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Note: Cayuga County Tourism kindly hosted me for a long weekend in exchange for coverage. As always, all opinions are my own and it’s my main priority to write honestly about my experiences.
The Finger Lakes are a group of long, slender, and enticing lakes in upstate New York. As a travel destination, the Finger Lakes are especially popular for visitors living in the TriState Area. I know I’ve been personally intrigued by the idea of solo travel in the Finger Lakes, since many of my relatives have taken road trips there and bragged about it.
Furthermore, at more than one NYC travel conference, I’ve sipped organic Finger Lakes wine, while flipping through glossy pamphlets showing smiling people either relaxing in lounge chairs under lush trees, or happily canoeing on crystal clear waters.
Yet, in spite of its proximity to New Jersey, I never had a chance to visit the Finger Lakes as an independent female traveler until very recently. And I fell in love with it.
As a region, the Finger Lakes is home to everything that I love as a solo traveler. Nature, food, wine, beer, history, local businesses, museums, theater, and so much more. I can’t recommend it enough.
So, obviously, one of my main goals is to dispel the idea that the Finger Lakes is only for couples celebrating weddings or honeymoons and families looking to rent a house on the shores. Solo travelers are also welcome with open arms and are able to feel right at home.
I promise you’ll fall in love with this region’s magic whether you’re a solo traveler looking for a weekend getaway or a week long vacation.
As a final important side note, in this guide, I am going to focus on Cayuga County where I personally stayed, although you can easily explore other nearby counties if you have your own rental car.
Solo Travel in the Finger Lakes: My Experience
Like I said, the Finger Lakes expands into more than one county. The Finger Lakes themselves consist of eleven different bodies of water. Yup. Eleven narrow and long lakes.
So, unless you’re staying for a week or more, it’s unlikely that you will see all of the Finger Lakes. More likely, you will base yourself in one specific area, which is exactly what I did, and explore from there.
I had the pleasure of staying in Auburn, which was a real gem with historical significance and culinary delights, and I enjoyed some “fun in the sun” on both Cayuga and Owasco Lakes.
As a town, Auburn has a lot to see and do, and (in my experience) everyone is very welcoming toward solo travelers. I personally loved chatting with local business owners, park rangers, bartenders, and others.
Furthermore, both Cayuga and Owasco Lakes were very accessible for all fitness levels. I am not a star athlete by any means, and I was still able to explore Owasco Lake on a kayak and take a leisurely stroll around Cayuga Lake’s perimeter.
Even if you don’t do any physical activities, simply relaxing on the shores of these lakes will give solo travelers a deep sense of peace. I know proximity to the water always eliminates any stress or anxiety that I’m feeling at the time.
My verdict is that the Finger Lakes has a lot to offer solo travelers. Don’t skip it.
5 Best Reasons to Travel Alone to the Finger Lakes
Haha, truthfully, it was difficult writing only five good reasons to travel alone to the Finger Lakes. I could easily come up with several more.
However, we’re all used to mindlessly scrolling through TikTok videos and Instagram reels now, so I figured I’d have a better chance of keeping your attention with only five major points rather than fifty.
Let’s get started!
Easy to Dine Alone (and Sample Wine)
If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, then you know that I feel a bit shy about eating alone in public and used to actually skip meals over my self-induced anxiety. I had zero problems in Cayuga County, though, especially Auburn and Aurora.
Bar seating was available at all the restaurants that I ate at on my visit to the Finger Lakes. I don’t know about you, but personally, I just feel a million times more comfortable sitting at a bar and chatting with the bartender when I’m traveling on my own.
Below, I’ve listed a couple top-notch dining possibilities for solo travel in the Finger Lakes.
Restaurants for Solo Dining in the Finger Lakes
- Cafe 108: An adorable little cafe that supports Auburn Public Theater. Cafe 108 is a pleasant and relaxed place for a solo traveler to grab a bit. I loved their pork sliders.
- Hunter Dinerant: This classic dinerant has a long bar that makes it easy for a solo traveler to feel comfortable. Hunter Dinerant also has a great selection of pies.
- Fargo Bar & Grill: Want to treat yourself to craft beer and DIVINE tater tots close to Lake Cayuga? Fargo Bar & Grill is the choice for you, my friend!
- New Hope Mills: On occasion, I want something super sweet for breakfast. New Hope Mills certainly delivers with their variety of sweet (and incredible) pancakes. Seriously, I would move to Auburn just to go to New Hope Mills.
- Osteria Salina: Do you want gourmet Italian cuisine at a beautiful and comfortable bar? Look no further than Osteria Salina.
- Prison City Pub & Brewery: Prison City is incredibly well-known for their craft beers. I saw Prison City beers served at many locations throughout Cayuga County. As a solo traveler, I loved eating and drinking at Prison City Pub & Brewery, and asking for all the bartender’s recommendations!
- Seb’s Green Shutters: This casual and yummy food joint is located close to Owasco Lake, and is the perfect place to eat a picnic-style lunch before going into nature! Seb’s Green Shutters had an incredible buffalo chicken salad!
Great Solo Travel Friendly Infrastructure
I’m the first one to admit that I’m a bit of a baby if I get lost and I’m all alone. I’ve, uh, yelled at Waze in my car more times than I can count (please don’t judge me too much, okay?) over the course of my life.
However, the Finger Lakes has some really great infrastructure that will help solo travelers not feel hopelessly lost. Trust me. If I can do it, you can do it.
For example, even in the more rural areas of Cayuga County, I never lost my cellular service and if I did have any questions about directions, I always found someone who was more than willing to help me out! The quality of the roads is wonderful too. Not a single pothole in sight!
In Auburn, I especially loved visiting NYS Equal Rights Heritage Center if I needed help with directions. They were great about advising where and when to park at certain locations. Not to mention, their free museum is wonderful to see.
Like I said, the Finger Lakes region is very used to tourists. They do a great job of making sure everything is accessible by car or foot.
Guided Tours Help Make Connections
I loved guided tours as a solo traveler. Love, love, love them. With a knowledgeable tour guide, you are given rich meaning to all the major sites and walk away feeling fulfilled. Not to mention, I love sharing what I learned with my family, friends, and students.
In Auburn, I enjoyed quite a few historical guided tours as a solo traveler, and loved all of them. On my tour of the Seward House, for instance, both the head tour guide and the two interns were very enthusiastic about the personal histories of the Seward family, and were super receptive about answering everyone’s questions. I didn’t feel rushed at all, nor did I feel excluded as a solo traveler, and I really loved learning about each and every room in the house.
Another wonderful guided tour was through the National Park Service and took me to Harriet Tubman’s House, her church, and final resting place. Harriet Tubman is an amazing woman, but it was so nice to learn more about her life than I ever did in school. The National Park Service is also very accommodating toward solo travelers and willing to answer questions.
Outside of Auburn, I recommend going to Howland Stone Store Museum and Opendore, which are both next to each other and located not terribly far from Cayuga Lake. The volunteers are some of the most passionate and knowledgeable women who I’ve ever met on my solo travels.
In my experience, guided tours definitely make solo travel in the Finger Lakes even more fun and less lonely! Win/win.
Wonderful, Wonderful and Friendly Locals
As a solo traveler, I always feel more comfortable around welcoming and kind people (shocker, haha). I’m also an extrovert by nature, and even though I love the freedom that comes with traveling alone, I still seek meaningful connections with others on the road. These conversations are some of the best souvenirs.
And, oh my god, all the people who I met in Cayuga County were so, so, so nice and helpful! Seriously, literally everyone. Tour guides, bartenders, wait staff, locals on the street, everyone.
At the end of the day, it’s the local people who make solo travel in the Finger Lakes a magical experience.
Beautiful and Accessible Nature
I’m not sure I can accurately describe how beautiful the nature is in the Finger Lakes region. My photography doesn’t do it justice compared to seeing it in person.
Truly, whether it’s taking photos of the lake or driving through the expansive vineyards, the landscape in this region will literally take your breath away. Sipping wine at Longpoint Winery as I overlooked Cayuga Lake was just … perfect.
The best part is that you don’t need to be a Gold Medalist in the Olympics to access these natural wonders. All the lakes are accessible to a wide variety of fitness levels, which I personally love since I feel like the outdoors is meant for everyone.
One of the highlights of my trip was renting a kayak at Owasco Paddles and paddling along the lake’s shoreline. The lake’s peace and quiet, as well as the gentle breeze, melted every bit of stress out of my body, and I don’t think the experience would have been the same with a whole group of people paddling behind me, haha.
Solo travel in the Finger Lakes is extra special due to the region’s natural wonders. And like I said, don’t be frightened to kayak and hike alone. Know your own limits and I promise that you will be just fine!
Thriving Arts and Culture Scene
Okay, I’m obsessed with going to art museums and theaters alone, and the Finger Lakes delivered in both of these areas. In art museums, I love taking my time analyzing particular pieces without someone rushing me, and in the theater, I want to watch the show without someone asking me to clarify the plot.
I know I sound selfish, haha, but isn’t that a major perk of solo traveling?
Auburn has small museums that showcase art including both Cayuga Museum of History & Art and Schweinfurth Art Center. These museums have plenty of parking the back and are located right next to each other, which is very convenient for solo travelers driving their own vehicles. I loved wandering through both museums at my own pace, and felt like the staff was approachable too.
On my solo trip, I also had the pleasure of seeing Catch Me If You Can at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. Treating oneself to a show alone is an enjoyable experience I think everyone should have and what better place than in the Finger Lakes? The performance was Broadway caliber.
Practical Advice for Solo Travel in the Finger Lakes
Last but not least I wanted to touch on some practical tips to make traveling alone in the Finger Lakes even better.
Solo travel, in general, takes a bit more planning, since you are literally responsible for everything, and it’s always a good idea to have a rough plan in place, especially regarding your safety.
How to Get Around the Finger Lakes
Personally, I think the best way for a solo traveler to explore Cayuga County and the other Finger Lakes is to rent a private car.
Don’t be afraid to drive around the Finger Lakes if you’re traveling alone. I am a bit of a nervous driver (who wouldn’t be in northern New Jersey), and I’m terrible at pumping my own gas (again, New Jersey), and I still managed to navigate the roads without any issues.
Having your own car offers a wonderful sense of freedom. Driving around gorgeous scenery is one of the things I loved most about solo travel in the Finger Lakes. I blasted 80’s music and sang behind the wheel, and absolutely had a great time!
You’ll find plenty of car rentals at Rochester and Syracuse airports. And, if you’re like me and use credit cards, check your card’s policy. A lot of travel credit cards come with car rental insurance as an added perk!
Safety When Traveling Alone
Cayuga County is very, very safe. I’m a solo traveler who’s gone to numerous destinations in North America and Europe, and I can tell you that I had zero problems in Cayuga County. I understand everyone’s experiences are different, but as long as you use common sense, you shouldn’t run into serious issues.
Honestly, the biggest threat to your safety is not respecting nature and alcohol. I know I said the lakes are very accessible. However, you also shouldn’t ignore your own limits either.
For example, on my kayaking trip, I was told to paddle along the shores due to the wind, and that returning my kayak would be more difficult if I ventured into the center of Owasco Lake. I listened to their advice.
As for alcohol, the wines are craft beers are fantastic, but you need to be careful if you’re driving your own car or a rental vehicle.
Like everywhere else in the United States, drinking and driving in the Finger Lakes is not a joke, and you don’t want to get busted for it. Reserve yourself on a guided tour of the wineries or wait until you’re done driving for the day to drink. Better safe than sorry.
My personal verdict is that solo travel in the Finger Lakes is safe. Common sense goes a long way.
Where to Stay for Solo Travel in the Finger Lakes
Last but not least, as a solo traveler in the Finger Lakes, you will want to carefully research your accommodation. In Cayuga County (as well as neighboring counties), do your research carefully and stick to your budget.
The Finger Lakes is a big destination for honeymoons and weddings, and if you’re booking during wedding season, you may need to get a little aggressive by reserving your room well in advance.
On my trip, I stayed at The Holiday Inn in Auburn-Finger Lakes Region, and this hotel worked just fine for me! It was very central to everything that I wanted to see and do, and there was plenty of parking so I never had to look too hard for a spot. The front desk was super sweet, and my room was both clean and comfortable.
I hope you enjoyed reading all about solo travel in the Finger Lakes. What do you think you would like to see and do the most in beautiful Cayuga County?