At the end of Canadice Lake Road, two fishermen board their boat, and a mile down we launch our kayaks into the waters of Canadice Lake. Upon first guess, I assume the cooler temperatures (cooler than have been felt since the onset of summer) and the foggy skies are the reason there aren’t any other people on the water, but what I have come to learn is that the lake is always this peaceful, regardless of the weather.
Nestled in Ontario County, Canadice Lake is my first experience with New York’s Finger Lakes region, and this three-mile lake located 30 miles south of Rochester left quite an impression on me. Once on the lake, I quickly remembered that there is more to New York than Manhattan, Times Square and cold winter weather.
After kayaking the length of the lake and slowly drifting back to shore, the jaunt around the Finger Lakes continues. Three September days and more than a dozen stops later, I was eager to sing praises of this area to all.
This central New York region has earned a reputation as being a destination for enjoying a bygone simplicity — an ease that very much reminds me of a small Southern town. Those who are quick to dismiss New York as cold in character and lacking charm cannot be speaking from experience. I was enticed to share in the region’s dynamic offerings by the timeless culture, compelling history and modern living, all qualities that invite guests to visit, and locals to stay.
When picturing the Finger Lakes, many imagine a small grouping of lakes thrown somewhere northwest of the Big Apple. In reality, the region stretches approximately 9,000 square miles and is comprised of 11 lakes (three of which I visited) with 650 miles of shoreline and 26 state parks. The natural lakes, which vary in shape and size, sit in the imaginary triangle made by Rochester, Syracuse and Corning. The 200+ museums and art galleries, 400 registered historic sites and landmarks, 1,063 waterfalls, 100+ wineries, a 16,036-acre national forest, abundance of waterside restaurants and more than 2,000 miles of hiking and biking trails make the region a destination in spring, summer, fall or winter.
The Finger Lakes Region is popular among families in search of a vacation spot with halcyon character. The hills roll, the farmlands stretch, the grapes grow on climbing vines, and the water invites activity — and that’s just the region’s landscape. In addition to an abundance of outdoor attractions and activities, there is ample opportunity for dining, drinking and learning. The best part is that you can enjoy a fulfilling trip to this part of the United States any time of year, so today we’re showcasing six gems to experience in the Finger Lakes region.
When to visit: spring, summer and early fall
The area’s scenic setting might be easy on the eyes, but its challenging trails entice even the most experienced of outdoors (wo)men. Regardless of your level of expertise, though, there are more than enough hiking and biking trails to keep you busy. (Visit FingerLakesTrail.org for a full listing.) But today, we’re focusing on water activities … we are in the Finger Lakes region, after all.
Canadice Lake, as previously mentioned, is the smallest of the finger lakes. Its name, which is translated from the Iroquois word ska-ne-a-dice, meaning “long lake,” gives me a good chuckle. At three miles in length, 0.3 miles in width and 91 feet in depth, this lake is small but mighty. It is nestled between rolling hills and (on the day we visited) covered in a blanket of fog. The City of Rochester uses the lake as a source for clean drinking water, making it a spot of restricted access, but its vacancy and undeveloped shoreline add to its charm.
When looking for a mode in which to explore the lake, look no farther than Canadice Lake Outfitters. Started as a side gig for the company’s owner, John, the business is quickly growing in popularity. John’s friendly nature and eagerness to share the lake is welcoming. He will outfit you and your fellow travelers with kayaks and canoes and even bikes, with prices ranging from $10-$200. And if you are lucky enough, as we were, you might even get to spend some time on the water with him.
Spend an hour or the entire day on the lake, but resist the urge to take a dip as swimming is prohibited — given that it’s a source of clean drinking water and all.
John lives on the lake and takes requests from January to December, but we imagine the lake to be most enjoyable when the water is not covered in a sheet of ice. If visiting in the colder months, consider seeing the lake from above by hiking the trails in the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest.
When to visit: spring, summer, fall and winter
The Finger Lakes region has a history largely defined by the presence of Native Americans. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy — known as the Iroquois to French settlers, and the Five Nations to European settlers — consist of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas. The Haudenosaunee people are widely known for their agricultural skills, sports and games, music and dance and, most importantly, their respect for future generations. Their cultural and agricultural practices sought to preserve the world in which they lived, as they believed they were borrowing it from future generations — and this remains true within the community today. (Learn more here.) One place to see the impact they left on the region is the Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan State Historic Site.
The art and cultural center’s exhibits are designed to showcase the history of the native people as well as their current role in contemporary culture. The museum sits on land that was once home to more than 100 longhouses, and visitors of the cultural center can get a glimpse into life on the land by visiting the reconstructed bark longhouse that can be found there today.
February visitors must make a point to attend the Native American Winter Games & Sports, held at the Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan, to celebrate and experience traditional Native American activities. Personally, we are eager to watch snowsnaking, a Haudenosaunee sport.
Also home to the Women’s Rights Movement and leaders of the abolitionists, museums and monuments across the state celebrate those who represent the growth and character of the region.
When to visit: spring, summer, fall and winter
Agrarian communities dot the Finger Lakes region, and as a result, culinary and beverage industries thrive, and trail tours allow you to enjoy it all, from cheese to chocolate. For a quick glimpse into the culinary culture and agricultural bounty of New York State, a visit to the New York Wine & Culinary Center is a must. Located adjacent to The Inn on the Lake, a 134-room lakeside hotel, this non-profit organization is designed to educate, engage and excite people by showcasing food, wine and beer through their classes, tasting room and in-house bistro.
Try New York wine, beer and spirits in the tasting room while learning about the growth of New York’s beverage industry. The bistro, located upstairs and open for brunch, lunch and dinner, overlooks Canandaigua Lake, and the menu celebrates seasonal and local ingredients through their relationships with local farms and producers, making it a culinary destination.
When to visit: fall
The Naples Grape Festival, which started in 1961, is held every September in (you guessed it) Naples, a town with no more than 3,000 residents. This annual event attracts tens of thousands visitors each year to enjoy all-things-grape. Yes, you will see grapes used for wine (and wine slushies), but it doesn’t stop there. Grape pies, grape ice cream, grape bread and grape peanut brittle are only a few of the grape-centric eats, and vendors line the streets to showcase the area’s grape harvest, local artisans, winemakers, and local and regional music and cuisine. In addition to a juried art show, one pie maker is named winner of the World’s Greatest Grape Pie Contest. Add the Naples Grape Festival to your bucket list, as it is an experience unlike any other.
If you don’t make it to town for the festival, swing by this sleepy town for a grape pie from Monica’s Pies.
When to visit: spring, summer, fall and winter
Corning’s attractions (such as The Rockwell Museum, Corning Museum of Glass and Spencer Crest Nature Center) and restaurants (including The Source, Hand + Foot and The Cellar) are all worthy of making the list, but it’s the town itself that won my heart. Downtown Corning (primarily the Gaffer District) is defined by the tree-lined streets that showcase history through architecture. Stroll the streets and discover dozens of local shops, restaurants and The Palace, a 19th century theater.
From downtown’s center, you can cross the Historic Centerway Walking Bridge. Built in 1921 and closed to motor vehicles in 1981, the bridge is traveled today by locals and tourists heading across the river — often times to the Corning Museum of Glass.
Corning Glass Works moved to the city of Corning in 1868 after operating for 17 years in Massachusetts, then Brooklyn. Visitors can enjoy the 165 years of Corning Glass Works history and 3,500 years of the history of glass that are on display in the museum. After getting lost exploring decades of glassmaking, contemporary glass works and the science behind glassmaking, head to the studio and make your own glass.
When to visit: spring, summer and fall
There are countless vineyard tours available across the region, but we enjoyed the water-to-wine tour with Captain Skip on Cayuga Lake. Cayuga Lake is the longest of the Finger Lakes, and its shore is home to local vineyards. Skip captains a five-hour scenic boat ride with three winery stops and lunch, or a 90-minute “Happy Hour” cruise. Skip and I seemingly had the water to ourselves as we embarked on our wine-to-water adventure.
Our first stop was Sheldrake Point Winery, which can be accessed by land or water and welcomes all to visit the tasting room. On their tasting menu, you’ll find their selection of whites and reds (the most popular being the reisling) as well as ice wine. Having never tried ice wine, it was a new and unusual experience. To make ice wine, riesling grapes are frozen on the vine and hand-harvested during the winter months. The result is a sweet, almost syrupy wine, enjoyed most often as dessert.
Next, Skip took me to the opposite side of the lake to Long Point Winery, where the vineyard views are as impressive as the wine itself. This winery sits on 72 acres of land that overlook Cayuga Lake. Gary Barletta and his wife, Rosemary, opened the vineyard in 1999 and have since won dozens of amateur wine-marking awards. The vines hold grapes for 16 different wines, their most popular being the dry red and whites. After filling up on wine, snack on something from Amelia’s Deli, located inside the winery.
Time on the water with Captain Skip is not a bad way to spend a day!
These six spots give a quick glimpse into all that the Finger Lakes region has to offer. For more information and opportunities, head to visitfingerlakes.com.
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