Cornell Alma Mater
Far above Cayuga's waters,
See the photo of Treman Marina (below) for a view of Cornell "far above Cayuga's waters."
Cayuga Lake is named for the Cayuga Indians--one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy--who lived and still live in the region. Oddly enough, the Cayugas called the lake Tiohero or "clear water." It would be interesting to go back in time to compare Cayuga's waters then and now to see if we are being good stewards of the lake.
About the Lake
Coordinates: 42.947°N 76.736°W
Elevation: 400 feet/122 meters
At 38.2 mi./61.4 km. long and 3.5 mi./5.6 km. wide at its widest point, Cayuga Lake is the Finger Lake's longest and largest lake. The lake's deepest point is thought to be off King Ferry Station where the depth is about 435 ft./132.5 m. The lake is fed by 140 streams from 6 counties and 44 municipalities, an area that is home to 140,000 people. Like all of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake is fed from the south and drains north into the Seneca River. This water eventually makes its way to Lake Ontario. The water level is controlled by Mud Lock at the northern end of the lake. It is said that a drop of water entering the lake at its southern end will take 10 years to travel the length of the lake and exit at the northern end. Because of its size, the lake rarely freezes over and is thought to have done so only twice during the last century.
Cayuga Lake is one of two of the Finger Lakes that have an island. (Canandaigua Lake has Squaw island.) Cayuga Lake's island-- Frontenac--is located near Union Springs (Cayuga County). Said to have been a burial place for the Algonquins, it is now "occupied" by stromatoporoids. To view a photo of the island and learn about its inhabitants, visit http://eurypterids.net/FrontenacIsland.html. In archeological digs on the island, a fragment of wolf jaw bone was found and determined to be at least 5000 years old. The Rochester Museum owns North America's oldest bone comb, an Indian relic carved from antlers in 2500 B.C. found on Frontenac Island and thought to have been used as a miniature tiara. Its artistic design shows two birds with interlocking beaks.
Several miles north of the southern tip on the east side of the lake is Bolton Point, which is usually not marked on most maps. Near here is a stretch of shale palisades (steep cliffs). It is said that this type of shale palisades can only be found at Bolton Point and in the British Isles.
Twenty-four hundred feet (731.5 m.) below the lake bed is an enormous salt bed that stretches under much of the Finger Lakes. Cargill Salt, the world's largest marketer of salt products, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, owns the 40-mi./63-km. long mine that runs under Cayuga Lake. This is the deepest rock-salt mine in North America.
Cayuga Lake has three lighthouses.
Cayuga Inlet Breakwater Light--Managed by the New York Canal System, this is a 25-ft./7.6-m. wooden tower sheathed in steel in the middle of the lake some distance north of the southern end of the lake. It has been operational since 1927. It is not open to the public.
Cayuga Inlet Light--Managed by the New York State Canal System, this is a 25 ft./7.6-m. utilitarian but unattractive wooden tower sheathed in steel. Located just a short distance from the southern end of the lake, it has been operational since 1917. It was moved to its currently location in 1927. It is not open to the public.
Myers Point Lighthouse--Managed by the Town of Lansing Department of Parks and Recreation, this 20-ft./6.1-m. tower has a stucco outer shell over brick with a copper roof and sits on an octagonal concrete slab. It was built entirely by volunteers. Each of the tower's 3,000 bricks was purchased by a donor. It has been operational since it was built in 1998. It's 6-second flash operates from April 1 to November 1. It is located on the east shore of the lake off Rt. 34B on Myers Rd. It is not open to the public.
It is said that some of the best agricultural land in the country is along Cayuga Lake. This land is used to grow a variety of crops and to support a thriving grape-growing and wine industry. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of this agricultural land supports crops grown organically. Pesticide run-off into the lake is a major concern. The lake also acts as a reservoir for human and non-human waste though human waste has usually been treated first. In addition, several lake source cooling systems--the most controversial one belonging to Cornell University--tape into the cool water at the bottom of the lake. (For more information on Cornell's project, visit http://www.utilities.cornell.edu/utl_lscabout.html.) The long-term effects of these systems on lake ecology are not thoroughly understood. Finally, salt is used in large quantities on roads in the winter to melt ice. This salt eventually makes its way into the lake. Despite all of these threats, the lake's water is relatively clean, though it tends to be a pea-green color rather than clear, the result of an active phytoplankton population and the lake's natural turbidity. Water is drawn from the lake by a plant at Bolton Point and used by many of the residents of Tompkins County.
The lake has a wide variety of fish populations, many of them introduced. These fish feed each other and, in turn, are prey to the thousands of gulls (ring-billed, herring, black-backed) and terns as well as bald eagles and the occasional osprey that frequent the lake. During migration, the lake's critical position on the Atlantic Flyway means it is used by thousands of Canada geese, ducks (redheads, black, mallard, canvasback to name just a few), grebes, and loons as they stop on their way to wintering or breeding grounds. Bird watching is a major recreational activity in the area, and birders are often treated to rare birds that find the lake during their continental wanderings.
In addition to the attraction this large body of open water has for migrating birds, birds are also attracted to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge at the northern end of the lake. Established by the U.S. Congress as an inviolate sanctuary for migrating birds, the refuge covers 7,068 acres in 3 counties and is part of the 36,000-acre Montezuma Wetlands Complex, an extensive natural marsh thought to exist because Cayuga Lake is the lowest of the Finger Lakes in elevation. Here at Montezuma, visitors are likely to see all manner of waterfowl, herons, bitterns, some shorebirds, and red-winged blackbirds. The refuge also has a resident pair of bald eagles. The refuge contains some upland scrub and woods where warblers and other passerines can be found. Foxes, beavers, muskrats, and white-tail deer can also be found on the complex. The refuge is in constant controversy as its congressional mandate conflicts with its policy to permit hunting and trapping in the refuge.
Besides introduced species of fish, a number of plant and animal species have invaded the lake. Zebra mussels now inhabit most of the lakes in the Finger Lakes region, including Cayuga Lake. They compete with small fish for phytoplankton, which makes the water look cleaner because it's clearer. Some diving ducks will eat zebra mussels, but this seems to have little effect on zebra mussel populations. Boaters should be careful not to inadvertently transport these invaders from one lake to another. Sea lampreys have also invaded Cayuga Lake and prey on a variety of its fish. Eurasian milfoil has invaded the lake, spread by boat propellers. This plant blocks out light and crowds out native plants. In addition, purple loosestrife, although a pretty plant, has taken over many acres of wetland habitat, crowding out native cattails which are needed by red-winged blackbirds for breeding.
You don't need to take a cruise to the Caribbean to relax. A slow-paced drive around the lake with stops are wineries, bed and breakfasts, antique shops, state parks, and other points of interest can be just as relaxing and perhaps a little cheaper (despite the price of gas). The route around the lake has been designated a scenic byway. Look for this logo.
Wineries, Cideries, Breweries
More than 20 wineries, cideries, and breweries can be found around the lake. For a complete list see, Wineries, Cideries, Breweries. For more information about the wineries around Cayuga Lake, check out the Cayuga Wine Trail.
Boating the Lake
As the largest of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake is a fantastic place for all kinds of recreational boating. It can accommodate some of the larger sail and motorboats and has many inlets and coves that can be explored by canoe or kayak. Cayuga Inlet is several miles long and offers a pleasant trip for beginning and mid-level paddlers. Official boat launches are listed below, however, paddlers wishing to do the inlet can put in at a variety of unmarked places, including at Stewart Park at the southern end of the lake.
The lake connects to the Erie Canal via the Cayuga-Seneca Canal at the northern end. Paddlers in the mid- and upper-level will enjoy the waters around Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. This route is more thoroughly outlined in the guidebook Take A Paddle by Rich and Sue Freeman. See the Bookstore at the bottom of the page.
Learn to Sail
1000 East Shore Dr.
Ithaca, NY 14850
Boat Tours and Cruises
708 W. Buffalo St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
381 Enfield Main Rd.
Ithaca, NY 14850
Kayak and Canoe Rentals
722 S. Meadow St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
704½ W. Buffalo St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
Cayuga Lake is large enough to support a variety of wind sports, including windsurfing, called planche à voile in French. To learn to windsurf or to connect with those who enjoy the sport, contact the Cayuga Windsurfing Club. Video of windsurfing on Cayuga Lake: Vimeo
Access to the Lake
Access to the lake is an important aspect of life in the area around the lake. Both state and local governments have made a concerted effort to provide access to residents and visitors and continue to do so. Boaters can access the lake from the Erie Canal. Visitors can take advantage of the many parks, marinas (both public and private), and boat launches around the lake. If you're driving or biking, a trip around the lake is worth the time and effort. There are many tiny roads that end at points of land jutting into the lake. These can provide interesting lake views and excellent bird watching and photo opps. Don't forget a picnic lunch.
391 Main St.
Aurora, NY 13026
5 Fiddlers Green
Lansing, NY 14842
7401 Wyers Point Rd.
Ovid, NY 14521
3 Timberlake Terrace
Ovid, NY 14521
Lake House Guest Room
909 Taughannock Blvd.
Ithaca, NY 14850
Ithaca, NY 14850
7398 Wyers Point Rd.
Ovid, NY 14521
Williams Ridge Cottages
191 Nut Ridge Rd.
Lansing, NY 14882
Finger Lakes Premier Properties (formerly Rental Plus)
2678 Lower Lake Rd.
Seneca Falls, NY 13148
The scenic highlight of the park is its expansive view of Cayuga Lake. The sandy beach and clean lake water provide many recreational opportunities. Camping facilities are on higher ground that is shaded by mature trees. The three-bedroom lodge comes fully equipped. Camping from last weekend in April to the last weekend in October. Lodge is available year round. Pets must be leashed.
2063 Lake Rd.
Aurora, NY 13026
Located on a spit on Cayuga's eastern shore, Long Point State Park offers a beach, boat launch facilities, and a picnic area. There are no camping facilities, but the park does have an equipped cottage for rent. The park is open year round. Pets must be leashed.
2221 Taughnnock Rd. (Rt. 89)
Trumansburg, NY 14486
Taughannock Falls State Park's namesake waterfall is one of the outstanding natural attractions of the Northeast, plunging 215 ft./65.5 m. past rocky cliffs that tower nearly 400 ft./122 m. above the gorge. Gorge and rim trails offer spectacular views from above the falls and from below at the end of the gorge trail. Campsites and cabins overlook Cayuga Lake, with marina, boat launch, and beach nearby. A multi-use trail--hiking, and cross-country skiing--winds past sledding slopes and natural skating ponds. The park also offers organized activities, including tours through the Taughannock Gorge and summer concerts along the lakefront. Boat launch site not suitable for sailboats. Open year round. Camping from the last weekend in March through mid-October. Pets must be leashed.
Other Lakefront Public Parks
Frontenac Park-- Located on the east side of the lake on Frontenac Rd. off Rt. 89 in Union Springs (Cayuga County), Frontenac is a village park that provides swimming, picnic area, playground, baseball and soccer fields, and a boat launch. Frontenac Island is off-shore.
Myers Park--Located on the east side of the lake off Rt. 34B in the Town of Lansing (Tompkins County). The 31-acre park offers camping, swimming, a playground, volleyball, basketball, horseshoes, picnicking, 7 pavilions for rent, and a marina.
Stewart Park --Located at the southern tip of the lake off Rt. 13 in the City of Ithaca (Tompkins County), Stewart Park has tennis courts, a picnic area, a playground, a carousel, athletic fields, a duck pond, a municipal golf course, and a bird sanctuary with trail. Benches under weeping willows facing the lake are a favorite spot for people to sit and enjoy the day. Panoramic views and gorgeous sunsets. Feeding bread to the ducks and gulls, a pastime of both children and adults, is a good way to see these birds close up. Swimming is not permitted.
Cayuga Lake State Park-- Located on Rt. 89, 3 mi./4.8 km. east of the Village of Seneca Falls (Seneca County). Concrete ramp. Pumpout. Parking for 50 vehicles.
Dean's Cove Boat Launch--Located on the west side of the lake on Rt. 89 near the Romulus-Varick town line. Two concrete ramps. Parking for 48 vehicles.
Long Point State Park--Located on the east side of the lake off Rt. 90, 1 mi./1.6 km. southwest of Aurora. Hard surface. Parking for 35 vehicles.
Mudlock Canal Park--Located at the northern end of the lake off Rt. 90 on River Rd. Concrete ramp. Parking for 16 vehicles.
Taughannock Falls State Park--Located on the west side of the lake on Rt. 89, 8 mi./12.8 km. north of Ithaca. Concrete ramp. Pumpout. Parking for 16 vehicles.
Updated 16 July 2013