Summertime Means Swimming! Guide for Where to Swim in New York State

It’s one week before Memorial Day, the unofficial start to summer.  Even if the kids aren’t out of school quite yet, minds are turning to summer activities, and nothing says summer like swimming.  Our friends at I LOVE NEW YORK have put together this insider’s guide for all the waterfalls, clear lakes, sandy beaches, secluded coves, and old fashioned waterholes where families can take a dip and cool off.  Continue reading for more details, see if your favorite is on the list; and if not, tell us!

In a state with more than 9,700 miles of lake, river and ocean shoreline, trying to select a place to swim is akin to recommending a restaurant in New York City – with all the great choices, it’s largely a matter of taste, mood of the moment and knowing what’s available.  But when it comes to beaches, even savvy travelers often have no idea of New York’s wide array of choices, which include world-class surfing beaches, baby-calm coves and crystal-clear lakes.  The adventurous might cool off at the base of a waterfall or in a racing river, or dive in to explore historic shipwrecks and aquatic life.  From celebrity-magnet beaches ideal for glamorous people-watching to uninhabited isles offering Robinson Crusoe-style isolation, New York State brims with wondrous ways to get into the swim.

Frolic by the falls. After hiking in the summer heat, there’s nothing more satisfying than splashing and soaking in a cool natural Jacuzzi.  The mountains of New York State abound with streams and waterfalls that create ideal spots for chilling.  One of the biggest and best known cascades is the two-tiered 260-foot Kaaterskill Falls, located near the town of Haines Falls in the Catskills’ Greene County.  The falls form a number of natural deep pools and eddies as they descend through Kaaterskill Creek.  For more information about waterfalls in New York State, click here.

While you’re in the Catskills region… Enjoy golf, mountain biking or North America’s longest zipline at Hunter Mountain, tap into your inner hippie at Bethel Woods, site of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival, or try hang-gliding or paragliding.  Learn more about the Catskills region at or call 1-800-882-2287.

Kaaterskil Falls © Hudson Valley Tourism


Show me some good ole time swimming holes.  Swinging into a lake on a Tarzan-style rope, making sand castles on the beach and watching the older folks dance to live music at night might seem like something from a bygone age.  But those days live on in many Adirondack mountain towns. for a start, try Long Lake Town Beach, where the Seward Mountains provide a backdrop for family-friendly swimming, and “Float Night,” August 13th, brings live music and a Cardboard Box Float Race (supplies provided).  Lake Harris in Newcomb also offers a large, family-friendly, sandy beach.

While you’re in the Adirondacks region… Stay at a posh resort or lodge, take Whiteface Mountain’s Cloudsplitter gondola to see panoramic views of the mountains and Ausable River, and if you’re feeling athletic, mountain bike down the ski trails.  Check out

Jones Beach Air Show © 2012 Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau


Basking in the good life. On Long Island, about 80 miles from Manhattan, the glorious white sand beaches of The Hamptons are the place to swim and be seen.  Pack your Louis Vuitton beach bag and join the city’s elite at one of Dr. Beach’s top picks, South Hampton’s Coopers Beach or East Hampton’s Main Beach.  Or head for the tip of Long Island where Montauk has surfer and fishing village ambience, 40 dunes and an elegant spa resort.  Less well known are Fire Island’s glorious stretches of solitary beaches and tiny pedestrian-only villages, accessible only by ferry, and each with a distinctive personality.

While you’re on Long Island… Foodies can take the scenic and yummy North Fork Trail, which leads to wineries, great seafood restaurants, farm stands and antique shops, stopping to cool off at cove beaches along the way or enjoy the water park rides at Splish Splash.  Click here to discover Long Island or call 1-877-386-6654.

Hike lake to lake.  Looking out at the endless vistas of the Shawangunk Mountains, it is hard to believe that New York City is less than an hour and half drive away.  Situated just outside New Paltz in the Hudson Valley, Minnewaska State Park is a pristine 21,000 acre preserve with two crystalline mountain lakes, waterfalls and steep vertical cliffs topped by ledges that open to stunning views.  Encircled by white sandstone cliffs, the deep blue waters of Lake Minnewaska are the centerpiece of the park.  A three-mile trail leads to Lake Awosting, a smaller, more intimate and secluded forest-embraced lake that also beckons to swimmers.

While you’re in the Hudson Valley… Take a rock climbing lesson in New Paltz, visit the art galleries and antique shops in charming river towns like Rhinebeck and Nyack, see Shakespeare under the stars at the hilltop estate of Boscobel, and dine at the Culinary Institute of America.  Visit or call 1-800-232-4782.

Washington Park lakehouse © Hudson Valley Tourism


Escape to a secluded island.  Dreaming of claiming a deserted island? It is truly possible, at least for the day, in the Thousand Islands-Seaway region.  With nearly 2,000 islands, most uninhabited and many only large enough for two towels to be spread, you can literally claim a beach on your own deserted island.  Want to camp overnight?  A rare freshwater dune-backed beach is the draw at Sandy Island State Park, while Wellesley Island State Park provides secluded campsites along the St. Lawrence River that are accessible only by foot or boat.

While you’re in the Thousand Islands-Seaways region… Take a boat to Heart Island to tour spectacular Boldt Castle, float over Alexandria Bay in a hot-air balloon, and if you’re there in July, enjoy the entertainment and food at Harborfest on the shores of Lake Ontario.  For more information on the Thousand Islands region, click here, or call 1-800-847-5263.

Meet Natty Bumppo. In his novels about the Central New York region, James Fenimore Cooper poetically called Otsego Bay “Glimmerglass.”  The description of this clear lake is still apt, and today, Glimmerglass State Park and Beach offers a beautiful public beach just eight miles from the famed National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  And who was Natty Bumppo?  The hero of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, making his story the perfect beach read for a day a Glimmerglass Beach.

While you’re in the Central New York region… Bike where mules once pulled canal boats along the Erie Canal, descend into a world of fantastical stalactites and stalagmites at Howe Caverns, and picnic alongside a 167-foot waterfall at Chittenango Falls State Park.  More details at

Swim in the Great Sacandaga. Scalloped by lovely sand beaches interspersed with rocky strands, Great Sacandaga Lake is one of the state’s largest, loveliest and least developed lakes.  Located about 22 miles from Saratoga Springs, the lake is set amid the towering pine forested foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, which form stunning a backdrop for its 125-mile shoreline.  Waterskiing, kayaking, jetskiing and fishing are available, but the biggest draw is the lake’s lovely clear waters and inviting natural sand beaches.  The most developed is Northampton Beach that offers a fun “Junior Naturalist” program and guided hikes; call 1-518-863-6000.

While you’re in the Capital-Saratoga region… Watch thoroughbreds compete at Saratoga Race Course, sample and soak in the sparkling waters that put Saratoga Springs on the tourist map, and head to the New Skete Monastery for some divine cheesecake; visit

Dive through underwater shipwrecks and reefs. In 1919, the 202-foot steamship David W. Mills left Oswego, slammed into a shoal and was torn apart by a raging storm.  In 1991, it became New York’s first diving preserve.  Sitting in 12 to 25 feet of water, this well preserved wreck is part of a Dive the Seaway Trail linking sites along the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, Niagara River and Lake Erie.  Another set of protected shipwreck sites, including seven boats destroyed in 1759 during the French and Indian Wars, are strewn across Lake George.  And off Long Island, divers explore intriguing wrecks like an 18th century British frigate, the H.M.S. Culloden, and artificial reefs created to attract fish, lobsters and other marine life.  To learn more about the dive sites in New York State, click here.

Wreck of the David W. Mills, Seaway Trail, Inc.


While you’re exploring the undersea world… Enter a shark cage to dive with sharks at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, Long Island, watch a sea lion or harbor seal training session at the Aquarium of Niagara, and peer into a coral reef at the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn, NY.

Listen to Lehrer. Chautauqua Institution makes it easy to combine beach time with intellectual pursuits.  Just steps from beautiful Chautauqua Lake, the open-air Amphitheater hosts concerts, plays, and lectures by renowned speakers such as retired “PBS NewsHour” anchor Jim Lehrer.  It feels like there’s always a choice of classes, lectures and performances to attend, and heady discussions seem to erupt everywhere, from the porches of the village’s quaint Victorian inns to the espresso bar on the town square.  Four lakeside sandy beaches, some catering to kids, others to adults, provide a refreshing respite from the cerebral ambience; call 1-800-836-ARTS.

While you’re in the Chautauqua-Allegheny region… Admire the outdoor art at Griffis Sculpture Park, bike the nature trails and bask on the sandy beaches of Allegheny State Park, and raft down the Cattaraugus River past towering cliffs and ribbons of waterfalls;

Dipping into wine country.  Cayuga Lake, which gives its name to the area’s award-winning wines, is the longest, widest and deepest of the Finger Lakes.  In addition to swimming in this pristine, glacier-carved lake, visitors can enjoy wine tastings and gourmet eateries.  The Finger Lakes region’s stunning waterfalls include 215-foot Taughannock Falls, one of the highest cataracts east of the Rocky Mountains.  The centerpiece of Taughannock Falls State Park, the Falls plunge to a 400 foot gorge that pours into Cayuga Lake.  Nature trails wind through the park to a lovely sandy beach.  If you time your visit well, you can catch one of the lakeside concerts.

While you’re in the Finger Lakes region… Hike along lovely Buttermilk Falls, which cascades into a popular natural swimming pool, and explore the quaint historic town of Skaneateles, where an inviting town beach provides access to 16-mile long Skaneateles Lake.  For more information about the Finger Lakes region, click here, or call 1-888-408-1693.

Pirates and crocodiles and tornados, oh my! Those who like their water time splashy and flashy will love Darien Lake in the Greater Niagara region.  Here wave pools create challenging surf at Crocodile Isle while Hooks Lagoon presents a tree house, shipwrecks, and pirate-themed water slides.  Thrill seekers can ride the 700-foot Big Kahuna, where they’ll speed through triple dips, twists and turns before splashing down, and the Tornado, a 132-foot long ride that swirls through a 75-foot drop.  The Water Park is part of a larger amusement park with themed accommodations, roller coasters and rides for all ages.

While you’re in the Greater Niagara region… For an adrenaline-pumping, thoroughly soaking adventure, ride the Whirlpool Jet Boat at Niagara Falls.  It practically flies as it does 360’s and bounces up Niagara Gorge to the falls at speeds up to 55 miles per hour.  Visit or call 1-800-622-2686.

For more information New York State beaches and diving, visit  For specific information on New York State Parks, visit or call 845-255-0792.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.