The 10 Best Lakes in New York State
We love you, NYC. But sometimes we need to swap the hustle and bustle of the big city for a peaceful escape that includes locally sourced wine, farm-to-table eats and a whole lot of nature. Whether you’re into hiking, boating, fishing, skiing or camping, the many beautiful lakes in New York State and their surrounding towns are guaranteed to surprise and delight. (And if you just want to kick back with a glass of Riesling and take in the view, we’ve got you covered there too).
Editor’s note: Please make sure to mask up and follow local travel guidelines before you go.
1. Seneca Lake, NY
As the largest of the Finger Lakes in New York, Seneca Lake offers an abundance of fun things to do for visitors. Considered the “Lake Trout Capital of the World,” Seneca Lake is the host of the National Lake Trout Derby and Catharine Creek is a favored spot to catch these sought-after species. Not into fishing? You can rent a boat at Stivers Seneca Marine and spend the day standup paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking on the lake or take a sightseeing tour on one of Captain Bill’s Seneca Lake Cruises. If wine tasting is at the top of your list, this region is the perfect place to visit as it is the home to more than 50 wineries due to its cool climate. In fact, the Finger Lakes region is known for its Riesling (we’re looking at you Boundary Breaks) and Chardonnay varieties. The Seneca Wine Trail includes 34 of these vineyards that offer scenic views and award-winning wines. Head to Belhurst Estate Winery to sip on wine, craft beer or cider while overlooking Seneca Lake and taking in views of the Belhurst Castle. At the southern end of Seneca Lake, you’ll find Watkins Glen, home to Watkins Glen State Park, known for its waterfalls, gorges and hiking trails. The Gorge Trail will take you over and under more than 15 waterfalls and up and down stone steps that lead to other outdoor park activities including hunting and cross-country skiing. Finally, racing fans can geek out at Watkins Glen International (also known as “The Glen”), which formerly hosted the Formula One United States Grand Prix for 20 years and now holds races and concerts at the arena.
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2. Lake George, NY
Nicknamed “Queen of the American Lakes,” Lake George is located on the southeast base of the Adirondack Mountains. Your first stop? Head to Lake George Kayak Company where you can rent kayaks, canoes and standup paddleboards. Or book a cruise with Lake George Steamboat Company that offers several charter options including a Champagne brunch cruise and sunset dinner cruise. For hikers, get your outdoor fix with scenic trails such as Prospect Mountain Hiking Trail and Shelving Rocks Falls (an ideal spot for birdwatching), while adventure seekers can get their thrills at Wild Waters for whitewater rafting, Waterhorse Adventures for scuba diving and Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course for ziplining. After all that action, dip your toes in the lake at the popular Lake George Beach (also knowns as Million Dollar Beach) or stop by the Fort William Henry Museum to explore the sights of an outpost fort built in the 1750s. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to The Boathouse Restaurant to sip cocktails and nibble on seasonal bites such as spicy shrimp and red snapper while watching swimmers and boats on the lake.
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3. Lake Placid, NY
A two-time host of the Winter Olympics, Lake Placid is a picturesque town located in the Adirondack Mountains. Ice hockey fans will definitely want to stop by the Herbs Brook Arena at the Lake Placid Olympic Center, where the United States men’s ice hockey team won a gold medal and played the famous “Miracle on Ice” game. Snow lovers alike can cross country ski at Cascade Cross Country Ski Center or ski and snowboard at Whiteface Mountain. Or cross off your bucket list with a dog sled tour and a toboggan chute. Once the snow is melted, head to Brewster Peninsula Trails or Mount Jo for hiking trails and Craig Woods Trails for mountain biking. If you want to spend the day on the actual lake, ADK Aquatics offers tubing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, wake surfing and private boat tours. Grab dinner at Smoke Signals Barbeque, a local favorite that’s known for their award-winning wings, brisket burnt ends and craft beer selection. For more beer options, head to Big Slide Brewery and order farm-to-table favorites such as wood-fired pizzas and pretzel bites. And no trip to Lake Placid is complete without a visit to Emma’s Lake Placid Creamery where you’ll find their signature flavor of soft-serve maple creme.
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4. Canandaigua Lake, NY
The fourth largest of the Finger Lakes, Canandaigua Lake, is an ideal getaway for nature lovers. Bristol Mountain offers an endless number of outdoor activities including skiing, snowboarding, ziplining and tightrope walks, while Roseland Water Park is the place to be come summertime. For a relaxing day at the beach, stop by either Kershaw Park, Onanda Park or Deep Run Beach and get out onto the water with boat rentals from Sutters Marina and Smith Boys. And if you’re wondering where you should pose for your next Instagram shot, City Pier is the answer. Check out this popular spot for waterside views of scenic main street and Boathouse Row, a group of over 80 boathouses. Blocks away from downtown Canandaigua you’ll find Sonnenberg Garden & Mansion Historic State Park, a 50-acre estate that is one of two public gardens in all of the New York State Parks System. When it’s finally time to wind down with some wine, hit up The Canandaigua Wine Trail. Visit Inspire Moor Winery for boutique wines including their popular Blaufrankisch and Riesling, while craft beer enthusiasts should get a pint or two at Young Lion Brewing known for their stouts and IPAs. For dinner, you can’t beat Rio Tomatlan for authentic tamales and margaritas or NYK Café for a menu of casual fare such as burgers and steak all sourced from local ingredients. After your meal, you’ll want to take in the beautiful sunset with a beer or cocktail at the Sand Bar located at the Lake House on Canandaigua.
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5. Keuka Lake, NY
Due to its unique Y-shape, Keuka Lake is nicknamed the Crooked Lake. It’s also known for having some of the best fishing (including ice fishing) around. But if that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other outdoor activities to choose from. Head to Keuka Lake State Park for a quaint public beach, a boat launch, campsites, hiking trails and best of all, beautiful views of the surrounding wineries. If you are a big fan of Riesling, head to Heron Hill Winery for seven different varieties and a casual lunch on the terrace of the Blue Heron Café. For the best views of the lake, stop by Vineyard View Winery to sip on local wines and take it all in. Veer off the trail for a bit of local history and visit Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars where the first vinifera wines were planted in the Eastern United States that forever changed wine making in New York. Nearby Keuka Outlet Trail offers seven miles of wooded trails where visitors can hike, bike, horseback ride, snowmobile or cross-country ski. For those seeking a small town adventure up in the sky, Finger Lakes Sea Planes will make all your dreams come true. With its base at Keuka Lake, you can take a scenic seaplane tour of the Finger Lakes region for the best vantage point around. After a busy day, head to dinner on the dock at the Waterfront for burgers, fish tacos and crab cakes.
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6. Oneida Lake, NY
Oneida Lake is located just northeast of Syracuse and is the largest lake entirely within New York State. Start at Sylvan Beach on the eastern shore where you can hang out on the sand, take a quick swim or rent jet skis, kayaks, paddleboards or pontoon and fishing boats at Boat Oneida. Nearby you’ll find Sylvan Beach Amusement Park that has everything from classic rides to old school arcade games including bumper cars, skee-ball and mini-golf. For those looking to test their luck, visit Point Place Casino for slots, sports betting and table games. Now, where should you eat? Within walking distance of Verona Beach State Park is Oneida Lake Brew Haus, where American handmade fare and 32 rotating beer taps are always on the menu. If lakeside views are on your agenda, head to Borio’s Restaurant for fresh seafood or The Lakehouse at Sylvan Beach for fancy cocktails (we see you, caramel apple martini) and live entertainment. And when it comes time to sleep, we’ve got a few great options below or you could head to Verona Beach State Park for various campground options as well as outdoor activities such as hiking, hunting, fishing and biking.
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7. Cayuga Lake, NY
Cayuga Lake is the longest of the Finger Lakes with the city of Ithaca sitting at the southern tip. Head to this charming town to visit the Cornell University and Ithaca College campuses or stop by one of their popular museums. The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art offers amazing views of Ithaca and Cayuga Lake with year-round exhibits (the Asian art exhibits are particularly noteworthy). Next, you’ll want to visit Museum of the Earth to explore our planet and its prehistoric past with access to fossils, interactive displays and science-inspired art. As if that’s not reason enough to ready thy Instagram, you can’t visit Ithaca without stopping by to take pictures at one of its many waterfalls. A few favorites include Buttermilk Falls State Park and Cascadilla Gorge Trail. On your way back to the lake, stop by Cayuga Lake Creamery for a unique ice cream experience—try the jalapeno popper, cream cheese flavored ice cream with pureed jalapeno peppers if you’re feeling adventurous. Afterwards, head to Taughannock Falls State Park for another gorgeous waterfall surrounded by opportunities to hike, hunt, fish, camp, swim and rent boats. You can also rent canoes, kayaks and paddleboards to get out onto the water or take a boat tour with Discover Cayuga Lake for educational private charters and public tours or Ithaca Boat Tours for sunset cruises. And it wouldn’t be the Finger Lakes region without another wine trail, would it? The Cayuga Wine Trail is the first and longest running wine trail in America and features over ten different wineries. Americana Vineyards sells award-winning wines such as their popular Crystal Lake wine and dessert style red wine, Sweet Rosie. The best way to experience all the wineries have to offer is by boat: Book a tour at Water to Wine Tours who welcomes wine lovers on their “winetastic” boat tour that includes stops at local wineries and breathtaking views of the lake.
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8. Chautauqua Lake, NY
Chautauqua Lake is 17 miles long and is a family-friendly vacation spot for recreational activities. Start your trip off at Long Point State Park for swimming, fishing, multiple hiking and biking trails, snowmobiling or cross-country skiing. The lake is also known for its sailing and fishing and fisherman are known to travel from all over to participate in various fishing tournaments throughout the year. Visit Panama Rocks Scenic Park (about 15 minutes from the lake) for hiking that includes a bit of rock climbing and cave exploration. Don’t forget to take a swing at their axe throwing adventure. End your day at Midway State Park, by enjoying some miniature golf, go-karting and traditional amusement park rides. If you are looking for something educational, head to Chautauqua Institution, a popular tourist destination where you can find restaurants, shopping, live music and public lectures during the summertime. Or if you’re into comedy, there are two can’t miss destinations you’ll want to visit. First is the National Comedy Center, a museum dedicated to the history comedy and its artists. Next you’ll want to stop by the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum located in the couples’ hometown of Jamestown where you’ll get the ultimate I Love Lucy experience. For great local beer, head to Ellicottville Brewing on Chautauqua where you’ll find an American dining menu with sandwiches, burgers tacos and more. The locals love Guppy’s Tavern for a fun-filled time and great food options such as Stromboli and the famous Dagwood sandwich filled with salami, pepperoni, ham, mushrooms and provolone cheese. Don’t skip dessert here where you’ll find homemade peanut butter ice cream pie and fudge brownie chocolate mousse pie.
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9. Saratoga Lake, NY
Saratoga Lake is located in the eastern part of Saratoga County and is an ideal destination for a summer weekend getaway. Only a few miles south of the City of Saratoga Springs, the lake boasts activities such as swimming, fishing, boating and hiking. Start your day off at Brown’s Beach where you’ll find a launch for boating, kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding. To rent any of this equipment, stop by Kayak Shak or Lake Lonely Watersports for hourly or daily rentals. Grab a bite to eat at the beach’s snack shack or Dock Brown’s patio for upscale pub food. Be sure to stop by Stewart’s for an ice cream cone of maple walnut or cotton candy flavors. For fishing aficionados, head to Saratoga Lake Boat Launch and cast your lines to find bass, bluegill, perch and walleye fish. Waterfront Park on Saratoga Lake is the ideal lakeside spot for a picnic with outdoor BBQ grills or a relaxing ride on a kayak, while hikers will want to stop by Gray’s Crossing for a moderate trail that leads to the lake. After a day spent in the Great Outdoors, unwind at 550 Waterfront for seafood and cocktails on the water or Carson’s Woodside Tavern for breathtaking views of the lake and the Vermont mountains.
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10. Conesus Lake, NY
Book a trip to Conesus Lake for a low-key getaway filled with outdoor adventures. As the westernmost of the Finger Lakes, Conesus Lake is eight miles long and home to many fishing tournaments. Anglers can launch their boats at Conesus Lake Boat Launch and Pebble Beach. Head to Long Point State Park for swimming, boating, waterskiing, hunting and hiking. For a complete camping experience, spend time at Conesus Lake Campground for various RV and tenting sites. Don’t miss dinner or lunch at the Beachcomber for sandwiches and fried fish—the ideal spot to relax after spending the day at Minnehan’s Fun Center where you’ll find outdoor go-karting, batting cages, mini-golfing, outdoor laser tag and many other family-fun activities. For drinks stop by Deer Run Winery, the oldest operating winery on Conesus Lake. Taste their award-winning Corot Noir, Dry Riesling and Marquette varieties while sampling on a mouthwatering charcuterie board. For authentic Italian cuisine stop by Fratelli’s where the pastas are delicious and the martini flavors are many.
Where to stay:
- Modern Upscale Lake House: 10 guests
- Charming Cottage on Conesus Lake: 6 guests
- Beautiful Conesus Cottage: 8 guests
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