Just 23 miles west of Syracuse, the sparkling blue-green waters of Skaneateles Lake shine like a gem among the forested ridges of the Finger Lakes district. The sixth largest of the Finger Lakes, Skaneateles is exceptionally beautiful and serene; the water is so pristine that nearby towns, including the city of Syracuse, use the lake as a source of drinking water - unfiltered.
Averaging about three-quarters of a mile wide and stretching to 16 miles in length, Skaneateles (from the Iroquois for "long lake") reaches across three counties: Onandaga, Cayuga and Cortland. The village of Skaneateles, along the northern shores of the lake, is truly the belle of the ball—it's widely regarded as being among the finest villages in all of the Finger Lakes. This charming hamlet boasts a well-developed infrastructure and attractions for the tourist trade, including a good supply of hotels, inns and B&B's, a full calendar of activities and events and a broad range of quality eateries. The village also has a rich, well-documented history that dates back to revolutionary times—the first settlers were veterans of the Revolutionary War who were awarded land grants as compensation for military service. Skaneateles Village (pop. 2,616) is located within the larger town of Skaneateles (pop. 7,323), in Onandaga County.
Downtown Skaneateles - the streets of downtown Skaneateles evoke images of classic New England and embody the word "quaint." Stroll the Clift Park waterfront, check out the gazebo, and take in the natural beauty of the lake.
It's worth a special visit at Christmas time, when the village of Skaneateles hosts "Dickens Christmas," an improvisational street theater featuring Dickensian characters roaming the streets in Victorian costumes. Horse-drawn carriages, carolers and even chesnuts roasting on open fires add to festive ambiance.
Like most of the Finger Lakes, the area around Skaneateles Lake is good for bicyclists, provided that they are experienced with road riding. There are no marked biking trails on the lake, but the 32-mile circuit around the lake is a popular road route.
Skaneateles Lake is very popular for sailing and other recreational boating. Environmental controls are relatively strong, though, because the lake is a water source for the surrounding towns, so public boat launches are few. if you're bringing your own boat, we'll give you the inside scoop:
The New York State Public Boat Launch, about 2.5 miles from downtown Skaneateles, along Route 41A, has ample parking and is a good place to put in.
Further south, the Skaneateles Town Boat Launch is a well-known local spot, but non-residents have to pay for parking.
2880 West Lake Road is one of the few public boat launches on Skaneateles Lake. There are two small docks as well, for approach by water. This is a fishing spot—no swimming here.
About 6 miles from downtown Skaneateles, keep your eyes peeled for the Mandana Boat Launch. It's right next to the Skaneateles Marina.
You can rent a kayak or canoe at the Skaneateles Marina (138 West Lake Road, 315-685-5095) and at the Sailboat Shop (1322 East Genesee Street, 315-685-7558, www.thesailboatshop.com).
All sorts of cruises are on offer, including a popular dinner cruise and a postal boat cruise. Mid-Lake Navigation Co. is the biggest operator on the lake, and they offer cruises on the Erie Canal as well. (11 Jordan St., 315-685-8500, 800-545-4318, http://midlakesnav.com/). Some hotels offer cruises on Skaneateles Lake.
Another great fishing spot is the nearly 4-acre lot of public land at 2880 West Lake Road, about 2.7 miles from downtown Skaneateles, along the western shore of the lake. Boaters make good use of it as well. This spot is open to the public, but parking is limited. Accessible by water.
Read more about Skaneateles Lake Fishing...
The Bear Swamp State Forest is great for hiking. Check out Carpenter's Falls, just north of the village of New Hope. And the Bahar Nature Preserve has a nice 1.3—mile trail called Old Jug Path that follows an old road, so the hiking is easy.
To the southwest of the lake, there's good hunting for grouse, duck and beaver, especially around Bear Swamp Creek.
In the Village of Skaneateles, three parks provide public access to the lake. Along the northern shores of Skaneateles Lake, Thayer Park, Clift Park and Shotwell Park serve as public green areas in the village's historic downtown area. There you'll find a lovely pier that extends out into Skaneateles Lake and gazebo that doubles as a stage for live music Fridays in July and August. These parks feature walking trails and there is public swimming at Clift Park, though non-residents of Skaneateles must pay a small fee. There is no boat access and no public boat launch.
While most of the wine industry in the Finger Lakes is based around the hills surrounding Seneca, Cayuga and Keuka lakes, Skaneateles is getting in on the act, too.
Anyela's Vineyards - Run by James and Patti Nocek, Anyela's Vineyard offers daily tastings and a spectacular view as you wander through the vineyards. They just planted the vineyard in 2001, so this is a new operation, but the Nocek family has three generations of viticultural expertise to rely on. This is a welcoming place—come and learn about the art of winemaking from the experts. (2433 West Lake Rd., Skaneateles, 315-685-3797, firstname.lastname@example.org,)
below: The clear waters of Skaneateles lake