Despite the many years of traveling to the Finger Lakes, and even owning a house here now, I never ever tire of traveling around the region. Throughout the seasons this destination changes dramatically and so what you saw in winter completely changes in summer and seems like an entirely new place in the fall. If you like road trips, but most especially if you love scenic drives, then this is the post for you.
West Keuka Lake towards Hammondsport, NY
The most scenic drives along Keuka Lake are along the West side. They are broken down into three roads. The Lower Road (or West Lake Rd – Route 54A, which follows the lake), Middle Road, which is a shorter road that connects with Route 76, also known as South Pulteney Rd. There’s also the “Upper Road”, or officially Greyton H. Taylor Memorial Drive.
My favorite of the three is Route 76 because it provides some of the most spectacular views of Lake Keuka and the bluff, no matter the season. The best part of it all is that these three roads have the most concentrated locations of wineries, breweries, and distilleries in the area. Dr. Konstantin Frank (middle road), Point of The Bluff, Krooked Tusker Distilling, Steuben Brewing, and Keuka Brewing (Rt. 76) and Bully Hill, which has some amazing food and also a spectacular view of the lake (Upper Rd). Of course, some of my favorite wineries are also on the East side of the lake, and though the drive itself isn’t very scenic the views from these wineries are – not to mention their wine is spectacular – McGregor Vineyards, Ravines, and Keuka Springs.
Drive all along either of these roads and connect with 54A, which will take you straight into the cute town of Hammondsport.
HammonDsport, NY to Watkins Glen, NY
There’s a lot I love about this drive. The road that takes you straight into Watkins Glen from this direction is Route 23. It is hilly and winding. From a distance the hills look like mountains and at some of the highest points of what looks like the most endless road, you can see Waneta Lake.. When in season, there are farm stands along the way and the sunset views from this drive are breathtaking. Drive from Hammondsport through Tyrone, NY to get on to Route 23.
The road takes you right into the heart of Watkins Glen and just steps from the most Southern tip of Seneca Lake.
East Seneca Lake towards Geneva, NY
The Scenic Drive along Seneca Lake is on the East Side, Route 414. Not only does this drive take you past Hector Falls – don’t drive too fast or you will miss it – it also takes you along an incredible collection of wineries, breweries, distilleries, and restaurants. At first the ride starts out bordering you with lush trees (during summer and fall months) and ancient shale cliffs. You don’t always get a a view of the lake from the road, but almost every winery and eatery deck has one for you to enjoy.
It’s really hard to decide which are the places that I love most on this side of the lake, but absolute musts (all with outside seating or to go options): breakfast or lunch at Elf in The Oak (seasonal), any meal at Stonecat Cafe (reservations recommended, with a limited seasonal opening), Damiani Wine Cellars for dry reds, Hector Wines for dry reds, Wagner Vineyard for dry Riesling or Rosé, Two Goats for beer, Grist Iron for beer and wings, Finger Lake Distilling for kick-ass cocktail inspirations, and much further down the road (a bit off it), Boundary Breaks for dry Riesling. But, really, where ever you end up, whichever spot draws your attention, you will be good.
You can read more about our adventures around this drives, and more details on our favorite stops here.
Seneca Lake East to Cayuga Lake West
At some point 414 changes to Route 96 if you stay along the water and takes you all the way to the Northern point of Seneca Lake. Cross over to Cayuga Lake on Route 20 and drive through historic Seneca Falls and right onto Route 89, on the Western side of the Northern tip of Cayuga Lake. This is only part of the Scenic Byway of Cayuga Lake, which takes you all around the lake. This trail passes by wineries (some of my favorites: Goose Watch, Thirsty Owl, Sheldrake Point, and Americana Vineyards for lunch outdoors). There are a lot of reasons to get off the trail too. The majestic Taughannock State Park and waterfall is off this trail, as is the cool town of Trumansburg, and at the very end you get the added bonus of ending up in Ithaca where there is so much more to see and do (highlights: Ithaca Farmers Market, Ithaca Bakery, Buffalo Street Books, Moosewood Restaurant, and the 150 waterfalls within the 10 mile radius of the city). The city of Ithaca requires its own post, and its own vacation plan.
If you want to follow these routes, here is a Google map trail guide.
Other Favorite Scenic views
Carolabarb Park has spectacular views of Canandaigua Lake (Rt 21) on the way to another favorite city of mine, Naples, NY, the Grape Pie Capital of the World. Order pies to go from Cindy’s Pies or Monica’s Pies. Inspire Moore is a regular stop for us for their food, but also the outdoor seating overlooking their vineyard where we have enjoyed many glasses of water. You can read more about other roads trips we have done in and around Canandaigua and Geneva here.
Skaneateles is another special place requiring its own vacation plan. You can read about my romantic winter getaway and to help plan your escape. Stop into the Skaneateles Bakery for a sandwich to go and head out to the west drive along Skaneateles Lake (Route 41A) to Carpenter Falls in the Behar Preserve. The Bahar Preserve also includes 65 feet of Skaneateles lakeshore, which is great for a canoeing or kayaking before hiking up the ridge trail.
These are just the highlights of the drives I have most enjoyed in this vast Finger Lakes region, but they are just the tip of the iceberg and a really great place to start and explore. Ideally, it’s best to plan all of these adventures across several days, if not several trips so that you can fully enjoy the many stops, attractions, and historic destinations along the way.
Because of COVID restrictions many attractions might be closed, but what is so lovely about these drives is that the most epic sights are all outside. If looking to stop for wine tastings, please make sure to call ahead and make reservations.
Have other scenic drives that you enjoy? Feel free to share them in the comments!
All photography is property of the publisher and may not be used without consent. Brave World Media, a media agency I own, is contracted to represent Finger Lakes Wine Country. This post is not part of that agreement and I have received no compensation for writing it. All opinions are my own.