Craving a relaxing lake vacation like no other? You might think you’d have to travel far to reach a destination with wonderful lakes. For instance, Minnesota has almost 12,000 lakes, and Alaska has a whopping 3 million. The good news is for us New Yorkers is that we don’t need to travel that far for a fabulous lake vacation. New York has over 7,600 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, with many marvelous small towns, hidden gems, and natural wonders nearby. Check out these 21 best lakes in upstate New York for a lovely vacation getaway.
Getting Around Upstate New York
Getting around upstate New York can be tricky if you don’t own a car. But worry not, there are different ways to get around. From trains to buses to car rentals — here is how to visit a cute small town in upstate New York.
Trains to Lake Towns in New York
The Metro-North and Amtrak are wonderful options to help you plan a getaway to upstate New York. You can easily plan your trips by taking one of their several train routes to a small town.
Buses to Lake Vacations in New York
There are different bus companies that can take you to several small towns around Upstate New York. Check Wanderu for different routes and bus companies. Here are just a few:
- Trailways (Geneva, Buffalo, Lake Placid, Lake George, Ithaca, etc.)
- Greyhound (Mostly to the bigger cities in New York)
Walkability When Visiting Lakes in Upstate New York
Unfortunately, we live in one of the most unwalkable countries in the world. But, there are several lake towns in New York State where you can still get around on foot. Charming lake towns like Skaneateles and are perfectly walkable. However, if you’re looking to spend prolonged amounts of time without a car, it’s important to plan the logistics for things like grocery shopping and outdoor adventures.
Car Rental Road Trips in Upstate New York
This is, of course, the best way to get around in most of New York State outside of New York City. With a car, you can venture all around lakes in New York to explore the best small towns and stunning waterfalls in New York or drive to different nearby attractions in Upstate New York like gemstone mines and swimming holes — all on your own schedule. Consider a long term rental to lower the daily rate and using a credit card like the Chase Sapphire which includes car rental insurance.
More of Our New York State Travel Guides
If you’re interested in exploring more of our beautiful state beyond small towns, here are some of our top New York travel guides to continue reading:
- Hidden Gems to Visit in Upstate New York by Region
- 17 Refreshing Day Hikes from New York City
- A First Timer’s Guide to the Majestic Finger Lakes in New York
- 27 Easy Day Trips from New York City
- 17 Special Places to Go Glamping in New York
- 31 Beautiful New York Waterfalls to Explore
- 29 Charming Small Towns in Upstate New York
Beautiful Lakes in Upstate New York to Visit
1) Green Lake (Green Lake State Park)
Located in Green Lake State Park, both Green and Round Lake are known to be two of the most beautiful lakes in upstate New York. This is due to their clear, turquoise color. Both are glacial lakes, with unique features that support ancient plant and animal life.
Most notably, Green Lake has a very special feature- a coral-like reef. “Deadman’s Point” was formed over thousands of years by microscopic organisms. This fragile, freshwater reef provides a home for plants and fish. Due to its importance to the lake’s ecosystem, and its fragility, the park has certain rules for boaters. No outside watercraft is allowed; if you would like to kayak or row on Green Lake, you will need to rent from the park’s Boat House.
If boating is not your style, or the park Boat House is closed, visit the beautiful beach and swim. Or, enjoy a beautiful 4.6-mile hike around both lakes through lush forest for wonderful views of the turquoise waters.
2) Cayuga Lake
Beautiful Cayuga Lake is the longest and second deepest of the Finger Lakes. You can experience the lake on your vacation in many ways. First, visit Cayuga Lake State Park. Here, you can swim seasonally at a flat beach, and enjoy a sloping landscape up to your campsite. Or, stay at the vacation cabin rental located within the park.
Or, visit one of the other state parks located on Cayuga Lake. Allan H Treman State Marine Park connects with wonderful trails, and provides public boating access. Taughannock Falls State Park allows swimming, and sometimes offers live concerts in the summertime.
Take a drive on the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway to catch all the breathtaking views Cayuga Lake has to offer. Along your way, be sure to stop at Ithaca located at the southern tip of this Finger Lake. Ithaca is one of the best New York lake towns, and you won’t want to miss it.
3) Seneca Lake
Not only is Seneca Lake the deepest lake in New York, it is also the largest of all the Finger Lakes. Want to really experience Seneca Lake on your vacation? Rent a paddleboard, kayak, or canoe and explore its waters. Or, take a boat tour or dinner cruise.
You will also want to experience the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. The area surrounding the lake is the perfect growing location, due to its cool microclimate. So, you’ll find some of the finest wines, and some of the best views, as you follow the Wine Trail.
Just north of Seneca Lake is the charming town of Geneva. You’ll love the architecture here, so make sure to see Belhurst Castle and Winery, Geneva on the Lake, and the historic row houses. You can also spend the night at these perfect vacation spots.
On the southern tip of Seneca Lake is the lake community Watkins Glen, gateway to amazing areas like Watkins Glen State Park (hike the Gorge Trail!) and Catharine Creek Wildlife Management Area (see Aunt Sarah’s Falls!)
4) Keuka Lake
Another one of the best lakes to visit in New York state is Keuka Lake. This is the third largest Finger Lake, and forms a Y-shape, unlike other lakes in this region. Additionally, this lake has another unique feature- its drainage flows backwards, South to North. It is the only lake in the United States to do so.
The word Keuka comes from an Iroquois word meaning “Canoe Landing”. We think that is the perfect word for this marvelous lake. Paddleboarding, kayaking, and canoeing are the perfect ways to spend a day exploring Keuka.
Another wonderful activity to do on your upstate New York lake vacation is to stop into Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars. The winery is nestled into the rolling hills surrounding Keuka Lake. Or, visit Keuka Lake State Park, which has spectacular views of Keuka below. Finally, stop into the small upstate New York town of Penn Yan. Located on the north tip of the lake, this sweet town has access to the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail. The trail has 7 miles of scenic views and connects Penn Yan to the town of Dresden on Seneca Lake.
5) Lake Ontario
When talking about lakes in New York state, we could hardly leave out the Great Lakes. New York has shorelines on both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Lake Ontario is the smallest, yet still has 712 miles of shoreline in upstate New York. Since there is so much to do along Lake Ontario, it is a perfect lake vacation in New York.
While you may want to explore this massive lake on a kayak or canoe, it may be best to leave your boat at home. The Great Lakes are almost like mini oceans, so paddling may not be the best way to experience the Lake. Instead, relax on one of the many beaches, or explore one of the many attractions and natural wonders along its shores.
- Visit Old Fort Niagara. This historic site is open year-round and has live interpreters acting out the livelihoods of those who once lived and worked in the fort.
- See the lighthouse at Golden Hill State Park. The lighthouse is now a museum, featuring information on the lake’s maritime history.
- Hike along the spiky drumlins of Chimney Bluffs State Park. There are about 10,000 of these unique formations throughout the park. The best place to view them is from below, along the shores of Lake Ontario.
- Stop into the town of Oswego, located in the Thousand Islands region of New York. Stay at the Beacon Hotel while visiting this lively town.
6) Lake Placid & Mirror Lake
Lake Placid is one of the most interesting of upstate New York lakes, located in the Adirondacks. When looking at a map, you’ll note that Lake Placid is a very large lake broken up into three sections- Lake Placid, East Lake, and West Lake. There are two massive islands on this lake, and one smaller. Just south of Lake Placid is the town of Lake Placid and smaller Mirror Lake.
During your Lake Placid and Mirror Lake vacation, Stay at the Whiteface Lodge. This luxurious, cozy cabin in the mountains will take your breath away, and be the perfect basecamp while you explore the nearby lakes. Or, spend the night at Lake Placid Lodge, right on the waters of the lake. Choose between the main lodge or private cabins, and spend your days exploring the lake.
7) Lake Champlain
One of the best lakes in New York, Lake Champlain is the United State’s sixth largest lake. It also serves as a natural border between New York and Vermont.While on vacation at Lake Champlain, stay at Point Au Roche Lodge. The lodge is on the northern end of the lake, yet centrally located to other attractions. Thus, you’ll be able to make day trips to the High Peaks, Lake Placid, or simply spend your days relaxing by Lake Champlain.
Or, head south and stay at the Inn in Westport. You’ll love discovering this quaint, hidden gem located right on Lake Champlain’s waters.
8) Skaneateles – The Cleanest Lake in New York!
This Finger Lake is the cleanest lake in New York. So clean, in fact, that surrounding towns use its water as unfiltered drinking water. During your New York state lakes vacation, you’ll want to stay in the village of Skaneateles while adventuring on the lake’s waters. Enjoy all kinds of boating Skaneateles, from kayaking to sailing. You can even stay at a hotel that offers cruises on the lake.
Want to explore more of the area? Don’t miss
- Hiking in Bear Swamp State Forest
- Shopping at village boutiques
- Exploring Dickinson Conservation Area, accessible only by boat
- Wine tasting at Anyela’s Vineyards
- Biking the 32 mile circuit around the lake
After an adventure at one of the best New York lakes, you’ll feel just as crisp and refreshed as Skaneateles’ waters.
9) Schroon Lake
One of the lesser-visited lakes in upstate NY is Schroon Lake. Tucked into the Adirondack Park and northwest of Lake George, this 9-mile long lake has a fabulous beach, fun small town, and surprising culture. This family-friendly destination will be perfect for one of your next lake vacations in NY.
Once, large resorts covered the shoreline of Schroon Lake. Now, with those resorts gone, charming bed and breakfasts are the best places to stay during your lake vacation. Spend a weekend at Schroon Lake Bed and Breakfast, a cozy inn with mountain views. Or, try the Rocky Acres Inn/B&B, with access to hiking and biking.
Spend your days parasailing, waterskiing, or boating on Lake Schroon. Then, should you visit during the Seagle Festival season, spend your evenings enjoying opera and musical theatre.
10) Lake George
Lake George, resting next to a small town of the same name, is another great option for one of your lake vacations in NY. Stay on the lake, yet still in the town, at Georgian Lakeside Resort.
This resort is perfect for your lake vacation. The resort has 350 feet of lakefront with a beach designated only for guests. You’ll also be able to enjoy lakefront dining and boat rentals.
When not at the resort, be sure to try some local wine at Adirondack Winery Lake George Tasting Room. Or, visit the Fort William Henry Museum. There is also a Fort William Henry Hotel nearby, with amazing views of the lake.
11) Saratoga Lake
Saratoga Lake forms the southeastern edge of Saratoga Springs. Much of the lake’s shoreline is privately owned. So, for a more private experience, try to find a vacation rental right on the water. Or, spend your vacation relaxing on Brown’s Beach.
When it comes to meals, enjoy lakeside dining at establishments like:
- Dock Brown’s (at Brown’s Beach).
- The Hideaway, hidden in the Saratoga Lake Golf Course.
- Carson’s Woodside Tavern, with a beautiful view of Vermont mountains.
Whether its a day at the beach, or paddling the waters of Saratoga Lake, you’ll love visiting this special upstate New York lake.
12) Lake Clear
When visiting Lake Clear, our favorite place to stay is Lake Clear Lodge and Retreat. This holistic healing resort rests right on the shores of Lake Clear, and has everything you’d want out of an upstate New York lake vacation. Relax on the resorts’ pristine beach, and enjoy the lake’s clear waters.
While the resort does have its own hiking trails to explore, you can also hike at Paul Smith’s College VIC. You can also paddle the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area. This is the largest wilderness canoe area in the northeastern United States, so you’ll certainly have a lot to discover.
13) Saranac Lake
Saranac is one of the ultimate lake vacations in NY. This region has so many lakes- you’ll need a long vacation just to explore them all! For instance, there are three Saranac lakes- Lower, Middle, and Upper. All three are connected by the Saranac River. The town of Saranac Lake rests right in the midst of this water wonderland. So, you’ll have everything you need in downtown Saranac Lake. Rent or bring along your own kayak, paddleboard, or canoe and begin your adventure.
After a day of lake exploration, stay at The Point. This wilderness resort, full of luxurious amenities and picturesque lake views, will leave you rested and relaxed for another day of maritime fun.
14) Canandaigua Lake
Canandaigua Lake is another one of the lakes upstate New York that is known for its high quality water. In addition, Canandaigua Lake is also known for its fabulous tourism. During your vacation, be sure to visit the nearby downtown area, and try some local faire. We love Nolan’s on the Lake, which has wonderful seafood options, ideal for this lakefront dining spot.
There is some interesting history on Canandaigua Lake. Most notably, one of only two islands in all eleven Finger Lakes is here. Squaw Island was once a haven for Native Seneca women and children during a terrible attack in 1779. Today, the island is New York’s smallest Fish and Wildlife Management Area. You can kayak or canoe to this island.
15) Canadice Lake
Just south of Rochester, Canadice Lake is the smallest of the Finger Lakes. Furthermore, much of its shoreline is undeveloped. So, this is the place to go if you are hoping for a remote lake vacation. There are formal boat launches for canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and other watercraft. Keep in mind that any watercraft longer than 17 feet, or with a 10-horsepower or more are prohibited. This is because Rochester uses the lake as a water source.
This lake is perfect for fishing, as the waters and underwater ecosystems remain largely untouched. Furthermore, there are trails around Canadice Lake, too. So, be sure to check out all the recreation that Canadice Lake has to offer.
If you’re staying in Rochester, be sure to try their famed local dish: the garbage plate!
16) Owasco Lake
This Finger Lake is almost entirely surrounded by farmland. The lake is also quite small and shallow, which means the waters warm quickly in the summer. Thus, swimming is very popular here. Emerson Park (pictured above) offers a private boat launch for those wishing to waterski or tube.
At the north end of the lake is the town of Auburn, where you can visit numerous historical sites such as the Harriet Tubman Home. The town of Moravia, on the lake’s southern end, is the gateway of Fillmore Glen State Park. Here, you can explore five waterfalls and deep gorges.
17) Lake Minnewaska
One of the best lakes in NY to visit, Lake Minnewaska is just over two hours from New York City. Located in the heart of Minnewaska State Park Preserve, there are a myriad of things you can do while visiting this lake on vacation.
First, hike some of the trails found in the Preserve. You’ll be able to see Awosting Falls, a 60 ft drop of clear, beautiful water. Then, swim the waters of Lake Minnewaska to cool off (there is no swimming allowed at the falls). You can also bike here, and end your day at the campground within the park. Or, stay at the Minnewaska Lodge, a holistic hotel designed to connect guests with nature.
18) Mohonk Lake
Just two hours from New York City, Mohonk Lake is one of the most spectacular and exclusive lakes upstate NY. Recreation on this lake is entirely operated by Mohonk Mountain House, a massive (and beautiful) resort right on the lake.
The resort boasts more than 150 things to do, which makes this one of the ultimate lake vacation getaways. During your stay, you can
- Fly fish
- Canoe, kayak and paddleboard
- Swim at the beach
- Enjoy a glass of wine while watching a gorgeous New York sunset
- Spend a day at the spa
- Hike to Sky Top Tower
- Rock scramble on boulders and cliffs
- Swim across Lake Mohonk
Mohonk Mountain House is inclusive, so you’ll be able to experience all of this, and more, with the rate of your stay.
19) Greenwood Lake
While not typically a destination many think of for an upstate New York lake vacation, Greenwood Lake is the perfect place to relax. Stay at the Waterstone Inn or the Breezy Inn. The New Continental Hotel and Restaurant provides a wonderful option for your stay as well.
Spend your days boating, swimming, or simply relaxing on the beach. The best part about visiting Greenwood Lake? It’s less than an hour and a half from New York City. So, be sure to make this a vacation destination- you’ll want to come back!
Sometimes known as the thumb of the Finger Lakes due to its position, Chautauqua Lake was actually formed from separate glacial movements. Thus, it is not one of the Finger Lakes. Furthermore, as one of the highest lakes in North America, it has some truly spectacular views.
20) Chautauqua Lake
One of the best places to catch these views is at Long Point State Park on Lake Chautauqua. The “long point”, a peninsula that sticks out into Chautauqua Lake, has boat rentals and launches for anyone wanting to spend a day paddling or fishing. There is also an accessible swimming beach here, perfect for laying in the sun or building a sandcastle.
Off the lake, spend your vacation exploring Chautauqua Gorge State Forest. The 538 acre area has many miles of hiking trails, and is a lovely place for a picnic. You can also camp here, both in designated campsites or in primitive, backcountry camping spots.
21) Lake Erie
Lake Erie is another Great Lake that shares shoreline with New York state. There are many fantastic things to see and do along the lake. For instance, Evangola State Park has a natural sandy beach on Lake Erie, contrasting against shale cliffs of Angola above. Lake Erie State Park (pictured above) just 1 sits on high bluffs above Lake Erie, and is a great place for bird-watching.
Visit the Dunkirk Lighthouse, which is still in operation as a lighthouse and a museum. Swim at local Hamburg Town Beach, and, after a day of touring, devour a picnic at Wendt Beach Park (no swimming allowed). Stop into the Lake Erie Seaway Trail Visitor Center for more information about things to do near Lake Erie.
Whether from the shores of Lake Ontario to one of the Finger Lakes, upstate New York is one of the best places for a lake vacation. Without a doubt, your retreat will include natural wonders, beautiful scenery, and needed relaxation. So, visit the lakes in upstate NY- you will love every minute.