My travel plans have looked very different during the Covid-19 pandemic. Gone for now are my overseas trips to Europe each spring. Instead, I’ve been taking short, socially distant trips to places within driving distance, staying in cabins or remote Airbnb apartments, cooking instead of going to restaurants, and enjoying activities that don’t require a lot of socialization such as hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. For example, last year I took a wonderful week trip to Torch Lake, Michigan where we rented a boat, kayaked on the beautiful blue waters and spent evenings by the fire ring.
This year, fully vaccinated and having both had Covid-19, my partner and I ventured north to spend time first with my sister on Lake Ontario for my nephew’s high school graduation. After spending two days visiting, we ventured about an hour and a half south to spend a midweek stay on the west side of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes Wine region. Because our stay was midweek, the lake, attractions, and wineries were not at all crowded. Our Airbnb rates were lower and there was no waiting for wine tastings. We had the lake practically to ourselves.
About The Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes region is located in west central New York and stretches about 80 miles from east to west. There are eleven finger lakes in all, ranging from very small, Canadice at 4 miles long, to very large, Cayuga at 38 miles long. The region boasts dozens of waterfalls, deep gorges, over 100 wineries, art, restaurants and outdoor recreation galore. The weather in the summer averages highs around 80 degrees and lows dropping into the 50s with little humidity.
If you’re looking to get in the water, there are plenty of public beaches and swimming areas. Canandaigua features a nice public beach at Onanda Park, and Cayuga Lake has several family friendly swimming areas. Keep in mind that these are glacier formed lakes, so outside of the public beaches the shores are quite rocky, but perfect for skipping stones.
Lodging on Seneca Lake, NY
We chose an Airbnb on the west side of Seneca Lake in Hector, NY. It was perfectly located for our itinerary, which included the Finger Lakes Wine Trail, hiking Watkins Glen State Park and visiting the campus of Cornell University. Dan, our host, was gracious and the apartment was perfect for our needs. It featured lake access, guest canoes and kayaks, and beautiful custom woodwork reclaimed from the area, including Ithaca College and Cornell. Because it was located on the west side, we had the bonus of being able to watch the sunset over the water from our lakeside access. Click here for a video tour of our Seneca Lake Airbnb.
Seneca Lake Wine Trail
We managed to visit ten wineries over the course of four days during our visit. Tastings now cost around $10 per person for a choice of around five or six wines. My partner and I shared one tasting at each winery so we wouldn’t get completely schnackered, and so we could still enjoy some of our purchases with home cooked dinners at the apartment. If you plan to do more than that, I highly recommend hiring transportation, or booking an excursion with one of the many full service companies available. As you can see by the map, there are 29 member wineries on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail and dozens more located around the lake. Most wineries are now open and accepting walk-ins for tasting.
While famous for their Rieslings, the Finger Lakes Wine region offers lots of other local varietals and styles that will appeal to most any palate. We visited and recommend the following wineries on Seneca Lake:
- Fox Run Vineyards
- Hector Wine Company
- Anthony Road
- Leidenfrost Vineyards
- Red Newt
- Castle Grisch
- Prejean Winery
- J.R. Dill Winery
- Finger Lakes Distilling
Watkins Glen State Park
There’s plenty more to do in the Finger Lakes than drink wine! This area was carved by glaciers during the last ice age around 20,000 years ago, and they left behind some spectacular areas to explore. We ventured over to the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks, Watkins Glen State Park, located about 10 minutes from our apartment in Watkins Glen, NY. Within an area of two miles, the Glen’s stream descends over 400 feet past 200 foot cliffs, creating 19 waterfalls along the path. If you decide to take the gorge trail up, be prepared to ascend over 800 steps to see the entire gorge. It is well worth it!
Cornell University is the federal Land Grant institution for New York State, boasting ivy league status and situated In Ithaca, NY at the foot of Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes. The campus is iconic, with buildings dating from its founding in 1865. We explored the beautiful botanic gardens on the north campus and walked down to see the gorge. We also had coffee in their main campus Cornell Store, featuring quotes from some of their famous alumni including:
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg
- Bill Maher
- Bill Nye
- Keith Olbermann
- Toni Morrison
- Carl Sagen
- Christopher Reeve
- Kurt Vonnegut
- E.B. White
And, of course, let’s not forget that Carl Sagan was the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences from 1971 until his death at age 62. I enjoyed having coffee with Ruth Bader Ginsburg especially.
If You Go to The Finger Lakes
If you go to the Finger Lakes region you’ll find you can spend several days touring wineries, relaxing on the lakes, boating, fishing, hiking, walking the many historic towns that surround the lakes and just taking in the views. Weekends during the summer are much more crowded as the area is quite a tourist destination for New York City residents and upstate alike. We found that by taking a Midweek Finger Lakes vacation, we were able to avoid the crowds and still enjoy all that the the Finger Lakes has to offer.
See more photos from our Finger Lakes Midweek Wine Tour here!