One glance at a map shows how New York’s Finger Lakes got their collective name. The 11 long, slender lakes, extending roughly north-to-south, look like outstretched fingers.
On the mystical side, Iroquois tribes believed the lakes were formed by the Great Spirit, reaching down to bless the land and leaving impressions of fingerprints that were filled with clear, fresh water. According to geologists, however, the gorges of water that form the present-day Finger Lakes were carved by moving, melting glaciers two million years ago.
Science and lore aside, there is no arguing the allure of this upstate region rich in history (and herstory) thanks to American roots that run even deeper than those of the Finger Lakes’s bounteous vineyards. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Clara Barton, Joseph Smith, and many other heroes and luminaries dwelled in the Finger Lakes region, leaving their own deep imprints on U.S. culture.
Seneca Lake Pier in Watkins Glen
There’s much to explore: Comprising 14 counties across more than 9,000 square miles, the expansive Finger Lakes region is almost as large as the state of Massachusetts. It’s dotted with charming small towns, each with a unique character that has beguiled travelers for two centuries. Many of them began as villages that grew steadily once the Erie Canal opened in 1825. Today, their legacies endure for visitors seeking everything from abundant nature and recreation to great wine and gastronomy, renowned art, and historic landmarks.
When (and how) to go
All four seasons in the Finger Lakes offer something by way of natural delights. Warmer months invite outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and water sports, particularly in some of the great state parks where you’ll find waterfalls, picturesque trails, and natural swimming holes. Winter brings its holiday and lights festivals and snow sports, plus a greater appreciation for cozy spa sessions, and abundant opportunities for tastings—whether you’re thirsty for craft beer, cider, spirits, or wine. The region is especially glorious come autumn, when harvest season brings apples, pumpkins, and grapes, overlapping with mesmerizing fall foliage to make any scenic drive, from Owasco to Canandaigua Lake, ultra colorful.
More than the other lakes, the shores of Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka are lined with world-class wineries that produce prized vintages for which the region is rightly famous: dry riesling, unoaked chardonnay, and cabernet franc. There are more than 100 Finger Lakes wineries, so when touring the area, pad your schedule with extra time to swing by the tasting rooms of your choosing.