in my home state. The Finger Lakes are only about 2 hours from Niagara Falls.

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      Teaches12345, there is also a dairy trail for trying out local cheeses and ice creams! We really enjoyed the pick-your-own farms. Beware the cost of cherries, though - we didn't pay attention to the cost and ended up with $44 worth of cherries!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Awesome & beautiful from the first photograph - and very practical as well!

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      SidKemp, we love the area. We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Geneva, but next time we're going to look for a cabin rental on the lake. There is so much to do and the scenery can't be beat!

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona

      I have never been to the Finger Lake region, but my ex grew up in Webster and had many fond memories of family summers spent on Lake Canandaigua. Your Hub is filled with super activities -- and I just love the Finger Lakes at a Glance chart! Great photos and video as well. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of the area!

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      It is a fabulous place to live, lindacee! We were just in Rochester on Monday and it is only a hop, skip, and a jump to Canandaigua. It is such a great place to live (and play)!

    • editsvcs profile image

      editsvcs 4 years ago

      Wish I had seen this hub when I was visiting Rochester! Great information on a beautiful area.

    • courtyB3 profile image

      Courtney B. 4 years ago from New Jersey

      This looks like a gorgeous place to visit. Will definitely put it on our vacation list!

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      editsvcs, Canandaigua is really close to Rochester! Seneca isn't very far away, either - it is definitely worth a visit if you're in the general area!

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      CourtyB3, it is really worth a visit! You can visit Niagara Falls and then drive eastward to the Finger Lakes. NY State has a lot of gorgeous state parks!

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Wow you brought some very special memories back. For two years my family made the 4 hour drive to Seneca Lake to stay in my grandfathers place. I still hear sound the water on the shore.

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      We love it up there! It was about 3 1/2 hours from Jamestown, as we took the 86 straight up through the country (passing Keuka) to get there. We stayed in a hotel in Geneva, but next time we want to stay in a cabin on the lake, Lipnancy! It is so beautiful!

    • CassyLu1981 profile image

      CassyLu1981 4 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Wow! That looks like a WONDERFUL place to visit! Since we live on the east coast we might just have to make a trip up there :) Thanks for the incredible idea! Voted up and shared with followers and Pinned :)

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      My daughter's former in-laws live in Skaneateles, a 1 mile by 1 mile village on Lake Skeneateles. It looks like a place Norman Rockwell drew for a cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It's the one thing I was sorry to lose in the divorce. Good job writing about a truly beautiful place.

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      CassyLu1981, definitely take a trip up to Seneca Lake one of these days. We loved this lake with kids, as the state park and Watkin's Glen were absolutely fantastic. The Finger Lakes are definitely worth a visit!

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      Skaneateles is absolutely gorgeous, Kathleen - it is really sad that you lost the visits to the lake in the divorce. We really want to get a lake-front cabin on one of the Finger Lakes - we live in Western NY so we usually chose one of the western or central lakes.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I can understand why. Beautiful country. I always wanted to see a Christmas up there - but - not so much. Hope you write more about this area.

    • leahlefler profile image
      Author

      leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      Christmas is nice here - though the weather is extremely variable. If we have no snow, then it is merely gray and drab. With snow, however, the scene looks like something from a Currier and Ives painting. There is nothing better than a white Christmas, Kathleen, though I do have to admit the winter can be very wearing once March arrives and we still have snow!

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