Favorite Towns on the Finger Lakes for a Weekend Getaway

What we see depends on what you look for.

Have you ever visited the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York? An awesome, and widely undiscovered, vacation area with many things to see and do. My favorite towns on the Finger Lakes are great places to spend a day or a few days to make a great getaway.

My family and I have spent 31 of a 35 year career in the upstate New York Finger Lakes Region, and despite growing up in the southeast; I can’t imagine a better place to live. So you can imagine we are quite familiar with this region and its towns on the lakes.

Check these out: Finger Lakes Getaways … the 10 Best Wineries to Visit

Today we’ll discuss our favorite Finger Lakes towns right on the lakes and why they are our favorites. A note before we start … there are many good towns in this region, both on and near the lakes. We have toured most on many occasion and our inputs are based on our selection criteria and our travels. We have not ranked our selections … we like and recommend them all.

Let’s get started:

Ithaca is named for the Greek island, and this town sits on the southern shore of Cayuga Lake. It is home to Ithaca College and Cornell University, which gives it a “college town” vibe and a reputation for being hip and culturally liberal. The town size (population 29,500) offers theater, museums, and the region’s liveliest nightlife, dining, and accommodations. Ithaca is consistently ranked as being one of the best places to live due to its culture, and natural beauty. For those wanting a small city life with big city culture, Ithaca is the Gem of New York state.

What is most unique

Ithaca College and Cornell University are remarkable destinations on their own. There is always something special about being a college small town. And with two colleges of the stature of these two, well, it is truly special. These two academic campuses are worth exploring, both inside and out. Both offer a wealth of cultural treasures and opportunities (many free) — rich with performing arts, live theater, music recitals, art galleries, museums, and workshops. The campus architectures of both add significantly to the grandeur.

The visitors bureau estimates 150 waterfalls within 10 miles of downtown Ithaca, each with its own gorge. Hence the local slogan, “Ithaca is Gorges.”

The most popular waterfalls are:

Ithaca Falls

Impressive gorge views from the Cornell campus leading to a 150-foot waterfall near downtown.

Taughannock Falls

At 215 feet, this is the tallest waterfall in the northeast. The car-friendly overlook is convenient but the best views are seen along the Rim Trail and Gorge Trail, both easy hikes.

Buttermilk Falls State Park

A lush, sinuous gorge trail leads from the upper park down to the swim area at the base of the 90-foot falls.

Enfield Glen / Lucifer Falls / Robert Treman State Park

Perhaps the most beautiful of Ithaca’s gorges. The hiking is somewhat strenuous but well worth the effort.

What we liked the best

Cornell Plantations

More than 4,300 acres of landscaped gardens and natural beauty. Visit 14 specialty gardens, a 150-acre arboretum, and a vast collection of protected natural areas. Free admission.

Winery tour by boat

Several area wineries — including Buttonwood Grove Winery, Goose Watch Winery, Long Point Winery, Thirsty Owl Wine Company, and Sheldrake Point Winery — are accessible by boat via Cayuga Lake. They are the only wineries in the US accessible by boat. Impressive in their beauty.

Located on the southern tip of Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen is the site of scenic Watkins Glen State, the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks, with a reputation for leaving visitors spellbound. Watkins Glen is probably best known for its role in auto racing, being the home of a street course used in road racing, a famous racetrack, Watkins Glen International, and a historic race, the Watkins Glen Grand Prix.

What is most unique

Watkins Glen International Raceway is home to GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series as well as the U.S. Vintage Grand Prix and the Finger Lakes Wine Festival. If you are a race fan, this speedway will be an interesting attraction.

What we liked the best

Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks, with a reputation for some of the best gorge hiking in all of the Finger Lakes. Within two miles, the glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along its course. The gorge path winds over and under waterfalls and through the spray of Cavern Cascade. Rim trails overlook the gorge.

Set on a crystal clear lake of the same name, the town of Skaneateles is home to a thriving residential and business community (population 9500), and host to thousands of visitors and vacationers each year. In the historic downtown district, shops and galleries are housed in restored buildings dating back to 1796 and back up to the beautiful lake. The town is perfect for walking and exploring and due to the proximity to Syracuse, the restaurants are top-notch. Skaneateles comes to life in the summer.

Every Friday in July and August the Skaneateles Community Band performs lively music at the Gazebo in Clift Park (right downtown) on Skaneateles Lake.

This is our favorite town to visit due to its scenic beauty.

What is most unique

The sparkling blue-green waters of Skaneateles Lake shine like a gem among the forested ridges of the Finger Lakes district. The sixth largest of the Finger Lakes, Skaneateles is exceptionally beautiful and serene; the water is so pristine that nearby towns, including the city of Syracuse, use the lake as a source of drinking water — unfiltered. Yes, unfiltered.

What we liked the best

Downtown Skaneateles

The streets of downtown Skaneateles evoke images of classic New England and embody the word “quaint.” Stroll the Clift Park waterfront, check out the gazebo, and take in the natural beauty of the lake walking through the downtown village.

It’s worth a special visit at Christmas time, when the village of Skaneateles hosts “Dickens Christmas,” an improvisational street theater featuring Dickensian characters roaming the streets in Victorian costumes. Horse-drawn carriages, carolers and even chesnuts roasting on open fires add to festive ambiance.

Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Mike Schoultz writes about improving the performance of business. Bookmark his blog for stories and articles. www.digitalsparkmarketing.com