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Winter in the Finger Lakes: Unique Experiences and Sites

Winter in the Finger Lakes brings opportunities for the snow lover to indulge in thrill seeking speed on mountain tops or down hills, across lake or snow trails, or to just slow down and take in the stillness and beauty as a blanket of white casts the world in wonder. If you’re looking for other ways to embrace the seasonal weather of the Finger Lakes in an outdoorsy way, our region is filled with unique sights, fun festivals, and new experiences to truly take in some of what makes us such a versatile place to explore on your next adventure.

Frozen Sights

If you’re looking for a winter walk that will give you that cool, fresh breath of air but also offers a more unique take on a simple hike, well, waterfalling in the Finger Lakes isn’t only a pastime of the summer. If the conditions are right, meaning if it’s cold enough, waterfalls start to freeze, creating a crystal cascade that’s a vision not often seen. The falls at Watkins Glen and Taughannock Falls State Park have both been known to freeze creating sheer wonder to visit and see up close, but there are a number of waterfalls to check out in the region that offer winter hiking and icy waterfall drops that gleam.

As a region that is marked by its glacially-made lakes, water sports are one of the major draws in our area, though in the winter it’s quieter on the lakes. You may look twice if while you’re ambling out on a wintery walk around one of our 11 Finger Lakes, you see a boat sailing by. A unique winter passion for some is ice sailing which is when lakes such as Canandaigua, Keuka, and Skaneateles ice over in various spots and watercrafts are designed to slide over ice instead of through liquid water.

In addition, the many trails and park areas in the Finger Lakes region make it a great area for snowmobiling. You'll often see packs of snowmobilers taking advantage of the region's finicky lake effect snows which can bring blizzards one minute and sun the next.

Fire & Ice (& Wine)

Speaking of ice, the Finger Lakes is a veritable wine country and our ice wines are renown. The annual NY Ice Wine and Culinary Festival at Casa Larga pairs wine and food, while other wineries like Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars and Heron Hill Winery also are members of the ice wine club.  Try a new twist on ice wine at the Wine and Beer Festival on Ice in Elmira. This event is held at the First Arena, where the hockey arena is transformed into a tasting festival so you’ll literally be drinking wine on ice! If you’re looking for  a little warmth, head to Belhurst Castle for dinner and sip a wine or brew while sitting next to the outdoor fire pit to chase away the chill and or stay inside with their expansive dining windows looking out upon Seneca Lake.

Game Time

With ice and cold comes the chance to try your hand or spectate others playing unique games, like curling. Weather permitting, the Village of Palmyra hosts the friends of Rochester Curling Club annually for an afternoon of demonstration, instruction for beginners, and more. Those willing to brave spring’s chill, the annual Polar Bear Plunge at the Beachcomber is not for the faint of heart. Your plunge cred will be for real For those who like to stay dry in chilly conditions, there’s plenty for spectators to take part in throughout the day.

Experience Wildlife

There are many trails in the park system to don cross-country skis or snow shoe for an afternoon adventure. Nature lovers will want to take a trip to Montezuma Wildlife Refuge to get really up close to winter wildlife, where you can make your way through the refuge’s nature trails and hopefully glimpse white-tailed deer, fox, a variety of birds, including bald eagles and owls, and more creatures who brave the cold and snow.

Over at Mendon Ponds Park, follow the trail to the chickadees on foot and take the opportunity to pause and hold out your hand. If you put some bird seed in your palm, you may get a chickadee to land on your hand and take a few bites before flitting back through the trees.

Food & Fests

Missing your summer farmers markets? Head to Corning where the Corning Winter Farmers’ Market continues into the cold season, and locally grown produce, meats, baked goods, and more can still be purchased. Check out the annual Native American Winter Games at Ganondagan State Historic Site, where history and modernity collide with opportunities to learn and explore fun activities where there will be traditional winter games, Iroquois Social dancing, and more. There are many more festivals throughout the year, choose a month and check it out.  

Whether you’re here for the skiing, the wine, the view, or unique adventures, in the Finger Lakes region there’s seasonal winter fun to be had with ample open hours, accessibility, hospitality —and then some.