New England takes the spotlight in foliage season, but brilliant fall colors, blue waters and the rich history of the Finger Lakes region in western New York state — on this round trip from Rochester — are magnificent. (194 miles)
Day 1: Rochester to Geneva (37 miles)
Take state highways to Canandaigua and step back in time. The 19th-century Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion and Granger Homestead and Carriage Museum feature period furnishings and knowledgeable docents. Tickets for both manses are $15. Granger hosts a German-style Christmas market (Nov. 8-10 this year) with food vendors and artisans. Through October, take a narrated cruise of Canandaigua Lake on the Canandaigua Lady paddle wheeler. Taste the region’s notable wine, beer and food at nonprofit New York Kitchen, a restaurant/tasting room/cooking class complex. Pasta with wine pairings is a reasonable $30. Seek out a fall specialty — grape pies and tarts — at roadside stands.
Where to stay: You’ll find budget lodging 17 miles down scenic U.S. 20 in Geneva. Geneva’s Microtel Inn and Suites has fall rates with breakfast starting under $70. Or indulge in a night at Canandaigua’s elegant Bella Rose Bed and Breakfast (from $145 until Nov. 1, then $125).
Day 2: Geneva to Watkins Glen (35 miles)
At the northern tip of crystalline Seneca Lake, Geneva’s historic downtown boasts restored row houses. Hug the lakeshore heading south on Route 14 (known as “winery row”) to Watkins Glen State Park. Hike the popular Gorge Trail, passing 19 waterfalls in two miles. The park is perfect for leaf-peeping. Car-racing enthusiasts detour to legendary Watkins Glen International road course (drive it in your own vehicle for just $30). Dine on the cheap at Nickel’s Pit BBQ in a former firehouse.
Where to stay: Lakeside Resort in Watkins Glen has rooms and breakfast for less than $100.
Day 3: Watkins Glen to Ithaca (26 miles)
Home to Cornell University and vertigo-inducing gorges, Ithaca also is a food lover’s delight. If you have $57 to spend, take a three-hour outing with Ithaca Is Foodies Culinary Tours. You’ll be led to six eateries and get an insider’s look at the city on the shores of Cayuga Lake. Can’t-miss sights include the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, in a striking building designed by I.M. Pei, and Cornell Botanic Gardens.
Where to stay: Trip Hotel Ithaca has fall rates in the $100 range, including breakfast.
Day 4: Ithaca to Rochester (96 miles)
Head north along Cayuga Lake on the Cayuga Scenic Byway. Stop to take a short walk to a waterfall higher than Niagara at Taughannock (Tuh-GA-nick) Falls State Park. Stop at Seneca Falls to tour the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, containing the onetime home of women’s voting rights advocate Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Then drive back to Rochester to explore the Erie Canal outpost or return home.