This Gorgeous Lake Region Offers the Ultimate Food-Driven Road Trip


The Finger Lakes region serves up charming towns, mystical waterfalls and delicious farm-to-fork fare.

Waterfall in a cove

For travelers seeking a beautiful escape into nature, the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York is one of the most charming and underrated corners of the country. Named for its 11 skinny lakes, the Finger Lakes features densely forested landscapes with countless waterfalls and state parks to explore. The region is also an exciting culinary destination, boasting over 100 wineries, organic farms, world-class restaurants and sustainably minded businesses that champion the farm-to-table ethos.

For a real taste of all this laid-back region has to offer, rent a car and enjoy the rolling scenery at your own pace. (Tip: plan your road trip for autumn, when the area comes alive with spectacular foliage.) Just be sure to work up an appetite along the way.

Aerial view of Ithica

Day 1: Farm-fresh dining and plunging waterfalls

Whether you’re driving from home or flying into Buffalo or Rochester and renting a car, Ithaca is a good starting point to get your bearings. This quirky college town offers plenty of boutique accommodations in historical, tree-lined neighborhoods, like the artfully decorated Argos Inn housed in a landmark mansion.

Arrive hungry because Ithaca has serious epicurean cred. Downtown on Aurora Street, an impressive array of dining options for every taste and budget earns the street the nickname Restaurant Row. On weekends, the renowned Ithaca Farmers Market offers a taste of the Finger Lakes and far beyond, with globally inspired eats spanning from Cuba to Hungary to Vietnam.

Ithaca’s other claim to fame is the astounding number of waterfalls (about 150, if you’re counting) located within a 10-mile radius. A perennial favorite, a hike through Taughannock Falls State Park leads to a roaring waterfall that plunges 215 feet down the rocky cliffs below. Catch the sunset over Cayuga Lake before heading to dinner at Hazelnut Kitchen to indulge in an ever-changing menu of farm-to-fork fare.

Waterfall at Watkins Glen State Park

Day 2: Dairy dreams and small town charms

The Finger Lakes region produces around 15% of the country’s dairy products. Outside Ithaca, cheese lovers will find farm tours and tastings in pretty much any direction. Try Sunset View Creamery in Odessa, the family-owned Shtayburne Farm Creamery in Rock Stream, or Lively Run Goat Dairy in Interlaken, which offers weekend yoga classes with their resident goats.

Had enough lactose? Explore Watkins Glen State Park. This green oasis packs an incredible 19 waterfalls along a two-mile stretch, plus rugged rock formations and a natural swimming hole. Minutes away, check out the lush Catherine Valley Trail and the 9,085-acre Sugar Hill State Forest.

Don’t miss Corning, an impossibly quaint and walkable town just 30 minutes south of Watkins Glen. Learn about 35 centuries of innovative glassmaking at the Corning Museum of Glass, and shop locally in the Gaffer District, which boasts enough confectioneries to warrant its own Chocolate Trail. For dinner, the chef-owned Pleasant Valley Inn is worth the 30-minute drive for homemade pastas, farm-grown vegetables, locally sourced meats, and yes, more cheese.

Lake with a pier

Day 3: Fruit picking and grand gorges

To experience the region’s rich agricultural heritage firsthand, pick your own fruit at Apple Barrel Orchards in Penn Yan. This 100-year-old establishment near Keuka Lake grows a wide variety of apples through mid-October and other fruit, such as cherries and grapes, earlier in the season. On your way out of town, dig into comfort food like perfectly prepared fried chicken, corn fritters, and homemade ice cream at Seneca Farms.

Next, you’ll want to downshift to Letchworth State Park, just over an hour west, to see what’s sometimes called “the Grand Canyon of the East.” This massive gorge carved by the Genesee River has waterfalls reaching heights of 600 feet. Explore some 66 miles of trails, or book ahead for a horseback riding adventure with a working horse farm nearby.

Finally, drive back east to the idyllic town of Geneva, boasting a picturesque city center with antique shops and historic architecture along South Main Street’s Rainbow Row. Be among the lucky few to reserve seats at F.L.X. Table, which serves a seasonal, prix fixe tasting menu, before turning in at the elegant Geneva on the Lake hotel.

Book your rental car with Enterprise and discover outdoor adventures and farm-to-fork dining in the Finger Lakes.

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