Cayuga Lake is the 2nd largest of the Finger Lakes, behind Seneca Lake. Cayuga is actually longer than Seneca, but since Seneca is wider, it is the larger of the two lakes in total area. The college town of Ithaca is the lake’s only town, though there are several small villages surrounding the lake that definitely warrant exploration! To truly experience Cayuga Lake, be sure to get out on the water, whether through sailing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, boat rental, or any other number of on-the-water activities.
Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway
One of the best ways to take in all that Cayuga Lake has to offer is to take a drive on the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway. This 87-mile loop goes all the way around the lake. While the drive can technically be completed in about 3 hours, you’ll definitely want to allow more time. A few days or even a long weekend should be sufficient to enjoy the many highlights along the route. There is plenty to do around Cayuga Lake including wineries, breweries, state parks, hiking, waterfalls, and so much more!
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is a popular attraction at the very top of Cayuga Lake. Because we only had two days, we didn’t have time to do the entire drive and therefore focused on exploring the southern end of the lake. As such, this post will primarily focus on things to do near Cayuga Lake on the southwest side, of which there is plenty!
Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
Visiting wineries is a popular pastime in the Finger Lakes region. It isn’t called Finger Lakes Wine Country for nothing! Wine makers near Cayuga Lake started America’s first wine trail over 35 years ago (1983). The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail includes 14 wineries around the perimeter of the lake. Download a copy of the (2019) Cayuga Lake Wine Trail map and brochure and start planning your visit!
3 of the wineries also serve cider (Goose Watch Winery, Buttonwood Grove Winery, and Thirsty Owl Wine Company). Monezuma also serves mead and has a distillery (Hidden Marsh Distillery), as does Swedish Hill Vineyard and Knapp Winery. Americana Vineyards also serves as the second location for Bacchus Brewing. So whether you want wine, beer, cider, mead, spirits, or liqueurs, the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail has got you covered!
All wineries along the wine trail are handicap accessible and dog-friendly, so all are welcome! Exploring Cayuga Lake by boat? Some of the wineries are even boat accessible! But before you embark on the wine trail, be sure to order the Vino Visa Coupon Book. The cost is $15 (current as of June 2019), and the savings are worth so much more! The book includes coupons for all 14 wineries (including some free tastings). Enclosed are also discounts on Cayuga Lake accommodations, attractions, restaurants, and transportation services.
You can check out the full list of savings and order your copy of the Vino Visa Coupon Book HERE. While we didn’t visit all 14 wineries on the trail, we were able to visit 3 and wanted to share our experiences with you!
Buttonwood Grove Winery
Buttonwood Grove Winery, along the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, was among our favorites of all of the wineries we visited in the entire Finger Lake region. Maybe it had something to do with their incredible wines. Or maybe is was because of the picturesque views from their deck overlooking the vineyards and lake. Could have had something to do with their adorable highland cow, Melody, which reminded us of our trips to Scotland. Or quite possibly it was the fact that we were able to sleep at a vineyard for the first time in our lives. More on that next!
Buttonwood Grove has been owned by Dave and Melissa Pittard since 2014. In the past few years, they have made incredible strides to make Buttonwood an award-winning winery. In 2017, they received the Governor’s Cup for their (2016) Riesling; it was designated as the Best Wine in the entire state of New York. With a welcoming ambiance and an impressive entertainment schedule, Buttonwood Grove is definitely one of the best wineries on Cayuga Lake!
Buttonwood Grove Winery Wines
Of the many wines we sampled at Buttonwood, our favorites were their Vidal Blanc (semi-dry with bright lemon-lime flavors), the semi-sweet Big Hollow Block Riesling (2017), and their semi-sweet Riesling. We also enjoyed their semi-dry unoaked Chardonnay (2017), the Cayuga Lake Mist (semi-sweet, fruit flavors), and their Sycamore White (semi-sweet, tropical fruit).
Buttonwood Grove also has a few roses, a handful of reds, and a Blackberry Briar, which we didn’t care for too much, though lots of people love its sweet berry flavor. They also serve up their own hard cider. With so many options, we’re pretty confident you’re going to find something you love!
Cayuga Lake Lodging
Have you ever spent the night at a vineyard?! Neither had we before visiting Buttonwood Grove! No need for a designated driver or Uber following your visit to the tasting room! Just wander a few hundred feet to a beautifully appointed cabin in the woods. Choose from one of four 1-bedroom cabins, available April-December. (There’s a 2 night minimum stay during weekends.) So, if you’re looking for places to stay on Cayuga Lake, why not stay at a winery?!
Cayuga Lake Cabin Rentals
We stayed 2 nights in the Merlot cabin and thoroughly enjoyed all of the wonderful amenities. The cabin is complete with a comfy queen sized bed (and pull out sofa, if needed), bathroom with shower, mini-fridge and microwave, and heating and A/C to keep you comfortable no matter the weather. Outside of the cabin is a picnic table and fire ring, with the 1st bundle of wood included. They have also conveniently stocked the cabin with a selection of their delicious wines. Simply pay for what you consume! Whether or not you STAY at Buttonwood Grove Winery, you should definitely stop by during your drive on the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway. And be sure to check out this post for additional lodging options in the Finger Lakes.
Goose Watch Winery
Just down the road from Buttonwood Grove is Goose Watch Winery. They are one of few wineries on Cayuga Lake that is accessible by boat. Goose Watch is yet another great location along the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail offering spectacular views over the lake. Pack a picnic and sit under the inviting canopy of trees on their property. Not only are the views nice, but the building itself (a century old beautifully restored barn) is something to marvel at.
Goose Watch Winery prides itself on offering off-the-beaten path varietals and styles not typically found at other Finger Lakes wineries. Try the UniGoose, a unique Riesling blend, or their white port, one of few made in the US. Goose Watch also offers their personal version of the classics, including Pinot Grigio, Viognier, and Merlot, to name a few. They have a wide variety of wines available for sampling in their tasting room. Their tastings are among the cheapest of any of the wineries we visited (just $5, current as of June 2019).
Like Goose Watch, Americana Vineyards is also set in a restored barn and offers $5 tastings (again, current as of July 2019). In addition to a moderate selection of wine, you can also sample beer here. Americana Vineyards serves as the second location for Bacchus Brewing Company. Unfortunately, we did not care much for the beer. (See what other breweries we visited during our time in the Finger Lakes.)
Also, we personally feel that Americana’s wine offerings did not live up to others we had sampled in the region. Though we don’t want our personal preferences to discourage you from visiting. With a variety of whites, reds, and specialty wines, in addition to their unique blueberry wines, there’s a good chance you’ll find something you like! If you want to try both beer and wine during your visit to Americana, try the wine and beer sampler combo.
Their homemade fudge (that you are welcome to sample) is reason enough to visit. With a restaurant on site (Crystal Lake Cafe) and a Sunday afternoon concert series, there is plenty to taste and enjoy at Americana Vineyards.
Finger Lakes Cider House
Beer and wine aren’t the only beverages in the Finger Lakes! There’s quite a booming cider scene as well. It very well could have something to do with all of the delicious apples and other orchards found throughout the region. The Finger Lakes Cider House off Route 89 in Interlaken is considered the hub for the blossoming industry of hard cider in Central New York. Kite & String is Finger Lakes Cider House’s personal line of ciders and they serve several guest ciders in-house as well.
Local producers create delicious and distinct ciders using fresh fruits and ingredients from local farm-based orchards. Most of the guest producers are located within the Finger Lakes, while a few come from the Hudson Valley and Western New York. The Finger Lakes Cider House is located on the Good Life Farm, which you can see in operation during your visit. Much of the food served at FLCH comes from the on-site farm, in addition to other local farms. Their daily food menu offers tempting pairings including meats, cheeses, breads, salads, sandwiches, and more. We highly recommend a little detour to the Finger Lakes Cider House while driving the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway.
Cayuga Lake Waterfalls
We were going to write about the various waterfalls near Cayuga Lake, but we decided to do an entirely separate post about ALL of the Finger Lakes waterfalls we visited. But just so you know a few of the many waterfalls near Cayuga Lake, we’ll summarize the highlights!
Taughannock Falls is a short, easy walk (or drive) from the shores of Cayuga Lake. This 200+ foot waterfall is taller than Niagara! It’s certainly a site to see. Access the falls via a scenic overlook near the visitor center that requires very minimal walking. And/or walk the 2-mile (out and back) mostly flat creek-side gorge trail.
Lower Falls and Lucifer Falls are just a few of the impressive waterfalls found in Robert H Treman State Park about a 20-minute drive from the lake. Less than 10 minutes from there is Buttermilk Falls State Park with its impressive namesake waterfall – Buttermilk Falls. Check out our waterfalls in the Finger Lakes post for more details about how you can see these stunning falls up close!
Cayuga Lake is just one of many wonderful lakes in the Finger Lakes region of Central New York. There is always something going on no matter where you’re at in the region and Cayuga is certainly no exception. Check out the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail events page to see what’s going on during your visit. And while you’re at it, read through our posts about Hammondsport (near Keuka Lake) and Watkins Glen (near Seneca Lake) for more ideas of things to do in the Finger Lakes New York!