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Amazing Places To Camp In The Finger Lakes Region Of New York

Taughannock Falls plunges 215 feet into pool, the gorge walls are 400 feet high

New York’s Finger Lakes region is the ideal location to spend a few days camping. It is always exciting when you find a place to camp that exceeds your expectations and we found this region to be one of them.

Where is the Finger Lakes Region? The Finger Lakes region is in New York State and covers over 9,000 square miles. Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Livingston, Monroe, Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Wayne and Yates counties make up the area. Eleven long narrow lakes give the region its name.

The names of the lakes that are included in the area are: Canadice, Canandaigua, Cayuga, Conesus, Hemlock, Honeoye, Keuka, Otisco, Owasco, Seneca and Skaneateles.

This diverse area has a national forest, state parks, wineries, waterfalls, gorges, shopping, arts & culture. It is a playground for outdoor recreational activities.

The only mistake we made when going there was not planning enough days to fully explore the area!

There are so many fantastic things here that it is hard to know where to start. So the first obvious thing I wanted to know when researching the area was “is there a place for us to van camp?”

It seems like no matter where you go in the Finger Lakes region there is a multitude of locations to camp. For further information on choosing the right campground read our post here.

There are many commercial campgrounds in the area including KOA and Jellystone Park. In this post though I wanted to highlight state park and national forest camping locations and what there is to do while in the area.

Watkins Glen State Park

Arched stone bridge over small waterfall at Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen is probably the most famous of the parks in this region. This state park is located on the southern most end of Seneca Lake in the small town of Watkins Glen. The park entrance is right on Main Street so you can’t miss it.

There is a parking charge to park in the parking lots. But on the day we were there we found free parking on the street.

You can explore all that the gorge has to offer by traversing the 3 trails Gorge Trail, Indian Trail and South Rim Trail. All these trails provide fantastic views of the park. Both the Indian and South Rim Trail go along the rims of the gorge.

If you love viewing waterfalls this is one spectacular place to visit with 19 awesome waterfalls. To enter the gorge you will pass through a manmade tunnel that was hand cut through the rock.

Gorge Trail is the best way to experience the gorge. The path winds under, over, behind and even through the spray of one of the falls. Glen Creek runs through the gorge past 200-foot cliffs.

Central Cascade is the highest waterfall in the park and plunges over 60 feet. This awe inspiring park is well worth the trip.

The hike to view the waterfalls is about two miles long and they keep the trail well maintained. But the trail can be wet and slippery in spots so make sure to wear appropriate shoes. And I hope you like steps because there are over 800 of them!

Man walking into tunnel at Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park offers over 270 beautiful campsites with picnic tables and grills. Camping costs start at $18. Other campground amenities include hot showers, dump station and restrooms.

To keep the kids entertained you will find a kid’s pool, playground, baseball field, basketball court and an Olympic pool. The park also offers educational programs.

Campfire wood and ice are available.

If you are a pet owner you must have a certificate of rabies vaccination for your pet.

This park is really busy so make sure to reserve your campsite ahead of time. You can make reservations here.

If you need further information call the park office at 607-535-4511.

The village of Watkins Glen also is home to Watkins Glen International. This world famous car racing track hosts NASCAR, IMSA, Vintage Grand Prix, IndyCar plus more.

While visiting Watkins Glen be sure to stop at the International Motor Racing Research Center. This facility contains 5,000 square feet of all things “racing.”

Finger Lakes National Forest

Finger Lakes National Forest offers over 16,000 acres of endless recreational opportunities. The forest is the only national forest in New York State. This is one of the smallest national forests and situated between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes.

The habitat in the forest provides the perfect chance to view abundant wildlife like white-tailed deer, turkeys, bobcats and grouse.

There are over 30 miles of hiking trails in the forest. Bring along a pair of binoculars to take in the abundance of birds as you hike the trails.

The twelve mile Interloken Trail runs north to south. This trail is part of the Finger Lakes Trail system. There are gates on this trail so you will have to open and close them as you pass. It offers the opportunity to experience diverse habitats.

The multi-use forest provides a place to hunt, fish, bicycle, hike, ski, horseback ride, bird watch, camp and to engage in many other recreational activities

The Finger Lakes National Forest provides camping at Blueberry Patch Campground. This small campground has 9 sites suitable for tents or small RVs (less than 24 feet.)

Why did they name the campground that? Because it sits in a patch of blueberries that you are welcome to eat when they are in season. You might want to check in when it is raspberry and apple season too.

Sites have a picnic table, fire pit and tent pad. There are vault toilets but no drinking water. Camping fees start at $15 a night and you want to get there early because whoever gets there first gets the sites.

For more information you can contact the Hector Ranger Station at 607-546-4470.

Taughannock Falls State Park

Taughannock Falls State Park is a 750 acre park on the shore of Cayuga Lake northwest of Ithaca. The park is home to the spectacular Taughannock Falls, a 215 foot water fall. Taughannock Falls is the tallest waterfall in the eastern US.

Besides Taughannock Falls there is Lower Falls which drops 20 feet and Upper Falls which cascades 100. The Gorge Trail is a ¾ mile long trail that passes by the Lower Falls and brings you to the foot of Taughannock Falls.

You can view the Upper Falls from the North and South Rim Trails which create a loop. The North Rim Trail is 1 1/2 miles long and the South Rim Trail is 1 1/8.

The multi-use trail in the park offers two miles of trails open to hiking and cross country skiing. To obtain a park map go here.

Other activities the park offers include summer concerts, swimming, fishing, sledding, ice skating and cross country skiing to name a few.

Cayuga Lake is the longest of the Finger Lakes so if you are into boating and fishing this is one stop that you can’t miss. You can charter a boat to spend the day on the lake fishing or just kicking back. Or you might want to take out a canoe or kayak and paddle around.

You also can rent peddle boats or stand up paddleboards if you are looking for something a little different.

Wine and sightseeing cruises offer the opportunity to spend the day visiting different wineries and to watch the spectacular sunsets as the day winds down.

The campground at Taughannock offers a great view of the scenic Cayuga Lake and has over 60 sites. Other amenities you will find include picnic tables, bathrooms, marina and fire pits. Some of the sites have electric hook-ups and there is a dump station.

Camping fees will start at $18. This campground is busy so make sure to reserve your campsite ahead of time. You can visit here to make reservations.

If you need further information you can contact the park office at 607-387-6739.

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Buttermilk Falls State Park

Buttermilk Falls State Park covers over 800 acres and has 10 waterfalls. Buttermilk Falls was so named because apparently someone thought that the bubbly, churning foam of Buttermilk Creek as it cascaded over the rocks was reminiscent of buttermilk.

The best way to view Buttermilk Falls is from Gorge Trail. The trail follows Buttermilk Creek for a distance of over 500 feet with the soothing sound of running water, past several falls, rock features and pools. At the bottom of Buttermilk Falls there is a pool where you can swim when allowed.

From Gorge Trail you can also see a unique rock formation called Pinnacle Rock which is 40 feet tall.

The park has other hiking trails that meander through it providing a way to thoroughly enjoy this beautiful, scenic area.

Bear Trail is 3/4 of a mile long and offers vistas, bathrooms, place to picnic and is open all year.

Lake Treman Trail is 1-1/2 miles long and follows the shore of Lake Treman in the upper section of the park. This trail is open all year and offers vistas, a place to picnic and bathrooms.

Larch Meadow Trail is 1 mile long and is in the lower part of the park. It goes past the ball field and meanders through a marshy area offering a great opportunity to view the wildlife. The trail is marked and is open all year. There are restrooms and a place to picnic.

Owl Creek Trail is 3/4 of a mile long and is in the lower part of the park near the campground and cabin area. There are restrooms and a place to picnic.

Rim Trail is 3/4 mile of a mile long and as the name implies runs the rim of the gorge and offers a fabulous view of the gorge. There is a place to picnic, restrooms and the trail forms a loop with Gorge Trail.

If you want to see a map of the trails in the park go here.

Buttermilk Falls State Park is located south of Ithaca on Route 13. The campground at Buttermilk Falls has over 20 campsites.

The campground has cabins available in addition to camping. There are bathrooms and showers available. Camping fees start at $15. You can visit here to reserve your location.

If you would like further information you can contact the park office at 607-273-5761.

When bringing a pet you must have a certificate of rabies vaccination for your pet.

You’re in Wine Country

The state of New York is third in grape production in the United States. The majority of the grapes produced are of the Concord variety. The state boasts over 1,600 family-owned vineyards.

The major wine growing areas in New York are located in the Lake Erie, Long Island, Hudson River and Finger Lakes regions. The Finger Lake region has four main lakes Seneca, Canandaigua, Cayuga and Keuka that provide the perfect climate for growing grapes.

The Finger Lake region is home to over 100 wineries and over 9,000 acres of vineyards. The growing season lasts an average of 197 days.

Tours of vineyards and wineries are available. There are wine events held throughout the area all year round.

Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka Lakes all have wine trails to offer you the opportunity to experience wine tastings that will introduce you to some new wine favorites. Plan to spend the day so you can savor your trip. Besides wineries you can also visit microbreweries and distilleries.

The area also offers fabulous choices for eating out. You will find bistros, fine dining experiences and you can even enjoy a meal at a restaurant that overlooks one of the lakes.

Other places to visit

No van camping trip is complete unless you have plenty of things to do. The Finger Lakes region certainly has a lot to offer to keep you busy. We will touch on a few locations but this is by no way an exhaustive list.

Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York

Corning Museum of Glass is located at 1 Museum Way in Corning and is dedicated to all things glass. The museum sits on 10 acres and you will even find glass featured in the architecture of the buildings.

There is close to 50,000 objects in the museum collection. They have hands on exhibits, glass working demonstrations and visitors can even make their own glass.

The museum is open 7 days a week, summer hours are 9 am to 8 pm and winter hours are 9 am to 5 pm. Cost for admission is $20 for adults, 17 & under free, $17 for college students & 62+ and $10 for locals.

If you need further information to plan you visit you can contact the museum at 607-937-5371

The Strong National Museum of Play is located at 1 Manhattan Square in Rochester. This museum is the place to go if you have kids.

It has 100,000 square feet of exhibits and there are places to dine if you get hungry while doing all that playing. There is a gift shop where you can buy toys to please the kids and buy souvenirs.

The museum houses over 75,000 toy items which is the most complete to date. If you can think of your favorite toy as a child they probably have it.

Toys you will find include board games, dolls, construction sets, trains, action figures, video games and many more of your favorite toys.

The museum is also home to the World Video Game Hall of Fame and the National Toy Hall of Fame.

You can visit the museum Sunday from noon to 5 pm, Monday through Thursday from 10 am to 5 pm and on Friday & Saturday from 10 am to 8 pm.

Admission is free to children under 2 years of age and $16 for those who are older if you would like to visit the butterfly garden that is $5 extra.

A trip to The Strong is one play date that you won’t want to miss!

You can contact the museum at 585-263-2700 if you need further assistance.

Glenn H. Curtiss Museum is located at 8419 State Route 54 in Hammondsport and is dedicated to early aviation history. Glenn Curtiss was an innovative builder of bicycles, motorcycles and aircraft.

On display you will see Curtis aircraft including a 1913 “Model E” flying boat, C-46 WWII transport, Curtiss motorcycles, antique tools, fire equipment and a whole lot more.

There is a museum store and a restoration shop where you can watch them work on aircraft. Parking at the museum is free and there is a $12 admission charge for adults, $10 for seniors, and $8 for students. Children under 6 get in free.

From May 1 to October 31 hours are 9 to 5 – Monday through Saturday and 10 to 5 on Sunday.

From November 1 to April 30 hours are 10 to 4 – Monday through Sunday. If you would like further information you can call them at 607- 569-2160.

George Eastman Museum is at 900 East Avenue in Rochester and is the world’s oldest photography museum. Eastman was a forerunner in the field of photography and motion picture film.

The museum has over a million items related to photography and cinema with changing exhibits throughout the year. The Dryden Theatre shows over 300 various films throughout the year and can seat 500 people to watch.

Also you can listen to talks from experts, take tours or listen to music recitals held usually on Sundays. There is a café and store on location.

The museum is located on the Eastman estate so you will be able to walk through the halls of the mansion. You can also stroll through the beautifully kept gardens which are open May through September.

If you are planning a visit the museum it is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 am to 5 pm and on Sunday 11 am to 5 pm. They are not open on Monday.

Admittance costs are as follows: 4 and under free, 5 to age 17 & students with proper ID $5, 65+ is $13 and adults is $15.

If you would like more information you can call 585-327-4800.

It’s A Wonderful Life Museum is located at 32 Fall Street in Seneca Falls. This wonderful museum commemorates that classic Christmas movie by the same name. The movie starred Jimmy Stewart, who played George Bailey. George’s guardian angel reveals how different the lives of the people of Bedford Falls would have been without him.

The town of Seneca Falls has long thought to have been the model for the fictitious community of Bedford Falls. Things in common between the two towns include having a canal, main streets that look similar, a steel bridge, location of New York towns close to it and the list goes on.

Admission to the museum is free, you can’t beat that! It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm.

The second weekend in December Seneca Falls hosts It’s a Wonderful Life Festival. There is a jammed packed schedule of events that happen on this weekend, so if you are in the area be sure to include it as one of your stops.

If you would like further information about the museum call 315-568-5838.

Rosamond Gifford Zoo is located at 1 Conservation Place in Syracuse, NY. The zoo houses more than 700 animals with the largest an Asian elephant.

Herd of elephants at water pond

The zoo is open all year long and even the outdoor exhibits are open through the winter. Over half of the exhibits are housed indoors.

You will see fish, birds in the aviary, penguins, deer, wolves, bears and even domestic animals that you can actually pet. The zoo has a café that offers a place to get a meal or snack. There is a gift shop that the profits are used to help provide for the care of the animals of the zoo.

The zoo is open daily from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm; they are closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Veterans and active military get in for free, children under age 2 get in for free, 62+ for $5, adults for $9 and those age 3-17 for $5. During January and February they have a discounted rate.

So if you love animals this is one cool place to visit.

If you would like to contact them for further information call 315-435-8511.

Seabreeze Amusement Park is located at 4600 Culver Road in Rochester. This park has been in existence since 1879 and provides hours of family fun.

The park offers 70+ attractions including thrill rides, four roller coasters, kiddie rides, live shows, a water park and more. The gift shop offers 1,000 square feet of souvenirs, candy and apparel.

Seabreeze is open from the middle of May to the middle of September. You can buy season passes to save on admission prices. Parking is free at the park. If you need further information to plan your trip you can contact them at 585-323-1900.

del Lago Resort & Casino is located at 1133 State Route 414 in Waterloo. This casino offers 66 table games including 14 poker tables and 1,650 slot machines.

You can shop, dine and enjoy entertainment in their 2,400 seating capacity entertainment venue.

Tioga Downs Casino Resort is located at 2384 W. River Road in Nichols. The resort hosts stake racing including the NY Sire Stakes.

The casino has almost 900 gaming machines, poker tables and more for your gaming enjoyment. Concerts provide extra entertainment during the summer season. There is even a golf course if you want to play a few rounds.

I really like to find an area that not only offers great places to van camp but provides plenty of activities to enjoy, places to explore and things to see.

The Finger Lakes region offers great places to go antiquing and to enjoy shopping at large retail stores and malls. The area offers the other end of the shopping spectrum as well. There are small stores owned by individuals or families that offer a small town shopping experience with personalized service.

This area is a great place to buy fresh produce right from the farms or at the various farmers’ markets held throughout the growing season. Farming contributes heavily to the economy of the area.

There are over one million acres of farmland in the region. Farms produce blueberries, grapes, apples, cherries, strawberries and vegetables. Some farms even allow you to pick your own. If you are a cheese lover they also produce cheese!

In fact many of the restaurants in the area buy produce from the local farmers giving you a fresh to the table experience.

I love to visit in the fall when the leaves are turning magnificent colors, the harvest season is in swing and the fall festivals are going on. But no matter what season you visit there is always something happening.

As you can see from this post the Finger Lakes region in New York is one fantastic place to van camp. We have touched on just a few of the things that there are to do in this diverse area.

So pack your clothes, start the van and hit the road!

Photo of author


Ever since I was little I have been a traveler at heart. It all started when I was six years old and my family took a road trip to Alaska. I enjoy visiting new places and revisiting some of the great locations that I have been to already.