Perfect 3 Day Itinerary for the Finger Lakes
When we visited the Finger Lakes for the first time in 2016 we knew two days was not enough time and that we would be return. Since creating a rough draft itinerary during quarantine, I realized we should actually go! The Finger Lakes checked off many of the boxes – low COVID numbers, option to travel from out of state without a two week quarantine (thank you NJ/NY travel bubble), plenty of outdoor activities, and affordable.
Know before you go
Getting to the Finger Lakes is an easy drive from most major destinations in the northeast. If you have to fly, odds are you will go through Ithaca but there is a small regional airport in the Finger Lakes as well. You will 100% need a car as many places you will want to visit can be a half hour to an hour away from each other.
There are three major lakes that make up the region – Seneca, Keuka, and Cayuga Lakes. While the lakes are beautiful, they are enormous and there is no bridge or tunnel to cut across forcing travel all the way around the lake. This also makes choosing a location to stay a bit more challenging that normal when trip planning. The best way to pick a location is to star all the place you would like to visit in Google Maps and find the most central area possible. Lodi, Watkins Glen, Geneva, and Dundee are all around Seneca Lake and offer benefits depending on the focus of your trip.
Where to stay?
On our first trip, we stayed in Lodi at one of our favorite Airbnb experiences – lakeside private cabin. Lodi made it difficult to justify driving to Lake Keuka and even the west side of Seneca Lake on a short trip. This trip in 2020, I was lucky to find this Airbnb in Dundee and it worked out wonderfully! While it lacked the lakeside view, it really did prove to be as central as we could have asked for to visit areas from Geneva to Watkins Glen and even Keuka Lake.
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What is there to do?
Visiting the Finger Lakes is really an all year destination. Want tons of out door time, hiking, and lake activities? Want lower crowds and foliage? Want the opportunity for some snow activities? It is all available as the attractions in the Finger Lakes are not seasonal. There is also plenty to do if you are not a wine drinker.
- Explore a wine trail – there are over 100 wineries in the Finger Lakes and there are official wine trails on each of the lakes
- While the Finger Lakes is known for wine, there are tons of breweries to taste as well – make sure to incorporate some stops on your wine trail
- Get an early start and go on one of the many hikes in the area, the most popular being Watkins Glen State Park – there are tons of waterfalls to find!
- In the summer time, the lakes are packed with boats, kayaks, paddle boards and floats
- Painted Bar Stables offers horseback ride for various experience levels
- There are also quite a few creameries so stop into one for a tour and tasting of cheese
- Add another lake onto your trip or stop by nearby Ithaca
Where to eat?
There are tons of spots scattered throughout the lakes for amazing food. Food choices are really dependent on where you are, which lake you are on, and what you are doing so make sure the plan that carefully. I had plans for us to hit way more places on my list but due to the COVID rule in NY that forces places that serve alcohol to also have guests purchase food, we ended up eating unexpectedly at all the wineries and breweries that we just ran out of stomach room. That being said, still have some great recommendations for your trip! I also have more places that come well recommended in the rough draft itinerary.
- Book at table at FLX Table, one of the best dining experiences in the Finger Lakes
- In fact, the entire FLX company has some great options such as FLX Fry Bird (fried chicken) and FLX Wienery (hot dogs) that are accessible and affordable
- Do not miss jazz brunch at Stonecat!
- And I have to mention Kevin’s favorite roast beef sandwich at Two Goats Brewing or a sandwich at The Elf in the Oak.
- If you are wine tasting, don’t forget the option of packing your own picnic
An easy formula for planning this trip is to find outdoor things to do in the morning and explore wineries and breweries in the afternoon. The wineries are typically open from 10 or 11AM to 5 or 6PM so that time of the day can be dedicated to the wine trail. Or substitute the afternoon with an activity on the lake, horseback riding, or one of the other many non-alcohol activities in the area.
Here is the complete itinerary!
After creating the rough draft and putting it to the test, here is how I would plan the perfect three day weekend in the Finger Lakes during the months that permit outdoor activities. This does entail early mornings each day so if you want to take a more relaxing pace, extend the trip to 4 days or cut out some of the hiking. This itinerary works well staying on the west side of Seneca Lake at either Dundee or Watkins Glen area for limiting the amount of driving but you really can sty anywhere and manipulate the itinerary accordingly to make it work for you. As with most 3 day weekends, I like to travel on Thursday after work to get the most out of the three days at the destination.
|Day 0||Night||Drive to Finger Lakes|
|Day 1||Morning||Morning hike: Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge|
|Afternoon||Wine/Beer Trail Seneca Lake: |
Ravines Wine Cellar
Two Goats Brewing
Grist Iron Brewing
Horseback riding at Painted Bar Stables
|Evening||Waterfalls in downtown Watkins Glen: |
Shequaga Falls Park
Havana Glen Park
|Day 2||Morning||Morning hike: Watkins Glen State Park|
Or The Windmill Farm and Craft Market Or Water activities on Lake Keuka
|Afternoon||Wine/Beer Trail Keuka Lake: |
|Day 3||Morning||Morning hike: |
Or Stop in Ithaca Or Day trip to Niagara Falls
If you have been to the Finger Lakes before, let me know what I missed and what your favorites are!