Did you know that the Finger Lakes region of New York is just four hours drive from Manhattan? It's a beautiful destination for families.
Featuring incredibly diverse landscapes, fascinating history, and some pretty cool towns, the Finger Lakes area has all the ingredients for a perfect family road trip destination. The Finger Lakes are less than a day’s drive from our home in Vermont, but we’d never been there. This summer we decided to remedy the situation, and headed out for a week of exploring.
Turns out, the Finger Lakes are more beautiful than we could have imagined. We did a lot of camping, and a lot of wine tasting, but we were really blown away by the waterfalls and gorges located within the area’s state parks. There are 24 New York State Parks in the Finger Lakes regions. All of them are awesome, but the following 5 parks are the best of the best in the Finger Lakes for families.
Watkins Glen State Park
Even if you’ve never been to the Finger Lakes, you’ve probably heard of Watkins Glen State Park. The park features an incredible natural gorge carved by Glen Creek over the course of thousands of years. The gorge was opened to the public in 1863, and purchased by the state of New York in 1906. The best way to explore the dramatic landscape of the gorge is on the Gorge Trail, which is 1.5 miles, one way. There are 19 awesome waterfalls along this trail — two of which you can walk behind. Kids will also love swimming in the huge, Olympic size swimming pool after an afternoon of hiking.
Taughannock Falls State Park
Located on the western shore of Cayuga Lake, visiting Taughannock Falls State Park is like exploring two parks in one. First, you’ve got the falls and gorge — at 215 feet, Taughannock Falls is the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. The trail to the falls runs along a wide creek, which is awesome for splashing around in as you make your way to the main attraction.
It’s an easy ¾-mile walk to the falls. We saw plenty of hikers in flip flops and sandals. East of the falls is a spacious park, picnic, and swimming area along the lake. Here you’ll find a sandy beach, a full-service marina, concession stands, and canoe and kayak rentals. A small campground is available with 64 sites and 16 cabins. This was definitely our favorite park for camping.
Robert Treman State Park
The highlight of Robert Treman State Park is definitely the swimming area at the foot of a beautiful waterfall. The water is cold all through the year, but it’s so worth it! Your best views will of the creek and waterfalls will be on the Gorge Trail, which is 2 miles, one-way. Our kids loved checking out Lucifer Falls and then hiking up the cliff staircase, which will definitely be your cardio for the day. This is definitely one of the busier parks we visited, especially on hot summer days. Camping and cabins are available, but the park is also very close to Ithaca, which has plenty of lodging opportunities.
Buttermilk Falls State Park
As with all of the parks mentioned in this guide, the highlight of Buttermilk Falls State Park is a deep gorge and a series of cascading waterfalls. There is a small swimming area at the base of one of the larger cascades, which you can easily access from the lower park entrance. If your kids are like mine, and can only take so much of waterfall viewing, head to the upper parking area and hike the 1.3-mile loop around Lake Treman, which is easy, and super quiet. We can’t vouch for the campground here, but there are 51 sites, including six cabins.
Fillmore Glen State Park
Located near the southern tip of Owasco Lake, Fillmore Glen State Park is a bit off the beaten path. There are far fewer visitors to this gem of a park, but the stunning scenery is definitely worth the drive. Fillmore Glen is named after President Millard Fillmore, who was born in a log cabin nearby. There is a cool replica cabin in the park that kids will enjoy checking out. The Gorge Trail in the park is 1.3 miles, one way. It meanders past five waterfalls, and across five footbridges, all with their own unique style and construction. Fillmore Glen State Park has a small swimming area, a huge field for picnicking, and a campground.
Good to Know
Where: The Finger Lakes region encompasses 9,000 square miles surrounding 11 Finger Lakes. Major towns and cities in the region include Ithaca, Auburn, and Geneva. Most of the parks in this guide are located near the beautiful college town of Ithaca.
When to visit: If you want to take advantage of swimming and hiking, it’s probably best to visit the Finger Lakes in the summer. While fall is a beautiful time for hiking, there’s also a chance that dry conditions will affect the waterfalls. Most gorge trails are closed in the winter months.
How much: New York State Parks charge between $6 and $10 per day for parking. Camping rates vary depending on several factors. For updated rates, visit the New York State Parks camping page.
How long: It took us a week to explore all of these parks, but a long weekend would work in a pinch.
- New York State Parks – https://parks.ny.gov/
- Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance – http://www.fingerlakes.org/
How else can we help?
Need a place to stay? Visit https://newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com to reserve a campsite or cabin in a state park. If you'd prefer a hotel, click the button below to check rates and availability for Ithaca, New York on TripAdvisor now.