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Cayuga Lake

Travel the shoreline of the longest glacial Finger Lake

Mileage41 miles (66 km)
DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.1 hour, 1 minute
SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.All Seasons
RoadwaysNew York Highway 89
ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, pharmacies, etc.Ithaca, NY, Lansing, NY, Newfield, NY, Lansing Station, NY, Ludlowville, NY, Groton, NY, West Hill, NY, Seneca Falls, NY, more...Waterloo, NY, Auburn, NY, Lansingville, NY, East Steamburg, NY, Angells Corner, NY, and Willow Grove, NY
3.2 average from 93 votes
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Elevation Graph for Cayuga Lake

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The scenic drive travels along the western shore of glacier-carved Cayuga Lake, the largest of New York’s Finger Lakes. Explore this vibrant wine region that abounds with limitless year-round outdoor recreation and exquisite views. In autumn, leaf peepers flock to view the tree-covered rolling hills painted by nature’s dazzling palette.

Taughannock Falls
Taughannock Falls

The scenic drive begins in the town of Ithaca and travels to Seneca Falls and can be done in either direction. To reach Ithaca, head west on NY-78 from exit 8 off I-81, or use NY-13 at exit 11.

Ithaca itself is a vibrant city. Home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, explore the many museums, art galleries, theaters and downtown pedestrian mall where you will find an eclectic mix of restaurants and shops. And then of course — there are the gorges and waterfalls. Ithaca Falls drops 150-feet and is 175-feet wide — creating a powerful draping cascade which can be viewed from the Lake Street Bridge. Or get closer to the towering cliffs and thunderous roar by walking the short trail to the base of the falls. Swimming is prohibited due to strong currents. Visit the Ithaca Visitor Center (I1) for regional information and maps and experience the Cayuga Waterfront Trail, which offers stunning views while you walk, run, bike or rollerblade. Just 30 minutes from Ithaca on NY-79 W, is Watkins Glen State Park (H5), home to another spectacular waterfall. Hike the Gorge Trail which winds 1.5 miles to varied views of this multi-faceted waterfall, sometimes underneath, through tunnels and across a stone bridge to 19 different cascade styles including staircase, dripping curtains, plunges and punch bowl. The Gorge was carved by glaciers and the undulating, striated rock is breathtaking. There is no swimming at the base of the falls but there is an Olympic-size swimming pool, picnic tables and camping available. Watkins Glen is one of the most popular of New York State Parks so try to get there early or consider visiting off season. There is an entrance fee.

Our drive officially begins heading north on NY-89 to Taughannock Falls State Park (H1). Plunging a dramatic 215-feet into a rocky gorge, is the park’s namesake, Taughannock Falls, which can be viewed from many vantage points above and below the falls by hiking the easy trails. The park features swimming, boating, fishing and offers tent camping and cabins. A year-round destination, in winter enjoy cross-country skiing, sledding and ice skating. There is a fee to enter the state park.

For the next several miles, enjoy views of the lake, passing farmland and vineyards, both of which provide a real taste of the region. Deep lakes, rolling hills and moderate temperature create an ideal terrain for grape-growing. Over 30 wineries are open to visitors with tasting room and tours. This scenic drive encompasses the Cayuga Wine Trail — known for its exceptional award-winning wineries, warm, friendly, tasting rooms and a range of dining options, from upscale to bistros and cafés. If you plan on doing more tasting than visiting, book one of the many affordable limousine or boat tours. Don’t miss a visit to one of the many farms and roadside stands offering locally-made artisan cheeses, baked goods, fresh produce, plants, flowers and more.

Consider a side trip to Finger Lakes National Forest (H4) by taking NY-96 North and NY-227 west. More than 16,000 acres are nestled in between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes unveiling a diverse landscape of forest, gorges, ravines, streams and ponds. Immerse yourself in the spectacular beauty by hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling on over 30 miles of interconnecting trails. The 3.8-mile Burnt Hill Loop features minimal elevation gain through forest and pasture where you are likely to see herds of cows along with the natural wildlife. A section of the Finger Lakes Trail System passes through here, which travels 549 miles from the New York/Pennsylvania border in Allegany State Park to the Long Path in the Catskill Forest Preserve. Extend the adventure by camping, of which one area is suitable for campers or picnickers with horses. There is a fee to enter the park covered by the America the Beautiful Interagency Pass.

Back on NY-89 heading north, in several miles you arrive at the Cayuga Lake State Park (H2) where picture perfect lake views await. Bask on the sandy beach, swim in the life-guarded water, or do a little boating (rentals available). The park is popular for fishing largemouth bass and carp or head for deeper water to catch northern pike, landlocked salmon and more. Discover nature and wildlife along the walking, hiking and biking trails. You can also camp here. There is a fee to enter State Parks.

Continuing north on NY-89, you soon arrive at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (H3) which protects the habitat for over 242 species of birds, many of which are migratory and stop here to feed and rest along one of the most active flight lanes in the Atlantic Flyway. A few walking trails explore the refuge allowing a chance to view birds and the many other mammals, amphibians and reptiles that make their home here such as beaver, snapping turtles and red fox. Stop at the Visitor Center for interpretive exhibits, information and spectacular observation areas with tower and spotting scopes. The Wildlife Drive is a 3-mile one way auto tour featuring many pullouts and viewing areas. The Refuge is free to enter.

Our scenic drive comes to an end and from here we recommend traveling to Seneca Falls via US-26 West. Visit the National Women’s Hall of Fame (M1) which honors and celebrates the achievements of great American women, past present and future. Seneca Falls is the birthplace of the American Women’s Movement and resident Elizabeth Cady Stanton along with Susan B. Anthony formed a lifelong partnership devoted to the to these words written by Stanton, ”We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” There is a small entrance fee.

Ready for adventure? Have park and forest passes before you get there.



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