As full-time RVers, we knew our East Coast road trip adventure would not be complete without two things: lighthouses and waterfalls! So after exploring the many lighthouses of the Outer Banks and the waterfalls of Shenandoah National Park, we continued on our journey north toward Canada and made a stop to experience spring in the Finger Lakes! In this article, we help you discover the incredible waterfalls in the Finger Lakes region of New York. From quick road side stops to dreamy trails through moss-covered gorges, the Finger Lakes is a land full of waterfalls and wineries that makes for the perfect getaway.
About the Finger Lakes Region
Located in Upstate New York, the Finger Lakes region is a mesmerizing destination that enchants visitors with its breathtaking lakes, picturesque landscapes, and cascading waterfalls. The region is named after the 11 long, narrow lakes that resemble the fingers of a hand.
From the shores of Seneca Lake to the scenic gorge trails that wind through the local New York State Parks, there are countless opportunities to chase waterfalls and immerse yourself in nature.
The Finger Lakes region is also renowned for its world-class wineries and picturesque vineyards. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste the region’s award-winning wines or enjoy a fresh farm-to-table meal after a day of exploring local waterfalls and trails!
Why does the Finger Lakes region have so many waterfalls?
The Finger Lakes region of New York is blessed with a high concentration of stunning waterfalls due to its unique geological history and landscape. During the last ice age, massive glaciers carved out the deep, narrow valleys that now cradle the glacial lakes known today as the Finger Lakes.
As the glaciers retreated, they left behind a legacy of cascading streams and rivers that flow through these valleys. The steep slopes and deep gorges created by the glacial activity provide ideal conditions for waterfalls to form. The region’s abundant rainfall and numerous streams also contribute to the presence of waterfalls, as the rushing water erodes the rock formations over time, sculpting these magnificent natural features.
Best Time to Visit
We visited in early May and had amazing weather, while also experiencing the area in the slower “shoulder season.” We highly recommend a late spring visit if you are looking for smaller crowds, just keep in mind that some of the State Park trails may be closed well into May (read more on that in our Finger Lakes hiking and trail guide).
Visiting the Finger Lakes in each season offers its own unique experiences and highlights. Here’s an overview of what you can expect during each season:
- Spring: Springtime in the Finger Lakes brings vibrant blossoms and a burst of greenery. The region comes alive with colorful flowers, and the vineyards begin to awaken from their winter slumber. It’s an excellent time to explore the many hiking trails and witness the waterfalls at their fullest as the snow melts. Spring also marks the start of wine events and festivals, offering opportunities to taste new releases.
- Summer: Summer is a popular season to visit the Finger Lakes, as the lakes become a hub for outdoor recreation. Boating, swimming, fishing, and kayaking are popular activities. The warm weather is perfect for exploring the numerous wineries and vineyards, indulging in wine tastings, and enjoying picnics with picturesque lake views. The region hosts various summer festivals and cultural events, adding to the vibrant atmosphere. Waterfall flow can be lower in the warmer summer months.
- Fall: Fall is a breathtaking season in the Finger Lakes when the landscape transforms into a stunning palette of red, orange, and gold hues. The vineyards and surrounding hillsides are blanketed with colorful foliage, creating a scenic backdrop. Fall is also the harvest season, and the wineries come alive with activity. Visitors can participate in grape picking, attend wine festivals, and savor the flavors of freshly pressed apple cider.
- Winter: Winter in the Finger Lakes offers a serene and peaceful atmosphere. Snowfall covers the region, creating a winter wonderland. Cozy up in charming bed and breakfasts, visit local breweries and distilleries to warm up with seasonal drinks, or try out snow shoeing to check out some frozen waterfalls.
Finger Lakes Waterfall Map
An entire map of beautiful waterfalls to help you plan your adventures! You can also use our map and guide to finger lakes hikes to help you create the perfect trip out on the local trails if you are looking to get further into nature.
Best Waterfalls in the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes is an abundant land filled with waterfalls. Chances are you will discover many falls away from the “main waterfalls” all on your own! We also recommend exploring off the beaten path to see what hidden gems you can find. In this guide, we help you make sure you don’t miss out on some of the best waterfalls in the area.
First up are convenient roadside waterfalls that can be found around the Finger Lakes. These make for the perfect stop along your hiking or waterfall-seeking adventures, or as a quick stop and burst of seratonin as you explore the local vineyards!
This stunning waterfall can be found along State Route 414, which runs along the eastern shore of Seneca Lake in Hector, New York. To park and see Hector Falls, there are pull-off areas available on the side of the road near the waterfall.
Once you come up on a small bridge, you know you have arrived. Most likely you will see others parked there or standing on the bridge. Safely park your vehicle, ensuring you are not obstructing traffic, and then take a short walk across the street to the viewing area to admire the impressive cascade of water as it plunges down the cliffside.
Shequaga Falls (Chequaga Falls)
Chequaga Falls, also known as Shequaga Falls, is situated in the heart of the village of Montour Falls. The falls can be found in a park named Shequaga Falls Park (She-qua-ga), located near West Main Street (State Route 14) in the heart of Montour Falls.
When visiting the falls you can park your vehicle on the side of the road near the park or in designated parking areas nearby in the town. From there, a short walk will lead you to the viewing area in the park where you can witness the beauty of Chequaga Falls as it cascades down a 156-foot cliff.
This park is bordered by private property so it is important to be respectful and stay within the park boundaries!
Aunt Sarah’s Falls
Aunt Sarah’s Falls is also located in the town of Montour Falls and can be easily seen in combination with Shequaga Falls, which is only a short distance down the road. Parking is located in pull-offs along N. Catherine Street (also on State Route 14). This is a 90-foot falls, shaped like a fan. Both Shequagua and Aunt Sarah’s Falls could be included in a convenient trip before or after visiting Watkins Glen State Park, depending on where you are staying and the direction you are traveling.
If you are looking to get out on the trails and see some additional waterfalls in the Finger Lakes, the local State Parks should definitely be on your itinerary!
Next, we dive into the waterfalls at the local state parks and various hiking trails, including a few conveniently located right in downtown Ithaca:
Watkins Glen State Park Waterfalls
Watkins Glen is a famed New York State Park that attracts large crowds of visitors each year due to its unique and picturesque gorge. There are 19 viewable waterfalls along the Glen Creek Gorge Trail that runs through the heart of the park and walking up the gorge feels like traveling through an enchanted waterfall forest, complete with bright green trees and moss-covered rocks.
This park is a very popular spot and can be VERY busy. We recommend checking out these waterfalls away from peak hours for the best chance to take your time and enjoy some peace and quiet. It is also important to know that the gorge trail closes during the winter, typically opening in mid to late May. While the rim trails remain open year-round, you cannot see much of these majestic waterfalls from above.
Price: $10/vehicle (paid in the parking area), sunrise-sunset, mid-May-mid October. Seasonal Empire Pass ($80 for unlimited use at most state parks) also accepted
A few of our favorite falls in the park include:
Climb up the steps and behind this whimsical waterfall, before entering into a tunnel carved through the stone.
Stone walkways and bridges are a hallmark of the gorge trail, as you zig-zag over, below, and beneath the 19 waterfalls that exist within the park.
One of the most picturesque spots in Watkins Glen State Park (although it is hard to choose). Be prepared for a lot of traffic in this area, with people taking photos and an influx of people heading back down the trail.
Just south of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca is home to its own set of waterfalls! These waterfalls vary from roadside waterfalls, to pleasant paths through Cornell’s Campus and a local state park.
Located in the Six Mile Creek Natural Area, this is a quaint falls with plenty of room to explore along the creek that extends beyond the base of the falls. Not far from downtown Ithaca, there is convenient parking located in a lot off of Giles Street in the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve, as well as various options for street parking.
Technically located on the Cornell University campus, this is short hike that takes you past nine waterfalls located in the Cascadilla Gorge…with a lot of steps along the way!
On this trail, you will see a mix of runners, students, tourists, and faculty strolling by. The scenery is beautiful and is a wonderful oasis and natural escape from the local cityscape.
Street parking can be found just up the hill from the Cascadilla Falls entrance on University Ave, just past the Ithaca City Cemetery.
Ithaca Falls can be found in the Ithaca Falls Natural area and is easily seen from the bridge crossing over Fall Creek on Lake Street in Ithaca. This waterfall is also close to Cornell University and the other Ithaca waterfalls on this list, making it easy to complete them all in one trip!
You can park in the designated parking area just south of the falls, although the parking area is on the smaller side. There is also parking along nearby streets, just be sure to adhere to any parking regulations posted in the area.
From the parking area, a short walk will lead you to the viewing areas where you can witness the impressive cascade of water as it plunges down the rocky cliffs, surrounded by lush greenery.
Buttermilk Falls State Park
Buttermilk Falls has the main lower falls that can be seen directly from the parking lot, as well as a series of upper falls that you are treated to once you climb up the trail and venture further into the park.
We highly recommend exploring past main the main waterfall (where the base doubles as a swimming area), as it is filled with great scenery and opportunities for peace and solitude in nature.
Price: $9 vehicle fee collected April-November, 6 am – 6:30 pm daily. Seasonal Empire Pass ($80 for unlimited use at most state parks) also accepted
Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls is an impressive 215-foot single drop falls that is both taller than Niagara Falls and holds the title as the tallest free-falling waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains!
You can check out this waterfall from two different vantage points; from above at the Visitor Center viewpoint, and below at the base of the falls after hiking beneath the 400-foot cliff walls that rise from Taughannock Creek along the Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail.
Price: $9/vehicle, collected 6 am-6 pm every day from late May-early September and on holidays and weekends during between September and mid-May. seasonal Empire Pass ($80 for unlimited use at most state parks) also accepted
Other Local Destinations for Chasing Waterfalls
Robert H. Treman State Park
As you hike along the designated trails within this state park, you’ll encounter Lucifer Falls as it plunges down a 115-foot cascading drop, creating a dramatic and awe-inspiring scene. The waterfall is nestled within a picturesque gorge, surrounded by towering cliffs and vibrant foliage.
As with many of the state parks in the Finger Lakes, Robert H. Treman State Park closes down during the winter months. Unfortunately for us, this was the last of the state parks in the area to open, and it did not open officially for the season until a few days after we left and continued our RV journey north to Maine and into Canada.
Niagara Falls is one of the most renowned natural wonders in the world, attracting millions of visitors each year. Located on the border between the United States and Canada, the falls consist of three main sections: the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls. These massive waterfalls collectively create a breathtaking display of power and beauty as millions of gallons of water cascade over the cliffs every minute.
The Horseshoe Falls, also known as the Canadian Falls, is the most iconic and largest of the three. It curves in a distinctive horseshoe shape, providing a mesmerizing view from both the Canadian and American sides.
We visited both the Canadian and American side of Niagara Falls on the way to visit Toronto and we highly recommend adding this to your itinerary if you have time for a larger New York road trip! Toronto is a great city to explore as well, offering a vibrant atmosphere and beautiful water views in downtown.
Letchworth State Park
Letchworth State Park, often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is a true natural wonder nestled in the Genesee River Valley of western New York. Spanning over 14,000 acres, this park captivates visitors with its breathtaking landscapes and awe-inspiring beauty.
One of the standout features of Letchworth State Park is its magnificent waterfalls. The park is home to three major waterfalls: the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls. These cascades tumble over towering cliffs, creating dramatic scenes of rushing water amidst the lush greenery. The park offers numerous vantage points and hiking trails that allow visitors to marvel at the power and grandeur of the waterfalls from different perspectives.
We opted not to travel the 2 hours each way to visit Letchworth State Park during our trip to the Finger Lakes due to time constraints, but we have this on the list for a separate trip! If you have the time for a road trip within your trip to the Finger Lakes, we have heard amazing things about this park!
Fillmore Glen State Park
From the towering 70-foot tall main falls to the smaller cascades that create a symphony of rushing water, the waterfalls of Fillmore Glen State Park provide another captivating backdrop for relaxation and exploration. Whether you’re looking to hike, swim, picnic, or simply immerse yourself in the tranquil beauty of nature, Fillmore Glen State Park offers a peaceful haven where you can unwind and reconnect with the natural world.
Located away from the larger Finger Lakes where many of the attractions in the area call home, Filmore Glen State Park is just south of the smaller Owasko Lake. This could be a great option if you are looking to get away from some of the crowds during peak season in this area.
Keuka Lake Outlet Trail
Seneca Mills Falls, also known as Seneca Mills Upper Falls, is another beautiful waterfall located along the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail near Seneca Falls, New York. This picturesque cascade is a hidden gem along the trail, offering visitors a serene and tranquil setting to enjoy the wonders of nature. Seneca Mills Falls features a series of cascades as the water flows over rock formations, creating a soothing sound and a mesmerizing display of water in motion. The surrounding lush greenery adds to the scenic beauty of the falls, making it a popular spot for photographers and nature enthusiasts.
Fulfilling Travel Tips
While the main draw of a trip to New York’s Finger Lakes might be the numerous vineyards, wineries, and cider houses, a trip here is not complete without some excursions to the local impressive waterfalls. The areas gorges and falls are true natural wonders and of the best things to do during your visit to help you connect with nature and support your health and well-being among some of the Northeast’s most unique and beautiful landscapes.
Tips for viewing waterfalls in the Finger Lakes:
- Waterfalls will be flowing most heavily in the spring months as the snow melts or after a heavy rain
- Trails can be muddy and slick due to the splashing of the falls on the limestone rock that this area is characterized by.
- Expect the local state parks to be busy and try arriving early or outside of peak hours to get the best chance to view the falls with smaller crowds
- Some of the best trails for waterfalls in the area remain closed well into May, so be sure to check conditions and closures before planning your trip
While we expected to find ourselves in wine country among the Finger Lakes of upstate New York, the gorge-filled landscape oozing with waterfalls truly surprised us. We loved the quaint nature of the local towns, couldn’t believe the great parks and trails located seemingly in the heart of every community, and found it really fulfilling to explore the area coming to life after a long winter. Don’t let the vineyard overshadow the immense beauty hiding among the trees and gorges. Get out and explore the great outdoors!
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO THE FINGER LAKES
As full-time RVers, we are drawn to camping as it allows us to travel and spend more time in nature – which has amazing benefits for health and well-being. We got to the Finger Lakes Region of New York in the shoulder season, which meant the State Parks were not yet open for camping. We had a great stay with lake views at a private local campground (Sned-Acres Family Campground), but the area does offer great State Park camping starting in late May and into the summer and fall seasons as well!
State Park Campgrounds:
- Taughannock Falls State Park Campground
- Watkins Glen State Park Campground
- Robert H. Treeman State Park Campground
- Buttermilk Falls State Park Campground
Other Area Accommodations:
If you are looking for the perfect one-stop shop for comparing RV parks and glamping options and prices with instant booking, we highly recommend Campspot.
RV Rentals: If you are looking to get closer to nature but don’t have an RV, consider renting one through RV Share. We used this service when renting out our Casita and found them to be high quality and easy to use!
You can explore all Finger Lakes area accommodations, including hotels and private rentals, and compare prices on Booking.com, which is a great resource for high-quality and unique stays at the best rates.
Great Local Places To Eat & Drink
We are not necessarily foodies or wine connoisseurs, but we do enjoy supporting local businesses and having fresh meals during our travels! In the Finger Lakes, these are the spots we recommend:
- Thirsty Owl Wine Company: An amazing, educational and well-priced wine tasting, great food from the Thirsty Owl Bistro, beautiful views from the outside seating area, and a great deal on wine prices
- Finger Lakes Cider House: Great cider and farm fresh food, beautiful views of the farm. Don;t leave without strolling the property and checking out the sheep!
- Garret’s Brewing Company: A fun local spot that is perfect for a drink and bite to eat after a day of exploring when making your way back to Cayuga Lake from Ithaca or Seneca Lake.
- Ryan William Vineyard: A more upscale spot with a nice tasting room and pre-selected flights as well as food and appetizers. Select and small-batch wines available using 100% Estate grown fruit
- Chateau LaFayette Reneau: Another great stop with views of Seneca Lake from the tasting room. A selection of red wines, white wines, and sweet wines.
- Graft Wine + Cider Bar: Great fresh local food in a small, hip space. This was the perfect date night spot for us!
Looking for other great stops as part of a Northeast road trip? Check out:
- Perfect Portland Maine Itinerary
- Best Things To Do in Acadia National Park
- Best Things To Do in Acadia’s Schoodic Peninsula
Ready for a bigger adventure?