Two Months In The Finger Lakes Area, NY
Being a West-Coast gal there’s many places in the East that are not much more than a fuzzy idea in my head. They might be places I’ve heard of or heard of others going to, and I may even (kinda, roughly) know where they area, but that’s about the extent of it. In other words I know about them, but I don’t really know about them and there’s a big difference between those two states of mind.
For many years the Finger Lakes area of northern New York State has been one of those spots for me.
I’d noticed the long, thin lakes whenever I looked at a map of the state, and I’d vaguely heard thro’ friends of friends that they were an interesting place to stop, but that was about the extent of it. We even considered stopping on our way to NYC last year (where we went for Taggart’s I-131 treatment), but we were on a tight schedule and it just didn’t make sense at the time.
Then several things happened that turned our minds around and brought this place to the forefront of a potential 2017 travel plan.
The Seed Gets Planted
The very first people to plant the seed in our mind were you guys (our blog readers!) As we were zooming across the northern part of PA last year, I got no end of comments:
“You ARE going to stop in the Finger Lakes region, right?”
“Don’t miss the Finger Lakes!”
“Make sure you see the Grand Canyon of New York!”
And so on, and so forth….
Hmmmm….maybe this is something we should look at more closely?
The next folks to water the seed were our friends. Over the past few years several of our blog buddies had traveled thro’ the Finger Lakes areas including The Nealy’s (we followed them on their blog) as well as our buddies Pam and John (their blog here). Their dreamy pictures plus endless (it seemed) glasses of local wine left a definite impression on us. Clearly our friends thought highly of this place too.
The last straw and final sprout was also thanks to friends. This year our RV buddies Sue and Dave (Belugas Excellent Adventures) decided to travel back and stay the summer at their lake house in the area. Not only would that mean good company nearby (not to mention Polly’s boyfriend Lewis), but they most graciously offered to host our rig and look after our paws while we both travel to the UK in Aug for my sisters wedding. WOW!
Three strikes you’re in (or something like that anyway….)! How could we possibly resist??
So, when we re-planned our travels this year we decided we wouldn’t just visit here, we’d make it a destination, and for us that meant spending at least a month or two to properly check it out.
The Finger Lakes Has It All
Geographically speaking the Finger Lakes is a ~9,000 sq miles region in the north-central area of New York State that abuts Lake Ontario and a section of the Erie Canal. Its unusual name comes from the ~11 long, thin lakes that run down its length. The lakes were formed over the last two million years by glacial carving of old stream valleys and they run roughly parallel to each other in a north-south orientation. On a map they look rather like the marks of a bear-claw scratch, or an old piece of fabric that’s tattered and ripped from use.
And they are the KEY to everything this region has to offer….
I’ve always loved being close to water be it the ocean, rivers or lakes. There’s something about being around all that blue that just makes me feel zen, and there’s so many activities that go with it too, even for seasick-prone folks like me.
Of course there’s the usual sailing and motor-boating stuff, but there’s also kayaking, paddle-boarding, swimming and (my favorite) paw-dipping. Plus you can usually find a nice view with a pleasant little lake breeze to enjoy an afternoon adult beverage too (another of my favorite activities). The Finger Lakes are no small lakes either. They are amongst the top 20 deepest lakes in the USA (Lake Seneca is 618 feet, 188 m deep) and they run up to 38.1 miles (61.3 km) long. That’s enough space for just about any water-lover.
Ever heard of the Grand Canyon of The East? Neither had I until I started looking at this area.
The glaciers that carved out the lakes around 2 million years ago left behind many hanging valleys that were subsequently sculpted by water into rather incredible gorges. They are featured all over the Finger Lakes and come in many forms, from the narrow cliffs of Watkins Glen to the gaping canyons of Letchworth State Park. They may not *quite* rival the actual Grand Canyon (which we visited in 2015), but the scenery is supposed to be spectacular and with hundreds of miles of trails amongst cliffs up to 600-ft high I’m expecting great things 🙂
With gorges come waterfalls, and here the Finger Lakes come close to rivaling one of my absolute favorite waterfall areas of all time (Columbia River Gorge). There are estimated to be hundreds of waterfalls in the area ranging anywhere from small cascades to spectacular hundred-foot high drops, and there’s no end of hiking trails to enjoy them. Some State Parks (e.g. Watkins Glen) boast no less than 19 waterfalls over a 1.5 mile trail! They’re one of the worst things to photograph (it’s SO hard to get perspective), but also one of the best to enjoy.
Endless Dog-Friendly Wineries
If the Finger Lakes is famous for one thing, it’s their wine. Because of their great depth, the lakes provide a moist micro-climate that is near-perfect for growing grapes. Wild grapes have actually grown naturally here for millennia, but it wasn’t until Dr. Konstantin Frank successfully grew the first vinifera grapes here in ~1960’s that wine-making became a serious thing.
The Finger Lakes is now the largest wine producing region in the United States east of California with over 200 wineries and three major wine trails, mostly specializing in cooler-growing grapes such as Riesling and other whites (although a few reds are grown too). As an added bonus MANY of the wineries are dog-friendly.
I think we’ll have a decent choice of spots to visit here, don’t you?
And There’s Beer (And Distilleries) Too!
I never talk about politics on the blog (for good reason), but I have to admit that when I read that New York had created tax initiatives for the craft beverage industry, my interest was peaked. Since the new laws came into effect the NY craft beer scene has exploded and there are now over 321 craft breweries in the state. A sensible bit of politics right there IMO…
The Finger Lakes area is a fine example and offers a nicely substantial beer trail with more than enough choices to wet the palate of any beer aficionado. And that’s not even touching on the many distilleries that are in the area too. Yet another draw for the WheelingIt crew 🙂
You can see why we needed at least 2 months here, right?
Summer Is A GREAT Time To Go
With our interest WELL peaked the next question we asked ourselves was whether we would be going at the right time of year?
Whenever we plan our travels, one of the very first things we look at are time of year and weather. We learned this lesson the hard way our very first summer on the road. Too many years on the California coast had dulled our weather awareness, so when we planned to travel through Illinois in August it never occurred to us that this might be a rather stupid idea. It was the most horrible, hottest, buggiest, most humid summer we’ve ever experienced, and the only upside was that we had zero problems finding places to stay. We were quite literally the only fools out there!
We vowed never to do that again, so that winter my Flip Flop barometer was born and we’ve attempted to travel with the weather every since. For the most part, we’ve done pretty well too.
A brief look at the weather history of the Finger Lakes reveals that early summer (or fall) is the near-perfect time to go. In June & July the area typically hits around mid-70’s to mid-80’s, ramping towards 90’s in Aug. The latter is hotter than we like, but totally do-able with some shade and electrical hookups (just in case, for the paws). Looked darn near perfect to us. Things were lining up nicely!
The Preliminary Travel Route Takes Form
With the place and time of year fixed, we started looking in more detail at the travel route and specific spots we wanted to stay.
As all our regular blog readers know we don’t like to travel long distances, and always prefer to be as close as possible to whatever sightseeing we are going to do (ideally within 20 miles). Plus we prefer public parks (versus private parks), mostly because they offer the kind of green and space both the paws and us crave.
We already knew there was LOTS to see in the Finger Lakes area, enough that we really needed to stop at several of the lakes. Plus there were a few larger cities (Ithaca), as well as some side-trips (Niagara Falls) that were worth some extra focus time. Lastly we’d gotten a TON of tips from blog readers back when we published our 2017 travel plans, which added even more potential stops to the itinerary.
So, we folded all that intel together and came up with a preliminary plan involving 5-6 stops over 2 months, including time for our friends and travel to my sisters wedding in UK. Just our kinda slo-mo travel pace!
Finally We Chose Campgrounds
Our first look at public campgrounds in The Finger Lakes revealed that this area offered a great selection of State Parks as well as a few nice City Parks, all with pretty reasonable pricing ($18-$30/night) too. But a little deeper research revealed our “beastly” size might be a problem.
You see the State Parks in NY were all built many years back when people camped mostly in tents or trailers, and few have ever been upgraded. So at many parks the sites are small/uneven and road access is size-limited.
That’s not a problem for smaller rigs, but it’s definitely a problem for “beastly-sized” folks like us and it’s one we’ve dealt with many, many times before. It simply means that some public spots aren’t accessible to us and that we need to be even more diligent about park and site choice to ensure we are able to fit.
The OTHER thing we discovered when we started digging deeper was that not all New York State Parks accept pets in all their camping loops (e.g. Letchworth State Park is a great example of this). Also, most of the parks either don’t offer any hookups or only offer electric. Both are limitations we’ve run into before out East and since we were going in summer season (the absolute busiest camping season in the NE), we knew we needed to be extra vigilant and plan ahead.
In our case lack of water/sewer hookups is never a problem (we have HUGE tanks and can easily go 3 weeks without hookups), but we absolutely had to be in a pet-friendly site, we did want shade & electric (for the paws, just in case) and it was critical that we fit. So using our go-to planning resources** we narrowed down our choices and booked up our sites.
In the end we chose 4 State Parks (the ones with the largest-looking sites), 1 City Park and 1 Elks Lodge for our stops. We also threw in a few Harvest Host sites (as secondary backup) in case we needed or wanted that option too.
Our Finger Lake plans were complete!!!
** Ultimate Campgrounds is one of our favorite apps for searching for public spots, and we usually pair it with written reviews from rvparkreviews and Campendium. In New York we found an additional little gem of a site called campADK which shows photos of every individual campsite at every NY State Park including extra details like size, water views and hookups! This last resource was key to choosing specific campsites as it allowed us to visually check for site obstacles (e.g. trees, rocks) and chose the kinds of views & privacy we like the most. We used it for every one of our State Park bookings.
And So Our NY Adventure Starts!
We’re already 2 weeks into our stay here so I’m a tad behind, but so far we are LOVING this area and can’t wait to share all the details with you. Our adventure starts in Ithaca with hiking, food, wine (of course) and more, so stay tuned for that. Oh, and if you see anything on our route that we shouldn’t miss feel free to comment below.
Useful External Links:
- Finger Lakes Visitor Guides -> click HERE and HERE
- Finger Lakes Waterfalls -> click HERE
- Finger Lakes Wine Trails -> click HERE
- Finger Lakes Beer Trail -> click HERE
- New York State Parks -> click HERE for official site, and HERE for campsite photos
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