Medicareful Travel: Senior Trip to the Finger Lakes
We love traveling at Medicareful Living. It can expand your perspective, keep you learning and active, and create memories that last a lifetime. However, a big journey can be daunting without help. We want to be that help and make sure you don’t miss a thing while you’re exploring. Throughout this series, we’ll offer you tips on where to stay, what to see, and what to try, as well as answer some important questions. All opinions and facts in this article are through extensive research and personal experience. We have not received sponsorships or remuneration for our support or opinions.
Tucked away in Upstate New York, you’ll find a handful of skinny lakes well-known for their beauty. The Finger Lakes certainly have earned their reputation as great getaways and picturesque landscapes. The area makes for a great long weekend trip for locals, but also has enough activities for travelers to extend their trip. If you’ve never been there before, we have some suggestions and tips that may make your stay even better.
Why the Finger Lakes are Perfect for Seniors
Traveling to the Finger Lakes is a great idea for older adults looking to get away and create new group memories. Whether that’s with friends or family, there are options for everyone. Central to its appeal is the relaxing atmosphere.
While the Finger Lakes aren’t as walkable as a New York City and doesn’t have the metro system of Paris or London, you do have several great options for getting around. First, driving is probably your best bet for transportation. We recommend hiring a driving service for a day or the duration of your trip to take full advantage of the area. Alternatively, you can rent (or bring) bikes to get around the Finger Lakes with surprising ease. Cayuga and Seneca Lake have roads winding on both sides that allow you to ride nearly the length of the lakes. Biking can be a fun, relaxing way to get around if you’re not in the mood to drive and are an experienced biker. Finally, boating is also an option to get from one side of the river to the other. Some have found that this is the fastest way to get around the lake! Boat rentals are available, but you can also bring your own boat if you have one.
Where to Stay
There are many options for overnight stays in the area that span a variety of experiences and budgets. Dotted throughout the area are smaller towns with bed and breakfasts and smaller hotels, while larger towns (Ithaca, Watkins Glen, Geneva, and Seneca Falls) can be found on the tips of the two main lakes (Seneca and Cayuga). Bed and breakfasts or vacation rentals through services like VRBO or Airbnb can offer up an entire home, with all the amenities and space a larger group may want. Consider your group’s budget and desired location when making the decision of where to stay.
On Seneca Lake or Cayuga Lake
Staying directly on the lakes has its benefits. You’re right by the water, so the location offers picturesque views with direct access to the water for boating, fishing, and more. You’ll find many vacation rentals scattered on the roads lining the lakes, so you’ll be able to pick and choose where to stay. If you’re right on one of the lakes, you’ll also be close to many of that specific lake’s wineries and activities. This is great for groups who’d like to be active throughout their trip!
If you’d like to stay directly on the water, expect the prices to be a bit higher. As for choice, if you’re staying right on one of the lakes, it’ll make you further from the other lake’s activities, especially if you’re on the far sides of the lakes (the west side of Seneca Lake and the east side of Cayuga Lake). Even though they’re close, that bit of distance can determine where you spend most of your time. Both areas are similar, including their experiences.
Seneca may have a few more wineries than Cayuga, while Cayuga is closer to Ithaca and (ironically) Seneca Falls. But the differences aren’t too noticeable, and they’re close enough that you can drive from one to the other in under 20 minutes by car (or around an hour by bike).
Between the Lakes
If you’d like the take advantages of both areas, consider staying between the two, either on one of the lakes on the inside (east side of Seneca or the west side of Cayuga) or even more centrally inland. Staying on the inside of the lakes cuts down on the necessary travel time if you’re hopping between the two lakes while enjoying the “on-lake” beauty, though you can still expect higher prices.
Alternatively, by staying more inland, you’ll reduce the travel time between the lakes by half and can save some money since the accommodations aren’t waterfront. It’s worth mentioning that you may not have as great of a view, depending on the property. You’ll have to consider all aspects of your trip to make the right choices for your group.
If you’d like to stay in a traditional hotel or take advantage of a locally owned bed and breakfast, consider staying in one of the main towns around the lakes. Staying in town boasts a more suburban feel, rather than the scenic experience you get staying on the lakes. The larger towns have a wider selection of restaurants. You may also find more of a range of accommodation prices, from the more affordable to the most luxurious. Sightseers can enjoy the many activities that are available. Ithaca has a famous farmers market, a vibrant downtown, and botanical gardens, to name a few attractions.
What to Do
While you could easily spend your entire time in the Finger Lakes sitting on a porch with your feet up, we’ll also recommend activities and locations to visit if you’d like to get around and stay active on your trip. There are many options for all activity levels and interests in the Finger Lakes!
Take a Tour of the Wineries
One of the things the Finger Lakes are most famous for are the wineries. The rolling hills and climate are perfect for growing wine grapes, especially if you’re in the mood for a sweeter wine. Both Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake have organized wine trails that you can follow. The other lakes (namely Canandaigua and Keuka Lakes) also have trails, some of which offer discounted wine trail passports for free wine tastings at participating wineries. Prices for a tasting differ between wineries, but are generally under $15, often under $10. This can make for an affordable and fun day.
If you’re going to try some of the wines, be sure to follow these tips. We recommend making a reservation at the winery you’re looking to visit. Not every winery requires them, but it can be helpful (especially if you’re visiting during the peak tourist season) so you don’t have to wait for an availability. Next, make sure you’re eating and hydrating with water throughout the day. Overindulgence is an easy way to make your group’s trip less enjoyable. Finally, designate a sober driver for the day or hire a professional driver (there are many services in the area). Don’t drink and drive, especially in the windy country roads.
The Finger Lakes are also rich with hiking options and state parks. Depending on where you’re staying, you may even have a nature trail within walking distance of your accommodations. The famous Watkins Glen State Park, by Seneca Lake, has gorgeous trails and Rainbow Falls. Nearby, you have the Excelsior Glen trail, while further north is the Seneca Mills Falls. Over by Cayuga Lake, you have Taughannock Falls State Park, Van Riper & Whitlock Nature Preserve, Long Point State Park, and Cayuga Lake State Park. There are plenty of other parks and trails on the Finger Lakes Trail if hiking is something you love to do. Just be sure to hike safely.
Time on the Lakes
Your time in nature doesn’t have to just be on trails! You can rent a boat to take the family out on a lake for a day or to go with a few friends for some fishing. Some vacation rental properties may even have kayaks or boats that you can use while staying there. Of course, you don’t need a boat to go fishing or swimming on the lake, as long as there’s a designated area for those activities, where you can perform them safely. Talk to your renter or hotel staff to see what options are available to you.
Head into Town
As we previously mentioned, there are plenty of little and larger towns around the lakes and exploring them can be a nice change of pace during your stay. The largest of these is Ithaca, but it’s not the only one worth visiting. Any fans of the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life will want to check out Seneca Falls, the town reputed to be the inspiration for Bedford Falls. Today, you can find the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum, as well as the bridge said to have inspired the movie, there.
What to Eat
The Finger Lakes’ food scene is still up-and-coming but does boast some enjoyable meals. With that in mind, we can make a few suggestions on how to find those good meals. We suggest finding a place close to where you’re staying that offers a variety of options that everyone can enjoy. That way, if plans fall through or you can’t find a place that everyone can agree on, you won’t go hungry. A nice pub, winery, or pizza place is usually a safe option. Many wineries and breweries will not only have food, but really good food to keep guests around for longer. That can make a winery or brewery a nice option for dinner while also giving you the chance to try some of their beverages.
Don’t be afraid to explore the options in any of the towns, either. You may just find a hidden gem (like Seneca Falls’ Sackett’s Table & Market) or a wider range of cuisine styles. Wherever you look to go, do a little research so the restaurant is something your group will enjoy in a price range you can all afford. Google or websites like TripAdvisor or Yelp can be useful to quickly look at your options. Don’t forget, if you’re staying in a rental property and have the facilities, you can always cook. There are plenty of grocery stores around with some excellent fresh local produce and products that can make an unforgettable dinner.
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If you’re situated in the Northeast, the Finger Lakes are an easy decision for a long weekend. Even if you’re outside the region, a longer trip to the upstate New York area can be a nice vacation. No matter what you’ll be doing — hiking, enjoying the lakes, exploring the wineries, or nothing at all — the Finger Lakes are a great place to do just that.
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