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Skaneateles Lake

Coordinates: 42.945°N 76.430°W

Elevation: 863 feet/263 meters



Motorboats and beach houses along Skaneateles Lake in the Finger Lakes, New York USA.

Called by the Town of Skaneateles "a priceless, economic, environmental, aesthetic, and recreational resource," Skaneateles Lakes is thought to be one of the cleanest bodies of water in the country. The fourth largest of the Finger Lakes, it is 16 mi./25.7 km. long, spanning Onondaga, Cayuga, and Cortland counties. In altitude, it is the highest of all the Finger Lakes. The word "Skaneateles" is said to be derived from the Onondagan phrase "skeh-ne-a-ties," meaning long waters.


The lake is supplied by three major tributaries--Shotwell Brook in the Town of Skaneateles (Onondaga County), Bear Swamp in the Town of Sempronius (Cayuga County), and Grout Brook in the Town of Scott (Cortland County).

A view of Grout Brook from the boat launch at the Town of Scott Family park in Cortland County. Grout Brook is the inlet to Skaneateles Lake in the Finger Lakes, New York USA.

Due in part because the lake is not subject to industrial and agricultural wastes, it is an oligotrophic lake with Kayaking on Skaneateles Lake in the Finger Lakes, New York USA.low concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus and fairly low biological activity. This means that the phytoplankton that grows in great quantity in Cayuga Lake, for example, and makes Cayuga's waters appear to be a greenish color, occurs at lesser quantity in Skaneateles Lake. Consequently, light passes through the water, making the water appear bluish. The water is relatively "clean" (from a human perspective) and of high drinking quality. The lake supplies water to the City of Syracuse, the Town and Village of Skaneateles, several other municipalities, and approximately 1,000 lakefront residents. The water is so clean, in fact, that it is one of just a handful of lakes in the state that are not filtered before distribution. The lake flushes itself about once every seven years.

Sailboats on Skaneateles Lake as seen from a winery on State Rout 41A. Skaneateles Lake is in the Finger Lakes, New York USA.

The history of the area is wedded to the lake, especially its outlet, which runs north into Skaneateles Creek. This eventually drains into the Seneca River. It was along the outlet and the creek that tanneries, distilleries and saw, paper, grist, and woolen mills first sprang up. Only remnants of some of these operations still exist and can be viewed from the Charlie Major Nature Trail.


Boating and sailing are popular activities on the lake, and every year during the last weekend in July, the Annual antique boat show on Skaneateles Lake in the Finger Lakes, New York USA.Village of Skaneateles hosts an antique and classic boat show. During the 1800s, steamboats like the Independent, Highland Chief, Homer, and Glen Haven plied the lake's waters. But by 1917, smaller boats that were more economical and easier to manoeuver delivered the mail to the boxes at the ends of docks of lake-bound cottages. Today Mid-Lakes Navigation Company operates the three-hour U.S. Mailboat Cruise, which is open to passengers for a fee. The boat leaves from the dock at Clift Park.



Because the lake is so clean, it supports a limited fish population. Due to the clarity of the water, it is possible to watch them from a boat or pier. Waterfowl frequent the lake during migration but are not as numerous as on some of the other Finger Lakes.


Boat Tours

Mid-Lakes Navigation

11 Jordan St.

Skaneateles, NY 13152



Access to the Lake

Because of the appeal of its clean waters and its proximity to the City of Syracuse, the shoreline of Skaneateles Lake is heavily populated with year-round and seasonal residences. Many of these have interesting stories behind them that you will learn if you take a boat tour on the lake. Skaneateles may be, of all the Finger Lakes, the one with the least public access.


Lakefront Accommodations

Although there are a number of bed and breakfasts and inns that have views of the lake (See Accommodations/Bed & Breakfasts or Accommodations/Inns), there are no accommodations that are located on the lakeshore.


Lakeside Rentals


Finger Lakes Premier Properties (formerly Rental Plus)





Resort Property Rentals of the Finger Lakes

Skaneateles Suites

Vacation Rentals by Owner





Clift Park

Rts. 5 & 20

Skaneateles, NY 13152


This is a small village park with limited facilities. The park has a small grassy area with a gazebo where concerts are held during the summer. Swimming is permitted, however, non-residents must pay a fee. There is no public boat launch. The dock is used by Mid-Lakes Navigation for its boat tours. Restrooms can be found under the gazebo.


Town of Scott Family Park

off Glen Haven Road

near the Hamlet of Glen Haven

Town of Scott, Cortland Co.



Pavilion, ball field, picnic area. Canoe/kayak launch into Grout Brook, which runs into the marsh at the southern end of the lake. Splendid lake views. Closes at dark.


Bahar Nature Preserve

Appletree Point Rd.

near New Hope

Moravia, NY 13118



Bahar is a 25-acre nature preserve owned by the Finger Lakes Land Trust and open to the public. Much of the area is forested with a 100-ft./30.4 m. ravine through which runs Bear Swamp Creek. There is a hiking trail along the ridge of the ravine. The preserve also owns 65 ft./19.8 m. of lakeshore that is over-hung with vegetation. It is good for launching a non-motorized craft, birding, and swimming but probably not sunbathing. No facilities.


Boat Launches

State-operated boat launch at 2880 Lake Rd., Skaneateles, New York USA.1) 2880 West Lake Rd. (Rt. 41A) 2.5 mi./4 km. south of the Village of Skaneateles. Concrete ramp. Parking for 30 vehicles.


2) In the Town of Skaneateles near the intersection of West Lake Rd. (Rt. 41A) and Lacy Rd. in the Hamlet of Mandana. Parking fee. 



Rentals (Boats, Kayaks, Pontoons, etc.)

Skaneateles Marina

1938 West Lake Rd.

Skaneateles, NY 13152



See Also:

Tri-County Skaneateles Lake Pure Water Association


Updated 5 August 2009








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