During a year of the ‘Stay-cation’ for me, I got the bright idea of paddling in each of the Finger Lakes in one season. What a great plan that turned out to be! We inhabitants of Central and Western New York are blessed with eleven of the most beautiful lakes in the world. To experience them from a kayak is to see, hear and feel the water in an intimate way. From your boat you’ll see the subtle differences—rocky or sandy, weedy or crystal-clear, shale or pebbles, bald eagles or shorebirds. You’ll meet crowds or be the only boat on the lake! The scenery is lovely with rolling hills, farmland, rocky cliffs, picturesque towns, wineries—the experience is world-class.
The best of the best, if what you crave is the pure enjoyment of nature, is Hemlock Lake, which is located south of Rochester. There are no cottages on Hemlock, as its pure waters serve as the drinking water source for the city of Rochester, and only small-motored boats are allowed. With its beautiful wooded hills, shale cliffs and old-growth hemlock trees, Hemlock Lake has an Adirondack-like atmosphere. There are two free boat launches, one at the north end and one at the south. A permit, obtainable at the kiosk at the North end of the lake, is required to hike or boat here. Bald eagles nest in the hills surrounding Hemlock and the lake is loaded with leaping and jumping fish. The only problem with Hemlock is swimming is not allowed and the lake is so pristine and appealing that the urge to jump in is almost irresistible!
Next, and second place in terms of perfection, is neighboring Canadice Lake. Also part of Rochester’s water supply (same permit needed on Canadice), this smaller lake is a slice of paradise. Often as smooth as glass, it’s easy to paddle the entire lake in a couple of hours. The lake is stocked with brown trout so fishing is popular. There is one free boat launch and several nice spots to sit on shore and soak up the sun, but again—no swimming allowed!
At Sandy Bottom Park on Honeoye Lake you can drop your boat and park nearby—nice spot for a picnic, too. Although lined with cottages, Honeoye doesn’t feel crowded. Conesus Lake, on the other hand, has been over-populated and it’s difficult to overlook the clutter (and stay clear of wake-producing power boats.) Best to paddle in the off-season, Conesus has a free put-in spot off Pebble Beach Road.
Canandaigua means ‘Chosen Spot’ in the Seneca language and the lake seems to be reserved for the chosen few who can afford property there. It is difficult to find a spot to access the water—thank goodness for Onanda Park! On the West side of the lake, this lovely little park offers swimming as well as paddling for minimal fees. An extra workout is provided by the fairly long carry from the parking lot to the launch site, and it’s worth it! Paddling either north or south from this point provides a glimpse into how the other half lives as you pass by the multi-million dollar homes on the lake.
Keuka Lake, shaped like a ‘Y’, is one of the central Finger Lakes. Camping, swimming and picnicking are offered at Keuka Lake State Park near Bluff Point and there is a lot of space for launching. There is considerable boat traffic, which makes early morning paddles especially appealing.
The Town of Fleming boasts a large pier with a gazebo and a great vantage point to view Owasco Lake. There is parking and a spot to put in just beside the pier. The shallow water is surprisingly clear and it’s easy to see the drop-off as you paddle deeper into the lake.
Seneca Lake State Park is unique in that it is located in downtown Geneva and while launching into a flock of Canada geese and paddling toward a school of sunfish sailboats, the city is always in sight. Seneca, the deepest of the Finger Lakes, offers many wineries and attractions. Of note are the steep cliffs surrounding portions of the lake.
Cayuga Lake is the longest of the Finger Lakes and home to Ithaca, wineries and, as it happens, many boat launches! Long Point Park, on a peninsula just south of the town of Aurora, affords excellent access, fantastic views and clear water. It can be choppy rounding the bend, so venture south if you aren’t looking for adventure!
The town of Skaneateles is a destination in itself. However, as the water supply for the City of Syracuse, Skaneateles Lake is clear as deep as the eye can see and is a spectacular shade of blue, best enjoyed afloat! The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) offers a fishing access site on West Lake Road with a boat launch from which you’ll enjoy fantastic sights as you paddle, from farms to sailboats to historic homes.
Nearby Otisco Lake is a small lake near Syracuse. Not much is offered in terms of access, and the lake has a different feel from the other Finger Lakes. It feels more rural and homey with lots of woods and smaller cottages. There is a county park with limited parking and a bit of a portage to the shore.
There are many happy treks awaiting you as you explore the Finger Lakes region from the water. Happy paddling!
FingerLakes.com is your complete guide to the entire Finger Lakes region of New York State--from wine trails to hiking trails and fishing to skiing.
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