The Finger Lakes Region of New York is filled with natural beauty, from gushing waterfalls cascading down deep gorges to wineries dotting rolling, green hills—and at the heart of it all lies Keuka Lake.
One of the most popular of all the Finger Lakes, Keuka is easy to spot on a map thanks to its unique Y shape (which has also earned it the nickname "Crooked Lake"). While Keuka’s calm, pristine water offers fun activities like paddling, fishing, and swimming, the hills around the lake provide breathtaking scenery and a variety of other experiences that make for a truly memorable taste of lake life.
With so much to do, it can be difficult to decide where to start your vacation at Keuka Lake, so we put together this guide to help you out.
Did you know Hammondsport (a town of only about 750 people) has been voted “America’s Coolest Small Town” (Budget Travel) and was also named one of the “25 Best Small Lake Towns in America” (Country Living Magazine). That’s right. Drumroll, please. May we introduce you to the one and only, Keuka Lake!
Kayaking and Paddleboarding
Paddling at Keuka Lake is easy and relaxing.
One of the best ways to get to know Keuka Lake is to get out there in a kayak or on a paddleboard. Take your time to explore the hidden coves for an up-close and personal look at some of the lesser-visited areas of the waterway.
Up for more of a challenge? Try paddling the length of the lake from Hammondsport to Penn Yan (it’s about 20 miles). Not feeling quite that ambitious, try the western branch from Hammondsport to Branchport, which is about 14 miles. Regardless of where you paddle to, make sure you are on the water at dusk to take in an awe-inspiring sunset.
Keuka Watersports (located in the depot at Depot Park on the southern end of the lake) has a wide range of kayaks, paddleboards, sunfish and safety equipment available to rent. Looking for more full-throttle fun, jet skis are also available. Or go all out and rent a double-decker pontoon for an unforgettable family adventure or party.
There are boat launches in Penn Yan at the Morgan Marina or the Penn Yan Village Boat Launch, and in Hammondsport at the Harbor Lights Marina.
“The warmest of the three largest Finger Lakes, Keuka is usually calm and great for SUPing as well as boating. Rent jet skis, pontoon boats with slides, and other water craft at Keuka Water Sports.” - Malerie Yolen-Cohen, Getaway Mavens
No visit to Keuka Lake is complete until you actually get in the water. Take a dip at Keuka Lake State Park in Branchport, where you’ll find a nice swimming beach that the whole family can enjoy as well as other activities like hiking, picnicking, and fishing. The state park has an entry fee, so check out the website before you go. Red Jacket Park in Penn Yan is another swimming area with a sandy beach, playground, and picnic tables.
On the southern end of the lake, Depot Park in Hammondsport is right on the water. There is a lifeguard on duty for safe swimming and a grassy area where you’ll find locals playing games, sunbathing, or enjoying a midday picnic. Nearby you’ll also find Champlin Beach for more life-guard supervised swimming options, as well as a few picnic areas for summer cookout fun. That’s also where you can rent equipment to get out on the water.
Welcome to one of the best “fishing holes” in the Northeast.
Keuka’s deep crystal waters are filled with brown and lake trout, smallmouth bass and pike, pickerel, and yellow perch. In the spring, look for trout in shallow tributaries like Cold Brook before they move to the depths of Keuka in summer and fall.
“Keuka is considered to be the best fishery in the region, with smallmouth bass and lake trout as its main species.” - Kyra Bean, Life in the Finger Lakes Magazine
You can fish from the docks in Depot Park or in a boat out on the lake. If you’d like to learn from an expert angler, look into a charter from Bobber’s Fishing Excursions., Summit to Stream Adventures, and other guide services (you can find some here at Steuben Sportsman).
You can buy fishing poles and fishing equipment or live bait at Jakes Boat Livery right on the water. Jakes also rents pontoon and fishing boats, and has a boat launch if you have your own boat.
One of the best ways to enjoy the lake is by settling in lakeside for a delicious meal.
With four great options right on the lake—Lakeside Restaurant and Tavern, The Waterfront, Snug Harbor and The Switzerland Inn—there’s no better way to get a taste for lake life. Each spot has its own personality and its own seafood specialties as well as other signature dishes. A couple offer live music on weekends throughout the summer. And you can get to each by car or boat (though there are a limited number of slips).
Learn more about the lakeside dining options here.
Around Hammondsport's Village Square, just one short block from the lake, you’ll find several popular dining spots and a variety of cuisines from locally-sourced foods at Timber Stone Grill and The Park Inn to the Village Tavern which has long been a staple for delicious food. Burgers and Beer knows what it does best.
While at the northern end of the lake, there are an assortment of wonderful eateries from Black Cat Bistro and Seneca Farms to those venturing a bit away from the water.
Stay on the Lake
Cottages and lakeside rentals are sometimes difficult to find because once folks experience authentic lake life around Keuka, they make a point to return year after year. Some cottages, have been passed down through families for generations dating back to the 1800s when steam boats use to transport grapes, as well as leisure travels to resorts located on the lake’s shores.
Don’t have your own cottage? Don’t worry. There are a few other ways to stay on the lake.
Keuka Lakeside Inn
There’s a reason this inn has been a landmark in town for decades. And while the rooms have been updated and refreshed, the old-school charm still abounds. Oh, and you can’t really beat the location, tucked in at the southern end of the lake, just a few dozen yards from Depot Park.
It’s also where you will find the Pat II, a passion project for lake lovers and nautical enthusiasts at the Finger Lakes Boating Museum. After years of restoration work, the beautiful historic wooden vessel is now available for fun, narrated tours on the lake.
From the water, Snug Harbor hints at just how grand some of the lakeside resorts were back in the day. When it was built back in the 1890s, present day Snug Harbor was called Ruby Cottage Hotel. Over the years since it has been a dance hall, lounge, and restaurant which it is today.
A popular dining spot for locals and tourists, and accessible by car or boat, Snug Harbor Restaurant also offers two recently remodeled balcony suites where you can listen to the sound of the lake down below or watch the sunrise sipping your coffee out on the balcony. Both suites feature air conditioning and include a full kitchen.
Enjoy Lake Views
Enjoy the quiet, magical surroundings at Moonshadow B&B. Wake up to a bountiful breakfast and home-baked goods or take in stunning views overlooking the lake and bluff from the large veranda with a glass of wine in hand.
Stay in an historic Victorian B&B at Gone with the Wind offering lakefront access for swimming and fishing.
Ideally located half-a-block from the lake and half-a-block from the charming Village Square (with antique shops, restaurants, and more) savor the hospitality (and the delicious breakfasts) at Blushing Rose B&B.
“The hospitality is never-ending” - Becky Pokora, The Girl and Globe
Prefer renting your own space? Gulf Stream House has nightly and weekly rates, private entrances, private baths, and is just a short walk to restaurants, bars, shops, nearby live music and beautiful Keuka Lake.
With the historic Park Inn and the Village Tavern just a block from the water, as well as B&Bs like quaint 18 Vine a short walk away, there are a number of accommodation options to choose from. Looking for a more traditional hotel? The Best Western Plus is only about half-a-mile from the lake (and right next door to Finger Lakes Beer Company known for its Copperline Ale and Hammonds-Porter).
Not far out of town, on the east side of the lake, campers enjoy great views from Lakeview Campgrounds, but campsites go quickly so you’ll want to book in advance.
Biking and Hiking
While some folks do prefer to spend all day on or in the water, we won’t judge if you would rather be near the water rather than on it?
Biking around Keuka Lake gives you the chance to enjoy this breathtaking landscape (the handiwork of glaciers that passed through around 10,000 years ago). With races like the Keuka Lake Gravel Classic and Tour de Keuka, as well as local clubs like the Pedal for Pilsners group at Steuben Brewing, cycling enthusiasts take advantage of the rural roads and scenic views.
Cyclists rave about Keuka Lake’s Bluff Point Trail (you can hike to it, too). Located outside of Penn Yan, the peninsula that gives the lake its unique Y-shape reaches over 800 feet at its highest point.
If you don’t mind losing sight of the water for a bit (hey, it’ll be there waiting for you with its awesomeness when you get back), hiking is another exciting activity you can enjoy in proximity to the lake.
For an easy 7-mile hike, try the historic Keuka Lake Outlet Trail, which follows a stream and abandoned railroad from 1884. Look for remnants of the old abandoned town of Hopeton and the three-tiered Seneca Mills Falls. You can also rent bicycles at the trailhead in Penn Yan to pedal the mostly flat trail.
For more hikes in the area, check out this list of 10 of the best fall hikes in Steuben, or jump on a section of the 950-mile Finger Lakes Trail near Hammondsport with trails like the Mitchellsville Gorge Trail and Huckleberry Bog Trail, wonderful wilderness excursions just a short drive from the lake.
Wineries & Breweries
If you love wine, welcome to the Heart of Wine Country.
We mean that literally, since Keuka is the lake located smack dab in the center of the others. It’s also where the world-renowned wine region got its start over 160 years ago, where the Vinifera Revolution first took place, and where you will find the next generation of exceptional winemakers taking the Finger Lakes into the future.
Keuka is home to wineries named to the “Top 100 Wineries” in the world multiple times (Wine & Spirits), those that have won praise from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. With over twenty wineries around the lake, including those specializing in sweet wines, dry wines, ice wine, wines made from native grapes, fruit wines, tours, sit-down pairings, and more, you can satisfy just about any wine craving you might have.
If wine isn’t your thing, you’ll also discover a dozen excellent craft beverage producers including a brewery named NY’s craft brewery of the year and others with award-wining brews. There’s a distiller whose latest gin was recently called out in Forbes for being one of the “Best Gins of 2022” and another whose “Middle Finger Moonshine” was named American Distilling Institute’s Best in Category in 2021. The latter even offers a distilling class if that’s your thing.
Be sure to download the free Craft Your Adventure app for suggested itinerary ideas, as well as information about nearby producers
Point of the Buff Vineyards built a special pavilion as a concert venue for national acts. That’s right, high on a hill above the vineyard, looking down on the lake, you can listen to an awesome lineup of music.
But don’t worry, if you’re free time doesn’t align with the concert schedule, several craft breweries and wineries around Keuka provide entertainment most weekends during summer and fall including some of the best singers and musicians from the region
Enjoy a Drive
There’s something to be said for taking a drive on a scenic road and doing so around the lake gives you a chance to take in some of the very best views to be found.
“I left highway Hell and landed in Heaven—meandering along Keuka Lake on Route 54A. I couldn’t believe the breathtaking beauty of the vineyards alongside the lakes.” Georgie Jet (JohnnyJet.com)
Pass sprawling vineyards tucked on the hillsides around the lake, then drive down by the water on Route 54A which has been called “one of the 15 most scenic highways in the world” (British Airways Highlife).
Nearby Food and Overnight Options
While we do suggest lapping up as much lake time as you can get, there are options away from the water that provide a wonderful compliment to any visit. Whether you prefer fine dining or pub-style cuisine, you can enjoy an exceptional meal just a short ways away from Keuka at Pleasant Valley Inn or one of the best burgers around at Maybe Baby Burgers (found on the Steuben Burger Trail Top 10 two years and counting).
You’ll also find an historic octagon house that's been tastefully restored as the Black Sheep Inn and Spa offering guests delicious plant-based breakfasts and located just a stones-throw from The Brewery of Broken Dreams, in its own historic building, and serving up tasty craft brews like Crying Loon, Old Antics, and To Bee or Not To Be.
Another great way to enjoy Keuka Lake is during one of the popular annual events like Wine Country Classic Boat Show and Wings & Wheels.
The Classic Boat Show features a judged competition and boat parade, as well as waterskiining exhibition, food vendors and more. Come see the vintage wooden and fiberglass boats on the docks at Depot Park for a day of family fun.
Each fall the folks at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum transform Keuka Lake into a runway for seaplanes in homage to aviation pioneer and hometown hero, Glenn Curtiss, who did that very thing in the very same location over 100 years ago. An extremely popular event, the annual seaplane homecoming has grown into Wings & Wheels featuring a seaplane show at Depot Park, seaplane competitions, a seaplane parade, and seaplane rides over Keuka Lake (for a fee), as well as a Classic & Exotic Car Show throughout town.
Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly adventure or an adult getaway, this lovely lake really does have it all. Come experience Keuka Lake Life for yourself.
Originally written by RootsRated for Steuben County.
Did You Know?
Some facts About Keuka Lake You Might Find Surprising:
- Keuka Lake is one of the few Y-shaped lakes in the world
- Keuka is also one of the few lakes where the water flows both North and South. Yep! Keuka Lake's western and southern branches were once a single, north-to-south flowing watershed. Over time, glaciers carved out a major tributary to the main river, transforming it into what is now the East branch of the lake. This glacial action also created a reverse flow of drainage, South-to-North.
- Depth: Reports vary a bit with regards to the deepest point in the lake ranging from 183 feet to 187 feet.
- Keuka is about 710 feet above sea level.
- The widest part of the lake, where it forks at the bluff, is just under 2 miles across. This aerial shot shows Bluff Point.
- The average depth is 101 feet and the average width is around .75 miles.
- Keuka is the third largest of the Finger Lakes and 11th largest lake in New York State. But Keuka's shallower depths keeps the water warmer than its deeper sister lakes. Over the past several years, average water temperatures in July and August tend to range close to 80 degrees making it a great spot for swimming and watersports, though water temperatures vary throughout the lake.
- Keuka is the only Finger Lake that flows into another as water at the northern end follows the Keuka Outlet Trail to Seneca Lake.
- You will see pockets of forest around Keuka Lake, but that is quite different from how it used to be. “At the time of settlement in the 1780s and 90s, the land was heavily forested. The original forests were principally sugar maple, beech, hickory, red and white oaks, tulip poplar, and black walnut, though many other hardwoods and softwoods were common. The land began to be cleared in the 1790s. By the late 1880s, 85-90% of the land was cleared and farmed.”
- “The Keuka Lake watershed’s geology consists of vast amounts of limestone, sandstone, and shale.” Turns out the soil makes for great wine characteristics.
- Keuka Lake is approximately 19.6 mile in length on the eastern branch from Hammondsport to Penn Yan, and 14 miles on the western branch from Hammondsport to Branchport.
- In July of 2015, Bridgette Hobart Janeczko swam the length of Keuka Lake from Hammondsport to Penn Yan which was the second leg in her goal to swim 9 of the 11 Finger Lakes. By September of 2015, she had completed her goal.
- Here’s a terrain map that shows the lake and surrounding topography (slopes, hills, valleys).
- Three Towns Anchor Keuka Lake, Penn Yan and Branchport to the north, Hammondsport to the south.
- What’s on the bottom of the lake? It seems the most common items are related to fishing and boating, including “fishing lures, sinkers, jewelry, coins, boat anchors and propeller.” A couple local divers with over 2,000 dives in the lake have identified other items including the historic steamboat The Steuben. You can learn more about the lake and the history of steam boats at the Finger Lakes Boating Museum in Hammondsport.