It’s hard to grasp the wealth of natural beauty, cornucopia of culinary delights, and unique cultural experiences to be had in this massive region. At first glance, some might simply be attracted to tap into the tasting rooms, tempted to tread the stomping grounds of historical heroes, skim the surface of the glossy lakes, or sink under the mist of thundering waterfalls.
It only takes one visit to realize the Finger Lakes is all of this and much more’and that you want to come back.
Fortunately, with the variety of sleepy villages and wild places to explore, this is one place where return trips are anything but replays of trips past. Much like the wine, the flavors here are rich and diverse and subtly change by the year.
According to Iroquois legend, the Finger Lakes were created when the Great Spirit reached out to bless the land and left imprints of his hands behind. Six of his fingers became the major Finger Lakes—Skaneateles , Owasco , Cayuga , Seneca , Keuka , and Canandaigua . The other four became the Little Finger Lakes —Honeoye, Canadice, Hemlock, and Conesus.
Geologists tell it differently. They say the long, skinny parallel lakes formed from the steady progressive grinding of at least two Ice Age glaciers. As the glaciers receded, the lake-valleys filled with rivers that were backed by dams of glacial debris.
The Finger Lakes are a singular place. Depending on the weather, the water varies in hue from a deep sapphire blue to a moody gray, while all around lie fertile farmlands heavy with fruit trees, buckwheat, and— especially—vineyards.
Along the lakes’ southern edges, deep craggy gorges are sliced through the middle by silvery waterfalls. To the north preside hundreds of drumlins, or gentle glacier-created hills.
But scenic beauty tells only part of the Finger Lakes story. Despite its somnolent air, the region has an important industrial, civil rights, and religious history. In Auburn  stand the homes of abolitionists Harriet Tubman and William Seward; Seneca Falls  hosted the first Women’s Rights Convention; and in Palmyra  is the Sacred Grove where Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, is said to have first seen the Angel Moroni.
The region also holds a number of interesting small cities. Syracuse , the eastern gateway to the Finger Lakes, was once an Erie Canal  boomtown. Ithaca , home to Cornell University , is surrounded by awesome steep gorges and waterfalls.
The Syracuse Hancock International Airport is serviced by Jet Blue (800/JET-BLUE), American Airlines (800/433-7300), Continental (800/525-0280), Delta (800/221-1212), United (800/241-6522), and USAirways (800/428-4322). USAirways also services the Tompkins County Airport (Ithaca) and the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport. A taxi ride from any of these airports to their respective downtowns costs $14–20.
Amtrak (800/872-7245) travels to Syracuse . Greyhound (800/231-2222) and New York State Trailways (800/295-5555) provide bus service throughout the region.
By far the best way to explore the Finger Lakes is by car.