A Long Weekend in the Finger Lakes with Kids

Waterfalls of Watkins Glen New York

Finger Lakes New York measures an outstanding 23,300 sq km with 11 glacial lakes (Skaneateles, Otisco, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Honeoye, Canadice, Conesus, and Hemlock) and one great lake.

According to Native American legend, the lakes are remnants of fingers of a Great Spirit which blessed this land, hence the name. With a little research, we found out that this region has so much to offer for families especially those traveling the Finger Lakes with kids. Below is our list of things to do if you have a long weekend to spend in the Finger Lakes with kids.

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One of the many waterfalls of Watkins Glen is a must when in the Finger Lake with kids.

Long Weekend Itinerary in the Finger Lakes with Kids

The drive from Toronto to Watkins Glen, New York is approximately 4 hours. We had a packed weekend planned. We left Toronto after work on Thursday and drove for 3 hours where we had booked a hotel in Rochester. The Finger Lakes region ranks as one of the most unique road trip destinations in the United States. In fact, with the presence of the legendary Watkins Glen racetrack, road trip in the Finger Lakes with kids is one of the best ways to see the area.

To break up the drive, we planned to stop and spend part of the first day in Rochester where we would take the opportunity to visit the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester before completing the rest of the drive to Watkins Glen, New York. On our way back from Watkins Glen we stopped in Corning, New York to visit the wonderful Corning Museum of Glass.

Boy looking up the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park.

1. The National Museum of Play

The Strong Museum of Play is situated in downtown, Rochester. The museum sits just a few minutes off the highway and has a large parking lot on site which can be used for free by museum patrons.

We had read so many positive reviews online about the museum and had spent the trip getting the kids excited about what they would be able to do there. When we got to the parking lot they couldn’t wait to be unstrapped from their car seats.

Aquarium in the Strong Museum of Play entertains kids on a long weekend visit to the Finger Lakes with kids.

After walking into the museum, C and D’s eyes lit up with excitement. At the main entrance, we were greeted by a very large wall-sized aquarium and a colorful, musical merry-go-round. While Kevin bought the tickets, the children stood transfixed watching the marine display.

Having such a display at the entrance is a brilliant idea, it was the first time we had ever been waiting for entrance tickets where we the children didn’t complain or runoff. Unlike other museums we had previously visited, the National Museum of Play caters wholly to children.

Young toddler takes charge in a taxi at the Museum of Play in Rochester.

The museum is highly interactive and all displays encouraged touching! There are also different areas that cater to various age groups so D was not constantly being run over by older children.

After spending the morning and the better part of the afternoon at the museum, the children were all played out so we decided to call it a day so we could be in Watkins Glen before dark.

We still had around 1.5 hours left on our drive to explore the Finger Lakes with kids. We could easily have spent the entire day at the museum as there were many more areas that we did not explore.

Boy learning about physics at the Museum of Play in Rochester.

2. Watkins Glen State Park, Finger Lakes

Watkins Glen Park covers 3.15 km² and has over 19 waterfalls. There are two entrances to the park: the main entrance and the upper entrance. Once in the park, there are three trails: the Indian Trail, the South Rim trail, and the Gorge trail. We used the main entrance and explored the park using the Gorge trail.

Boy playing under a waterfall at Wakings Glen State Park.

It was truly a sight! The kids loved playing under the many waterfalls that can be accessed via the Watkins Glen gorge trail. Watkins Glen is the perfect addition to any itinerary that is exploring the Finger Lakes with kids. We spent a few hours doing the entire trail as we took our time to take in the views. Also, the stones can be slippery so make sure to bring proper footwear.

Boy looking up the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park.

For more information and tips on hiking Watkins Glen with kids, read more here.

3. Watkins Glen Village

When we were not exploring Watkins Glen State Park with the kids, we were discovering Watkins Glen Village. The village has several ice cream shops and lovely places for dinner. In addition, Watkins Glen Village is home to the Watkins Glen International.

Also known as the “The Glen” for short, the road racing track hosted the Formula One United States Grand Prix for nearly 20 years. Lucky for us, the weekend of our visit a race was being held at The Glen and the kids enjoyed seeing all the flashy cars around town.

Boy enjoying some ice cream from Watkins Glen Village.

Since Watkins Glen is part of the Finger Lakes at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, it is not surprising that it is also home to Lakewood Vineyards.

The Finger Lakes region has numerous vineyards and many people explore the region on a wine-touring weekend. The area is known for award-winning Rieslings and some vineyards even had icewine. Also, many wineries have fruit juices for children to try out as well.

Boy learning all about the best fruit juices at Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen.

Pro-Tip: For an amazing icewine experience, visit Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada for the annual Icewine Festival.

4. Corning Museum of Glass

Our Finger Lakes family weekend was coming to an end, but before heading out for our long drive back to Toronto, Canada we decided to visit another gem in New York State,  the Corning Museum of Glass.

Unlike the National Museum of Play, the museum was definitely not as kid-friendly. The beautiful glass displays were meant to be admired from afar and touching the display cases was a definite no-no.

Intricate glass chess pieces at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.

We spent less than an hour going around admiring the amazing artwork that the museum had on display. One could easily spend more time studying the different pieces. But, the children were getting antsy. It was only a matter of time before something priceless was permanently shattered by a wandering toddler.

We headed to the second floor which had exhibits dedicated to the use of glass in everyday life. C and D enjoyed looking at the telescopes, holograms and looking at themselves in the various mirrors. This level also had live glass-making demonstrations.

Glass blowing artwork at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.

However, the setup made it difficult for children to see what was going on. So, pretty soon C and D were bored.

Lucky for us, it was time for their glass blowing lesson! That’s right. For an extra fee, the museum offers several glass-making classes located in classrooms just outside of the museum. C and D made their very own candle holders.

Boy adding stickers to his candle holder during the Glass Blowing Workshop at the Corning Museum of Glass.

The kids enjoyed the glass blowing class so much that we participated in it again when we visited Old Town Glassworks as part of our trip to chase Northern Lights in Yellowknife, Canada.

Boy getting used to his safety glasses at the Glass Blowing Workshop in the Corning Museum of Glass.

The Finger Lakes region has so much to offer and we had a blast exploring the Finger Lake with kids. As we were driving back to Canada, I was already planning our next itinerary. We can’t wait to go back!

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About the Author

Christina Wagar grew up in a travel loving family. She strives to instil her love of learning about different cultures and seeing new and old places to her husband Kevin and their two young boys. Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.

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  1. When I think of Watkins Glen, I have always thought of the racetrack. But after seeing the photos of the waterfalls in the State Park I think I have a different view of the area.

  2. What an interesting place to take kids! I love discovering nature, and places in native land. It looks fascinating and I’d love to visit if I ever make it Stateside.

  3. Nice overview of things to do in upperstate New York and around the Finger Lakes. We went there a year or so ago, but didn’t find all the cool things you did. We’ll need to go again!

  4. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about the Finger Lakes. Really wish I would’ve spent some time there having grown up (relatively) nearby in Ohio.

  5. Sciencenter in Ithaca is very kid friendly as is the downtown area. The beer garden in Watkins Glen is also a favorite place to go with our kids.

  6. I’ve talked to others who’ve visited the Corning Museum and they loved it too… but got more time 🙂 That’s so cool about classes that kids can do. We have struggled a few too many times when picking places w/o kid-centered stuff. And the waterfalls… Amazeballs.

  7. We have a road trip planned to the Finger Lake region next month. We aren’t bringing our kids, and the plan is to visit all the wineries and waterfalls we can fit into a week. Watkins Glen is definitely on the list. Your photos are fabulous!

  8. We visited Watkins Glen State Park as a family some 3 decades ago. Smashing place. The beauty is out of this world Kevin. The scale of the Finger Lakes region is insane. Upstate offers a 180 from the busy as Hades NYC area 😉 Thanks for the inspired share guys!


  9. I’m considering taking a family trip to Watkins state park but we have 3 very active boys and it looks like it can be dangerous? Is it possible for kids to have a dangerous fall? It looks like some areas are extremely narrow and high with no safety barrier how did you ensure the kids were safe?

    1. Hi Cheryl,

      Most of the gorge has walled edges. Some parts may be slippery, but that is where most of the danger lies. It’s a wonderful spot for children to explore.

      1. Hi! We are leaving for the Finger Lakes this weekend! Is the Gorge Trail safe for my mom who is 70? She is very active and gets around well just curious. I also read it’s only about 2 miles round trip for gorge trail is that correct?
        Hope to hear from you!

        1. Hi Michelle,
          If your Mom is active, she shouldn’t have too much of an issue on the trail. The main challenges that people have along the Watkins Glen gorge are the stairs and slipping due to the water along the rocky trails. I recommend wearing shoes with a rubber sole. Beyond that, it’s a great, low-effort trail that can be enjoyed by all ages.

  10. Hi! We want to plan this trip with our mother and our 6-month old. Were you able to use a stroller in watkins glen? How did you get your younger child around? Thank you!

    1. Hi May!

      Watkins Glen is not stroller-friendly. There are many stairs, and the path is almost entirely uneven rock. I would suggest using a child carrier such as a wrap, Baby Bjorn or Deuter Kid-Carrier on the trail.

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