Travel 2021 | Saratoga Lake: Go ahead, get off track … and rediscover this gem

People enjoy the cool waters of Brown's Beach on Saratoga Lake in 2018.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
People enjoy the cool waters of Brown's Beach on Saratoga Lake in 2018.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of summer in Saratoga?

If it’s not Saratoga Lake, maybe this year it should be.

Once well known for its lakehouses, gambling and glamorous nightlife, Saratoga Lake is being rediscovered by visitors drawn to its natural beauty and recreational opportunities.

Just minutes from Saratoga Springs, it’s a great place to fish, boat, swim and have a meal while taking in a fantastic view.

“I think people are kind of waking up and seeing that we live in an area where people vacation,” said Philip Mazzotti, whose extended family has lived on the lake for about a century. “I think we’re heading back to the Saratoga Lake heydey.”

COLORFUL HISTORY
During that heyday, Saratoga Lake’s shore was lined with glamorous lakehouses where guests were wined and dined. A-list stars such as Rita Hayworth, Desi Arnaz and Sammy Davis Jr. entertained, and vacationers danced to the music of big bands.

Gambling was all the rage from the 1920s to the ‘50s at lakeside casinos. Boxing was also popular. Greats including Jack Dempsey trained in an outdoor arena at the former White Sulphur Spring Hotel.

Tourists cruised Saratoga Lake on steamboats, one large enough to accommodate 1,500 passengers.

“They would have brass bands and orchestras on board, and it was such an elegant thing to do,” said Hal Raven, owner of Adirondack Cruise and Charter Company, who has researched the history of steamboats on Saratoga Lake.

“The steamboat Alice, she was famous for her moonlight cruises,” he noted. “In reality, she was smuggling moonshine from the railroad connection to the various hotels around the lake.”

More: Travel 2021 | Our Beautiful Lakes – A 2021 Summer Travel Guide

From the 1950s until the late ‘80s, Kaydeross Park, a 40-acre lakeside amusement park, thrilled summer visitors with carnival rides, mini golf, paddle boats and more.

Over the years, attractions at the lake have changed, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had.

THE PERFECT SIZE
Saratoga Lake is about 4.5 miles long, 1.5 miles wide at its widest point and has an average depth of 25 feet. It’s smaller than Lake George — and those familiar with Saratoga Lake say that’s a good thing.

“I think the scale of Saratoga Lake makes it special. There are some really, really deep parts — 70, 80 feet of depth — and there are also some really shallow bits where folks can walk off Brown’s Beach or Sandy Bay and it’s much more kid-friendly. It’s that balance of it not being too big of a lake, where you need some giant yacht to be safe, but it’s large enough that when you get out there, you can kind of find your own corner,” said Eliot Cresswell, president of the Saratoga Lake Association.

SLA is a nonprofit organization that promotes and enhances the health, safety, sanitation, ecology, recreation and environmental quality of the lake.

Saratoga Lake has Class A water, which is technically drinking-water quality, noted Mazzotti, who serves as the SLA’s vice president.

The sky above the lake could also be called Class A, especially at sunset.

“We don’t have the high mountains like in the Adirondacks, so you get these gorgeous sunsets every night,” said Raven, whose company offers boat tours on Saratoga Lake.

CRUISE BACK IN TIME
Visitors can experience the lake as their counterparts did a century ago by taking a cruise on the General Schuyler, Raven’s 50-foot replica fantail launch. Similar to small steamboats that cruised the lake in the 1920s, the 24-passenger vessel offers a trip back in time.

“We talk about the different places of interest and the steamboats, the old hotels, the casinos, the gambling and all the cool things that brought people to the lake. You see where the old casinos and gambling houses were, and the old steamboat landings,” Raven said.

Sunset and moonlight cruises are also offered, along with dinner cruises and customized events. Also available for charter is a nine-passenger pontoon boat.

FLOAT YOUR OWN BOAT
Saratoga Lake holds appeal for a variety of boaters. Early mornings, the lake is like glass and perfect for a peaceful kayak jaunt. Later in the day, things often get lively, with pontoon boats cruising the shoreline and motorboats zipping around with water skiers flying behind.

But even once the lake gets busy, it’s still navigable.

“It’s not very intimidating,” said Cresswell. “The waves never really get that high where you’re under serious threat.”
The lake’s relatively calm water makes for enjoyable cruising, said Mazzotti.

More: Travel 2021 | Our Beautiful Lakes – A 2021 Summer Travel Guide

“You can rent a 20-, 22-foot pontoon boat on Lake George, but you’re getting tossed around. You can rent the same boat on Saratoga Lake and it’s flat [water],” he said.

Peter Bardunias, senior vice president of community advancement for the Capital Region Chamber, agreed that Saratoga Lake is a lower-key alternative to Lake George.

“There are times when Saratoga Lake is quite busy, but it’s a big lake, surprisingly large, with quiet spots to anchor,” he said. “For boaters, I think it’s more of a matter of finding your favorite anchorage. Snake Hill has a nice spot you can hide behind a little bit to get away from the boat wakes.”

Snake Hill is an outcrop on the lake’s eastern shore, named for the timber rattlesnakes that once resided there.

Saratoga Lake empties into Fish Creek, the head of which is the site of large rowing regattas. Rowing has a history there dating to the late 1800s.

Fish Creek is also popular with paddlers. Quiet, meandering and full of wildlife, it’s a fun place to explore.

“It’s really great for beginners. The water is very slow-moving down the creek,” said Julian Stallard, owner of the Kayak Shak at Fish Creek Marina, a water-sports rental company.

Stallard has watched tourism grow during the two decades he’s been in business.

“It has gotten definitely busier over the years, but either way you’re just kind of out there with the water. The birds and the bees and the turtles are out, and the fish. It’s quite a calming, peaceful experience,” he said.

More: Travel 2021 | Our Beautiful Lakes – A 2021 Summer Travel Guide

RENT A BOAT
The Kayak Shak, which rents double and single kayaks and paddleboards, is one of several spots at which vessels can be rented on Saratoga Lake. Following are some other options:

  • Salvi Aquatic rents pontoon boats on the lake’s north side.
  • South Shore Marina rents eight-person pontoon boats, rowboats and kayaks.
  • Vivi E Basta Rentals, a new, Brown’s Beach-based service, rents pontoon boats, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
  • Getmyboat.com, similar to Airbnb but for boat rentals, has a listing for a pontoon boat for rent on Saratoga Lake.
    Boating can be risky, so it’s important to know what you’re doing before you take to the water, noted Cresswell.
  • “Always err on the side of safety and a sense of community out on the water,” he recommended.

WHERE TO LAUNCH

Boat owners can put in at several locations on Saratoga Lake, including:

  • Kayak Shak at Fish Creek Marina allows nonmotorized boats to launch for a $10 fee. No trailers are allowed.
  • Brown’s Beach has a shallow launch for nonmotorized vessels.
  • Saratoga Lake State Boat Launch on Route 9P has parking capacity for up to 100 trailers.
  • South Shore Marina offers daily and season-long launch passes and a senior citizen rate.
  • Waterfront Park has a launch for nonmotorized boats.

To inhibit the spread of aquatic invasive species, boats should be properly cleaned before they’re brought to the lake, noted Cresswell. State law requires boaters to take certain steps before launching their watercraft into public water bodies. Details are available on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s website, www.dec.ny.gov/animals/48221.html.

CAST A LINE
Saratoga lake has long been known as a good place to fish. The stocked waters contain game fish including smallmouth and largemouth bass, perch, carp, bluegill, crappie, sunfish, walleye and northern pike.

“The fishing is really good,” said Bardunias. “One nice thing about Saratoga Lake is there is a lot of structure for fish. I know sometimes it can get real weedy and stuff, but where there’s weeds, there’s fish. There’s a lot of spots to fish in that lake.”

Many people fish the lake from a boat.

“What a lot of people do is they’ll start on the north end, they’ll put their boat in and they will just basically fish the docks all the way around the lake,” said Mazzotti.

STOP FOR A BITE
Saratoga Lake’s eateries offer great views along with the food. Here are a few places to check out:

  • 550 Waterfront, 550 Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs, has an expansive patio, an outdoor bar, Adirondack chairs by the water and boat slips where you can dock while dining.
  • Carson’s Woodside Tavern, 57 Route 9P, Malta, overlooks the lake and offers views of Vermont’s mountains. Listen to live music there Wednesday through Sunday, weather permitting.
  • Dock Brown’s, 511 Route 9P, Saratoga Springs, offers casual dining beside Brown’s Beach.
  • Nostalgia Ale House and Wine Bar, 113 Route 9P, Malta, features a large beer and wine menu, live music and a cool retro vibe. Dock at South Shore Marina while you dine.
  • The Hideaway at Saratoga Lake Golf Club, 35 Grace Moore Road, Saratoga Springs, offers indoor and outdoor seating with views of the golf course, the Adirondacks and the lake.
  • Harvest and Hearth at Fish Creek Marina, 251 Route 67, Saratoga Springs, is a great spot to enjoy wood-fired pizza while watching rowers and paddlers glide on Fish Creek.

HAVE A PICNIC
Not in a restaurant mood? Pack a lunch and head to Waterfront Park. Located off Crescent Avenue, it has a sandy beach, a launch for nonmotorized boats, an amphitheater and a picnic area with barbecue grills. Swimming is not permitted.

TAKE A DIP
You can swim all you’d like at Brown’s Beach in Stillwater, as families have for generations. The public beach reopened in 2015 after being closed since 2007. Open May 28 through Labor Day Weekend, it features a sandy beach, a picnic area and a pavilion available for rent.

STAY THE NIGHT
Saratoga Lake has so much to offer, you might want to consider more than just a day trip. You can extend your getaway by renting a house on the lake through an online platform such as Vrbo or Airbnb, or check out these options:

  • The Nest on Saratoga Lake, an inn at Brown’s Beach, has seven rooms with private baths.
  • Lee’s Park, next to the state boat launch at the mouth of Fish Creek, offers RV and tent camping.

Saratoga Lake
SIGNIFICANCE/ORIGIN OF NAME: Iroquois Indians called
Saratoga Lake Caniaderiossers — the lake of the crooked stream
LOCATION: Eastern Saratoga County
SIZE: Approximately 4.5 miles long, 1.5 miles wide at its widest point, 95 feet deep at its deepest point.
CLAIM TO FAME: Local lore associates the invention of the
potato chip with George Crum, who was chef at Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake during the 1850s.
WHERE TO SWIM: Brown’s Beach at the lake’s southern tip
WHERE TO LAUNCH: Saratoga Lake State Boat Launch on Route 9P
WHERE TO PICNIC: Waterfront Park, 630 Crescent Ave., Saratoga Springs

More: Travel 2021 | Our Beautiful Lakes – A 2021 Summer Travel Guide

Categories: Life & Arts, Travel 2021

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