Long Island's great lakes

Gabriel Salisbury, 5, and his brother Damien, 6,

Gabriel Salisbury, 5, and his brother Damien, 6, splash water around in Lake Ronkonkoma to keep cool. (Credit: Newsday/Ana P. Gutierrez)

Throngs flock to beaches on Long Island during the summer, but the lakes here also are worth exploring.

They offer places where you can sit and commune with nature, take a scenic stroll or horseback ride, catch some fish or paddle around on the water. Here are a few suggestions:

LAKE RONKONKOMA

Where: Borders the towns of Brookhaven, Islip and Smithtown

What it offers: Once a resort area for the rich, Lake Ronkonkoma is surrounded by historic homes and remains one of Long Island's most popular lakes. Spanning 240 acres, it is 15 feet deep in its shallowest areas and about 65 feet at its deepest, making it Long Island's largest freshwater lake.

Why it's popular: There's a boat ramp off Victory Drive on the west side of the lake and a 100-foot fishing pier off Shore Road on the north end. It's popular with anglers who, with the required license, can enjoy sport and recreation fishing for several species, including largemouth bass and pickerel.

Also on the lake's north side is Suffolk's 223-plus-acre Lake Ronkonkoma County Park, which include ballfields, shoreline fishing and walking trails (parking fee till Labor Day).

On the Islip Town side of the lake is Ronkonkoma Park and Beach on Rosevale Avenue, which has room for 450 bathers (lifeguards on duty).

LAKE MONTAUK

Where: Off Route 27, Montauk; 631-324-4142; town.easthampton.ny.us

What it offers: Lake Montauk is a 42-acre saltwater lake that flows into Long Island Sound. Montauk Harbor is on its north end, which has commercial and recreational fishing docks, shops and restaurants. The south end of South Lake Drive has a sandy beach for public bathing that's a draw for families.

Why it's popular: The lake is in a mainly residential area and it's also home to the U.S. Coast Guard station on Star Island. Small watercraft and party boats drop anchor on the north end of the lake in the spring, and fluke fishing is a big draw. People also go year-round for clamming, which, along with parking, requires permits from the Town of East Hampton.

Lake Montauk is "a very, very healthy body of water" that attracts people for activities including swimming, water skiing, parasailing and scalloping, says chief harbor master Ed Michels.

HEMPSTEAD LAKE

Where: Exit 18 off the Southern State Parkway, West Hempstead; 516-766-1029

Cost: $6 per car daily through Labor Day

What it offers: A sprawling, tree-lined 163-acre lake near Nassau County's south shore, it's about 10 feet deep and nestled inside the 775-acre Hempstead Lake State Park.

Why it's popular: It attracts boaters and anglers for freshwater fishing, going for largemouth bass, chain pickerel, bluegill and other species.

People can canoe around the lake or use small motorboats with the proper permit. Rent a horse - ranging from $40 for a guided trail ride for two or more people, to $60 for a private guided trail ride - from nearby Lakewood Stables (633 Eagle Ave., 516-486-9673) and ride around the lake.

BELMONT LAKE

Where: Nestled within Belmont Lake State Park. Exit 38 off the Southern State Parkway, North Babylon; 631-667-5055

Cost: $6 per car daily through Labor Day, then weekends and holidays.

What it offers: There are walking trails around the relatively shallow, 27-acre lake, which also are used for jogging and bike-riding.

Why it's popular: The lake area attracts families for picnics. You also can go rowboating or paddleboating on the lake, and fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines from the shore or on the water for largemouth bass and trout with the required license.

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