11 Fantastic Recreational Lakes near Albany, NY

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The area around Albany is peppered with lakes, big and small. Yet, few of them have public access, and some require extra recreational permits. 

This list is a selection of lakes and reservoirs that anyone can enjoy. Some options like Grafton Lakes and Thompson’s Lake are parts of state parks and offer excellent facilities.

Also, there are massive reservoirs like Lake George and Great Sacandaga Lake where any activity is possible. 

Whether you’re looking for a beach getaway, lakeside camping, or a fishing expedition, there are fantastic options here. Check out what Albany has to offer!

Lakes near Albany:

  1. Grafton Lakes State Park
  2. Saratoga Lake
  3. Lawson Lake
  4. Cherry Plain State Park
  5. Great Sacandaga Lake
  6. The Vlaie
  7. Thompson’s Lake
  8. Onota Lake
  9. Lake George
  10. Otsego Lake
  11. Rensselaer Lake
Lakes near Albany New York Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Grafton Lakes State Park

Beach at Grafton Lakes State Park in New York
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Official Page: Grafton Lakes
  • Distance from Albany: 21 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Swimming

Grafton Lakes State Park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and the nearest spot with a large sandy beach for sunbathing and swimming in summer.

The park comprises 2,500 acres of charming woodland and six ponds suitable for fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming. Boating is allowed too but is restricted to electric motors only. 

There is a small launching ramp, picnic spots, kayak and canoe rentals, and a lifeguard on duty during the summer – everything you may need on a lake trip.

In addition to all the water activities, the park has miles of nature trails teeming with wildlife. You can explore on foot, bike, or horse ride here. And in winter, it’s open to snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and ice fishing.

Talking about fishing, you won’t catch lunkers at these small ponds, but the choice of fish is really good. 

Largemouth and smallmouth bass are popular targets in warmer months, and perch and pickerel are usual catches during the winter. Plus, there is a rainbow and brown trout population, too – great for fly fishing.

Perhaps the only drawback to Grafton Lakes State Park is the lack of campgrounds. There is so much to do here that one day isn’t enough. Still, Albany is just 30 minutes away, making day trips easy.

2. Saratoga Lake

Lake during sunset in Adirondack Mountains
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Saratoga Lake
  • Distance from Albany: 30 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Swimming, Camping, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Saratoga Lake is a 4,000-acre reservoir just 30 miles north of Albany. It’s a buzzing boating lake with plenty of facilities and access areas.

The lake offers a dozen of parks and marinas, but the nearest to Albany is Browns Beach. Don’t be fooled by its name, though; it’s a lot more than just a patch of sand. 

Here, you will find an established resort with lodges, restaurants, a marina, kayak rentals, and a shallow swimming area for kids. It’s an all-in-one place and one of the most developed spots on the lake.

Saratoga Lake is famous for its boating scene, with jet skis and speed boats zooming across the lake in summer. Even if you don’t have a boat, you can join the fun by renting one at various marinas or hopping on one of the boat tours.

What’s more, the lake is an excellent fishery at any time of year and a popular ice fishing spot in winter. And thanks to its size, it produces lunkers, too. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel, and walleye are just a few species to mention. Also, there are reports of 15-pound northern pike monsters.

Saratoga Lake has an extensive choice of lodges and cabins on its shores, and if you prefer camping, Lee’s Park Campground on the northern side is the only option. 

3. Lawson Lake

Lawson Lake in New York
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: Lawson Lake
  • Distance from Albany: 18 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking

Lawson Lake is a small but charming nature spot just 25 minutes south of Albany. It’s frequently overlooked by lake goers, making it a serene and peaceful destination, perfect for escaping the hustle and bustle of the city.

The lake is part of the Lawson Lake County Park that offers a fishing dock, picnic spots, a few short nature trails, and a small launching ramp for cartop boats like kayaks and canoes.

Motorized boating is prohibited at Lawson Lake, adding to its tranquil atmosphere. But unfortunately, swimming isn’t allowed either, so if you’re looking for a place to cool off in summer, this isn’t it.

Instead, the lake is an excellent spot for kayaking or canoeing – it’s small and unintimidating for beginners and well-shaded from winds, unlike bigger lakes.

The surprising fact about Lawson Lake is that it scores really high for fishing. Most of the catches are fairly small, but the action is great. Expect chain pickerel, largemouth bass, and various panfish like crappie and bluegill.

Although a day-use destination, Lawson Lake County Park is open year-round, offering winter activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing. 

If you need a place to unwind in nature and catch a break from the busy city life, this is an excellent spot.

4. Cherry Plain State Park

Child fishing on a lake
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Cherry Plain State Park
  • Distance from Albany: 23 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Swimming, Camping, Hiking

Cherry Plain State Park is a small but cozy park with a lake near the Massachusetts border. It’s a family-friendly destination with lots of activities and well-kept amenities.

The park’s lake has a designated swimming area with a wide sandy beach, making it an ideal summer destination. Also, there is a launching ramp for kayaks and canoes, and like Lawson Lake, it’s an excellent spot to learn to kayak or stand on a paddleboard.

Another popular water activity here is fishing. The lake is teeming with warm water species like largemouth bass, chain pickerel, perch, and kids’ favorite golden shiner. The fish sizes are modest, but the action is pretty good, especially when fishing from a kayak.

In addition to all the water fun, there are tons of activities on land, too. The state park has miles of hiking trails, and the surrounding Capital District Wildlife Area has even more. 

And unlike most lakes on the list, this one has camping options. There are tent sites, trailer sites, and even hike-in spots, making it an excellent choice for multiday family trips.

5. Great Sacandaga Lake

Great Sacandaga Lake in New York
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Great Sacandaga Lake
  • Distance from Albany: 42 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Swimming, Camping, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Great Sacandaga Lake is a 24,707-acre reservoir an hour from Albany. It’s the largest lake on the list and a water playground like no other.

Located on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains, this reservoir offers breathtaking views, clean waters, and plenty of recreational facilities.

One of the nearest spots to Albany is Griffis Road Marina which has a launching ramp, dock with slips, cabins, and trailer campgrounds. Alternatively, you can try Broadalbin Public Boat Launch, which also has a beach but gets crowded on weekends.

But perhaps the most popular spot on the lake is Northampton Campground on the northern end. It requires an extra 10 minutes drive, but it’s an all-in-one spot with excellent facilities, including a boat ramp, swimming area, trails, and hot showers.

When it comes to water activities, Great Sacandaga Lake has no limits. From swimming and paddling to zooming on jet skis and pulling tubes, it’s all possible here.

What’s more, it’s an incredible fishery, too. The reservoir is teeming with smallmouth bass and walleye, but it’s famous for monster northern pike and even holds the state record for this fish (46 lbs 2 oz). Also, there are trout, largemouth bass, and bullhead to catch.

Overall, it’s an excellent vacation spot and a popular getaway to the wider Adirondack Mountains area. It will suit all types of visitors, from families with kids to seasoned outdoor enthusiasts.

6. The Vlaie

Blue Heron on a marsh
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: The Vlaie
  • Distance from Albany: 37 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics

The Vlaie is an 85-acre pond that is part of the Franklinton Vlaie Wildlife Management Area near Middleburgh. Teeming with wildlife, it’s an ideal option for birding, nature photography, and paddling.

Although small, the reserve has a launching ramp for kayaks and canoes, as well as fishing docks and a few nature trails.

Swimming and motorized boating are prohibited at this WMA, making it a truly peaceful place to explore. The best way to enjoy the lake is in a kayak or canoe. You can spot blue herons, bald eagles, various toads, frogs, turtles, and many more. Bring a camera!

Another popular reason to visit this area is fishing. Extensive underwater growth provides a natural habitat for the thriving fish population. The common suspects are largemouth bass, chain pickerel, crappie, and yellow perch. The sizes are nothing to write home about, but nothing beats a peaceful day on a lake. Ice fishing is allowed in winter, too.

Overall, it’s not the largest or most versatile option near Albany, but if you like wildlife and appreciate natural serenity, you’d love it here.

7. Thompson’s Lake

Thompson's Lake Sailing in Thacher State Park
Source: flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Official Page: Thompson’s Lake
  • Distance from Albany: 19 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Swimming, Camping, Hiking

Thompson’s Lake is a small reservoir in a thriving Thacher State Park just 19 miles west of Albany. It’s a popular summer destination with a sandy beach and campgrounds.

The park is one of the most scenic destinations near the city. Located along Helderberg Escarpment, it offers dozens of miles of hiking trails, gorgeous views of the valley, as well as cliffs and waterfalls to marvel at. 

Thompson’s Lake itself is neatly tacked away from the park’s main area. It offers swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Motorized boats are prohibited here, making for a safe, peaceful environment.

The best thing about this location is that the park has rentals and well-kept facilities. If you want to try kayaking for the first time, this is an excellent spot. 

Also, the campground, volleyball court, kids’ playgrounds, and picnic areas with grills make it an ideal family destination, especially for multi-day trips.

Naturally, fishing is allowed here, too. Most anglers target largemouth and smallmouth bass and chain pickerel. But there are many more species, including bluegill, crappier, and children’s favorites golden shiner and yellow perch.

In winter, the park offers snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing – the best time to catch rainbow and brown trout.

8. Onota Lake

Onota Lake in Massachusetts
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Onota Lake
  • Distance from Albany: 40 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Onota Lake is a 617-acre reservoir in Pittsfield, some 50 minutes from Albany. It’s a hectic destination in summer, but it offers a wide selection of activities and gorgeous mountain views.

The reservoir is known for crystal clear water, and its beach on the eastern shore is a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and picnics in summer.

The boat ramp nearby has a large parking area and two docks making it easy to launch. Wakeboarding, water skiing, and pulling tubes are all great fun at Onota Lake. 

However, due to the reservoir’s popularity and relatively modest size, it does get hectic on the water. If you like to have more space for yourself, Great Sacandaga Lake is a better option.

Fishing is pretty good here as well. Because of the clear water picking the correct lures is an interesting challenge for anglers. You can catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, trout, and northern pike that usually come at an impressive size.

Besides being busy, another drawback here is the lack of camping or hiking. Onota Lake is a day-use destination, but it’s worth the trip, especially for its clear water and views.

9. Lake George

Lake George in New York
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Lake George
  • Distance from Albany: 60 miles (1h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Hiking, Camping

Lake George is a large 28,000-acre reservoir an hour north of Albany. It’s a famous destination steeped in history with plenty of outdoor activities for every taste.

The nearest spot to Albany is Lake George tourist village with Battlefield Park Beach and Campgrounds. This southern tip of the lake has everything a visitor may need, from swimming and camping to boat rides and restaurants – the perfect all-in-one location.

However, the lake offers a lot more than that. Its shoreline is dotted with various parks, campgrounds, and beaches. 

One of the coolest adventures you can have is exploring the lake’s islands, most of which offer boat-in camping and are an excellent way to escape the crowds and unwind in nature.

Thrill-seekers would love the Calfs Pen swimming hole on the eastern shore. It’s a boat-in (paddle-in) cove with steep banks known for cliff jumping (extremely dangerous).

And if you enjoy going for a hike before relaxing at a beach, Buck Mountain Trail is an excellent choice. It’s one of the most popular climbs near the lake, with well-maintained paths and incredible views of Lake George.

What’s more, Lake George is an excellent fishery. It has a wide variety of species, including largemouth, smallmouth, and rock bass, lake trout, chain pickerel, pike, shad, and plenty more. And although it doesn’t have any state records to its name, the sizes rarely disappoint, and the action is good.

Lake George must be the most versatile destination on the list. It offers something for everyone, and the Adirondack Mountains all around provide a breathtaking backdrop.

10. Otsego Lake

Otsego Lake in New York
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Otsego Lake
  • Distance from Albany: 66 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Hiking, Camping

Otsego Lake is a 4,046-acre glacier-carved lake west of Albany. It’s known for crystal clear water, a quiet atmosphere, and gorgeous mountain views.

If it’s your first time visiting, the best spot to start is Glimmerglass State Park on the lake’s northern shore. The park provides campgrounds, cabins, lodges, a designated swimming area, and a few miles of hiking trails. Yet, what makes this park unique is that it’s home to the country’s oldest covered bridge – Hyde Hall.

Although water sports like wakeboarding and water skiing are allowed at Otsego Lake, the state park doesn’t have a launching ramp for large boats (cartop only). 

The only boat ramp is at Cooperstown on the southern tip. This may be a nuisance for boaters but makes for a more pleasant paddling for kayakers and paddleboarders.

When it comes to fishing, Otsego Lake is ok. It’s known for lake trout and walleye – the most common targets, followed by largemouth and smallmouth bass. Naturally, there is plenty of panfish like bluegill, pumpkinseed, and the kid’s favorite yellow perch.

Apart from the state park, there are various parks and resorts on the shores. So the lake can be a nature destination, as well as a vacation or romantic getaway spot.

11. Rensselaer Lake

Six Mile Waterworks Park near Pine Bush Preserve in Albany
Source: flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Official Page: Rensselaer Lake
  • Distance from Albany: 7 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics

Rensselaer Lake in Six Mile Waterworks Park is excellent for extra-short trips. Located just 10 minutes from downtown, it’s a great local alternative to far away lakes.

The main water activities here are fishing and paddling. There is a fishing dock and decent shore access while kayak or canoe launching is from shore. Motorized boats and swimming are prohibited at Rensselaer Lake. 

Also, this lake is part of the nature preserve, which has a few miles of trails for hiking and wildlife spotting. It’s a patch of wilderness in the otherwise urban capital.

Rensselaer Lake is a stocked lake with relatively good fishing. And although there is some shore access, the best results are usually from a kayak. 

You can expect largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, perch, and shiners. And in spring and fall, there is plenty of stocked rainbow trout to catch.

Compared to other lakes around Albany, Rensselaer Lake isn’t impressive in any way. Yet, it’s the nearest spot to cast and unwind or bring a family for nature walks and picnics.

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