In New York in the summer, the plethora of public beaches lures summertime visitors to swim and bask in the sand, while the Hamptons and Jersey Shore claim even more. But just off the coasts in the tristate area, the mistakenly, oft-dreaded lakes are worth a visit. Take it from someone who grew up on Lake Michigan: Lakes are pretty great.
As a friend who grew up on Long Island said as we drove away from Candlewood Lake in Connecticut this summer, “I never understood lakes, but I finally get the whole lake thing now.”
Lakes, typically freshwater rather than saltwater, are the antithesis of the cold, roaring shores of the Atlantic — the welcoming, contained space of warm, wave-free water offers much-deserved mellow, swan-float-friendly relaxation you just won’t find at a crowded city beach.
Candlewood Lake, Connecticut’s largest, offers 11 miles of freshwater bliss bordering Litchfield and Fairfield counties, an easily accessible — and affordable — weekend away.
Candlewood Lake is only about a 90-minute drive from midtown Manhattan, but those without a car can take Metro-North from Grand Central to Brewster ($19.25/peak, $14.50/off-peak) or Danbury ($17.75/peak, $13.25/off-peak) and take a local cab or Uber up to the lake ($20-$30).
Where to stay
While Candlewood Lake remains a hotel-free zone (camping is also forbidden on the lake’s 60-mile perimeter), plenty of private, multi-bedroom vacation homes are available for rent at under $200 a night — and they’re still available for the summer. Book a cozy cabin on Airbnb or VRBO.
What to bring
Pack everything you need. Prime Now, Instacart and Postmates aren’t delivering to Candlewood Lake, so stock up on groceries in the city or at the nearby Stop & Shop in New Fairfield before bunking down at the lake. Plan meals in advance to make your getaway as relaxing as possible. Not a cook? Consider shipping subscription-free meal kits built for groups (try Chef’d, BurgaBox or Sun Basket’s summer grill kit). Know that a handful of pizzerias, like Biscotti’s in New Fairfield, are only within a few minutes driving distance, should you need to pick up a few pies.
Bring the obvious summertime gear — swimsuits, towels, sunscreen, shades — as well as entertainment like board games or lawn games (if your rental doesn’t have them), summer reading and, if you don’t want to tread water the entire time you’re in Candlewood Lake (depths range from 15 to 90 feet), something to float on. Oversize swans and sea horses are highly recommended.
What to do
Beyond lounging by the lake, you can rent multi-person pontoons, speedboats (for skiing or tubing), kayaks and paddleboards from Gerard’s Marina or Echo Bay Marina. Those who want to drive a powerboat will need a boating license, and those who want to go fishing off a boat will also need a fishing license. Take a boat or car to Down the Hatch, Candlewood Lake’s only waterfront restaurant, complete with boat parking and lake views to enjoy as you scarf down fried seafood platter and sugary frozen piña coladas.
Jump in these lakes
Check out these other lakes close to NYC:
Cayuga Lake: The longest of the Finger Lakes (almost 38 miles), this lake in Ithaca is perhaps best known for its namesake wine trail, which features 16 wineries (as well as cideries, meaderies and distilleries) open to tastings. Nearby, Cayuga Lake State Park offers campgrounds if you want more outdoor fun on the lake.
Lake George: Perhaps New York’s most famous lake, this Adirondacks getaway offers a full-on vacation experience with ample hotels, boat tours, an amusement park, restaurants and more. From luxury getaways to bare-bones camping (or glamping, at the nearby Adirondack Safari), every type of vacation is possible here.
Lake Hopatcong: Less than two hours outside of the city, this New Jersey lake is a true scenic getaway. Swimming, fishing, boating and all your typical lake activities are here, but Hopatcong State Park also offers impressive hiking trails for the less aquatic-inclined.