Author Rohan Kamicheril Illustration Ben Rosenzweig
Seen from above, the Finger Lakes look like claw marks on the landscape. The 11 glacial trenches occupy a relatively narrow corridor of central upstate New York, yet they have a far wider significance. The Iroquois believed they were of divine provenance. Farmers and loggers flocked to the area for the fertile land around their shores. The lakes are central to the region’s identity and its economy. Everything here leads back to water.
The forces that shaped the Finger Lakes also endowed the region with a fierce natural beauty. The surrounding hills are split into innumerable gorges, with hidden waterfalls, secret swimming holes and enough scenic outcrops to keep a landscape painter occupied for a lifetime. The lakes themselves, some of the deepest in the U.S., are enchanting—made more so, perhaps, by the lush vineyards that surround them.
And there are plenty of rewards away from the water’s edge, too. In addition to top-notch wineries, orchards dot the countryside, whose meadows burst with cattails, goldenrod and chicory. In summertime farmers markets abound, reflecting a resurgent interest in the bounty of the region. You can’t throw a peach pit without hitting a local cheese maker, bread maker or small-batch seed-oil producer.
The region is also home to Cornell University, Ithaca College and Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a fact that lends its towns a youthful energy and ensures that the area’s cultural attractions are as varied and impressive as its landscapes. It is this variety that makes the Finger Lakes such a wonderful place to be. There’s always a sense that you’re discovering something new, even if that something has been two million years in the making.