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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