Cycling The NY Finger Lakes
Written by a casual cyclist
I moved to Canandaigua, NY for the beauty of the lakefront and access to the Finger Lakes for the summer of 2019. I have always loved riding my bike but never thought I could achieve great lengths on two wheels. When I moved back to NY, I set a goal to ride around Canandaigua Lake and little did I know, that goal was going to extend into riding around all eleven of the finger lakes. After studying the terrain and the distances of each lake, I decided to start with the smaller Finger Lakes in effort to train for Canandaigua.
After crushing a couple of the smaller lakes and having fun with it in the process, I felt strong enough to muscle through the challenge of the hills on Canandaigua. And then after Canandaigua, it only encouraged me to continue on with the rest of the lakes. Skaneateles is known to be one of the hilliest and challenging rides based on what I read, but each of these lakes hold their own challenge. You can read other cyclists’ reviews on their ride of the lakes, but their perspective on how challenging it is will not necessarily match your own, so don’t expect any article to be fully informative on what
to expect for your ride.
I found it hard to find literature on riding around the lakes so it inspired me to
write my own and share it with others who may have the same goals or curiosities of what riding around the Finger Lakes may entail. But again, my idea of what is difficult may be a walk in the park for some, or simply just impossible to others. When I set the goal to ride Canandaigua, I didn’t actually know if I could possibly achieve this challenge. Peering down toward the south end of the lake from the north end, it just looks impossible. Before I started riding the lakes, the furthest distance I could recall riding was around 25 miles out in Colorado on not so hilly terrain. So if you’re trying to gauge how prepared you need to be in order to ride around the lakes, I would say if I could do this, anyone can. And there’s no rule as to how much time it needs to take you. There are beautiful bed and breakfasts on the larger lakes and it could always be done in two days instead of one. The main point is to enjoy the views and have fun.
• Don’t overanalyze or doubt yourself; just go.
• You always have the option to turn around.
• Hydrate a lot the day before and take a shot of pickle juice.
• Music is just as important as gear.
• Proper bike seating to prevent injury is key.
• Have some fruit juice or chocolate milk in the car for post ride.
• Wear bright colors because there are NO bike lanes.
The first lake that I decided to tackle was Honeoye Lake. I parked at Sandy Bottom Park at the north end where there’s a nice view to take in before you hit the road. I started counter-clockwise, heading south on West Lake Rd (Rt.
36) and then eventually north on East Lake Rd. This route was just under 20 miles and the hills weren’t bad at all. The steepest hill was at the south end and you’ll have about 830 vertical feet gained around the entire lake. There were a couple of long steady inclines at the south end as well, not very steep; more rolling hills throughout the ride. Nice views on the north end of the lake looking south, but little views throughout the ride with the trees all grown in. The roads were slightly heavy with truck traffic on 36 and you will have a narrow road shoulder throughout the entire ride. After reviewing all the lakes, I would say this was a good introductory ride.
This is an easy 20 mile ride and another good lake to start off on your lake riding adventures with. Vertical gain on this ride is around 630ft. I rode this lake twice. The first time, I started at Vitale Park on the north end and went counter clockwise on Pebble Beach Road to West Lake Road (256). There was about a 150 ft low grade climb at the beginning of this ride and for the rest of it, rolling hills. From 256, I cut across Sliker Hill Road at the south end, and then headed north on East Lake Road. Not many views with the trees all grown in during the summer. The second time around from the same starting point, I went clockwise, heading south on East Lake Road (Rt. 6). It was springtime before the trees had grown in and this allowed for lake views all around as long as there are no houses obstructing your view. There’s a nice little general store with coffees and snacks on East Lake Road called Shoreless Acres that’s worth a stop if you want anything. There’s also a bar on West Lake Road closer to the south end of the lake if you prefer a beer or beverage with a view called Beachcomber. I didn’t stop but it looked like a fun place. I don’t recommend riding around this lake during prime season due to the amount of traffic. Based on observation, it seems like this lake has the most houses around the lakeshore which obviously means more driveways and more car
traffic. There’s a shoulder to ride on however, there are also lots of cars parked on the streets so you’ll have to ride in the road and watch out for the crazy drivers coming up behind you. At the south end of the lake is the Conesus inlet that has a wildlife preserve and some walking trails that are nice if you need a place to walk around and stretch your legs.
This was the first lake that gave me a real challenge. I started at the north end near Hemlock Lake Park and rode clockwise, heading south on Bald Hill Road (15A), and then at the south end turned east on Kellogg, and then north on Route 15. Why I chose this route? I do not know. Route 15 has a very narrow shoulder and lots of truck traffic. The hills are killer, with almost 1000 ft of elevation incline from Kellogg to 15, and lots of fun hills to ride down throughout the ride. Definitely a good work out and very good preparation for what I had in store for myself moving forward. There are other route options heading back up north but if I recall correctly, I think there were dirt roads that deterred me from heading that direction. The west side of the lake was peaceful to ride. Not too much traffic and very pretty especially down at the south end. More farmland than lake views but still enjoyable. This route is rated as expert level on Komoot. I’m not sure I’d agree. It’s a hard 22 miles, but I wouldn’t call it expert level. There’s not much activity around this lake so be sure to empty your bladder before hopping on your saddle and bring enough water for the ride. If you want a good post ride meal there’s a place called The Cornerstone Market in Honeoye that’s not too far from Hemlock. They make great sandwiches and subs and have a great selection of homemade pastries.
Finally! Totally unplanned on this given day but I was feeling strong so I went for it. I’m glad I did because I realized how much I was psyching myself out. I could have done another smaller lake to train for Canandaigua but it was too convenient to just walk out my door and hop on my bike. Challenging? Yes, but totally doable! I think I may have even chosen the more challenging route. I started on the north end at Kershaw Park and rode clockwise heading south on East Lake Road (RT 364) into middlesex, and then West Ave to RT 245, crossed over on Parrish Cross Road on the south end to RT 21. Heading north, I took RT 21 up to West Lake Road (16), which is right near Bristol harbor and allowed that to take me back to the north end of the lake to Route 20. This was my first time all the way around the lake and will not be my last. The roads are well maintained, the shoulders are wide, the scenery is beautiful and the hills were a good enough challenge to make me feel the blood flow in my legs pulsating. There’s about 2500 vertical feet on this route and lots of fun hills to ride down. It’s a challenge but it sure is fun and beautiful. The added bonus is a therapeutic swim in the lake at Kershaw Park after the long ride. Bring a floaty and post ride beverages or enjoy some local brews at the nearby breweries walking distance to Kershaw. Again, Komoot rates this route at an expert level but I wouldn’t call it that. There is however, a road called Bopple Hill Road on the south west end of the lake that is absolutely for the elitist of the elite cyclers. I would never attempt to ride up it and honestly, would not want to go down it either. This hill is steep! Distance around this lake is just over 43 miles so it’s a big jump in distance after riding the first three. After my first time around Canandaigua, it took me a few days to recover but it left me stronger for what was to follow. Having Canandaigua Lake as my front yard gave me the privilege to ride around this lake more than once. I explored different routes and decided that they are all equally as hard as the first, but the views are what makes these hills so forgiving. My first route, as outlined above ended up being my favorite. There’s a restaurant at the south end of the lake called The Sawmill, which offers an amazing view of the lake but I can’t say much about the food or the service. It’s about the only place to rest and empty your bladder if needed, unless you want to ride to Naples and have some delicious pizza at the Neapolitan Pizzeria. Or there’s porte-pots at the boat launch on the south end as well. I always wanted to start my ride on the south end of the lake because it’s never as fun riding north as it is riding south. And this goes for just about all of the lakes. Usually you’re fighting the wind heading north and the views are not as pretty. It would also make for an easier rest area at the midway point on the north end of the lake. Regardless, whichever route you decide to take, you’ll have beautiful views all around and you’ll experience a huge sense of accomplishment when you finish your ride.
This lake was absolutely a beautiful lake to ride around. I started at the north end of the lake at Austin Park, rode south toward the lake and went counterclockwise on 41A to Old Salt Road, to New Hope and then N Glen Haven Rd (66B). I wish I went clockwise only because the prettier views are on the west side of the lake and having good views for the final stretch makes for a better finish. I find scenery to be a dose of encouragement to push through the rough when you want to give up. It was hilly all around and I don’t think changing direction would really make a huge difference EXCEPT for the very south end. Instead of taking Glen Haven all the way to Route 41, I decided to be brave and face the climb up Vincent Hill Road. I read someone’s blog and they said it’s ‘expert only’ level. I made it up about 3/4 of the way and walked the rest. Going down that hill would’ve been a blast! After hiking Vincent Hill Road up to East Lake Road (RT41), I rode that all the way back to the north end. This was another challenging ride but again, totally doable and completely worth it in the end. Distance around the lake was about 35 miles and very hilly. Probably an equal challenge to Canandaigua Lake. Lots of vertical riding around this lake, roughly 2,375 feet, so make sure your legs are well rested. Skaneateles is such a cute little lakeside town and I would highly recommend getting a B&B in town and exploring the area. There’s lots of cute shops and great restaurants to try and even a spa that people retreat to called Mirbeau. I haven’t gotten there yet myself but I hear great things.
This little lake just seemed pointless so I had to turn it into something. I didn’t want it to be too easy so I started my ride on Route 20A at a vista point in Honeoye just north of the lake. Canadice is a small lake and overall, this is an easy ride. Beautiful lake but not many views from the road and none from the walking path with the trees all grown in. There may be more views from Canadice Lake Road, which I kinda wish I included on my route instead but since I started where I did, I rode along side of Honeoye Lake before cutting across Luckenbach Hill Road to County Road 37. I took the Canadice walking path on the west side of the lake heading north and it was mostly flat and peaceful because there’s no cars but made for a bumpy ride. Definitely don’t recommend that trail for a road bike so choose an alternate route. This trail intersects with Purcell Road at the north end and then Canadice Lake Road. I tracked 29 miles on this ride but to just ride around the lake, it’s only about 8 miles.
Starting in Penn Yan at the village sports park I headed south on East Lake Road. East lake road was beautiful the entire time with lots of rolling hills but nothing too steep or unbearable. The roads are narrow and there’s really no shoulder or side walk to ride on so it’s best to go during the week rather than a weekend. I skipped the inner Y of the lake and decided to cover that on another day in the fall. It was a cool but sunny fall day and it was absolutely beautiful. The fall colors were out and the roads were very quiet. The inner Y of the lake had steeper climbs than riding the entire perimeter of the lake but I think that I could have accomplished both rides together if I really wanted to. Either way and either ride, they were both amazing and I recommend them both. The outer perimeter of the lake is most scenic and was just over 45 miles and 1,700 vertical feet. Be sure to reward yourself at Seneca farms, their ice cream is delicious! The inner Y route has hills and one jaw dropping view at the very tip of the inner Y and rode just over 15 miles and 700 vertical feet.
Otisco Lake did not disappoint I read that it was easy but either my legs needed to rest or I chose the wrong direction because it showed me some
hills for sure. I parked at a post office on Marietta Rd. and started south on Otisco Valley Rd. riding along the east side of the lake. Views were
beautiful for just about the entire ride heading south. I turned right on Sawmill and then up Moon Hill road, which was just as steep as Vincent Hill on Skaneateles but not as long, so I made it up all the way with one miss-hap of a fall because a bug flew into my shirt and latched onto my nipple. While trying to bat the bug out of my shirt, my foot got stuck in the pedal strap as
I fell over so I had a hard landing on my left side. All good though.
Accidents happen! There was about 950 vertical feet on this ride and distance around the lake is about 17 miles. I wish this lake was closer to home because it was a lot of fun to ride around. Nothing much around it though so again, bring the necessities and empty your bladder before you hit the saddle.
This was a pretty easy ride until the last few miles where there was road construction. It would’ve been nice if there was a sign that said how long it went on for because if I had known, I would’ve rerouted. This other guy that was riding behind me said the same thing. I felt bad for him because he had a road bike; I have a hybrid making it a little more forgiving on the bumps. He still cruised passed me though. Eh, oh well. We shared the same look of grief as he passed on by. There were no major climbs on this ride but a few long steady inclines. About 1,550 vertical feet around the lake. Total distance was about 32 miles. This would be a good lake to ride before Canandaigua to gradually increase riding mileage. The traffic wasn’t bad at all. Shoulders on the roads were pretty wide and it was a pretty peaceful ride. Probably one of my favorites but again, further away from home.
Seneca Lake is beautiful but riding it was not my favorite. It’s actually my least
favorite of all the lakes because of the truck traffic. I’m sure you could find other routes with less traffic but it may up your mileage. I started in Geneva at the Amber docks Long Pier and went east toward Seneca Lake State Park. I had a good pace going for a while heading south on 132 but then I hit a roadblock. Bridge closed due to construction so I had to follow the detour to 414 and that’s when the truck traffic started. I wish I rode counterclockwise because it would have saved the nicer views and quieter ride for the final stretch which would’ve made for a better finish. Heading north on 14 was just annoying. The trucks are endless and there’s not many views. Again, I had the force of the wind working against me heading north. Somehow this always seems to happen at the worst times. There may be better route options heading north but I was looking for the shortest distance since I was completing the ride in one day. Be sure to stop at Tobey’s Donut Shop for a donut in Watkins Glen at the south end of the lake. Also, if you haven’t visited Watkins Glen State Park, it’s a must see but there’s lots of stair climbing involved. The hills aren’t too steep but there are long steady inclines on this ride. There’s over 3,000 vertical feet and the distance around is just over 80 miles. It took me just under seven hours to complete this ride but along with
it came a huge sense of accomplishment. Theres plenty of places to stop, empty out, stretch, and refuel in Watkins Glen but from the north end to the south, your options are limited.
Last but not least, Cayuga Lake! Cayuga was beautiful to ride around and the traffic wasn’t too bad on the roads until approaching Ithaca. The shoulder was pretty wide about 90% of the time. On the west side there’s waterfalls and the east side there’s a lot of farms and some gorgeous views from high above the water.
I rode clockwise and decided this last minute because of the wind forecast; however, as we know, the weather is often times unpredictable. Lesson learned. Tip: don’t trust the forecast, just go with your gut or the route you think will suit you best. I’m not that mad about it though. It was hard but the
views were nice and I’m glad I had waterfalls and a celebratory stop on the way back at The Thirsty Owl, which provided outdoor seating, good wine and beautiful views. I started on the south west end of the lake at Cayuga Lake State Park and went north on Route 89. I picked up Route 20 and cut through Montezuma and then turned south on 90. Route 90 was hard because there were a lot of long steady inclines. The east side of the lake was very quiet, lots of farm land and open space. Not many places to stop and not much civilization. Aurora is a cute little town of history that is a good place to stretch your legs but if you want more, keep pushing and get yourself to Ithaca. The views get better the further south you go. The west side of the lake has steeper but shorter hills which I prefer because then you get to ride down what you rode up! Speed is my drive. I also chose to take the black diamond trail from Ithaca up to Taughannock falls, which was amazing because it is tree-covered and takes you past several waterfalls along the trail and even a bison farm. And if you haven’t seen Taughannock falls, now is the time! Continuing south I chose to take Taughannock Park Road up to Trumansburg Road (Route 96) to skip the steep hills since again, I was tackling this long ride in one day. The hills were still pretty steep on 96 though so I don’t know how much I saved myself. I would recommend sticking to route 89. Trumansburg was a cute little hippie town with lots of unique cafes and shops. My total mileage was just over 92 miles with around 3,500 vertical feet. Some people make this ride into a century ride and continue their route into Montezuma at the north end of the lake instead of cutting through it like I did on route 20. Overall, Cayuga is a great ride. I would highly recommend riding around Cayuga Lake and enjoying its history and scenic stops along the way.
Never in a million years did I think I would or could take myself to such great lengths on a bike. The only reason why I started biking was because of a running injury that I incurred after running a half marathon. I needed some other source of exercise so it led me to buying my first used hybrid Trek. While angry about my inability to run as I healed from my injury, I learned that I loved biking. After my adventures around the lakes, the only thing that I would do differently IF I COULD, would be to bring someone with me to enjoy the ride with, and also, take my time. Stay at B&Bs, go to wineries in the finger lakes and drink the best Rieslings that you will find in the country. Ride past all the beautiful waterfalls and check out the cute little historical towns. Take advantage of the farm fresh produce and farm to table restaurants. There are so many beautiful places along these lakes. Lots of history, good
food, great wine and beautiful state parks to explore. Good luck!