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8 Top-Rated Things to Do in Skaneateles, NY

Written by Meagan Drillinger
Apr 2, 2021

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Skaneateles, NY, a town perched at the top of one of New York State's great Finger Lakes, is one of the most charming and laid-back villages you'll find in Central New York. And when we say village, we mean it. With a population of less than 10,000, this charming lakeside hideaway oozes small-town life.

But that doesn't mean it's without tourist attractions. In fact, the list of top things to do in Skaneateles is longer than you may think. Skaneateles is a popular getaway for city slickers from nearby Syracuse, as well as road trippers from Rochester and all over New York State. It's also a popular retreat for numerous celebrities who own properties here.

You'll notice it as you stroll along the main drag, Gennessee Street. They come for the stunning views of Skaneateles Lake, but they stay for the mom and pop shops and restaurants, the nature preserves, and the slices of New York history.

New York State has 11 Finger Lakes, and if you're planning to explore them, you won't want to miss Skaneateles Lake, and the lovely town that shares its name. Here are the top things to do in Skaneateles, NY.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Skaneateles Lake

Sailboat on Skaneateles Lake
Sailboat on Skaneateles Lake

Upstate New York is a treasure trove of outdoor beauty, and the Finger Lakes in particular have some of the most beautiful scenery around. Skaneateles Lake is one of these Finger Lakes in central New York. A nickname for the lake is The Roof Garden of the Lakes because it is higher in altitude than the other Finger Lakes surrounding it.

The first thing to do on any visit to Skaneateles is to visit the lake itself. Year-round, the lake is the focal point of the village. It stretches three quarters of a mile wide and 16 miles long. The village sits perched at the northernmost point of the lake. Biking and boating are two of the top activities at the lake. A 32-mile road loop runs along the banks of the lake.

Swimming isn't one of the main activities on the lake, mostly because the lake is used as a water source, so there are rigid restrictions. However, a designated swimming area with a lifeguard is available.

Hop aboard the Mid-Lake Navigation boat, which runs sightseeing tours on the lake and offers visitors sweeping views of the lake, as well as the Erie Canal.

2. Charlie Major Nature Trail

Charlie Major Nature Trail
Charlie Major Nature Trail | Russ Nelson / photo modified

Running the length of an abandoned rail line, the Charlie Major Nature Trail is a lovely dip into nature that tells a bit of history, too. The stretch of line ran along the former Skaneateles Short Line Railroad, which served millworks in the area for more than 100 years. The rail line was in operation from 1840 until 1981.

Today the trail is about a mile and runs from Mill Road and Crow hill Road. It zags over a creek via three wooden bridges. While on the way, you'll be able to see remains of the railroad, dams, and some millworks buildings.

The trail offers lovely spots to picnic along the creek, just north of the Crow Hill Road bridge at the Mottville Trailhead. Keep a lookout for the charming waterfalls along the trail, as well. It's a great walk to bring pets on, too.

3. Lockwood Lavender Farm

Lavender field
Lavender field

You don't have to hop a plane to Provence to get lost in acres upon acres of brilliant lavender fields. All you need to do is head to Lockwood Lavender Farm in Skaneateles. Spread over a sprawling 120 acres, the farm was established in 1854 and has stayed in the Lockwood family for five generations.

From its enviable perch overlooking the lake, visitors can frolic among the fields on weekends in the summer, when colors are at their most vibrant and harvest is in full swing. It makes for gorgeous Instagram-worthy pictures, and you may even end up picking up a few of their homemade products. More than 30 species of lavender exist and have been used for aromatherapy, crafts, and cooking for years.

Address: 1682 W. Lake Road, Skaneateles, New York

4. Carpenter Falls

Carpenter Falls in the winter
Carpenter Falls in the winter

This mile-long loop trail is a fan favorite among local hikers and visitors. It's moderate in level, meaning you'll get a decent workout but you don't have to be an experienced hiker to have fun. The main draws of the trail are the three waterfalls that you pass along the way.

The trail is used mostly for walks and hikes and is best visited between March and October. You'll likely find snow on the trail in the winter, but that doesn't deter many of the more die-hard hikers in the area. Have your camera ready when you reach Carpenter Falls - a 90-foot waterfall that plummets down the limestone rock face into a churning pool of water below.

It may be tempting to take a dip in the cool, refreshing pool beneath the falls but bear in mind that swimming is technically not allowed. Still, you'll see plenty of aquaphiles throwing caution to the wind, so be careful if you decide to do so, too. The water isn't too clear, and the flow can be extremely strong.

5. Galleries

Skaneateles Lake in fall from near downtown
Skaneateles Lake in fall from near downtown | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

New Yorkers are creative by nature, and you'll find art enclaves all over the state. Skaneateles is no different. If you're interested in the art scene, you'll want to visit both the John D. Barrow Art Gallery, as well as Gallery 54.

The John D. Barrow Art Gallery opened its doors more than 100 years ago and features a collection of paintings by the gallery's namesake, John D. Barrow. He was considered a second generation of the Hudson River School artists and painted primarily portraits and landscapes. More than 250 of his paintings are on display at the gallery. Even if you don't go inside, you'll want to stroll past the building itself, which is pretty impressive in its own right.

Then there is Gallery 54, which shines a light on the modern style of art happening in and around Skaneateles. Opened in 2009, the gallery is artist owned and operated, showcasing the work of artists who live in the Finger Lakes/Central New York area. You'll find paintings, mosaics, pottery, jewelry, photography, stained glass, and more.

Address: John D. Barrow Art Gallery, 49 E Genesee Street, Skaneateles, New York, Gallery 54, 54 E Genesee St, Skaneateles, New York

6. Skaneateles Historical Society

The Finger Lakes region has such a rich history, and you can catch Skaneateles' side of it at the Skaneateles Historical Society, located at the old creamery. The building was once the site of the Skaneateles Creamery Company, which opened in 1899, and served as a post where farmers could sell milk and dairy to residents.

Today the Creamery is used as a museum that takes visitors on a journey through Skaneateles' history through the display of hundreds of artifacts, from farming tools and press clippings to locally made items like boats, chairs, toys, and carriages.

The boat display is of particular interest, especially since the lake was such an integral part of the community economy throughout the decades. Life has revolved around the lake ever since the founding of Skaneateles - and likely long before that.

Since the 19th century, all sorts of pleasure boats have sailed the waters. In the 1840s, sailing became one of the most enjoyed pastimes. In the 1870s, a father and son moved to Skaneateles and became master boat craftsmen, and the trade remained in their family until the 1960s. Today you can see many of these boats, and more, at the boat display within the historical society.

Address: 28 Hannum Street, Skaneateles, New York

7. Bahar Preserve

If you haven't had enough of a dose of nature, the Bahar Nature Preserve is the perfect place to get your fill. The forest is almost hidden, tucked between the vast expanse of farmland and the lake itself. But within the preserve, visitors will find loops of trails; hemlock tree groves; and the plummeting, 100-foot-deep Bear Swamp Creek ravine.

What's unique about the preserve is that the trees within it support the growth of large, old grapevines, which wind their way around the trees. Both tree and vine grow together, creating a gnarled and fairy-tale-like setting, which is only further enhanced by the bedding of moss and ferns that carpet the forest floor.

The preserve also has 65 feet of lakeshore, so if you're interested in kayaking or canoeing, this may be the place to visit to get out on the water. Fun fact: The ridge trail that leads up from the lakeshore is the trail you'll take to discover Carpenter Falls, so you can cross two items off your list within the preserve.

Address: 5986-, 6062 Appletree Point, Moravia, New York

8. Genesee Street

Shop and restaurant on Genesee Street
Shop and restaurant on Genesee Street | Doug Kerr / photo modified

The main drag of Skaneateles, Genesee Street is the heart of the "action," if there's any action to be found in Skaneateles. Here, you will find the many adorable boutiques, like Cate & Sally, which sells elegant and upscale staples. You can also visit Skaneateles 300 for shoes, Emma James Boutique, or Roland's.

If you're still in the mood to shop, pop into The White Sleigh for gifts. Skaneateles is very much into the Christmas spirit, and nowhere is that more obvious than in this boutique that practically drips holiday cheer. In fact, one of the best times to visit Skaneateles is during Christmas time for the annual Dickens Christmas Festival. This month-long event brings interactive street performers dressed in 19th-century garb to the streets of the village. It starts the day after Thanksgiving and goes through Christmas Day.

From here, you can pop into Clift Park, which overlooks the lake and is home to the iconic gazebo, one of the signature images of Skaneateles. If you're in the mood, grab a fresh ice-cream cone at Skaneateles Scoops. It really is a must when visiting these parts.

Where to Stay in Skaneateles for Sightseeing

Skaneateles has just a handful of hotels, but these four are among the best in the area.

  • Mirbeau Inn & Spa is the most luxurious hotel in the Skaneateles area. The inn has been around for two decades and was designed with the world of French impressionism in mind. In fact, Mirbeau translates to "reflected beauty," and the entire inn was modeled after the colors, light, and character of the paintings of Claude Monet. It will be evident upon arrival with four freestanding cottages surrounded by lush paths popping with flowers. Of course, you'll want to indulge in a spa treatment and soak in the heated whirlpool on the Aqua Terrace.
  • 2W Lake Bed & Breakfast is a stunning historic B&B housed in a 19th-century Victorian home. The property was recently completely renovated and is under new management (old timers may recognize it as the former Lady of the Lake B&B). Perfectly located within walking distance to the village's restaurants and shops, the stately home features a wraparound porch with lake views. Enjoy breakfast in the dining room, or a cup of tea on the porch in the evenings. All guest rooms have private bathrooms, free Wi-Fi, and Tempur-pedic beds.
  • Another property with loads of character, The Bond 1835 is a beautiful five-bedroom bed and breakfast built in the bones of a historic farmhouse. Today, The Bond 1835 overlooks the lake from its beautiful farmstead perch. In fact, the house has its own private lake access during the day, with kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rentals. The rooms are truly lovely, all with private bathrooms, televisions with Netflix and Amazon, Keurig coffee makers, and more. The pick of the lot is The Bond Suite, which comes with a California King bed, clawfoot tub, shower, and plenty of charming 18th-century Belgian antiques.
  • Built in the style of a historic Adirondack Great Camp, the Finger Lakes Lodging hotel has 12 cozy guest rooms and two suites. Guests are greeted in The Great Room, which is about as snuggly as it gets, with a stone gas fireplace, couch, board games, and direct access to the back deck and lawn. The guest rooms are decorated in similar style, with plenty of wood accents, vibrantly colored bedspreads, wooden rocking chairs, and heated stoves. The lodge does not have lake views, but it is just down the road from the village, so activities are never far away.
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