Exploring the NY Finger Lakes Area

You have probably heard of the Finger Lakes. This area of upstate New York is known for its beautiful, rugged landscape, a group of lakes each with a different personality, and small, quaint resort towns. Set where the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains meet, the Finger Lakes sit inside a triangle with Rochester, Syracuse, and Ithaca as the three corners.

It’s a great area that is a relaxation spot for people from all through the Northeast.

Our trips to the Finger Lakes always result in finding new areas that we didn’t know about before — be it a pristine section of a lake, a great little eating spot, or a hike that we hadn’t tried before. It is a great area to explore.

Exploring the Finger Lakes Region

With eleven natural and non-manmade lakes, each with its own unique character and charm, and plenty of terrain for dry land activities, we have found a lot to keep us busy in the Finger Lakes.

After a couple trips, most people gravitate to a “favorite lake” or two, but which one that is totally depends on what you are looking for, the vibe, and the activities you are in to.

It is important to know the personality of each lake, as they can be quite different. Some are busy with lots of resorts, jet skis, and motorboats, while others are more of a quiet vibe with mainly canoers or people fishing. Here is an overview of the larger, more populated ones.

Cayuga Lake

Cayuga Lake is the longest of the Finger Lakes, stretching for 40 miles. It is also the second-deepest, with a maximum depth of 618 feet. The lake is surrounded byfinger lakes rolling hills and vineyards, making it a popular destination for wine tasting. It is also known for its excellent fishing, with species such as lake trout, bass, and salmon. Cayuga is home to several resorts and marinas, making it a bustling destination for boating and water sports. The lake might be a little busier than some are looking for. At the southern tip is the town of Ithaca, a larger city relative to others in the region.

Seneca Lake

Seneca Lake is the deepest of the Finger Lakes, with a maximum depth of 618 feet. It is also the second-longest, stretching for 38 miles. The lake is surrounded by steep hills and vineyards, making it a popular destination for wine tasting and scenic drives. Seneca has excellent fishing, with the focus on lake trout, bass, and salmon. The lake has several public boat launches and marinas, making it a popular destination for boating. There are also several resorts all along Seneca Lake, which keeps it pretty active all through the year.  Seneca Lake is adjacent to Watkins Glen State Park, a great area for added recreation.

Canandaigua Lake

Canandaigua Lake is the fourth-largest of the Finger Lakes, stretching for 16 miles. It is known for its crystal-clear water, making it another good watersports spot. The lake is a little quieter with fewer resorts, and surrounded by rolling hills and forests, making it a popular destination for hiking and camping.  This can be a fun lake to explore if paddling, because the number of boats is a little less.

Keuka Lake

Keuka Lake is the only Y-shaped lake of the Finger Lakes, stretching for 19 miles. It is known for its stunning beauty, with steep hills and vineyards surrounding the lake. It is a very scenic and photogenic lake The lake is home to several resorts and marinas, making it a bustling destination for boating and water sports. The lake has good trout fishing – lake, brown, and rainbow. A 7-mile hiking/biking trail connects Keuka to Seneca.

Conesus Lake

Conesus Lake is the westernmost of the Finger Lakes, stretching for 8 miles. It is known for its crystal-clear water, making it a popular destination for swimming and boating. The lake is bordered by the town of Lakeville on the north, a nice place to get food and rentals, and the shoreline is a popular destination for hiking and camping. Conesus is a bit of an in-between lake — boating is allowed and it can be good or water sports, but it is not quite as active or busy as Seneca and Cayuga tend to be.

Hemlock Lake

Hemlock Lake is probably the most pristine of the Finger Lakes, with no public access to the lake. It is known for its crystal-clear water and unspoiled natural beauty, making it a favorite of kayakers and tent campers. If you do manage to get a boat on to the lake, it can’t be bigger than 10hp, so this is definitely not a watersports lake. This lake is the one you want to go to if you really want to feel like you are in the wilderness. Hemlock, along with Canadice, are the two Finger Lakes that are least developed.

The Others: Canadice, Honeoye, Owasco, Otisco, Skaneateles

The lakes above are arguably the most well-known, but all of the finger lakes are worth exploring. The remaining Finger Lakes – Canadice, Honeoye, Owasco, Otisco, and Skaneateles – each have their own unique character and charm. Canadice and Hemlock Lakes are the only two Finger Lakes that are entirely undeveloped, making them popular destinations for hiking and camping, and people looking for solitude and quiet. Honeoye Lake is known for its excellent fishing, especially for lake trout, bass, and salmon. Owasco Lake is a popular destination for boating and water sports, with several public boat launches and marinas. Otisco Lake is the smallest of the Finger Lakes, stretching for just 5 miles, and is known for its excellent fishing. Skaneateles Lake is a favorite of many, the easternmost of the Finger Lakes, and is surrounded by charming villages that can be accessed by car or boat.

Kayaking in the Finger Lakes

Kayaking in the Finger Lakes region is a fantastic way to explore the beauty of the area. While powerboating is a popular activity, paddling in a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe offers a more peaceful and rewarding experience. With eleven lakes, including two undeveloped ones, swamps, and a river, the Finger Lakes region has a diverse range of opportunities for quiet water paddling.finger lakes fall

One great spot for kayaking is the Chemung River. This river is over 45 miles long, but the six-mile stretch between Bottcher’s Landing in Big Flats and the Fitch’s Bridge pullout just west of Elmira is particularly picturesque. Paddling this stretch should take a couple of hours, but trips of a few days are also possible. The river passes under the steep Palisades, a long sinuous cliff hundreds of feet high that looms over the river along its southern shore. Water depth should be OK most times of the year to be able to paddle without worrying about getting hung up.

For a truly tranquil kayaking experience, paddlers can explore Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. These two undeveloped lakes offer over 2,000 acres of placid water to paddle, free of the common boat traffic found on all of the other Finger Lakes. The preserved lands surrounding the lakes also offer an abundance of recreational activities, including over 20 miles of multi-use trails.

Another kayaking spot worth trying is the West River at High Tor Wildlife Management Area. This meandering river is over four miles long and surrounded by forested hillsides and vast wetlands. The river and wetlands offer a peaceful and almost idyllic landscape, making it a true testament to how removed the river and wetlands actually feel. Ambitious paddlers can continue through the inlet and explore large Canandaigua Lake (the river turns in to lake around the town of Woodville) but be advised that strong north-south winds sometimes fill the center of the lake with tall waves.

Paddlers looking for a “round” river trip can enjoy the Seneca River and canal surrounding Howland Island. This type of configuration means you can paddle the river and canal and end up right where you started without retracing your course. The entire circuit would be about 10 miles, and longer trips can be created by navigating further along the Seneca River and looping back along the Erie Canal further to the southwest.

Owasco Flats is another great spot for kayaking. The inlet at the southern end of Owasco Lake provides excellent birding, paddling, and a couple of short nature trails. During the spring, runs of rainbow trout will find fly-fishermen nearly shoulder to shoulder along the inlet trail. But paddling along the inlet is the activity that really shines here. The slow and quiet paddler will be rewarded with ample bird spotting and rare photo opportunities.

Finally, paddling from the Finger Lakes Museum’s boat launch in Branchport gives you the opportunity to pass through a forested stream channel, wetlands, and into the open waters of the lake beyond. Choose your own adventure, which can incorporate all three. Travel south from the launch and you will find yourself between two tracts of wetlands including the 16-acre Townsend-Grady Wildlife Preserve. Paddle to the north on Sugar Creek and discover a forested wonderland.

Fishing in the Finger Lakes

Lots of people come to the Finger Lakes area specifically to fish, and nothing else. The Finger Lakes are a fisherman’s paradise, with a variety of cold and warm water species available for anglers of all skill levels. Whether you’re looking to catch trout in a cold water stream or reel in a trophy bass from one of the larger lakes, the Finger Lakes offer something for everyone.finger lakes fishing

Cold water fishing in the Finger Lakes is highlighted by species such as brown trout, rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon, and lake trout. Lake trout are the most commonly caught species in the cold water fisheries of the Finger Lakes. They can be found in Skaneateles, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Canadice, and Hemlock Lakes. Rainbow trout are abundant in Skaneateles Lake and can also be found in Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Canadice, and Hemlock Lakes. Brown trout can be found in all the Finger Lakes except for Conesus and Honeoye Lakes. Anglers can try shore fishing or surface trolling in the spring for browns. Atlantic salmon can be found in Skaneateles, Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, and Hemlock Lakes.

The warm water fisheries of the Finger Lakes are just as diverse as the cold water fisheries. The more popular species to target include black bass (smallmouth and largemouth), walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, and chain pickerel, with tiger muskies and panfish thrown in to round things off.

The Finger Lakes produce some of the best bass fishing in the state. Anglers can try the shallow weedy areas of Cayuga, Otisco, Conesus, and Honeoye for largemouth action and the slightly deeper areas of Seneca, Canandaigua, Cayuga, Keuka, Skaneateles, Otisco, Owasco, and Hemlock for smallmouth.

While bass are fun to catch, nothing tastes as good as a Walleye. Walleye can be found in Honeoye, Conesus, Owasco, and Otisco Lakes, with spring being an excellent time to fish for them. Yellow perch can be found in Canandaigua, Seneca, Cayuga, Skaneateles, Owasco, Honeoye, and Otisco Lakes. Panfish abound in all the Finger Lakes, with Honeoye and Conesus noted for their large-sized fish. For something different, anglers can try pickerel fishing on Cayuga (north end), Hemlock, Canadice, and Skaneateles (south end) lakes and pike fishing on Owasco (south end), Cayuga (south end), Seneca, and Conesus. Tiger muskies are also available in Conesus and Otisco Lakes.

Anglers can take advantage of the many public fishing rights (PFR) on Finger Lakes tributaries, such as Catherine Creek, Cayuga Inlet, Dutch Hollow Brook, Grout Brook, Guyanoga Creek, Hemlock Creek, Keuka Lake Inlet, Naples Creek, Owasco Inlet, Salmon Creek, and Springwater/Limilkiln. The DECinfo Locator interactive trout stream fishing map is a useful tool for finding additional public fishing rights and stream access information. This is a great option for people who want to shore fish and try some different spots.

Hiking Trails Around the Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes National Forest offers a variety of hiking trails for all levels of hikers, from easy family-friendly hikes to more challenging trails for experienced hikers. With over 30 miles of trails that traverse gorges, ravines, pastures, and woodlands, the Finger Lakes National Forest is a hiker’s paradise.

watkins glen
Watkins Glen State Park

Here are five great hikes in the Finger Lakes area:

  1. Interloken Trail: This 18.2 km moderate trail is the longest trail in the Finger Lakes National Forest. The trail offers stunning views of the forest and traverses through gorges, ravines, and woodlands. It is a great trail for experienced hikers looking for a challenge.
  2. Finger Lakes Backbone Trail: This is a fun trail that throws lots of different things at you. moderate multi-use trail is perfect for hikers, equestrians, cross-country skiers, and snowmobilers. The trail includes creek crossings, occasional muddy spots, some sections of seasonal dirt road, and pastures. Some gentle but steady hill climbs make for a good training ride.
  3. Ravine Loop Trail: If you just want something attainable so you can get some fresh air and visual stimulation, this is a great one. This easy loop trail is a great quick hike with plenty of beautiful scenery. Hikers can begin either off Picnic Area Road or Burnt Hill Road. The hike is mostly wooded with some more wide-open areas that provide hikers with better views. This is a nice hike for families and pets.
  4. Burnt Hill Trail: This easy 6.1 km loop trail offers a great view after re-entering the cow pasture looking WNW. There are a few intersecting trails that you can combine to make this a longer hike. It is a relatively easy hike that is perfect for families and beginner hikers, but long enough to let you feel like you got some real exercise, too.
  5. North Country Trail: This moderate trail offers stunning views of Hemlock Lake and is perfect for experienced hikers looking for a challenge. The trail is 28 km long and offers a variety of terrain, including rocky ridges, steep climbs, and breathtaking vistas. You’ll want your camera on this trail, and you probably want some real hiking gear too. Parts of it can be a little harder, especially when you start to get fatigued.
  6. Gorge and Indian Trail: Inside Watkins Glen State Park is some of the best hiking in New York state. The Gorge and Indian trail is short – about 2 and a half miles – making it a great way to taste test the area. What makes it special is the scenery – you actually will pass about 19 waterfalls in the short hike, believe it or not. It will get busy on a summer weekend but is till worth exploring.

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