Spending an afternoon at one of the many lakes in New York is one of the best ways to take the edge off on a hot summer day. Of course, even in the winter, there are things to do at New York’s beautiful lakes.
As a New Yorker, I spent many summers at the local lakes and know that they make worthy stops on a New York road trip itinerary. However, all of these waterholes offer a different experience. You can just as easily find watersports as you can find family-friendly scenic hiking trails and swimming spots.
If you want to know which lake is best for your day out, look no further.
Table of Contents
- 21 Best Lakes in New York
- FAQs About New York Lakes
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21 Best Lakes in New York
A favorite vacation destination in the Adirondack Mountains known for its array of outdoor activities
Let’s kick off the list with one of the most popular lakes in the state – Lake George. If you’re a fan of water sports and outdoor activities, you’ll love Lake George. It’s a fun destination for families with kids because there’s just so much stuff to do. But, there is a fair amount of nightlife for the adults as well.
🌳 Local Trivia: Lake George formed approximately 10,000 years ago from melting glaciers. Since then, its become a treasured location for all types of people. Thomas Jefferson even said, “Lake George is, without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw.”
A popular fishing spot for sports fishermen with the warmest waters of the Great Lakes
Lake Erie is so big that it’s bordered by four different states and a huge chunk of Canada. That’s why it’s technically ranked as the biggest lake in New York.
Located in Lake Erie State Park, there are lots of different things to do here. It’s a popular location for sports fishing and kayaking. Plus, there’s a large sandy beach that’s the ultimate setting for watching a fiery sunset.
A key part of the tri-Lakes region located in the Adirondack Mountains
Despite its horror movie reputation, Lake Placid (both the lake and the nearby town of the same name) is actually a lovely place to spend time.
There’s a reason it was two times the site of the winter Olympics. Lake Placid has several boat launches, tours on the water, and plenty of the top places to hike in NY.
Home to the oldest known fossil reef in the entire world and the Loch Ness monster’s distant count cousin
Lake Champlain has a long and fascinating history. It is actually home to the oldest known fossil reef on the planet. In the modern era, it’s a gorgeous freshwater lake surrounded by several popular New York state parks to explore.
There are beaches for swimming, hiking trails, and picnic areas for a midday feast.
🌳 Local Trivia: Lake Champlain is actually the site of around 300 different shipwrecks. If you’re a certified diver, you might even be able to explore these sunken boats below the surface yourself.
An ideal lake with lots of marinas for boating, paddling, and sailing in western New York
If you can’t imagine a better day than cruising on the water in a boat, then Chautauqua Lake is for you. It’s a top sailing location with a bunch of different boat launches along the lake’s shoreline. It includes an accessible boat launch, parking, and bathrooms at Prendergast Point and Long Point State Park.
Chautauqua Lake is also a great spot to catch fish. Chautauqua Lake has a diverse fish population from Walleyes to Muskellunges.
The smallest of all the Great Lakes, but still the 8th largest body of water in North America, located on the border of Canada
Lake Ontario is the tiniest of all the Great Lakes. Even though it’s the smallest Great Lake, it’s still enormous, with lots of activities to do. It’s unique because all the water from the other Great Lakes flows into Ontario.
There is a wide variety of animals that call this lake home, making it an ideal location for spotting wildlife. There are also some stunning NY waterfalls close by such as Buttermilk Falls and Salmon River Falls.
🌳 Local Trivia: The first person to swim across Lake Ontario was Marilyn Bell. The Canadian swimmer made the lengthy swim in 1954.
One of the cleanest lakes in the whole country, and its right in the Finger Lakes Region
Skaneateles Lake has reputation for being one of the cleanest New York lakes. It’s actually one of the most immaculate lakes in the United States. It’s a very calm area that’s excellent for walking your dog, going for a run, or laying out a blanket to read a book.
When you’re finished enjoying the pretty blue water of Skaneateles Lake, you’ll find plenty of local shops and restaurants to check out nearby.
One of the largest lakes in New York state, nestled next to Syracuse
At a little over 20 miles long, Oneida Lake is the largest lake that’s located completely inside the bounds of New York. Situated in western New York by Syracuse, this lake is swimming with all types of fish, making it a popular spot for fishermen. It’s also just a peaceful place to collect your thoughts if you’re not into fishing.
In the winter, when the lake freezes over, snowmobilers tend to ride around the area.
The western-most Finger Lake has been welcoming families for over 150 years
Conesus Lake is one of the smaller Finger Lakes about an hour north of Watkins Glen State Park. A lot of Conesus Lake is surrounded by the private houses of local residents. But, there are plenty of campgrounds, Airbnbs and hotels, and other accommodations nearby.
There are also adorable New York towns close by such as Geneseo and Livonia.
A stunning glacial lake in the Finger Lakes Region with boat rentals and swimming available
The glacial Cayuga Lake is a delightful and beautiful place loved by locals and visitors alike. Cayuga Lake offers paddleboarding, kayaking, and bicycling to visitors. The lake has events for children and birdwatching hotspots. The area is even a geocaching attraction, a sort of treasure-hunting activity.
If you’re looking for a lake that has a wide variety of things to do, Cayuga Lake is the best choice.
A hotspot for watersports regarded as the most beautiful Finger Lake
Keuka Lake is one of the glacial lakes in the Finger Lakes region. With an average depth of a little over 100 feet, it’s not the deepest lake in New York state. But, it’s still well worth the visit.
Keuka Lake is located along the area’s famous wine trail. It’s even near the first bonded winery ever instituted in the 1800s. So, you’ll find lots of wineries and vineyards to tour only a stone’s throw from Keuka Lake.
There are also several gorgeous hiking trails and informative NY museums around the area.
The largest and deepest of all the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York
The biggest of all the Finger Lakes: Seneca Lake. The most famous activity to do around here is getting a taste of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. The area is the perfect environment for growing healthy grapes. The trail includes a whopping 35 wineries, two breweries, and a cider house.
If you’re not a drinker, then there are also boat tours, the nearby Seneca Lake State Park, or grabbing dinner at Belhurst Castle. At the southern tip of the lake, you can also wander the gorgeous Watkins Glen State Park.
A magical bluish-green loch in the Green Lakes State Park
Green Lake is one of the lesser-known lagoons in New York, but it still warrants a spot on the list. In my opinion, it’s actually one of the most breathtaking lakes in the entire state. The lake gets its distinct name for its dusty teal-colored waters. Trust me, it lives up to the bold title.
Green Lake is located inside a state park with the same name. There are a lot of reasons to make a stop here in addition to the lake. The state park also has an 18-hole golf course and around 15 miles of trails that people use to cross-country ski in the winter.
A beloved lake near the resort area of Orange County with swimming, jet skiing, and more
Greenwood Lake is a scenic, chill place to hang out during the summer. It’s been a local vacation destination for more than 200 years. The lake is sandwiched between New York and some of the best places to visit in New Jersey. Making it a realistic destination for visitors from both sides of the state lines.
At Greenwood Lake, you can take paddleboards out on the water or just kick back at the waterfront park. From June to late October, the lake hosts a terrific farmer’s market with local vendors on Saturdays. It’s a family-friendly environment with plenty of fun stuff to do.
Great Sacandaga Lake
A massive lake located in the Adirondack Park with a chill and safe environment for a summer day
Great Sacandaga Lake is an enormous lake located only about half an hour outside of Saratoga Springs. There are tranquil natural views along the shoreline, tons of fishing spots, and top-rated restaurants scattered around the perimeter.
It’s a great location for water sports like water tubing, jet skiing, and boating. What more could you ask for in a lake location?
A hot spot for local bald eagle sightings, canoeing, and fishing
I love spending time lounging lakeside on a beach towel or kayaking through New York’s expansive waters. However, there’s another big reason that I like spending time at these natural attractions. The animal sightings. A particularly active location for seeing different kinds of animals is Canadice Lake.
Canadice Lake is located about 30 miles south of Rochester. It’s a super relaxing lake that’s home to birds like bald eagles, black-throated blue warblers, and wild turkey. Canadice Lake is also a popular location for hunting, fishing, and boating.
A tiny lake with lots of fishies swimming around, making it popular for ice fishing
Owasco Lake is another one that’s on the smaller side but still has lots of engaging outdoor activities to do. In the winter, visitors flock to Owasco for trout ice fishing. When the weather gets warmer in the summer, it’s a fabulous location for water skiing, swimming, or boating out on the water.
Since it’s a tinier lake, Owasco is much less busy than some of the other lakes on this list. It’s a good fit for people that want a quieter and more discreet day at the lake.
A picturesque mountain lake wedged between two Adirondack peaks
Avalanche Lake has a bit of an eye-catching name, but don’t worry. Spending time at this lake is way less risky than the name implies. However, getting to Avalanche Lake does require a pretty big hike.
The vast lake is located between two Adirondack mountain peaks. It’s a little over a 10-mile hike out and back to reach the lake. It’s definitely a place you should put on your bucket list, even if the trek sounds strenuous. The views are rewarding enough to warrant the effort. It’s one of the most beautiful lakes in New York.
Calm waters located in northern New York that maintains its peacefulness by only allowing motor-less boats
Mirror Lake is a gorgeous destination for canoeing, paddle boating, and lots of other water activities. It’s located right near the small town of Lake Placid. Don’t worry about hearing noisy boat motors here, though. Mirror Lake only allows boats without motors to maintain a peaceful atmosphere. So, visitors who value their quiet will love it here.
The scenery around Mirror Lake is also just as nice as the lake itself. There are quite a few walking trails to enjoy the area from dry land.
A bustling Upstate New York lake surrounded by a state park with the same name
Growing up in New York, I distinctly remember hiking the trails around Lake Minnewaska. It’s the perfect addition to any Hudson Valley itinerary for nature lovers. I’d specifically recommend making the climb up to Sam’s Point for panoramic views over the area.
👉 Pro Tip: If you want to turn a lake day into a full-blown camping trip, then consider taking the drive to North-South Lake Campground. It’s about an hour away, but it’s worth the trip. It’s a fun, activity-filled place to spend a few days out in the nature of upstate New York.
An expansive, serene lake that makes for a heavenly spot for watching the sunset
Lakes are a great place to watch the sunset because of the mystical reflection of the day’s departure in the water. One of my favorite lakes to get a spectacular view of the setting sun is Honeoye Lake.
Honeoye is a shallow lake with a maximum depth of 30 feet located in the Finger Lakes area. It’s one of the smaller lakes in the region, so has less traffic than other natural destinations. People love fishing at Honeoye Lake for a variety of fish like bluegill, yellow perch, and bass.
👉 Pro Tip: The season you visit New York can drastically alter the experience you have at one of its many lakes. Make sure you consider the time of year you’ll be visiting this lake.
FAQs About New York Lakes
What are the major lakes in New York?
How many lakes does New York have?
There are over 7,600 freshwater lakes, ponds, and reservoirs in New York State. The lakes in New York range from tiny pools to expansive bodies of water. The lakes in New York are very diverse in the activities and experiences they offer.
What is New York’s famous lake?
The most famous lake in New York is Lake Erie. There are many well-known lakes across the state. However, Lake Erie is generally considered to be the most famous for its lengthy history and status as one of the Great Lakes.
You’ve finished my list of all the best New York lakes! When you’re done exploring New York’s lakes, maybe take a trip down to its most famous city – New York City. But don’t forget to read our 21 best New York City travel trips before you go.
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