Lake Ontario Parks & Beaches
Lake Ontario is the smallest by surface area and the easternmost of the Great Lakes in North America. It’s bordered by Ontario, Canada to the north, west, and southwest, and New York, United States to the south and southeast. The lake is approximately 193 miles (311 kilometers) long, 53 miles (85 kilometers) wide, with a maximum depth of about 802 feet (244 meters).
The state of New York lies to the south and southeast of the lake, making up a significant part of its southern shore. This area is known as the Lake Ontario Lowlands and is part of the Great Lakes region of North America. Several New York counties, including Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego, and Jefferson, have boundaries that extend to Lake Ontario. Along this over 200 miles of shoreline with New York, there are dozens of points of access, among which are a few of the state’s top beaches.
On the U.S. side, major cities near Lake Ontario include Rochester and Oswego. Rochester, the third most populous city in New York, is located on the Genesee River, which drains into Lake Ontario at Charlotte Beach. The various cities and townships along the Lake carry a rich history, many of which payed an important role in regional conflicts, including the French and Indian War and War of 1812. More importantly Lake Ontario was a primary pathway of exploration for European Explorers as they ventured further west into the “New World” and an important artery for the influx of subsequent colonists as they sought out their new homes.
Lake Ontario plays a vital role in New York’s weather patterns, especially the creation of lake effect snow during the winter months. This happens when cold air masses move over the warmer lake waters, leading to enhanced snowfall in areas downwind of the lake. This heavily affects cities like Rochester and Oswego, and the counties of Oswego, Jefferson, and Lewis, which can experience significant snowfall. While the Lake doesn’t freeze over in winter, beaches along the shore take on an abundance of ice, creating photogenic winter wonderlands.
Lake Ontario offers numerous activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming. Many New Yorkers visit the lake’s beaches during the summer months. State parks like Fair Haven Beach State Park and Chimney Bluffs State Park provide beautiful locations for fishing, camping, hiking, and bird-watching. Municipal parks offer great family experiences with several amenities and breathtaking views of the lake.
Numerous bird species, who migrate across the lake, use the shoreline as a stop-over for rest, feeding, and breeding. Various parks and especially wetland preserves are dependable spots to bird watching, with some drawing in enthusiasts from all over the northeast.
Parks, Preserves, and Beaches along Lake Ontario
Detailed Guides for Lake Ontario Access
From west to east we have visited parks, beaches, and preserves along Lake Ontario to construct these online guides.
The west and east branches of Twelvemile Creek meet Lake Ontario at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park. The park is filled with nearly 400 acres of relatively flat grassy fields, immature deciduous forest, and protected wetlands, but is most noted for its excellent pebble beach and breathtaking views of Lake Ontario.
This beautiful and well-equipped lakeside park in Olcott Beach sits upon land that was once occupied by bustling pre-depression resorts and amusement parks. The ruins of the old Olcott Beach Hotel stand above the sandy swimming beach. Nearby shops and a classic 1940’s kiddy park make this an excellent day-trip for the entire family.
A peaceful park with excellent views of the lake and the historic Thirty-Mile Point Lighthouse. This beautifully restored landmark serves as a museum for visitors to learn about Lake Ontario’s maritime history. The park also features camping, hiking, fishing, boating, and more.
Thirty miles west of Rochester is a lakeside park that sits in the shadow of the more popular Hamlin Beach. Without a public swimming area, this park is no longer the draw it once was, but the park’s 2, 18-hole, disc courses shine.
Thirty minutes west of Rochester is a beach seemingly immune to the closings that plague other urban beaches. Hamlin is one of the most equipped state parks in the region, with everything from nature trails to campsites. But what people really come for is the expansive sandy beach and clean water.
More than 2500 acres of wetland, wooded and developed park land surrounding Braddock Bay, Cranberry, Long, and Buck Ponds, are the perfect stopover for migrating birds tired from crossing Lake Ontario. The numerous species that feed and nest here make this park a Mecca for New York State bird watchers.
Once dubbed the “Coney Island of the West,” this lakeside park was a former amusement resort that brought in crowds from rails around the state. Today it is a city park within the boundaries of Rochester. A recent revival brought an upheaval in traffic, making this one of the more popular parks in the region, but is still a shadow of its former self.
A wonderful lake-side nature park with sandy beach, picnic facilities, arboretum, fishing ponds, trails, public swimming areas, and the Lady in White legend. This is one of the premier fall foliage locations in Upstate New York.
A well-equipped county park just east of Rochester and Irondequoit Bay. The wooded section of the park is beautiful. The lakefront, on the other hand, could use some work. Despite the pungent smell, junk-filled beach and slimy water, the lakefront is still popular for fishing, walking on the pier and enjoying sunsets.
This abandoned Girl Scouts of America Camp is now a New York State nature park and campground. Hike the new trails and explore the camp’s crumbling buildings. The north end runs up against Lake Ontario, while the east is bordered by Maxwell Bay.
Sodus Point’s beautiful sandy beach on Lake Ontario and silvery waters of Sodus Bay make it a classic summer attraction. Although most that visit the beach park walk the pier and see the navigation beacon, they tend to ignore its predecessor, the 1871 Lighthouse, just to the west.
Less than an hour east of Rochester, this beautiful landscape is now a well developed state park. With 4 miles of hiking trails, and many spectacular views, it is a popular summer destination. The Bluff Trail offers visitors a hike along the edge of the clay cliffs, giving an exhilarating and somewhat dangerous experience.
A former Girl Scout camp that has been reclaimed by nature and is now a beautiful and easily accessible part of the state’s Lake Shore Marshes Wildlife Management Area. It offers a break from the summer crowds that plague nearby State Parks.
From its large beautiful beaches, impressive campgrounds, lush wetlands to its beautiful forested trails above mammoth bluffs, Fair Haven Beach is one of New York’s premier state parks.
The Lake Ontario waterfront in the City of Oswego, including Breitbeck Park, Wright’s Landing Marina, and the H. Lee White Maritime Museum on the city pier, all with good views of the the lake and the Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse.
The last surviving fortification, of three, the British erected just before the French and Indian War. It has served through the War of 1812, the Civil War, and through WWII. Today the old fort is a historic site, complete with demonstrations and reenactments. The former external parade grounds house baseball diamonds and surviving 20th-century military buildings nearby serve the community.