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Why Now is the Time to Travel to the Finger Lakes

With pent up demand from the pandemic and travelers still having safety in mind, Ithaca and the Finger Lakes are emerging as the perfect destination in 2022.

With the peak summer 2022 tourism season just around the corner, the Finger Lakes is emerging as a popular destination for travelers. Travel + Leisure magazine included the Finger Lakes on its list of the 50 Best Places to Travel in 2022, with other big name travel spots like the Bahamas, Greece and Disney World also making the cut.

The ranking is no mistake, and the Finger Lakes has a lot to offer, according to Cynthia Kimble, President of the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance.

“We’re expecting a busy season and there’s a lot of pent up demand for travel,” Kimble said, “We feel that with us offering the outdoor product that we have here, that’s another great draw coming out of the pandemic.”

The Taughannock Overlook Visitors Center. Rob Montana, of the Ithaca Visitors Bureau, said last summer had the highest amount of traffic for the site—35% more than any other year

Affordability is also a major factor. “We’re also very reasonably priced,” Kimble said. “I think people find that they can travel to this location and really enjoy their vacation. Certainly participate in many many activities.”

According to Rob Montana, the Communications Manager at the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau, tourism is strong right now despite challenges with the pandemic.

“We are getting a lot of visitors coming to town, even in the winter time because we have so many outdoor experiences for people,” he said.

With close proximity to large metro cities such as New York, Buffalo and Cleveland, Ithaca and the Finger Lakes are emerging as  top destinations for post-pandemic travel.

One of the biggest components, according to Montana, is that some travelers are looking for low density locations where they can feel safe when they travel. “Coming here knowing that there’s a safety conscious approach happening in our day to day but also within terms of visitors and trying to make sure that they have a safe and enjoyable experience here,” he said.

Accessibility is also an important aspect, with Ithaca serving as a gateway to the Finger Lakes. The region opens up to smaller towns and cities across the region. Kimble says the unique geography helps define the area.

“Our geological formation really helped us with our natural draw,” she said. “There’s over a thousand waterfalls, eleven glacially carved lakes…People are always amazed by the beauty here in the Finger Lakes. It’s something that I believe everyone should experience at least once in their life.”

The unique geography includes the famous gorges and waterfalls, which are some of the most popular spots for visitors. In Ithaca alone, there are  over 150 waterfalls in a 10 mile radius and four of them are state parks.

A view of Taughannock Falls at Taughannock State Park in Trumansburg, N.Y. The site is one of 4 state parks in the Ithaca area and a popular spot for tourists and locals alike

Fred Bonn is the Finger Lakes Regional Director at the New York State Parks System. Bonn noted that the unique physical features of the region are a primary draw for tourists. “One of the things we can provide people with the state parks is an opportunity to experience some topography, some geology, that’s not common to their own backyard,” he said.

With the sheer number of waterfalls, Bonn said it’s more than  just visiting the parks.

“People are able to have that incredibly memorable experience to be able to share it with family and friends, and create those lifelong memories,” Bonn said. “So that’s really what I’m hoping people take away—a lifelong memory when they visit one of the state parks in the Finger Lakes region.

This year, visitors will be able to do more than just visit the state parks and other waterfalls in the Ithaca area. Montana said the Ithaca Visitors Bureau created a new way for tourists to make the most of the falls through a new interactive challenge.

“It’s a  gamification experience for people—they come and they check out the waterfalls,” Montana said. “Right now we’ve got 22 waterfalls in natural areas on this mobile website. You check in, you go, you visit, you see it, you check in on your device. And then once you reach a couple of certain benchmarks, you get prizes.”

Launching the program last October, Montana said there have been over one thousand signups and the program is expected to boost traffic to waterfalls this coming summer, especially for under-visited sites.

Beyond the gorges, there are high hopes for the 2022 tourism season because of the wide ranging offerings in the Finger Lakes. “We’re gonna have a good, strong summer,” Kimble said. “We look forward to welcoming everyone back.”

The entire area is more than just the outdoors and has many offerings for all types of travelers.

“When you take the parks, the restaurants, the local beverage industry—there’s several pieces to the pie,” said Fred Bonn. It’s a really intriguing destination for people to come and visit,” he added. “So people might be coming to hike, but they also might enjoy a local meal, they may stay in a small Airbnb. It’s just really nice to be part of that puzzle.”

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