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20 Best Lakes in New York State to Swim, Fish, and Have Fun

By | Last Updated : 10th September 2021

When you hear the name of New York, the vibrant namesake city might pop into your head. But this Mid-Atlantic state, unlike the human-made wonders of the city, is more of the natural beauty with the Adirondack Mountains and Finger Lakes. There are many other freshwater lakes and a few reservoirs, all accessible to the public throughout the year. Besides swimming, boating, and hiking in summer, you can even visit the lakes in winter to enjoy skiing or snowshoeing or remain engrossed in admiring its frozen state. The mountainous and forest setting offer a jaw-dropping vista, especially in the fall season. In addition to the recreational activities, there are lots more to explore around the lake, including quaint towns, historic sites, and the surrounding wineries.

Lakes in New York

1. Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake in New York

Perched up 2885 feet in the Adirondack High Peaks, Avalanche Lake offers picturesque views of the encompassing towering mountains. Though discovered in 1833, it acquired its name in 1869 after an avalanche crashed into the spot, causing landslides, raising its elevation. However, another avalanche in 1942 increased the lake’s level further by another 10 feet. As it sits at about 2880 ft at present, you will have to hike one of the trails to get to the lake. Among these, the 3-mile long Trail of the Cedars is pretty scenic, and once you reach its end, you will be mesmerized by the rugged beauty and serenity of the place. If you’re parking at Adirondack Loj, you will have to pay about $ 12 per vehicle.

Fishing: As the lake is sterile, fishing is not a preferred option. One could find populations of cutthroat trouts here, small in size but easy to catch.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, camping, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing

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2. Lake George

Lake George in New York

Lake George, nicknamed the ‘Queen of American Lakes,’ boasts magnificent vistas of the majestic Adirondack Mountains. Its crystal clear waters provide an array of fun activities both in summer and winter. In addition, dozens of colorful hot air balloons soaring high over the mountains and the lake offer a splendid view. Besides these, you can take a boat ride to Millionaire’s Row to witness the spectacular mansions lined along the lake’s western side. If hungry, grab a meal from a waterfront restaurant while taking in the lake views. It also hosts many events and festivals that you can participate in, including Lake George Music Festival, Lake George Winter Carnival Festival, and many more.

Fishing: Several fish species, including landlocked salmon, lake trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, pickerel, and panfish, populate the lake.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, parasailing, jet-skiing camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice-skating, golfing

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3. Chautauqua Lake

Chautauqua Lake

This inland lake sits 1,308 feet above sea level, making it one of North America’s highest navigable water bodies. Boating in the 17-mile lake is excellent, with boat rentals available at several marinas and many public launches at the shoreline providing easy access to the waters. In addition, you can enjoy a steamboat adventure on the well-known Chautauqua Belle. For a stunning view, head to the bridge at Route I-86 east, which crosses it. With numerous restaurants, hotels and bars all around, you won’t have to worry about your meals when hungry. Among these, you can check out the Village Casino in Bemus Point for some live music and delicious food, besides the vistas. Your dogs, too, can tag along, but remember to put on a leash around them.

Fishing: Anglers enjoy catching a wide variety of fish like largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, muskie, sunfish, perch, and walleye.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, sailing, camping, hiking, biking, picnicking

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4. Lake Erie

Lake Erie in New York

With more than 9,900 square miles of surface area, Lake Erie is the eleventh largest lake. Its warm and clear waters make it ideal for swimming in the hot months. You can also spend time collecting shells of different sizes and shapes piling up on the shoreline. Lake Erie provides excellent scuba diving opportunities due to its warm, shallow waters. While diving deep into the water, one could perhaps see a few of the many shipwrecks that happened here. In addition, the surrounding bluffs and trees offer scenic vistas, with several spots around providing great scope for bird watching. Visit the adjoining Lake Erie State Park for additional recreational activities like hiking and overnight accommodation facilities by the lakeside.

Fishing: This lake supports a healthy population of walleye, muskellunge, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, lake trout, and perch.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, scuba diving, jet-skiing, water-skiing, tubing, camping, hiking, cross-country skiing, picnicking, birdwatching, snowmobiling, ice-skating, golfing

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5. Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain in New York

Tucked between the state’s Adirondack Mountains and the Green Mountains of Vermont, Lake Champlain is a scenic freshwater lake. A ferry ride would be ideal from Burlington to the New York side while enjoying an unforgettable experience of the beautiful sunset views. You can also explore the waters by hopping on a boat and admire the surrounding Palisades, lofty cliffs plunging into the water, and the bordering mountains.

Named after its discoverer, French explorer Samuel De Champlain, it is an eminent historical site witnessing many significant battles in the past. Even today, you can see the foundation of the French Fort Saint-Frédéric and the ruins of Fort Crown Point at Crown Point State Historic Site, located at the lake’s southern end.

Moreover, you’ll even find several hiking trails offering breathtaking mountainous views. The Lake Champlain Birding Trail is one among them, giving one the pleasure to spot the common golden-eye, snowy owls, snowy buntings, and so on from fall through winter. State parks like Point Au Roche State Park and Cumberland Bay State Park encompassing the lake also provide other enjoyable activities all year round.

Fishing: Anglers commonly catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, brown bullhead, chain pickerel, yellow perch, lake trout, channel catfish, and Atlantic salmon.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, paddling, camping, hiking, picnicking, picnicking, birdwatching

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6. Skaneateles Lake

Skaneateles Lake in New York

This clear blue water body in central New York is sometimes known as ‘The Roof Garden of the Lakes’ due to its higher altitude than the other Finger Lakes. Being one of the state’s cleanest, Skaneateles Lake provides drinking water to the neighboring city of Syracuse. The lush greenery, mountainous views, and several historic buildings in the vicinity make it highly photogenic. Boating is a sought-after activity enjoyed by those seeking a serene experience. After spending time on the lake, don’t miss exploring the little shops, restaurants, and buildings of downtown Skaneateles.

Fishing: Fish species actively sought by anglers in this lake include rainbow trout, lake trout, Atlantic salmon, smallmouth and largemouth bass, walleye, chain pickerel, and bluegill.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, camping, hiking, nature-gazing, picnicking

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7. Cayuga Lake

Cayuga Lake in New York

This glacial freshwater lake is the longest and second deepest among the Finger Lakes. Located near the city of Ithaca, it gets its name from the native Cayuga people. You can drive the 86 mile long Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway that circles the water body to enjoy the views and observe the surrounding historical and traditional sites. Wildlife and bird enthusiasts can head to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, located at its northern edge, to spot the various animals, waterfowl, and migratory birds.

The lake is also a popular boating spot having boat launches in the Cayuga Lake State Park on its western side and Allen H. Treman State Marine Park on the southern end. Also, don’t miss exploring the nearby Taughannock Falls that plunge above 200 feet in a deep and rocky gorge.

Fishing: Fish species like lake trout, smallmouth bass, Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, smelt, black crappie, largemouth bass, bluegill, pickerel, and yellow perch inhabit the lake.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, camping, hiking, site-seeing, wildlife viewing, birdwatching, picnicking

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8. Keuka Lake

Keuka Lake in New York

Keuka Lake in the Steuben and Yates counties boasts picturesque rolling hills sprinkled with vineyards all around. Unlike the other long and narrow Finger Lakes, this water body is unusual because of its Y-shape, earning its alternate name ‘Crooked Lake’. Another unique feature is that it is one of the few lakes flowing north and south. Don’t miss exploring the Keuka Lake Wine Trail. You would come across several wineries on the way, like the Heron Hill Winery and Rooster Hill Winery. But remember to make reservations if you wish to go on a wine-tasting spree. To enjoy a relaxing time or for more pleasurable activities, you can visit the Depot Park located at the lake’s southern end in Hammondsport.

Fishing: Smallmouth bass mainly populates the lake. Other fish dwelling here are yellow perch, rock bass, bluegill, northern pike, Atlantic salmon, and smelt.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, snorkeling, water-skiing, jet-skiing, tubing, camping, hiking

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9. Conesus Lake

Conesus Lake in New York

Out of the eleven Finger Lakes, Conesus Lake is the westernmost, supplying public water to the towns of Avon and Geneseo. Its relatively shallow depths make it an ideal swimming spot during summer. Water sports are also popular here, with four public boat launches and some private marinas. It is also common to see visitors enjoying snowmobiling and ice-skating in winter when the lake freezes completely. The annual Ring of Fire held here on the 3rd of July is a sought-after attraction drawing tourists in huge numbers to enjoy the splendid fireworks. Nature lovers can check out the Chip Holt Nature Center in the adjacent Vitale Park, which hosts several interpretive and outdoor recreation programs.

Fishing: Several fish varieties available here include walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, tiger muskie, sunfish, northern pike, and yellow perch.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, water-skiing, jet-skiing, tubing, kayaking, camping, hiking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice-skating

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10. Wolf Lake

Wolf Lake in New York

Located in Sullivan County, this private residential lake offers a wide variety of recreational activities to its members throughout the year. If you are a guest here, you can enjoy these activities along with annual picnics and swimming events organized by the Wolf Lake Clubhouse. Certified personnel also provide swimming lessons in the beach area. The encompassing forested areas boast beautiful views, ideal for hiking, biking, and bird watching.

Fishing: Fish species found here include pickerel, sunfish, freshwater bass, pike, bluegill, and perch.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, sailboating, rowing, hiking, biking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, hunting, wildlife viewing

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11. North-South Lake

North-South Lake in New York

Encompassed by the state campground area within the Catskill Forest Preserve, this lake is perfect for a peaceful vacation with mesmerizing views of the valley. Hike the many trails here for scenic vistas and spot a deer or a bear that inhabit these surrounding woods. Some even lead to gorgeous waterfalls, one being the two-stage Kaaterskill Falls. After hiking, you can enjoy a refreshing dip in the cold waters to remove all your weariness.

Fishing: Anglers will have a great time catching various fish species such as chain pickerel, largemouth bass, back crappie, pumpkinseed, and brown bullhead.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, camping, hiking, birdwatching, wildlife viewing, picnicking

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12. Honnedaga Lake

Honnedaga Lake in New York

Earlier known as Jock’s Lake or Transparent Lake, this secluded water body flows in the forested areas of the Adirondack Mountains region. ‘Honnedaga’ translates to clear or calm waters in the local Indian language, absolutely justifying the lake’s name.

 It covers an area of 770 acres and has a maximum depth of about 180 feet. You’ll find a little sandy beach perfect for swimming. In addition, many hiking trails surrounding it offers eye-catching views of the picturesque beauty. For accommodation facilities, you’ll find some lodge and rental cabins at one end of the lake.

Fishing: Brook trout, yellow perch, and northern pike inhabit the lake.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, camping, hiking

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13. Canadice Lake

Canadice Lake in New York

Canadice Lake, 1.8 miles long, is the smallest of Finger Lake in western New York. As it supplies drinking water to the neighboring city of Rochester, there is a prohibition on swimming and camping here. However, it is a perfect getaway spot for those seeking peacefulness. With no homes lining the shoreline, you can sit back and admire the picturesque wilderness for as long as you desire. In addition, a boat ride or hiking would be ideal for exploring the natural surroundings. There’s a public boat launch near the Canadice Road and Birch Hill Road intersection at its eastern side.

Fishing: This lake is mainly stocked with trout. Other fish available here include largemouth and smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, bluegill, brown bullhead, yellow perch, and black crappie.  

Other Activities: Boating, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, nature-gazing

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14. Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake in New York

Located amidst the village of Lake Placid, Mirror Lake is a slice of paradise on earth. Its pristine and calm waters reflect the quaint surrounding, just like a mirror. The sunrise and sunset are spectacular to watch for this reason. As no motorized boats are permitted here, the tranquility and peacefulness attract many visitors throughout the year. There are two public launching sites available here. Swimming is also enjoyable where you can access the water on the sandy beach.

Fishing: Fish species like rainbow trout, lake trout, yellow perch, largemouth and smallmouth bass, brown bullhead, and pumpkinseed are abundant here.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, camping, hiking, cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing,

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15. Oneida Lake

Oneida Lake in New York

Having a surface area of almost 80 square miles, Oneida Lake is the largest lake that sits entirely within the state. Its shallow and warm waters make it an ideal destination for many water sports in summer. Visitors also come here during winters to enjoy snowmobiling and ice skating. Sylvan Beach on its eastern shore is a hotspot for recreational activities, packed with restaurants, rental cottages, and an amusement park. On its southwestern side lies Oneida Shores State Park, where you’ll find a boat ramp to launch your boats in the waters easily. 

Fishing: Oneida Lake has an excellent stock of fish species like walleye, bass, and perch.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, camping, hiking, snowmobiling, ice skating

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16. Canandaigua Lake

Canandaigua Lake in New York

‘Canandaigua’ translates as ‘the chosen spot,’ rightly justifying the lake’s name due to the picturesque landscape. It is awe-inspiring during the fall season when the blue waters are contrasted with the vibrant hues of orange, red, and yellow. It is also home to the Squaw Islands, one of the two islands of the Finger Lakes that you can reach via a boat ride. Hop on the Canandaigua Lady, a look-alike double-decker paddleboard of the 19th century, to enjoy a cruise tour. You can explore the lake’s southern side, where lies Naples, a quaint little village, alongside many waterfalls and scenic wonders.

Fishing: Many fish species dwell in the lake, like the rainbow trout, brown trout, lake trout, chain pickerel, panfish, largemouth, and smallmouth bass.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, camping, hiking, sightseeing

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17. Great Sacandaga Lake

Great Sacandaga Lake in New York

Though an artificial reservoir, this water body is a hidden gem in northern New York. Flowing in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, it boasts a picturesque landscape of the surrounding forested areas.  Boaters can access its waters from one of the four boat ramps. Plenty of camping and lakeside cabins are available for those who wish to stay here overnight. The lake is also impressive during the winter. You can admire the snow-capped mountains as you enjoy snowshoeing or cross-country skiing here.

Fishing: You can catch many fish species such as brown trout, rock bass, northern pike, rainbow trout, walleye, and smallmouth bass.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, water-skiing, jet-skiing, camping, hiking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice-skating, picnicking

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18. Seneca Lake

Seneca Lake in New York

Among all the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake is the largest and deepest one. It is a favorite vacation spot, too, for its serene and spectacular landscape. Whether you choose to spend a relaxing holiday or get busy with water activities, this lake is perfect for everyone. Visit the surrounding wineries to get an idea of how different grapes are grown and the wine-making process. Head to the lake’s southern end at Watkins Glen to enjoy a boat tour and experience its charms. You can also cycle along the scenic 77 miles of Seneca Lake Loop.

Fishing: Known as ‘The Lake Trout Capital of the World,’ Seneca Lake has plentiful lake trout in it. Largemouth bass, rainbow trout, brown trout, and Atlantic salmon are other fish species populating it.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, sailing, camping, hiking

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19. Lake Placid

Lake Placid in New York

Lake Placid in the Adirondacks is a heaven for nature lovers. There are many activities to enjoy, both in and out of the water. Take a boat tour to explore the natural scenery all around. You’ll find three marinas and a public boat launch along its shoreline for boat rentals and easy access to the water. If you’re an adventure seeker, you can hike along the nearby trails or enjoy cliff-diving from the Pulpit Rock at its eastern shore. The lake is also known for being the two-time host to the famous Winter Olympics in the past. You can wander about its southern tip where the town lies and learn many more things related to these games.

Fishing: Different fish species that inhabit the lake are walleye, rainbow trout, lake trout, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and pumpkinseed.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, water-skiing, tubing, camping, hiking, cross-country skiing, ice-skating

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20. Greenwood Lake

Greenwood Lake in New York

Greenwood Lake shares its waters with New York and New Jersey. As it is sourced from springs and streams, this freshwater lake is a pristine one. The adjacent little town known by the same name features many shops and restaurants. You’ll find many marinas and two sandy beaches on the New York side where you can enjoy swimming, playing volleyball or just relaxing under the sun. For additional activities like golfing, hiking, and so on, visit the nearby Thomas P. Morahan Waterfront Park.

Fishing: Anglers Anglers can find several fish in this lake, including walleye, crappie, muskie, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and various panfish.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, water-skiing, camping, hiking, golfing, ice-skating, snowmobiling, sledding

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Best Lakes for Fishing: Chautauqua Lake, Cayuga Lake, Oneida Lake

Best Lakes for Boating: Chautauqua Lake, Skaneateles Lake, Canadice Lake        

Best Lakes for Camping: Cayuga Lake, North-South Lake, Great Sacandaga Lake

Best Lakes for Swimming: Lake Erie, Skaneateles Lake, Cayuga Lak

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