14 Best Lakes in New York State

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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The 27th largest state in the country, New York has an eclectic mix of terrain that ranges from great valleys to tailored urban landscapes. It is home to the Great Appalachian Valley, the Allegheny Plateau, the massive Adirondack Park and the magnificent Niagara Falls.

The 141,300 square kilometre state stretches from the North Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, with mountains, rivers, forests, farms and lakes making up much of its geography. Lakes in the state are enjoyed throughout the summer months, and there are plenty of them.

Here are the 15 best lakes in New York State:

1. Avalanche Lake

Avalanche LakeSource: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock
Avalanche Lake

Sitting in the in Adirondack High Peaks, Avalanche Lake is a stunning 3.6 hectare lake that is surrounded by mountains, making it extremely picturesque. The lake is accessible by walking along the Trail of the Cedars, which is lined with boulders and trees.

The lake was discovered in 1833, though it got its name after an avalanche hit the area in 1869. The elevation was raised yet again when an avalanche hit the area in 1942, making it 879 metres above sea level.

Avalanche Lake is an amazing place for those wanting to relax in a tranquil environment and snap some phenomenal photographs. Camping grounds can be found at various spots around the lake, which can be quite busy during the summer months.

2. Lake George

Lake GeorgeSource: Colin D. Young / Shutterstock
Lake George

Known as the ‘Queen of American Lakes’, Lake George is a 44 square mile oligotrophic lake that sits at the base of the Adirondack Mountains. It is a beautiful lake that is surrounded by picturesque mountains, including Sugarloaf Mountain, Black Mountain and Tongue Mountain.

Lake George was originally the home of a Native American tribe, but today it is a popular tourist destination boasting a resort area with leisure activities and summer camps. It is also a popular spot for hot air ballooning and hosts one of the oldest hot air balloon gatherings in the country every year in September.

Lake George is also home to Millionaire’s Row, which features stunning mansions that were built by some famous people, like financer Spencer Trask and railroader Robert Pitcairn. Other notable summer residents include John D. Rockefeller and William West Durant.

3. Chautauqua Lake

Chautauqua LakeSource: Dean Hammel / Shutterstock
Chautauqua Lake

Chautauqua Lake is a recreational lake that is favoured by those that enjoy boating and fishing. It is also a popular tourist destination, with its 66 kilometres shoreline being dotted with restaurants, hotels, shops and bars.

Popular attractions at the lake include the Chautauqua Belle steamboat and The Village Casino. The lake was also often mentioned in the TV series ‘I Love Lucy’, as well as being significant in the Stewart O’Nan novel ‘Wish You Were Here’.

Chautauqua Lake is a long, narrow lake that sits around 400 metres above sea level, making it one of North America’s highest navigable lakes. The water from the lake drains into the Chadakoin River before continuing into the Conewango Creek. The City of Jamestown, Village of Mayville and Bemus Point are a few of the communities that can be found around the lake.

4. Lake Erie

Lake ErieSource: Doug Lemke / Shutterstock
Lake Erie

One of North America’s Great Lakes, Lake Erie is the thirteenth largest lake in the world, with a surface area of over 25,000 square kilometres. The lake sits at the western edge of New York State directly below Lake Huron and flows into the Niagara River.

Lake Erie is around 4,000 years old, with the land it being it was formed on being around two million years old. It was created by glacier ice and is surrounded by sandy bluffs and trees. In the past, numerous Iroquoian tribes lived along its shoreline, while today it is a favourite spot for tourism.

Diving is very popular here thanks to its shipwrecks, while those that prefer to stay above the water enjoy kayaking and fishing. Both commercial and leisure fishing take place in the lake, as it is home to trout, smallmouth bass and burbot.

5. Lake Champlain

Lake ChamplainSource: M_Thompson / Shutterstock
Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain is a natural fresh water lake that sits in the northeast corner of the state in Adirondack Park. The 514 square mile lake was named after French explorer Samuel de Champlain who discovered the lake in 1609.

In the past, Lake Champlain was an important site in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, though today it is a popular recreational lake with a lot of infrastructure. It is also home to a few lighthouses, including the 19th century Bluff Point Lighthouse and Split Rock Lighthouse.

Point Au Roche State Park and Cumberland Bay State Park sit along the shoreline of the lake, offering hiking, cycling and camping. Point Au Roche State Park also features a playground and a beach, while Cumberland Bay State Park offers ice fishing in the winter months and playing fields throughout the rest of the year.

6. Skaneateles Lake

Skaneateles LakeSource: JWCohen / Shutterstock
Skaneateles Lake

One of the Finger Lakes, Skaneateles Lake is a 3,600 hectare lake that is located not too far away from Syracuse. In fact, the lake is the main water source for the city, as it is said to be one of the purist lakes in the state.

Also known as ‘The Roof Garden of the Lakes’, Skaneateles Lake is a stunning body of water that is surrounded by numerous historic buildings.  It is also a popular lake for boaters, with yachting taking place at Skaneateles Lake since 1847.

Skaneateles Lake is famous for its regattas and boating centre, as well as its stunning views. It is also home to a plethora of fish, including trout, bass, pickerel and carp.

7. Cayuga Lake

Cayuga LakeSource: Michael Shake / Shutterstock
Cayuga Lake

The longest of New York’s 11 Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake is a glacial lake that is located near the city of Ithaca and close to Cornell University. It is the second largest of this group of lakes, having a surface area of 66 square miles.

Cayuga Lake is a popular spot for boaters, boasting two yacht clubs and a few boat launches around its shoreline. It is also a hot spot for sport fishing, as it is home to lake trout, smelt and smallmouth bass.

The lake has been the story behind many folklore, like, for example, if the lake freezes over than classes at the nearby Wells College will be cancelled. It is also mentioned in the alma mater for Cornell University and Ithaca College.

8. Keuka Lake

Keuka LakeSource: antsdrone / Shutterstock
Keuka Lake

Keuka Lake sits right in the heart of New York’s wine country and is home to the incredible Keuka Lake Wine Trail. It is a Y-shaped lake that, because if its shape, used to be called Crooked Lake, though it is officially called the Iroquois word keuka, which means canoe landing.

In addition to being surrounded by wineries and natural beauty, the lake is also a popular fishing destination. Various species of trout, salmon, bass and perch live in the long, narrow lake.

Drinking, swimming and fishing is what Keuka Lake is known for, with its shoreline boasting plenty of excellent restaurants, accommodation options and boat launchers. There are also some great golf courses and museums in the communities surrounding the lake.

9. Conesus Lake

Conesus LakeSource: Hethers / Shutterstock
Conesus Lake

The most north-western of the Finger Lakes, Conesus Lake is a beautiful lake that is home to boat launches, campgrounds and beaches. It is also the location of the Chip Holt Nature Center and Letchchworth State Park.

Conesus Lake is a year round destination, with camping, fishing and swimming being enjoyed in the warmer months and snowboarding and ice fishing being enjoyed in the winter. It also hosts a few annual events, like the ‘Ring of Fire’ fireworks display that is held every year on July 3rd.

Conesus Lake sits near the towns of Conesus and Livonia just off of Interstate 390. It is 13 kilometres long and has a depth of 20 metres, making it a popular family destination.

10. Honeoye Lake

Honeoye LakeSource: Narrow Window Photography / Shutterstock
Honeoye Lake

Honeoye Lake is the second smallest of all of the Finger Lakes, with a surface area of just 717 hectare. The lake sits within the town of Richmond around 245 metres above sea level.

The lake’s shoreline is dotted with a number of recreation homes, many of which have boat docks. Popular activities enjoyed in Honeoye Lake include swimming, water skiing, tubing, boating and wake boarding.

Sport fishing is exceptional at Honeoye Lake, as it is home to bass, perch, walleye and bluegill. It also hosts a number of fishing tournaments throughout the year.

11. North-South Lake

North-South LakeSource: Colin D. Young / Shutterstock
North-South Lake

This 4.4 square kilometre lake is a state campground that sits within the Catskill Forest Preserve. It is a beautiful lake that is surrounded by an escarpment and boasting fantastic views of the valley below.

North-South Lake has always been a popular subject of local painters, including Thomas Cole. It is also home to numerous upmarket hotels and resorts, including the famous Catskill Mountain House.

Thousands of people visit the lake each year, as there are over 200 camp sites as well as plenty of recreational activities to enjoy. Hiking, boating, fishing and swimming are some of the most popular things to do at the lake.

12. Lake Tiorati

Lake TioratiSource: Mad Hare Imagery / Shutterstock
Lake Tiorati

Sitting in the Harriman State Park, Lake Tiorati is a man-made lake that features a lovely public beach and is a popular summer destination. Swimming is the main activity enjoyed at the lake, though there are also plenty of campgrounds.

Canoes, kayaks and rowboats are allowed in the lake and are often used for sport fishing. Ice fishing is popular in the winter months. No motorised boats are allowed in the lake to keep it unpolluted and ensure that the environment is a tranquil one.

Tiorati is an Algonquin word that means ‘Blue like Sky’, as the lake boasts a beautiful blue colour. It is surrounded by trees and hills, making it a truly picturesque spot.

13. Canadice Lake

Canadice LakeSource: Richard A. McGuirk / Shutterstock
Canadice Lake

Canadice Lake is a small lake that sits close to Rochester. It is one of the Finger Lakes, though it is a minor one, as it is just shy of three square kilometres, with a shoreline of just 10.5 kilometres.

Canadice Lake is known for its excellent recreational fishing and has a number of facilities catering to this. Trout is the main species of fish living in the lake, which is annually restocked by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

There are no houses found along the shoreline of the lake to protect the quality of the water. Swimming and camping are also prohibited to keep the water unpolluted. It is purely a sport fishing lake.

14. Ashokan Reservoir

Ashokan ReservoirSource: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock
Ashokan Reservoir

Ashokan Reservoir is a lake that sits in the east end of the Catskill Park in Ulster County. It is the deepest reservoir in New York State, with its deepest point being over 58 metres.

It is the oldest body of water in the Catskill Mountains, dating back to 1907. The reservoir is home to a number of historical dams, so visitors need a permit to enter the lake to go fishing or boating to preserve the dams within it.

Swimming and diving are not allowed in the Ashokan Reservoir to keep the water as clean as possible. Motorised boats are also prohibited. One of the main draws of the reservoir is its magnificent sunset over the Ashokan High Point.

14 Best Lakes in New York State:

  • Avalanche Lake
  • Lake George
  • Chautauqua Lake
  • Lake Erie
  • Lake Champlain
  • Skaneateles Lake
  • Cayuga Lake
  • Keuka Lake
  • Conesus Lake
  • Honeoye Lake
  • North-South Lake
  • Lake Tiorati
  • Canadice Lake
  • Ashokan Reservoir