Domestic Travel

5 Best Lakes in New York Under 5 Hours from NYC

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Uncovering the best lakes in New York has been a literal breath of fresh air and a much-needed escape.

While I’ve always been spellbound by nature’s healing powers, its magnetic pull has been even stronger these past few months.

Although at-home staycations and virtual experiences have helped scratch the travel itch, there’s nothing like experiencing the outdoors in person.

Plus, it’s highly tempting to hightail it to the nearest lakeside retreat given that road trips are all the rage.

Consequently, I’ve highlighted the best lakes in New York under a five-hour drive from Manhattan to help you plan.

Whether you’re wetting your feet with a day trip or plunging into a weekend escape, this list has you covered.

Let’s dive in!

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best lakes in New York

5 Best Lakes in New York for a Weekend Escape from the City

1. Mirror Lake (Lake Placid)

While most people associate Lake Placid with the lake of the same name, Mirror Lake takes all the popularity trophies.

In fact, if you’ve ever seen pictures of the Adirondack lakes, chances are, shimmering Mirror Lake was on top.

Mirror Lake

Aptly named for its mirror-like quality, a look into the water reveals a beautiful reflection of surrounding Lake Placid village.

Mirror Lake, Lake Placid

Mirror Lake is one of the best lakes in New York because it’s ideal for everyone from water sports enthusiasts to photographers.

Plus, it’s the lake for all seasons, offering kayaking, paddling, and canoeing in summer and ice skating and pond hockey in winter.

What to Know Before You Go:

Mirror Lake can get pretty crowded, particularly in summer, as this tends to be the Lake Placid hotspot.

You can find more information on boat rentals here if you’re looking to enjoy a day out on the water.

Alternatively, hiking enthusiasts will enjoy a leisurely 2.7 mile walk along the lake’s perimeter. 

In regards to accommodations, you can’t go wrong with the beautiful Mirror Lake Inn.

Mirror Lake Inn

While we haven’t stayed here ourselves, I’ve heard very good things and I couldn’t resist snapping a photo!

You can find metered public parking spots located near the lake along Main Street. There are also several public lots directly off of it.

PHOTO TIP: You’ll need to time your shoot around the sun to avoid crowds and harsh light. Head to the greenery next to the EMS for an interesting vantage point and use it to frame your shot.

Mirror Lake

Distance from NYC:

Mirror Lake is located at Mirror Lake Drive in Lake Placid, NY. It’s just under five hours from New York City by car.

2. Lake George

Lake George is also located in the Adirondack region and is commonly referred to as the “Queen of the American Lakes.”

sunset at Peggy's Point in Lake George

This popular lake boasts a shoreline of a whopping 109 miles as well as over 300 little islands!

It’s the ideal place for vacationing families looking for a nature fix who don’t want to sacrifice the amusement aspect.

FUN FACT: Did you know Lake George is considered the birthplace of the American vacation? You can read more about the area’s transformation from the outdoor recreation destination to the family-friendly hotspot here.

What to Know Before You Go:

Lake George can definitely be a fun area, but that also depends on your idea of fun.

If you’re the type of person who enjoys touristy family vacation destinations, you’ll be right at home.

Expect kitschy souvenir shops, 1970’s-style motels, and mini golf courses around every corner.

PHOTO TIP: Unfortunately, as beautiful as it is here, it is largely not conducive to content creators.

First off, it’s a very touristy destination, particularly in the summer. As a result, it’s going to be tricky to find a quiet spot away from the crowds. Even if you’re not opposed to waking up early, the best vantage points are reserved for private use anyway. Typically, these are docking points for boaters.

In addition, certain locations have limited hours, making it impossible to shoot on “sun time.” For instance, we wanted to capture the sunset at Prospect Mountain, but it closed at 6 PM, prior to sunset. Although I considered doing an early sunrise mission instead, the highway leading up to it didn’t open to vehicles until 10 AM.

*Note: The Sagamore Resort is currently closed to anyone who isn’t a hotel guest. This may be a temporary situation due to the pandemic, but I’m not sure.

I recommend driving over to Peggy’s Point to take pictures instead. Here, we captured a gorgeous sunset in relative privacy and avoided unsightly gates around the lake. Street parking can be found across the street from this public land area.

I suggest shooting with a telephoto lens (70 – 200mm) to capture the dramatic quality of the mountains, as we did. This far-reaching lens will zoom in on the mountains, making them appear closer.

Distance from NYC:

Lake George is located about 3.5 hours from New York City by car.

3. Seneca Lake (Finger Lakes Region)

The Finger Lakes region is often considered the most impressive collection of lakes in New York.

There are 11 lakes in total, and Seneca is the largest of the collection and the deepest in all of New York State.

Seneca Lake

I originally won a trip here (including wine tastings) back in 2018 and quickly fell in love with the area.

Speaking of wine, if you’re an oenophile, you’ll be in heaven here. That’s because the Finger Lakes region is considered the top wine region in the United States.

What to Know Before You Go:

You’ll definitely want to dedicate more time to this trip if you love lakes and wine tastings.

I recommend staying at Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, where we enjoyed two relaxing nights.

Distance from NYC:

The Finger Lakes are located just under five hours from New York City by car.

4. Lake Minnewaska

Lake Minnewaska truly exceeded my expectations. Plus, this gorgeous lake is only a short drive from New York City.

Stef and I have already visited twice to hike and take photos and we’ll definitely return again.

Lake Minnewaska

This deep-blue lake is part of the Minnewaska State Park Preserve located along the Shawangunk Ridge in Ulster County.

A beautiful nature preserve, it includes a total of 21 moderate trails offering panoramic lake views and gorgeous scenery.

After hiking, you can cool off with a refreshing lakeside swim in one of the two available swimming locations.

In addition, if you’re looking for more of a “shower” experience, you can hike to Awosting Falls, a 65-foot cascade!

What to Know Before You Go:

Visitor information for Lake Minnewaska is constantly being updated. Head here for the most up-to-date news and social distancing guidelines.

PHOTO TIP: The best backdrop for your photos is “Lake Minnewaska’s View Point.” It can be found on the Hamilton Point Trail located below the private residences along the east side of the lake. This is where our photo was taken.

Distance from NYC:

Lake Minnewaska is conveniently located just under two hours from New York City by car.

5. Mohonk Lake

Mohonk Lake is also located in Ulster County and completes the idyllic setting of the famous Mohonk Mountain House.

The dramatic scenery surrounding the lake features stunning overlooks and enchanting forests that look straight out of a fairytale.

Mohonk Lake

Mohonk Mountain House has full autonomy over all lakeside activities, including row boating, canoeing, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and swimming.

Although the lake is only a half-mile long, it’s well worth a day trip here, if not a weekend escape.

FUN FACT: Did you know that the Anthony Hopkins film “The Road to Wellville” was filmed at Mohonk Mountain House?

Also, Stef and I considered having our wedding here! However, after touring the property, we found that some of the guidelines didn’t align with our ceremony wishes.

What to Know Before You Go:

I was not-so-pleasantly surprised that there was a 2-mile hike to the top when we first came here to shoot!

Unfortunately, you’ll need to park at the bottom of the property unless you’re a hotel guest or you have a dining reservation. From there, you’ll have to make the climb on foot.

While this isn’t ideal, I can honestly say it’s worth the climb.

Plus, I can now say this hike was rather mild after hiking the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain.

I just wish I knew the deal before I foolishly arrived in a cute outfit with a full face of make-up. Ladies, you’ve been warned! You will get sweaty on this hike if you’re coming in summer.

In addition, prior to hiking, you’ll need to purchase a hiking trails pass online. Head here for pricing information as well as current hiking guidelines.

PHOTO TIP: There are so many photo opportunities once you reach the lake and the surrounding property. My absolute favorite was the little overlook I shared above. I recommend climbing the stone steps up to it and having your photographer capture you from the ground level.

Distance from NYC:

Mohonk Lake is conveniently located about two hours from New York City by car.

There’s nothing quite like being by a lake to lift your spirits and awaken your soul. I hope this list has inspired you to enjoy a fun lakeside getaway just a few hours from Manhattan.

Alternatively, I encourage you to check out my Central Park Instagram guide if you’re looking to spend some time in the city itself.

What were some of the best lakes in New York that you’ve discovered on your travels? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to expand this list over time!

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best lakes in New York
best lakes in New York
best lakes in New York

15 thoughts on “5 Best Lakes in New York Under 5 Hours from NYC

    1. Thank you so much! So sorry to hear about your trip. I hope you will be able to plan another NY trip in the future; you won’t regret it!

  1. I love love love the lakes in northern New York, especially Lake Placid! Your photos are beautiful! I’m adding the lakes I haven’t seen to my bucket list as we speak. And thank you for the photo tips!!

    1. Yay, your comment made me so happy! Thank you so much. I hope you will get a chance to see the lakes you haven’t yet visited soon!

  2. This is an amazing guide Elena! I totally need to visit all of these lakes. I’m probably going to plan a mini getaway to Upstate New York to see the ones in the Adirondacks this fall. Your photos are stunning as always and I love all of your dresses. 🙂

  3. Beautiful photos, I love the colors in the Lake George picture. Also great tips, I’m still learning a lot about taking some really good photos so this is super helpful

  4. WOW! Thanks so much for introducing these incredible lakes … I have been livng in USA for 14 years now, and I have in NYC many times for business, but never took the time to traverl and explore around. This is magic! Now I need to go explore more around.

  5. Wow. Here’s me thinking that most New Yorks go to the Hamptons for their holidays! I think the lakes looks fantastic for a holiday. I can see myself cooling off in Lake George. Hopefully soon!

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