By Lindsay Bolton, Marketing Manager at Finger Lakes Premier Properties
As a mom of two very energetic boys (ages 3 and 6), we are always out exploring. The Finger Lakes has so much to offer, but can be a bit overwhelming if you’re the one planning out the adventures. Here are just some of my family’s favorite things to do and go-to places to create a memorable vacation in the Finger Lakes.
Enjoy the lakes!
Even before I worked for Finger Lakes Premier Properties, my husband and I rented a cottage on Honeoye Lake. Staying on the lake offers days of entertainment for the whole family, and even allows you some time to pick up that book you’ve been wanting to read. Our son’s favorite thing about staying on the lake was kayaking and fishing. So be sure to pack some fishing poles for your stay along with some sand toys (even though we don’t have sandy beaches, they will still get lots of use). Many of our rentals come with non-motorized watercraft. But if you need to rent some, or want to rent a motorboat for some extra excitement on the lake, check out these vendors.
If you’re staying at one of our off-lake rentals, no fear! There are plenty of public beaches that offer fantastic swimming. Our favorites are Keuka Lake State Park (Keuka Lake), Kershaw Park (Canandaigua Lake) and Cayuga Lake State Park (Cayuga Lake) for their sandy beaches where my kids spend more time in the sand than in the water.
Take a hike!
The word “hike” does not always imply an uphill trek backpacking the kids. While, yes, there are some trails like this, my family steers more towards the locations where the kids are comfortable exploring on their own. Some even come with a bonus waterfall! Some of my family’s favorite trails are:
- Grime’s Glen in Naples (South end of Canandaigua Lake) – This starts as an easy trail, but pack your water shoes because if you want to get the full experience, you have to walk up the (very shallow) creek. There are three different waterfalls, the first two are easy to get to. If you want to get to the third there is a bit more climbing involved. Then at the end and last waterfall, there is a natural pool that you can swim in. This trail is perfect for hot summer days as a shaded alternative to staying at the lake and cooling off.
- Taughannock Falls State Park in Ithaca (Cayuga Lake) – The paved gradual trail is great for kids of any age. This is also a great dog-friendly hike, for any size pup. During the summer months, the water may be only a trickle, which does allow you to walk up the gorge but doesn’t provide the grand view of the majestic falls at the end. Either way, after your trek you can go across the road to enjoy swimming, the playground, or have a picnic by the lake.
- The Outlet Trail in Penn Yan (between Keuka and Seneca Lakes) – This seven-mile path goes from Keuka to Seneca Lake and is mostly very gradual. It follows the canal and offers views of waterfalls, historic buildings, and is overall a very peaceful trail. If you have older kids, this is a perfect biking trail.
- Onanda Park (Canandaigua Lake) – This park is not as well known as some of the others but is one of my family’s go-to parks (disclosure: we also live relatively close to it). On the lakeside, there is a great park for swimming, kayaking (bring your own), and playground. Across the road, you have the choice of going up the hill (there is a parking lot up there) where you can hike some up-hill trails, or stay below to walk up along the gorge. We usually choose the later, especially on hot days. Here my boys can explore the gorge, throw rocks into small pools of water, and hunt for salamanders. If you trek up to the end there are waterfalls!
There are MANY trails to hike in the Finger Lakes, my goal is to explore some more this summer! Some others that are more of an incline and would be great with older kids include Watkins Glen State Park, Buttermilk Falls State Park, and Letchworth State Park. For a great resource on finding trails in the Finger Lakes, visit GoFingerLakes.org.
Museums… for kids!
As much as we don’t want to admit it, there is a chance of a rainy day during your vacation. But don’t fear! There is still plenty to do to keep the kids occupied, even if you didn’t pack that suitcase full of toys! Some of these museums may be a drive (an hour or more) from your rental, but they can easily turn into full-day excursions:
- Strong Museum of Play (Rochester, NY) – My kids love this museum so much we have a season pass! It is exactly what it sounds like, a museum of toys! This destination has everything from a kid-size Wegmans (grocery store for the non-locals), an indoor carousel, train, and any kind of imaginative play you can think of. You can pack a lunch or purchase a meal (or milkshake) in their food court. Just a warning, especially for the little ones there is so much to do, you may not get through it all in just one trip.
- Rochester Museum of Science (Rochester, NY) – I recently went here with my son’s school and am anxious to go back. This museum has some great exhibits for the future astronaut (get tickets to the planetarium), archeologist, marine biologist, or historian. There are plenty of hands-on activities and a massive climbing AdventureZone for even the most active kids. Even as parents you’re sure to leave with some extra knowledge at the end of the day.
- Sciencenter in Ithaca (Cayuga Lake) – Ok I’ll be honest, I haven’t even hit up this museum yet. BUT, many of my mom-friends have and they rave about it. They tell me its especially great for younger kids (10 years to the just walking) with all of the hands-on exhibits. It includes marine life, an outdoor playground, and tons of experimental exhibits for your future Isaac Newtons.
- Corning Museum of Glass (Corning, NY) – So the thought of taking two energetic boys to this location scares me. BUT, their marketing rep assured me there is no “you break it you buy it” policy. Also, it is pretty remarkable for the kids to watch the glass blowing demos or even the glass breaking demos. Plus, kids 17 years and under are free!
One of the most delicious ways to spend the day is picking local seasonal fruit. My kids love it and they always oblige to being my helpers with finding the ripest pickings. In the Finger Lakes, you can find local u-pick farms for strawberries (around July), blueberries (August), cherries (June), grapes (end of August through September), Apples (October), and Pumpkins (October). After you’ve picked your heart out, take advantage of that kitchen in your rental and bake some sweet pies and treats together. Here are a couple of our favorite pickin’ spots:
- Jerome’s in Naples (South end of Canandaigua) – Naples is one of the epicenters in the Finger Lakes for fresh grapes (thanks to the annual Grape Festival and the delicious Monica’s Famous Grape Pies). You will find all sorts of u-pick farm signs around this quaint town. But our go-to year after year is Jerome’s with its delicious variety and surplus of grapes.
- Apple Barrel Orchards in Penn Yan (Keuka Lake) – I grew up picking apples at this farm, so it is a bit of a family tradition. Now located up the hill on Wager Hill Rd, the family-owned farm offers one of the best offerings of fresh fruits including apples, grapes, cherries, black raspberries, and peaches. In the fall, they also have a shop full of their own baked goods and treats, those also come highly recommended!
- Varick Winery (Cayuga Lake) – Not only does this winery have award-winning wines, loads of fresh snacks, and fresh grape juice for the kiddos, but it also offers fresh cherries each summer. However, they tend to save the picking for their annual Cherry Festival (this year on June 29th). This festival also offers vendors, live music, and of course, wine and juice tastings.
Playgrounds and Parks
Kids love playgrounds. They are free, they are fun, and it allows you a few minutes to relax on the sidelines. My boys and I have had a few summer days that we call “playground marathons” where we pack a lunch and hit up all of their favorites. Then there are days where we’re seeking a bit more adventure and head to bigger attractions for a special day together. Here are some of their must-visit jungle gyms:
- Outhouse Road in Canandaigua (Canandaigua Lake) – This playground has a pirate ship, who wouldn’t love that! It also has a walking path around the grounds, public bathrooms, pavilions, and plenty of space for the kids and pups to run. Also, Canandaigua has a HUGE variety of playgrounds between the schools and four different parks, but this is their go-to in town.
- Keuka Lake State Park in Penn Yan (Keuka Lake) – Probably one of my favorite playgrounds because of the variety of climbing options, swings, and what we call an obstacle course of monkey bars. This is great for families with kids of all ages with the different options available. Did you see above this park also has a sandy beach and swimming? Pack a lunch and enjoy a day at this park!
- Geneva Community Lakefront Playground in Geneva (Seneca Lake) – This playground isn’t as large as the other two, but if you’re staying near the top end of Seneca Lake, it’s a great option. Not only is the playground a blast, but there is an ice cream shop right next to it, a pier to walk out to, and the Finger Lakes Welcome Center is just a short walk down the lake with a huge I LOVE NY sign and (gasp) a new playground there too!
- Roseland Waterpark in Canandaigua (Canandaigua Lake) – Especially for those staying at one of our off-lake homes, Roseland Waterpark is a great place for the whole family to spend a hot summer day together. My kids are still at an age (and height) where they can’t do the larger water rides. But that doesn’t stunt their excitement for this park. Between the wave pool, huge splash park, raft ride, and lazy river, we get more than our share of fun. They even have tables set up right outside the entrance so you can retrieve a packed lunch to enjoy together before returning back in for more waves.
- Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester – We’re a big theme park family and try to find one when we are traveling. Seabreeze is a day trip, but well worth it. This park offers a great variety of rides for kids to adults and also includes a waterpark. It’s not a huge park, but has been providing my family with great memories since I was in a car seat myself!
This list by no means encompasses all of the possible options for your family’s Finger Lakes vacation. But as a mom who loves to travel, I always appreciate a local’s point of view. If you have some of your own recommendations post in the comments below. Perhaps I’ll add them to my bucket list too!
For more information about planning your next vacation call our reservation department at (877) 751-9011 or visit our online interactive map to find attractions across our region.