finger lakes

Finger Lakes near Ontario has dozens of stunning waterfalls and beautiful gorge hikes

The gorgeous Finger Lakes region in New York State might be out of province, but travelling there isn't as arduous as you might think.

In fact, getting there will take roughly the same amount of time it might take to reach much of Algonquin, Tobermory or Killarney.

There are many spectacular views waiting for you just over the border, from gorge views to breathtaking waterfalls rushing past ancient rocks, making it the perfect place to spend a weekend — especially when the leaves begin to change in the fall.

If you’re starting from Toronto and crossing over near Buffalo, there are a few spots worth visiting that go beyond the standard Target and Trader Joe runs.

Must-visit parks en-route to the Finger Lakes:

Once crossing the border, you’ll be ready to stretch your legs and the Eternal Flame Falls hike is just the ticket. This short hike (round trip 30 minutes) takes you from a spacious parking lot through a beautiful forest and along a rocky river.

finger lakes

Eternal Flame Falls.

The 2-km out-and-back hike is best after it's rained recently, letting the waterfall shine with the glowing flame below.

Next up is Letchworth State Park. Known as the Grand Canyon of the East, it offers some beautiful water and bridge views.

Consider the Lower Falls or Gorge hikes to give you the best views of the canyon walls in under 2 hours. If you’re more adventurous, you can raft, swim, or take a hot air balloon ride here as well. 

Once you arrive in the Finger Lake area, you'll find tons of waterfalls and gorge hikes to do, with two of the best at Buttermilk Falls and Watkins Glen State Park.finger lakes

Rainbow Falls at Watkins Glen State Park.

As can be expected with deep gorges, you'll need to prepare yourself for a lot of stairs! But I promise they're worth it, even if in the moment you might feel like you've climbed a few CN Tower's worth of stairs. 

Buttermilk Falls State Park has a swimming hole at the base of the falls and taking a dip in it is the perfect end to the hike. The Gorge and Rim trail offers dozens of waterfalls and views as part of the 2.5 km hike. 

finger lakes

Buttermilk Falls State Park.

Watkins Glen State Park is easily my favourite of the bunch, especially if you get a campsite here.

The hike sends you deep into the 200-ft cliffs, where you'll find 19 waterfalls and over 800 stairs. This trail can get quite busy, but if you stay in the campground, you can get early and easy side access to beat the rush, giving you the chance to explore the area multiple times.

Park entry is about $10 USD per vehicle, though camping at the parks gives you free access. Consider also the $80 USD Empire Pass that'll give you unlimited seasonal access to all of New York State's parks.

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Campsite views at Watkins Glen State Park.

Where to stay:

This trip is worth getting a campsite for. You could stay at any of the parks, though Watkins Glen is my recommendation.

If you stay in the Onandoga Village campground, there's a side trail that leads down to the gorge. It's about $54 USD for two nights of camping, but unlike many campsites I've found in the U.S., these feel like proper forested Ontario ones made for tents.

Best places to eat:

Watkins Glen is near Ithaca, New York. Home to Cornell University, the town is full of great bars and restaurants to satisfy the most discerning travellers.

Ithaca Bakery, in particular, offers a range of delicious and freshly-made salads, sandwiches, baked goods, and drinks you can enjoy in-store or at your campsite, making it a great stop for any meal. 

Another option is the local farmers' market. The main one takes place on weekends, but you can find a market happening somewhere in town most days of the week. The locally-sourced food and artisan products will make you feel like you’re at a larger-scale version of ones you might find at the Brickworks.

This region is a 'gorges' sight to see any time of the year — and especially once the leaves start changing colour in fall. 

Photos by

Ontario Hikes

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