When you hear of New York, it’s always the concrete jungle that gets the spotlight. What some people don’t realize is that New York State is home to thousands of expansive freshwater lakes with spectacular views where you can go swimming, fishing, camping, and kayaking, to name only a few.
Belmont, North-South, and Big Moose are some of the best lakes in New York state. If you want to explore the water, go fishing, or enjoy any water activities, the best place to go is Chautauqua Lake. It is the highest navigable lake in North America that boasts spectacular lakeside views.
So if you want to take a break from the noise of the city or simply want to spend a day in the great outdoors, why not drive upstate and experience the serenity and beauty of NY lakes? In the rest of this article, I’ve rounded up my top ten picks and listed the activities you can partake in during your visit. Before packing for that road trip, make sure to read on.
1. Chautauqua Lake
Located in Chautauqua County in southwest New York, Chautauqua Lake is known as the biggest inland lake in New York and the highest lake in North America, with a depth of 24 meters (78.74 ft). However, when you first hear of the lake, one of the things that strikes you about it first is definitely its name.
The word “chautauqua” is believed to be a word from the Iroquois tribe and belongs to a language that is no longer spoken today. Locals say that the word means “bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied in the middle.”
When you look at the whole expanse of the lake, the meaning of the word does make sense. The body of Chautauqua Lake does become narrow in the middle, which gives off the “tied in the middle” appearance.
Most people who come to Chautauqua Lake do so to go fishing. Lots of fish species thrive here, making for a fun fishing experience (and a bountiful catch if you know how to do it!). Here, you’ll find bass, muskellunge, and walleye. And if you want to take your fishing experience to the next level, you can join the fishing tournaments that are held here every year.
Other activities you can enjoy at the lake include:
- Swimming or sunbathing at the beaches
- Riding the Chautauqua Belle
- Stay at the luxurious Chautauqua Harbor Hotel
- Explore Bemus Point
However, if you wanted to just kick off your shoes and have a relaxing day at the beach with a drink in your hand, you can definitely do that too! Spread out a blanket on the beach just before sunrise, and you’re in for a treat.
Chautauqua Lake is definitely a destination where you can spend a whole weekend (or longer) without a single dull moment. You can do plenty of things on the lake itself, but there are several other attractions a short distance from Chautauqua Lake that you shouldn’t miss as well.
Plan your schedule ahead so you get to experience all of these must-do activities around Chautauqua Lake:
- Take in Chautauqua County’s world-class arts and culture scene at Chautauqua Institution.
- Take a sip (or many) of wine at any of the 23 wineries in nearby Lake Erie Wine Country.
- Drop by the interactive National Comedy Center for a load of laughs.
- Chug down a big glass of beer at the original Southern Tier brewery in Lakewood.
- Enjoy a relaxing couples massage at St. Elmo Spa.
- Go on scenic horse rides on trails near Chautauqua Lake or visit nearby riding stables.
- Go hiking in nearby Panama Rocks Park.
- Go golfing at the Lakeside Golf Course or the Bemus Point Country Club.
- Go biking around Chautauqua Lake.
With so many things to do around here, a weekend might not be enough to truly experience Chautauqua Lake to the fullest!
2. North-South Lake
If you’re looking for scenic lakeside views with a backdrop of lush forests and rugged mountains, North-South Lake is the destination for you. It definitely is one of my favorites, as it has everything that any nature lover or outdoor enthusiast will love.
It is a vast campground with a land area of more than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) in the heart of Catskill Forest. Overlooking the Hudson River, it is also only a short distance away from Catskill Mountain House.
North-South Lake is the perfect destination for those who want to truly immerse in nature. So get your tents ready and picture yourself sitting by a campfire at night with your loved ones or taking in the majestic beauty of nearby mountains and the tranquil lake.
This is a destination where you can expect to get your hiking boots wet and muddy, but you’ll be guaranteed an amazing time. It’s not known as the most famous lakeside campground in NY State for no reason!
North-South Lake is not just for camping either. Here are some other activities that you can enjoy in this beautiful pocket of New York.
- Hiking around several trails, making sure to stop by Kaaterskill ruins, Kaaterskill Falls, and Mountain House
After camping or hiking, you can check out the must-see destinations and try activities around North-South Lake. There are things to do for those who want to chill as well as for those seeking a thrilling adventure.
- Soar above the trees by ziplining at Hunter Mountain.
- Enjoy a meal at any of the farm-to-table restaurants in charming Tannersville.
- Have a taste of homemade ice cream at Mama’s Boy Burgers, the most popular fast-food joint in the area.
3. Allegany Reservoir
Those who want to hit two birds with one stone can check out Allegany Reservoir, which straddles the border between Pennsylvania and New York. Here you will find two lakes: Allegany Reservoir and Kinzua Dam.
However, unlike other lake destinations mentioned in this guide, Allegany Reservoir (and Kinzua Dam) is man-made. It was constructed in 1965, and while many small towns were destroyed because of the construction, there are very few developments that can be seen in the area, preserving most of the forests and the original landscape.
This is a great place for those who want to enjoy the calming lakeside view as well as go on an outdoor adventure on any of its numerous trails and campsites. Allegany Reservoir, also known as Kinzua Lake or Lake Perfidy, is enveloped by lush forests, making it an excellent camping site. Take your hammock with you when you go for an extra relaxing experience.
You can enjoy both land-based and water-based activities at Allegany Reservoir, and most of them are wonderful for families on a weekend getaway. If you’re feeling very adventurous, you could go on hiking trails where you can see some caves.
Here are some activities you can enjoy at Allegany Reservoir:
- Birdwatching in the early morning hours or early afternoons
- Fishing (You will find bass, muskellunge, yellow perch, and many more)
- Cave exploring
- Camping in any of the 189 campsites in the area
- Spend the night at the lakeside cabins
Allegany Reservoir is an excellent outdoor destination all year-round. There are hundreds of cabins that guests can use, and some of them are even winter-ready. During summer, you can soak up some sunshine and go sunbathing too.
You won’t be limited to Allegany Lake too when it comes to activities and places to see. Make the most of your visit and try to check out all of these places nearby:
- Visit downtown Kane and enjoy musical performances at the OG Crawford Amphitheater or enjoy drinks with friends.
- Drop by Zippo/Case Museum, where you can see exhibits from World War II.
- Go biking at Jakes Rocks trails.
- Enjoy a skywalk at the Kinzua Bridge State Park built in 1882.
- Have a picnic and enjoy other recreational activities at Elk State Park, Bendigo State Park, and Chapman State Park.
If you’re planning to take lots of stunning photos of your weekend outdoor adventure, this destination will not disappoint. Lake George is dubbed the “Queen of American Lakes”, a vast body of water spanning 44 square miles (114 sq km) with a breathtaking view of the Adirondack Mountains. It is also known to be one of the clearest lakes in the world.
If you want to see a different kind of majestic, you can also view Millionaire’s Row from here. It’s a line of beautiful mansions just off the shore.
With a view as beautiful as Lake George, you’ll be pretty occupied just looking at your surroundings once you get here. However, there are other activities that will keep you busy here too, from family-friendly activities to ones that will satisfy a thrill-seeker’s cravings.
Don’t forget to give these activities a try while you’re here:
- Water rafting
- Skating and Snowmobiling
- Strolling along the promenade
Lake George is open to visitors all year round, with various options for accommodations ranging from luxury hotels to cabins.
If the activities available at the lake are not enough for you, you can go to neighboring villages and partake in any of the following:
- Shopping at shops around the village
- Go on a food trip.
- Visit Fort William Henry Museum.
- Savor a sip of wine at Adirondack Winery.
- Go biking at Warren County Bikeway.
- Go swimming or sunbathing at Million Dollar Beach.
- Attend the LARAC Arts Festival at Glen Falls (Happens every July).
- Go to the Lake George Music Festival.
A peaceful and relaxing destination, Belmont Lake State Park is most widely known as a day-use recreation site. However, back in the day, specifically when it was established in 1926, it was a Thoroughbred horse farm that belonged to August Belmont, after whom the state park was later named.
It is a popular picnic destination, which makes it wonderful for family outings. And if you have a furry friend, they can tag along too. Dogs are allowed inside Belmont Lake State Park (for free!) as long as they are on a leash the whole time.
This calming destination is not only for family picnics. There are lots of things that you can do here, from land-based activities to water ones, most of which are family and kid-friendly. Here’s what that you absolutely must do at Belmont Lake State Park:
An interesting thing about Belmont Lake is that the water is spring-fed, so you can expect to catch various kinds of fish, like trout and bass.
If fishing is your thing, you will love, love, love Black Lake. It’s often referred to by fishing enthusiasts as one of the best freshwater lakes for fishing in New York State. And no wonder: in the waters of Black Lake thrive many different fish species, like perch, bluegill, and crappie.
It’s also usually called a hidden gem among anglers who enjoy the serenity that’s considered a luxury these days.
On the other hand, if you’re not that into fishing, Black Lake still has something to offer you. There are places to see and activities to do nearby that anyone looking for a relaxing yet fun time will surely enjoy. Don’t miss out on these must-see destinations around Black Lake:
- Take a ferry to Singer Castle on Dark Island and learn about its history (If you want, you can also spend the night there).
- Visit the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton where you can also ride antique skiffs.
Lake Champlain speaks tranquility and beauty in a spectacularly beautiful way. This scenic lake between the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks is a gem that every vacationer in upstate New York should check out.
Here, you will also see the famous Champlain Bridge, standing tall and proud above the lake. If you want the perfect view of the mountains in the background and the calm lake all at once, standing on the bridge is where you can enjoy it.
Like Black Lake, Lake Champlain is not only beautiful but widely known among avid anglers for its fish-stocked waters. There are more than 80 fish species that thrive here, and it’s no surprise that fishing enthusiasts find their way here year after year.
Aside from fishing, though, there are lots of other activities you can enjoy at Lake Champlain:
- Hiking at the Champlain Area Trails
- Swimming (Lake Champlain is known as one of the clearest, cleanest lakes in New York!)
Big Moose Lake is a remote destination that’s great for seasoned campers and outdoor enthusiasts who like to explore, go on adventures, and be one with the wildlife. And if you believe the rumors about this particular destination, you might chance upon some paranormal activity if you stay long enough.
If you’re not into the creepies, let’s hope the rumors aren’t true.
There are plenty of activities to enjoy in Big Moose Lake for those who want an exciting outdoor experience. You will not run out of hiking trails here, most of which give you access to other lakes, such as Russia Lake and Gull Lake.
You can also try out these activities:
- Fishing (Allowed only in summer)
A rugged beauty, Avalanche Lake was named when an avalanche erupted in the area in the 1800s. The lake is nestled on the Adirondack High Peaks at an elevation of almost 2,900 feet (884 m). It’s a destination that only avid hikers will enjoy, because you need to hike up to get there.
However, once you’re in Avalanche Lake, the view overlooking Mount Colden and Avalanche Mountain will definitely make up for all the effort you put into the hike.
There are several trails that lead up to Avalanche Lake. You can choose to go through the one near Lake Placid or you can choose Trail of the Cedars instead. The one just by Lake Placid can be a bit tough, so if you’re a beginner hiker, you might want to choose Trail of the Cedars.
Moreover, Trail of the Cedars boasts lots of picture-worthy spots. Aside from lush forests, you can expect to see Marcy Dam.
This water reservoir has been around since 1876, but it’s interesting that its surroundings have been pretty much preserved. There is very little development around the area, which makes it a perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
The pristine shorelines of Canadice Lake make for fun leisure strolls. It’s definitely not a place for extreme adventures or thrill-seeking. However, if you want to relax and enjoy some peace and quiet, you’ll love it here.
Here are some other activities to enjoy at Canadice Lake:
It may be tempting to go swimming here, but unfortunately, it’s not allowed. Your pets can’t take a dip either, although they can come with you when you go strolling.