Spending time on the water is the best way to soak up the scenic splendor of the Southern Finger Lakes region around Corning, New York. With family-friendly beaches, impressive rivers, secluded fishing holes, and majestic waterfalls, the area is filled with a variety of ways for visitors to enjoy the water. From waterfall hikes to boating, here are eight of the most unique ways to explore the rivers and lakes in this beautiful part of the Empire State.
1. SUP on Keuka Lake
The pristine waters of Keuka Lake are ideal for paddleboarders of all skill levels. This placid lake is perfect for first-time paddlers still honing their balancing skills, and with 11,584 acres of water to explore, there is also plenty to entice seasoned pros. Seek out the lake’s quiet alcoves for the chance to spot native water birds—like mallards, wood ducks, and buffleheads—get a full-body workout paddling the open water in the middle of the lake, or just opt for a relaxing float.
Ready to hit the water? Grab an hourly rental from Keuka Watersports at Champlin Beach in Hammondsport. Once you’re finished, wander into Hammondsport for breakfast or lunch.
2. Canoe the ‘Little Finger Lakes’
Why paddle just one lake, when you can tackle two instead? Dubbed the "Little Finger Lakes," conjoined Lamoka and Waneta lakes are connected by a half-mile channel meandering through the Waneta-Lamoka Wildlife Management Area, allowing paddlers to explore both bodies of water.
From Lamoka Lake, kayakers can continue south to paddle adjacent Mill Pond. Spend a day seeking out the perfect swimming spot on the islands punctuating Lamoka Lake, keep an eye out for great blue heron trolling the shoreline, or drop a line for the famously oversized largemouth bass inhabiting the lakes. You can even have a rental boat delivered by Reagan’s Canoe and Kayak Livery or Keuka Lake Kayak and Bike Rentals.
3. Take a Dip
Pack a picnic and head for one of the inviting beaches edging Keuka Lake, including Keuka Lake State Park, Red Jacket Park in Penn Yan, or Champlin Beach and Depot Park in Hammondsport. Beyond the inviting waters of Keuka Lake, the Southern Finger Lakes region is peppered with singular swimming spots. Plan a gorge hike at Stony Brook State Park, where you can see three major waterfalls and six smaller ones. The Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls of Stony Brook are all accessible by a scenic hiking trail.
Once you’ve seen them all, cool off in the rock-hewn, stream-fed swimming pool in the park. Another waterfalls-focused trip is to Watkins Glen State Park. In the park, Glen Creek descends 400 feet over a two mile length through a series of 19 waterfalls. Take the gorge path and you’ll see 200-foot cliffs as you wind your way over, under and through the waterfalls (as in the case of the spray found at Cavern Cascade). You can also cool off in the Olympic-sized swimming pool.
4. Learn to Sail on Keuka Lake
With a rich sailing tradition that dates back to the 19th century, Keuka Lake is the ideal place to learn to sail. Hone those sailing skills with a lesson from the Lake Keuka Sailing Foundation. The Hammondsport-based non-profit offers group sessions throughout the summer for young sailors over the age of 8. It also provides private lessons for small groups and adults sailing solo.
Not quite ready to practice harnessing the wind yet? Check out the local sailing scene from the shore while watching one of the weekend sailboat races organized by the Keuka Yacht Club. The competitive and engaging races take place every Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer.
5. Family Fishing Trip on Sanford Lake
Load up the kids and spend a memorable day on the water casting for bass, pickerel, and sunfish on Sanford Lake. The serene 18-acre lake adorns the southern portion of Birdseye Hollow State Forest. Bring some food along and relax with an al fresco lunch at one of the pine-shaded picnic tables beside the lake or grab one of the waterside campsites for an entire weekend of fishing, boating, and hiking the park’s trail network.
6. Kayak the Chemung
Aside from the stunning lakes, visiting paddlers have plenty of moving water to explore along the Chemung Basin River Trail. The picturesque paddling trail stretches for nearly 80 miles. Dotted with accessible boat launches and points of interest scattered throughout the Southern Finger Lakes region, the water trail is one of the best ways to experience the area’s stunning landscape, rich history, and charming towns.
Get a bite-sized taste of the extensive paddling trail with the two-to-three-hour Paddle the Palisades Tour offered by Southern Tier Kayak Tours. The six-mile expedition takes paddlers along the stretch of river between Corning and Elmira, showcasing the eponymous Palisades, a series of vertiginous cliffs looming on the riverbank.
7. Wildlife Watching on Guyanoga Creek
Bring the binoculars, and keep an eye out for resident wildlife while paddling Guyanoga Creek, on the northwest corner of Keuka Lake. White-tailed deer, industrious beavers, and dinosaur-like snapping turtles all frequent the waterway. Birders have plenty of opportunities to spot acrobatic osprey, melodious wood thrushes, and barred owls.
If you need a boat, schedule a canoe or kayak delivery from Reagan’s Canoe & Kayak Livery.
8. Paddle the Countryside on the Cohocton River
Get a scenic glimpse of Steuben County by paddling the crystalline Cohocton River. Between Wallace and Bath, the curving waterway meanders through a landscape of family farms, leafy hardwood forests, and undulating foothills sculpted by ancient glaciers. The 15-mile river run is loaded with plenty of picturesque picnic spots, and paddlers can hook one of the river’s resident brown or brook trout.
For even more ideas of what to do on your next visit to the Corning and Southern Finger Lakes region, check out our Experience Guide.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated Media in partnership with Steuben County.