Wineries and Waterfalls on the Finger Lakes Bike Tour

Wineries and Waterfalls on the Finger Lakes Bike Tour

The New York Finger Lakes Bike Tour is one of our favorite trips here at Wilderness Voyageurs. This moderately challenging trip rolls along smooth paved roads, past three of New York’s Finger Lakes: Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga. Along the way, you’ll visit wineries, hike along stunning waterfalls and visit historic sites – such as the bridge from It’s a Wonderful Life. The scenery, lodging and food on this bike tour are truly fantastic.

Ride, Sip, Eat, Repeat

outside dining Thirsty Owl Winery

On the first day of your tour, we ride along the north shore of Seneca Lake and continue through farmlands toward Lake Cayuga. On the western shore of Cayuga, we visit the Thirsty Owl Wine Company, which spans 150 acres with over 2000 feet of lake frontage. We enjoy lunch and a wine tasting at the Thirsty Owl’s Bistro. The Bistro is a unique outdoor dining experience with spectacular views of the lake and a seasonal menu with local ingredients.

Thirsty Owl Wine Company got started in 2001 when Ted Cupp purchased 150 acres from Robert and Mary Plane, the visionaries who created the Cayuga Wine Trail, (America’s first and longest-running wine trail). The following spring of 2002, Cupp and one employee planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Malbec in the vineyard. When the Thirsty Owl opened its doors, it had four wines and produced 1200 cases. Since then production has increased over 1000 percent, and the company has produced some incredible, award-winning wines. The winery has won the Governor’s Cup and the John Rose award for Rieslings, and its Pinot Noir was the highest rated North American Pinot at the Taster’s Guild International competition. The Thirsty Owl also makes some of the area’s only Malbec and Syrah, along with unique blends, reds, whites and ice wines. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of room in the support van for souvenir bottles!

The food and wine are delicious, but make sure you save room for ice cream a little ways down the road at Cayuga Lake Creamery, which serves homemade, small batch ice cream in both traditional and unique flavors such as Lavender, Maple Bacon, Ultimate Fudge Brownie, and the famous Seneca Salt Caramel.

From Cayuga Lake, we hop back on the road and descend toward Taughannock Falls, the first of many waterfalls on the tour.

Chasing Waterfalls

Taughannock Falls, pronounced Tuh-GA-nick, is a real trip highlight. The falls’ name is believed to derive from the Algonquian Taconic (“in the trees”) or Taghkanic (after a Lenape chieftain killed in battle nearby). Taughannock falls carves a 400-foot gorge through layers of sandstone, shale and limestone that were once the bed of an ancient sea. With a 215 foot plunge, this waterfall stands three stories taller than Niagara Falls. It’s one of the highest falls east of the Rocky Mountains.

The glaciers widened, deepened and accentuated the existing river valleys. Glacial debris left behind by the receding ice aced as dams and allowed lakes to form. The glaciers made the tributary streams steeper, creating rapids and waterfalls wherever there were layers of hard rock. The deep cutting of the valleys left some tributaries hanging high above the lakes. Both Seneca and Cayuga Lakes have tributaries hanging as much as 390 feet above the valley floors.

The Taughannock waterfall and gorge are an example of one of these hanging valleys, formed where Taughannock Creek’s stream-carved valley meets the deeper glacially carved valley that contains Cayuga Lake. The gorge has continued to retreat westward from Cayuga Lake as easily eroded shale near the fall’s base is worn away by the stream, which supports erosion-resistant siltstone and sandstone found in the upper portions of the gorge. Annual freeze and thaw cycles also act upon small faults in the rock, causing large sections to occasionally break away, further expanding the gorge.

The gorge supports a “Shale Cliff and Talus” community of plants, including three regionally rare species classified as threatened in New York State: Butterwort, birds-eye primrose and yellow mountain saxifrage.

If you don’t have a chance to see it all on the first day, don’t worry! Our second day’s ride starts from the Taughannock Falls. Make sure you bring a camera, so you’ll have the opportunity to capture the moment in two different lights!

On the second day, we’ll cruise from Taughannock Falls to Watkins Glen State Park, the most famous state park in the Finger Lakes region. Here, we have lunch and then take our time exploring the park together.

The unforgettable centerpiece of the park is a 400-foot-deep narrow gorge cut through rock by a stream – Glen Creek – that was left hanging when glaciers deepened the Seneca valley during the Ice Age. The steep drop of Glen Creek into Seneca Valley created a powerful torrent that eroded the underlying rock, cutting further and further back towards the stream’s headwaters. This erosion was not a uniform process, because there are three different kinds of rock here (shale, limestone and sandstone) which erode at different rates. The rushing water left behind a staircase of waterfalls, cascades, plunge pools and potholes. Watkins Glen State Park encompasses 19 waterfalls spaced along a 2-mile hiking trail. 

Our bike tour takes plenty of time to explore the gorge – with lots of photo ops along the way! You’ll be so engrossed in the waterfalls that you won’t even notice the 800 steps you’ve walked down. It’s worth it, we promise.

Best lodging in the Finger Lakes

From Watkins Glen, we travel to our lodging for the night – the Inn at Glenora Wine Cellars. Founded in 1977 as the first winery on Seneca Lake, Glenora is a special place. The property is home to vineyards, a winery, a hotel, and their very own restaurant. Expect to sip an array of varietals – but the Pinot Blancs, sparkling wines, and Rieslings are specially sought out.

During your stay at the Inn, you’ll have stunning views of Seneca Lake from your private patio – the perfect place to enjoy your complimentary bottle of Glenora wine. Take the time to stroll up the hill for a visit to the tasting room and gift shop before dinner. We eat as a group at Glenora’s Veraisons Restaurant, which features locally sourced regional cuisine and a wide variety of local wine, beer and spirits.

Another fantastic lodging option on this tour is the William Henry Miller Inn in the heart of downtown Ithaca, New York. This inn is one of the many Select Registry properties we use on our cycling vacations around the country.

The William Henry Miller is within walking distance of nearly 50 restaurants in downtown Ithaca, including the world-famous Moosewood Restaurant. Cornell University, Ithaca College and lots of neat shops are right around the corner as well. The breathtaking Cascadilla Gorge is a block and a half away, and a few more streets down you’ll find Ithaca Falls.On your way out the door for the evening, make sure you peek into the dining room at the complimentary dessert buffet. Dessert is served all evening, so you can be free to indulge after a long day of riding! Then you can put your feet up and read by the fireplace in the Music Room or Parlor or retreat to your room to rest up for another day of cycling. 

Want to ride the Finger Lakes?

These are just some of the features of the Finger Lakes bike tour. To find out more, book a cycling vacation or request an itinerary, follow this link!


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