Penn Yan Historic District, Penn Yan, New York, USA. Sign of ATM from 'Community Bank' on the left, Victorian commercial building of Struble's Arcade on the right. Editorial credit: PQK /

These Towns in the Finger Lakes Come Alive in Spring

Central New York has a unique collection of eleven long, narrow lakes that were cut by ancient glaciers, known as the Finger Lakes: Otisco Lake, Skaneateles Lake, Owasco Lake, Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake, Keuka Lake, Canandaigua Lake, Honeoye Lake, Canadice Lake, Hemlock Lake, and Conesus Lake. The region’s natural beauty has made it a popular vacation destination for generations, with visitors coming year-round to experience the water, the wineries, and much more. Spring is perhaps the most quiet season in the Finger Lakes, yet its small towns are still full of life and well worth a visit!

Seneca Falls

Historic church building, occupied by the Women’s Interfaith Institute (Seneca Falls Performing Arts Center), Seneca Falls, New York, USA.
Historic church building, Seneca Falls, New York, USA. Editorial credit: Alizada Studios /

Seneca Falls is a timeless small town that, nearly a century ago, inspired the fictional community of Bedford Falls in the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life. A century before that, Seneca Falls hosted the monumental 1848 Women’s Rights Convention, which is commemorated in a National Historic Park. Walking through Seneca Falls on a lovely spring day truly feels like stepping back into the past. Due to the town’s ideal location between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake, Seneca Falls is a great starting point for the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, which includes nearly 30 local wineries that host numerous springtime tastings and events.

Penn Yan

Downtown Main Street, Penn Yan, New York, USA. Colorful cityscape of an American small town.
Downtown Main Street, Penn Yan, New York, USA. Editorial credit: PQK /

Penn Yan was founded by a mix of Pennsylvania and New England “Yankee” settlers, which led to the town’s odd compromise of a name. The downtown Penn Yan Historic District includes a nice mix of businesses, including Birkitt Mills, founded in 1797 and home to the “world’s largest pancake griddle.” Set at the northern tip of Keuka Lake, Penn Yan offers boating, beaches, and hiking and biking along the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail. Penn Yan is also the starting point for the Keuka Lake Wine Trail, with six member wineries that host a popular Wine and Cheese Lovers weekend in late April.


Cityscape of downtown Geneva, New York, USA. Geneva is located at the northern end of Seneca Lake, New York, and is known for its charming small-town atmosphere.
Cityscape of downtown Geneva, New York, USA. Editorial credit: PQK /

Geneva is a classic gem on the north shore of Seneca Lake, with historic downtown structures like the 1894 Smith Opera House and nearby architectural wonders like the 1884 Belhurst Castle and 1910 Geneva-on-the-Lake resort. The historic Rose Hill Mansion celebrates spring with a lovely Mother’s Day event each May. For wine lovers, Geneva is a great springtime stop along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Additionally, Seneca Lake, the deepest of the Finger Lakes, is great for fishing, which is why Geneva hosts the annual National Lake Trout Derby in early May.


Main Street in downtown Canandaigua, New York, USA.
Main Street in downtown Canandaigua, New York, USA. Editorial credit: Ritu Manoj Jethani /

In the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) language, Canandaigua means “the chosen place,” which well suits the town and the lake that share the name. The town of Canandaigua has arguably the best collection of Victorian-era architecture in the Finger Lakes, and the Main Street Historic District is perfect for both sightseeing and shopping. The spectacular 1887 Sonnenberg Mansion and Gardens, now a 50-acre state park, sits in the heart of town and is at its most gorgeous when the gardens are in springtime bloom. Sonnenberg also hosts several spring events, such as the early April Orchid Show and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations.


Street view of Auburn, New York, USA. Auburn is a city located at the north end of Owasco Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, in Central New York.
Street view of Auburn, New York, USA. Editorial credit: PQK /

Auburn is one of the largest towns in the Finger Lakes region, home to about 27,000 residents along the northern edge of Owasco Lake. The town has many historic buildings, but the two most significant are the homes of Harriet Tubman and William Seward, important figures in the abolition of slavery. Seward and Tubman’s homes are now museums, and they and other equality advocates are recognized at the Equal Rights Heritage Center, which doubles as a visitor’s center. Owasco Lake’s boating and fishing seasons kick into gear in spring, while the Auburn-Fleming Trail switches from cross-country skiing to hiking and biking.

Watkins Glen

Waterfall canyon in Watkins Glen State Park, Upstate New York.
Waterfall canyon in Watkins Glen State Park, Upstate New York.

Watkins Glen has a long history as an auto racing mecca, and springtime marks the opening of the annual racing season at the iconic Watkins Glen International Raceway. Visitors can also take their own cars on laps around the track! Back in town, Watkins Glen’s spot at the southern tip of Seneca Lake becomes all the more lovely with the arrival of spring. Watkins Glen State Park, located right in town and home to 19 spectacular gorge waterfalls, also opens fully after the retreat of winter’s icy conditions. Additionally, spring is a great time to check out some of the more than two dozen wineries found along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.

Spring Awakens in the Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes region offers boating and swimming in summer, spectacular leaf-peeping in autumn, and snow sports in winter. So what does spring offer? Springtime in the Finger Lakes means blooming flowers, world-class fishing, roaring auto races, and the return of visitors to both hiking trails and wine trails. The small towns alongside the lakes shake off the winter chill and welcome warmer days with fun activities and lots of hospitality. The Finger Lakes region is a true four-season destination!

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