A Weekend in New York’s Finger Lakes

Dec 9, 2015
Like giant claw marks scratched into the wooded terrain of central New York, the 11 glacial Finger Lakes cut long and narrow paths – Seneca Lake, the largest, is 38 miles long but only 3.5 miles at its widest point. Dotted with farms, orchards and wineries, the region makes for an idyllic retreat under a five-hour drive from Manhattan and Philadelphia.

My fiancée and I recently spent a long weekend in the Finger Lakes, hitting up the tasting rooms and state parks for a relaxing, no-fuss getaway.

Wine Tasting:

Idol Ridge Winery

We traversed the strip of land between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake, making stops along both the Seneca Wine Trail and nearby Cayuga Wine Trail. I had mapped out some stops in advance with the misguided notion that we needed a plan of attack. However, we quickly discovered that we only needed to pick a direction and start driving. Tasting rooms are spaced every few minutes and well-marked with roadside signs; simply stop when one catches your interest.

Riesling is the region’s star varietal, but red drinkers won’t be disappointed. We loaded up our trunk with favorites from Kings Garden Vineyards’ lake-view tasting room and from the charming red-wine-only Shalestone Vineyards, where owner Rob Thomas did the pouring himself.

Along the way, we stopped for a hearty Viennese lunch at Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca, serving classics like wiener schnitzel, bratwurst, and bread baskets with a variety of savory spreads.

Cider Tasting:

The Finger Lakes’ climate is ideal for apple orchards, so it’s no surprise that cideries also thrive here. We visited the small and friendly Bellwether Hard Cider tasting room, and then headed just up the road to Finger Lakes Cider House. The Cider House pours tastes from their own Good Life Cider brand and several other cideries, as well as homemade ginger ale and switchel (a refreshing vinegar-based soda). They also serve cheese and charcuterie plates to nibble while you sip.

Keep an eye on the west side of the road between the two cideries, and you’ll see the cab of an old locomotive with a sign saying Black Diamond Diner. Serving tasty hot dogs and hamburgers, it’s touted as the world’s smallest roadside diner by RoadsideAmerica.com.

Cheese Tasting:

Muranda Cheese Company

It’s worth taking a break from tasting wines to try its perfect accompaniment: cheese. At Muranda Cheese Company, owner Tom Murray has been making cheese for eight years on the first-generation family farm. We sampled around a dozen delicious cheeses for just $2 per person. Our favorites were the aged cheese and the blue cheese. We even got a behind-the-scenes look at the aging rooms.


In between eating, we burnt off the calories with hikes in the many small state parks. The Finger Lakes are home to dozens of spectacular waterfalls and scenic gorge trails. Watkins Glen State Park has one of the most renowned trails with 19 waterfalls, but it was closed for the winter season. We hiked the moderate 4.5-mile loop at Robert H. Treman State Park for gorgeous views of Lucifer Falls, and the easy 1.5-mile trail to the namesake falls in Taughannock Falls State Park.

Where to Stay:

For a limited time, rates at the Belhurst Castle on Seneca Lake are only $129 per night when visiting Sundays-Thursdays through May 12. Frommer’s calls the 19th-century hotel "one of the most extraordinary places to stay in the Finger Lakes region.”

We made our home base in Seneca Falls, on the north end of the lakes. The charming town hosted the first women’s rights convention. Learn more at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park visitor center, or pay tribute with a latte at Café XIX (after the 19th amendment). The modern café is decorated with Warhol-style portraits of women’s rights activists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

For year-round value, consider the clean and spacious rooms at Hampton Inn Seneca Falls, which saves even more with free breakfast and Wi-Fi.

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