Chasing Waterfalls in the Finger Lakes, New York

The Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York is a an outdoor lovers dream. Comprised of over 9,000 square miles, this picturesque region is named for its 11 long, thin, glacial lakes. According to a Native American legend, the Finger Lakes were formed when the great Spirit laid his hands on the land to bless it. His (eleven) fingers left imprints that filled with water, resulting in the name “Finger Lakes.”

Finger Lakes Wine Country is know as one of the top wine destinations in the US, with nearly 90% of New York’s wine production coming from the region. With four official wine trails comprised of over 100 wineries and vineyards dotting the area around the lakes, food and wine lovers can enjoy endless options for a meal or wine tasting.

Question time: What do you get when you combine 11 glacier lakes and a lot of gorges? That’s right folks, this region is filled with spectacular waterfalls. And if you are anything like me, you will ignore TLC and immediately head out chasing waterfalls! This area has endless options for waterfall hikes, but with only a couple of days in the area I had to be a bit selective. Here are the top places I’d recommend to get your fill of these beautiful cascades.

1. Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks. USA Today ranked it as the #3 State Park in the Nation. It has a reputation for leaving visitors spellbound. And for good reason – it is truly a nature lovers dream. It really is the ultimate spot in the Finger Lakes region for hiking among towering falls, thundering chutes, and beautiful cascades. It was my favorite hike of the trip! I stuck to the park’s main trail, the Gorge Trail, which winds over and under 19 waterfalls and through the spray of Cavern Cascade. You’ll have to climb over 800 steps in total from the bottom to the top, and the path gradually inclines. But don’t worry: You’ll be taking this hike slowly, as you’ll be in complete awe of your surroundings. Allow about 2 hours to hike in and back – or more if you’re like me and want to stop and take photos every two seconds! The trail is about 1.5 miles each way. Alternatively, you can walk up and take a shuttle back to the main parking lot, or if you’re nervous about the uphill hike, you can enter at the North entrance and walk downhill instead.

2. Letchworth State Park 
Letchworth State Park was rated as the #1 State Park in the Nation by USA Today, so I knew this was one not to be missed. Known as the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth is truly a hiking and waterfall seeker’s delight. This gorgeous park is home to three of the largest and most stunning falls you’ll find along in the Finger Lakes region. Although the park has over 66 miles of trails for your hiking enjoyment, the three major waterfalls are pretty easy to access without much effort. I’d recommend starting with the Upper Falls, a beautiful waterfall with a backdrop of an old train trestle behind it. You can either walk or drive to Middle Falls, a thundering waterfall with a gorgeous rainbow over it on most days. Finally you can venture down 127 stairs to the Lower Falls, where you can cool off in the mist of the falls up close. Honestly, this is nowhere close to the Grand Canyon, but it’s as good as it gets in the East and if you’re near the Finger Lakes Region it is definitely worth a visit.

3. She-Qua-Ga or Montour Falls
Just south of Watkins Glen, take a slight detour to the village of Montour Falls. This adorable little town looks like it is straight out of the 1950’s and is famous for its towering, frothy cascade at the end of Main Street. A sign in front of the falls noted that Louis VXIII of France sketched this waterfall while in exile. The sketch is now said to be in the Louvre in Paris.

4. Hector Falls
This gorgeous, natural wall of water was literally on the side of the road. I drove by, then turned around and drove back and pulled over on the side of the road to get a closer look. I ended up standing on the side of the road for 10 minutes just watching this beauty, completely in awe of how something so incredible could just appear out of no where so unexpectedly. Nature continues to surprise me.

Sadly, I did not have time to make it to the following 2 waterfalls, but they are definitely on my list next time I am in the area.

5. Taughannock Falls State Park
 This stunning plunge waterfall is the highest single drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. It is 3 stories higher than Niagara Falls and plunges 215 feet past rocky cliffs above the surrounding gorges. Several trails offer spectacular views from above and below the falls.

6. Ithaca Falls
A short 1/4 mile from the road, these massive, cascading falls are said to be some of the prettiest around. Water cascades down the natural steps into an inviting splash pool, which is said to be popular for fly fishing.

Did you know? According to Native American legend, the finger lakes were formed when the great Spirit laid his hands on the land to bless it. His fingers left imprints that filled with water, resulting in the name “Finger Lakes.”

Bonus: Nearly 90% of wine produced in New York comes from the Finger Lakes region.

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25 thoughts on “Chasing Waterfalls in the Finger Lakes, New York

  1. I lived in Buffalo for 5 years during college and Letchworth State Park was one of the places that we checked out. It is really is more impressive than you would think! I haven’t been to Hector Falls or Watkins Glen State Park but both are on my list for next time!

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  2. Last year we visited the Finger Lakes region for the first time. And realized how doable this was from our home in Toronto. We only had a day. We did see the waterfalls at Watkins Glens. But are now sorry we did not stay longer to see these great other waterfalls. A great reason to return when we can travel south again. Of course, the wine would draw me too! (Linda (LD Holland) )

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  3. I love that there are so many beautiful outdoorsy places to experience and see in upstate NY. Watkins Glen is particularly gorgeous.It is no wonder it is rated #3 for State Parks in the Nation. Those 800 steps would be well worth it to see this place in person.

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  4. I am a DIE HARD NY lover!! Hector Falls is somewhere I would enjoy spending some time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Too many people (myself included) forget that NY is soo much more than just Manhattan. Thank you for giving me even more reasons to get over to NY soon! Fingers crossed we can safely get back to travel and exploring soon!

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  5. Now that I’ve read this, I am sure as hell going to keep a lot of time at hand, to explore the natural beauty around New York, when I get the chance to visit the states in the near future. Upstate New York, seems like the perfect getaway for anyone who loves to be outdoors. The best part is that there is a lot of variety in the outdoors as well.

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  6. This is such a gorgeous place. And the legend behind it makes it even more magical. . She-Qua-Ga reminded me of a waterfall in Meghalaya called Elephant falls. The formation seems quite similar to that one. I sure would love to see this one and all the other ones that you have shared in the post.

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  7. I have visited the country on a few occasion and seen most of the popular sites and cities however never heard of this and thanks to your post opens up unknown places like these. I would surely want to visit it on ny next visit. Did not know that Finger Lakes Wine Country is know as one of the top wine destinations in the US and as a wine lover a great tip for me whilst planning . Thanks for sharing anew destination with me.

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  8. Wow! I had no idea that you can enjoy a view like this in Upstate New York. With everything going on right now, I would love to take a quick escape and just enjoy this beautiful waterfalls.

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  9. The Finger Lakes region is such a promising region for waterfalls lovers. You have given a great list of places in the region. The Hector Falls reminds me of the Tirathgargh waterfall in the state of Chhattisgarh in India. We have numerous waterfalls in India in various locations and they all look so spectacular in the monsoon.

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  10. I absolutely love Finger Lakes region but never knew why it was called fingerlakes. Loved that piece of Native folklore! Letchworth State Park is one of my favourite state parks in the whole of US! I have done all but one out of this list you posted! Will make sure to visit Montour Falls soon now! 😀

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  11. I’ve never thought about waterfalls in NY, but they are SO lovely! I can’t believe how high Watkins Glen is. It’s so interesting with the different levels and the walkways. I’d hit that one first for sure – so fun!

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  12. I read a lot about Watkins Glen State Park and I really wanted to go there. What I didn’t know, it’s inside the Finger Lakes State Park area. It’s like state park inside the state park. And the legend of Finger Lakes is so interesting!

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  13. Great list! I love the Finger Lakes area, I live only a couple hours from there. I have visited Watkins Glen and Letchworth State Park and they are gorgeous! I have a couple more to add to my bucket list now. I have heard of Hector Falls, but haven’t heard of Montour Falls. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. I am yet to visit US yet but when we do I wonder how long the trip must be as there is so much to do. The National parks are all so good and different in their own ways. Good to learn about the story behind Finger lakes and they look so refreshing. Certainly would feature in our plans. Watkins Glen State Park and Hector Park waterfalls both look very nice but Letchworth State Park one is just fabulous.

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  15. Chasing waterfalls is one of my favorite things to do and I have not been to Finger Lakes. Each spot looks amazing, but I would likely spend most of my time on the Gorge Trail, 19 waterfalls in one spot is incredible.

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