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15 Amazing Recreational Lakes near Syracuse, NY

Syracuse offers access to a wide variety of lakes, including the vast Great Lakes and the national-famous Finger Lakes. There is no shortage of fun lakeside activities during both cold and warm seasons.
ItIsWild.com: Best Lakes near Syracuse, NY
Deserted Pier with a Red Shelter with Woody Hill in Background

Syracuse is centrally positioned to offer convenient access to local lakes and reservoirs, as well as many of the Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario. 

The lakes on this list provide great fishing and recreation opportunities. Some also have become popular destinations for winter ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.

All options are within an hour’s drive, and many are less than 30 minutes away.

Check out what Syracuse has to offer!

Lakes near Syracuse:

  1. Onondaga Lake
  2. Green Lakes State Park
  3. Oneida Lake
  4. Glacier Lake
  5. Jamesville Reservoir
  6. Cross Lake
  7. Otisco Lake
  8. Skaneateles Lake
  9. Salmon River Reservoir
  10. Delta Reservoir
  11. Cazenovia Lake
  12. Owasco Lake
  13. Cayuga Lake
  14. Seneca Lake
  15. Lake Ontario
Lakes near Syracuse New York Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Onondaga Lake

Onondaga Lake in New York State
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Onondaga Lake
  • Distance from Syracuse: 5 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing

Immediately northwest of the city, Onondaga Lake has experienced a difficult environmental legacy due to its location near multiple industrial facilities. 

Pollution led to bans on ice harvesting more than 120 years ago, with swimming and fishing also banned more than 50 years ago. 

Once a resort destination with numerous beachfront recreation opportunities, extensive cleanup efforts since the 1970s have improved conditions along Onondaga. 

Fishing resumed in 1986, though advisories remain in effect due to levels of mercury and other chemicals. The lake now serves as a home for more than 60 fish species. 

Known as the “Central Park of Central New York,” Onondaga Lake Park includes a variety of recreational opportunities on the lake’s east shore and provides a perfect venue for community gatherings. An extensive network of urban trails offers sweeping views of the waterfront. 

2. Green Lakes State Park

Green Lakes State Park
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Green Lakes
  • Distance from Syracuse: 10 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Golf

The two glacial lakes at Green Lakes State Park – Green Lake and Round Lake – have a tendency not found in most similar bodies of water. Known as meromictic lakes, the top and lower layers of these lakes do not mix during different seasons the way most lakes do.

The 1,955-acre state park has boat rental facilities and permits fishing in the 34-acre Round Lake and 65-acre Green Lake. Fish and many other marine life do not swim in the lower portions of the lakes. Common fish found in this park include bluegill, trout, rock and largemouth bass. 

Private watercraft – including canoes and kayaks – from outside the park boundaries is prohibited in these lakes due to their unique conditions. 

Popular activities include disc golf, hiking, and seasonal hunting, along with golf on a Robert Trent Jones course. Camping and lodging facilities are available. 

3. Oneida Lake

Oneida Lake Verona Beach State Park
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Oneida Lake
  • Distance from Syracuse: 16 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Sailing

Short drive northeast of downtown offers a chance to visit Oneida Lake, a 50,894-acre lake that is 5.5 miles wide and 21 miles long at its maximum point. 

With over 77 miles of shoreline, this body of water, named in honor of the Oneida Nation, is the largest lake by size entirely within the state of New York.

Widely known as a destination for yellow perch and walleye, the lake also hosts a variety of bass, common carp, black crappie, burbot, sunfish, and tiger musky, among others.

Yellow perch is a popular catch during winter months when ice fishing is permitted. Although lake sturgeon exist in these waters, they are considered a threatened species in the state. 

On the lake’s north shore, the 3,966-acre Three Mile Bay Wildlife Management Area offers a protective habitat for native species. 

Verona Beach State Park sits on the eastern shoreline of the lake, offering year-round access to 13 miles of hiking trails and serving as a gathering place for ice fishing. 

Oneida Shores Park and its campground are on the western side of Lake Oneida. 

4. Glacier Lake

  • Website: Glacier Lake
  • Distance from Syracuse: 6 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Picnics, Hiking

Located a few miles southeast of downtown Syracuse, the 5-acre Glacier Lake falls within the boundaries of Clark Reservation State Park

Known as a glacial plunge pool lake, this body of water may trace its origins to the sheer weight of water from an Ice Age glacier that created a hole in the subterranean limestone. 

Glacier Lake offers an excellent nearby destination to enjoy a natural setting and gain an appreciation for the geological changes that occurred during the Ice Age. 

The park’s Nature Center has summer operating hours and is the place where weekend walking tours begin during the warmer months. Overlooks offer relaxing views of the lake. 

Those wishing to fish in the lake should plan to carry only what they need to get to the lake by descending a long stone staircase. The journey is worth the effort for those who want to cast a line for bullheads, pumpkinseed sunfish, pickerel, and walleye. 

5. Jamesville Reservoir

Lake Shoreline in New York State
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Jamesville Reservoir 
  • Distance from Syracuse: 10 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking

A few miles south of Glacier Lake, Jamesville Reservoir took shape as crews impounded part of Butternut Creek. 

Similar to other reservoirs in this section of New York, Jamesville Reservoir provided a source of water for the Erie Canal, a cross-state waterway built between 1817 and 1825 to connect the Hudson River with Lake Erie. The Erie Canal accelerated commerce in the Great Lakes region and the Upper Midwest.

This 224-acre reservoir has black crappie, chain pickerel, common carp, white and yellow perch, bass, and walleye. 

Along the southern half of the reservoir, Jamesville Beach Park offers seasonal access between April and October to recreational facilities that include a swimming area as well as a disc golf course.

6. Cross Lake

Lake Sunset in New York State
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Cross Lake
  • Distance from Syracuse: 24 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

A 40-mile drive northwest of downtown, Cross Lake offers a widened section of the Seneca River for those who enjoy fishing. The river travels through the lower third of this 1,947-acre lake, an area that offers a variety of outdoor activities. 

Fishing within Cross Lake includes many species, some of them coming into the lake from other areas of the Seneca River. 

Northern pike, walleye, tiger musty, bluegill, channel catfish, longnose gar, and gizzard shad are often found in the lake. 

The river introduces high-nutrient sediments into the lake, sometimes leading to turbid conditions, especially on the southern portion of the lake.

Two islands in the lake comprise the Cross Lake Islands Wildlife Management Area. Although camping is not permitted on the islands, they are popular places for fishing, as well as waterfowl hunting and trapping during carefully-regulated seasons. 

7. Otisco Lake

Otisco Lake
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Website: Otisco Lake
  • Distance from Syracuse: 18 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

A drive of 18 miles southwest of Syracuse, Otisco Lake offers access to the easternmost of the eleven Finger Lakes. 

Originally low-lying marshland, the construction of separate dams in 1869 and 1908 created the 1,877-acre lake that remains a source of drinking water for nearby communities.

Unlike the other Finger Lakes, the northern and southern basins have inconsistent topography. While the mean depth reaches 34 feet on the north side, the turbid and much shallower southern area has a mean depth of only six feet. 

Fishing along the northern end of Otisco Lake includes great numbers of bass. White and black crappie, brown trout, walleye, and a variety of other fish call Otisco Lake home. 

Otisco Lake Campgrounds and Marina offer a wide range of amenities, including boat, kayak, and canoe rentals, as well as RV spaces and cabins.

8. Skaneateles Lake

Skaneateles Lake
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Skaneateles Lake
  • Distance from Syracuse: 19 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

A couple of miles west of Otisco Lake, the 8,960-acre Skaneateles Lake is known for its clean water. Many surrounding communities receive their drinking water from this lake, which spans 16 miles by 1.5 miles. 

Skaneateles Lake is a place to fish for a variety of species. With a maximum depth of 300 feet and a 34-mile shoreline, anglers will find lake and rainbow trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, rock bass, bluegill, and black crappie. 

Those who bundle-up for ice-fishing expeditions may test their luck trying to catch yellow perch and lake trout. 

During the 1800s, Skaneateles Lake became an early source for industrial activities, with water mills harvesting power from the lake and steamboats traveling along the waters by 1831. 

A source of drinking water for over 220,000 people, this lake’s water requires only minimal treatment and processing due to its pristine condition. 

9. Salmon River Reservoir

Redfield reservoir or Salmon River Reservoir in NY State
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Website: Salmon River Reservoir
  • Distance from Syracuse: 50 miles (1 h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Salmon River Reservoir is located 50 miles north of Syracuse. Locals sometimes refer to this 2,660-acre body of water as the Redfield Reservoir to recognize the nearby hamlet of Redfield. 

With a maximum depth of 50 feet and a 47.5-mile shoreline, this lake is surrounded by forests and lush areas of vegetation. 

Fish commonly found in the Salmon River Reservoir include brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, walleye, brown bullhead, white sucker, yellow perch, and both smallmouth and largemouth bass. 

The Salmon River State Forest occupies land along the northern side of the reservoir. Open year-round, this is a great location to see a variety of migratory birds, as well as grouse, bald eagles, and wild turkeys. 

Along the reservoir’s south shoreline, the 2,079-acre Hall Island State Forest also provides access to enjoy wildlife throughout the year. 

Whether fishing, camping, snowmobiling, or enjoying nature with a pair of binoculars, Hall Island has both wooded and open wetlands with hiking trails. 

10. Delta Reservoir

Lake during beautiful pink sunset
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Delta Reservoir
  • Distance from Syracuse: 53 miles (1h 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Located 53 miles northeast of Syracuse and immediately north of Rome, the Delta Reservoir is a destination for great fishing opportunities and a sandy beach. 

Top of the list in the nearly 2,290-acre lake are bass, walleye, and northern pike. Other fish regularly spotted in the waters of the Delta Reservoir include bullhead, perch, and trout. 

A year-round destination, the reservoir is also known as a place with excellent winter ice fishing opportunities. Forests and gently sloping hills offer an escape from the urban environment to those who visit this area. 

Delta Lake State Park offers nature and hiking trails on a peninsula that protrudes into the center of the reservoir. 

Day-use picnic areas and overnight camping facilities are available at this park, along with great locations to cast a line into the reservoir from the shorefront. 

11. Cazenovia Lake

Cazenovia Lake
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Website: Cazenovia Lake
  • Distance from Syracuse: 18 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Less than 20 miles southeast of downtown Syracuse, the 1,164-acre Cazenovia Lake is a recreation destination for a lake within the Village of Cazenovia on its southern shore. 

Waterfront homes on large lots with docks are common on all sides of the lake. 

There are lakefront locations to fish along Cazenovia Lake. Cast a line for smallmouth bass, rock bass, white sucker, and walleye. 

The most commonly caught fish are largemouth bass and chain pickerel. Ice fishing commonly occurs on the lake’s northern end during the winter, with bluegill and black crappie frequently caught. 

The Helen McNitt State Park opened in 1999 as a passive-use park. Within its 133 acres, it includes approximately 1,300 feet of shoreline along Cazenovia Lake, a perfect spot to launch smaller, car-top boats like canoes or kayaks. 

The park includes opportunities for wildlife viewing, bird watching, and strolls along the coastal areas and forests.

12. Owasco Lake

Owasco Lake
Source: flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Website: Owasco Lake
  • Distance from Syracuse: 27 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

A medium-sized Finger Lake, the 6,665-acre Owasco Lake is less than a 30-mile drive away from Syracuse. Suburban enclaves of the city of Auburn sit along the lake’s north shore. 

For many years, fish and conservation authority employees have stocked this lake with lake trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout. Fishing for trout is great throughout the year, but especially during the late spring and early summer. 

In addition to trout, Owasco Lake is home to many species of bass, walleye, yellow perch, rainbow smelt, white and longnose sucker, and brown and yellow bullhead. 

A unit of the Cayuga County Parks and Trails, Emerson Park provides a variety of recreation opportunities along the northern portion of Owasco Lake. Canoe and kayak rental, along with swimming, are just a few examples. 

13. Cayuga Lake

Cayuga Lake
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Cayuga Lake 
  • Distance from Syracuse: 39 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

The second-largest of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake has the most extensive watershed of any of these bodies of water, one that covers over 785 square miles. 

To protect the lake’s integrity, efforts have intensified in recent years to monitor the presence of excessive nutrients that have entered Cayuga Lake.

The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge has received international attention as a destination to watch the seasonal travel patterns of migratory birds. 

A visit to this popular federal refuge along the northern side of Cayuga Lake offers an opportunity to see the various native plants and wildlife of the Finger Lakes region. 

Long Point State Park offers fishing and lake access, a boat launch, and a popular place to enjoy spectacular sunsets from Cayuga Lake’s eastern shoreline. 

This 296-acre retreat includes hiking trails, playgrounds, and picnic areas that allow families to spend time in mature forests, spruce plantations, grasslands, and along the lake. 

Located on the lake’s western shore 10 miles north of downtown Ithaca, Taughannock Falls State Park includes access to a waterfall that plunges 215 feet. Trails along the gorge and rim offer scenic views, as do the cabins and campsites close to Cayuga Lake. 

At the southern tip of the lake in Ithaca, the Allan H. Treman State Marine Park offers excellent access for boaters. 

14. Seneca Lake

Seneca Lake
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Seneca Lake
  • Distance from Syracuse: 55 miles (1 h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

A visit to Seneca Lake takes visitors to the heart of the Finger Lakes region. A drive to Geneva, a city at the lake’s northern end, is approximately 55 miles west of downtown. 

Watkins Glen, at the southern end of this 43,343-acre lake, is a little more than 80 miles away. 

Smallmouth bass, lake trout, and yellow perch are commonly-caught fish. 

Within Geneva, Seneca Lake State Park offers a great place for lakeside picnicking, swimming, and camping. 

Along the lake’s eastern shore, the nearly 2,000-acre Sampson State Park has facilities for camping and a recently-remodeled marina. 

Ten miles south of Sampson, Lodi Point State Marine Park includes ramps for excellent boat access. 

Finger Lakes National Forest preserves lands located between Cayuga and Seneca lakes, with a small, separate area known as Caywood Point that borders the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. 

A community park and campground in nearby Hector worth visiting is Smith Memorial Park

15. Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Lake Ontario
  • Distance from Syracuse: 43 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Lake Ontario is the easternmost of the Great Lakes and the 14th largest lake in the world. It offers unlimited recreational options and hundreds of access areas. 

When traveling from Syracuse, the nearest spot is Fair Haven Beach State Park, just 43 miles drive. It’s a popular and highly-rated destination offering a sandy swimming beach, hiking trails, campgrounds, and grills.

Operating year-round, the park is an excellent spot for ice-fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.

The park’s fishing pond has fantastic action offering species like largemouth and smallmouth bass and pike. While Lake Ontario is known for giant Chinook salmon and various types of trout.

As a bucket-list destination, Lake Ontario is a must-visit spot. And luckily for Syracuse, it’s less than an hour away.

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