If you're looking for a picture-perfect winter getaway, complete with snow-covered meadows and dangling icicles, head to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The deep forests and open fields of this area make it perfect cross-country skiing and snow shoeing country. Even better, you'll find a well-established network of more than 800-miles of skiing trails, giving you plenty of options.
The 560-mile Finger Lakes trail begins at the Pennsylvania border and runs east to the Catskill Mountains, where it joins the Long Path. Along its route, you'll find a number of major and minor spur trails leading off to special attractions like partially-frozen waterfalls, scenic bluffs, and pristine snow fields. These side trails account for another 250 miles of trails that you and your family can explore.
Where To Go
Two destinations stand out as the hidden gems of this area. The first is Letchworth State Park, a place that's called the ‚ "Grand Canyon of the East"‚ because of the cliffs that tower 600 feet above the Genesee River. Three grand waterfalls spill over the cliffs and cascade into the river. With its lush forests and majestic scenery, this is a terrific spot for cross-country skiing. For novices and beginners, the Parade Grounds are a great place to practice the basics.
For more experienced skiers, the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail is considered one of the best in the state. This six-mile trail is flanked by parking areas at either end, so groups can leave a car in each lot and only ski in one direction. The trail begins in Dresden, south of Geneva on the western shore of Seneca Lake. The trail winds past a number of waterfalls that glisten with icicles in the winter.If you'd rather get away from other skiers and venture into an untouched land of silent snows, head to the Finger Lakes National Forest. The trails there seem to go on forever, criss-crossing the territory that lies to the southeast of Seneca Lake. You'll pass through deep forests and open fields on your route. Be sure to watch for winter wildlife!
What can you do after your crew has finished its ski for the day? Head to one of the area's wildlife viewing hot spots and watch for deer, migratory birds, wild turnkeys, and muskrats. You can see the only naturally white deer (not albino) at the Seneca Army Depot off Route 96 A. Stop just north of Sampson State Park in the early morning or at sundown and watch for these unique creatures. You can also spot the white deer near Romulus and Varick, close to Seneca Lake.
Birds Eye Hollow is a wildlife protection area near the town of Tyrone, just beyond the causeway between Lamoka and Waneta Lakes, near Keuka and Seneca Lakes. This is a great place to go bird watching for songbirds, cardinals, ruffed grouse, and wild turkeys, as well as deer, muskrats, and turtles (in warmer weather).
On the northern end of Cayuga Lake, the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge has trails that meander through orchards, woods, and over creeks. This is a terrific spot for wildlife viewing and bird watching.
The Finger Lakes region offers plenty of other wintertime activities, from snowmobiling on the NYS snowmobile trail system to sipping cocoa by a roaring fire. Adult visitors will enjoy a stop along the Finger Lakes Wine Trail, visiting vineyards on the shores of Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes. The wineries put on a number of fabulous winter events such as the Holiday Shopping Spree, Deck the Halls, Bargain Bash, Be Mine with Wine, Keuka Holidays, Mardi Gras, and Meet the Winemaker. Tickets are reasonable and the events include festivities, wine, and tasty food samples.
If you have kids in your group, be sure to visit Rice Hill. This area includes two old-fashioned ponds, where ice skaters can skim the ice the way people have done for centuries. Then there's Rice Hill, a massive sledding hill that's perfect for tubing and tobogganing. Rice Hill is managed by the state park system, and they offer a shelter with a wood stove where skaters and sledders can warm up between runs. From Route 89 in Taughannock Falls, take the road to Overlook. At the Y in the road, veer right onto Rice Road.