Coordinates: 42.368°N 76.735°W
Elevation: 1317 feet/401.4 meters
Once upon a time, there was a young Seneca princess named Kayutah. So beautiful and talented was she that everyone in her tribe loved her. But another tribe was jealous of her and wanted her for their own. Eventually they kidnapped her. So distraught was Kayutah's mother that she cried and cried until she filled the entire valley with her tears, creating Cayuta Lake.
Cayuta Lake is a 588-acre glacial lake surrounded by forested hills in the Schuyler County town of Catharine. Locally called Little Lake, Cayuta drains north to south unlike the Finger Lakes, which all drain south to north. The Cayuta outlet--Cayuta Creek--is a broad, slow-moving creek about 40 miles/64.3 kilometers long that eventually drains into the Susquehanna River. For the most part, this creek is too rocky and too shallow to be suitable for kayaking or canoeing.
Cayuta Lake has a maximum depth of about 24 ft./7.3 m. Although one of the smaller lakes in the Finger Lakes, Cayuta Lake is relatively clean with a watershed that is highly diverse in plant and animal species. In fact, a rare freshwater sponge has been found in the Cayuta inlet. This sponge is known in no other location other than Siberia and is the only source of food of the spongilla fly.
Boating is permitted on the lake. The State of New York owns much of the scrub and swamp around the northern end of the lake and has created a boat launch site, which can be accessed from Cayutaville Road about 250 ft./76 m. east of State Route 228. Brochure.
Swimming is also permitted in the lake, however, there is no specific public beach or supervised swimming area.
The lake is small enough that most bikers would have no problem biking the roughly 10 miles/16 kilometers around the lake. Some of this route is on paved state roads with narrow paved shoulders, however, the county roads, though paved, have no shoulders and traffic can be heavy and fast at times.
The Finger Lakes Trail (map M16) runs through this region, coming from the Watkins Glen State Park, down a hillside from the north, crossing over State Route 228 at the northern end of the lake, and making its way to the southern end where it follows Cayuta Creek for miles. Just as you reach the southern end of the lake, the trail crosses County Road 6 and heads up a narrow dirt road called Gulf Road. A short way up is a really large rock. There is parking here for two vehicles. Here you can 1) take the trail marked with white blazes that follows the creek through a pleasant, shady gorge, 2) take the trail marked with orange blazes that follows the road, 3) or strike out on your own and follow the rim of the gorge through state land. If you take the trail with the white blazes, you will find it offers a wide variety of native wildflowers and ferns. Viewing is probably best in the spring.
In 1995 James Allen donated 95 acres of wetland and wet woods at the northern end of the lake, including the inlet that contains the rare sponges, to Cornell University. A short trail of a mile or less can be accessed from a parking area on Cayutaville Road just northeast of the state's boat launch access road.
The Cayuta Lake watershed offers a variety of birding opportunities, including field birds at local farms, waterfowl on the lake, and woodland birds along the Finger Lakes Trail that runs along Cayuta Creek. Hawks can also be seen in the region, especially during migration.
Unfortunately, there are no public picnicing facilities on the lake, though it would be possible to spread out a blanket or tarp at the lovely creekside spot (pictured above) that runs under County Road 6. (That area is not flat or large.) There are also picnic tables at the Veterans Memorial Park on State Route 228.
Like a lot of small lakes, Cayuta freezes over completely in the winter. Ice skating is always possible. Bring a shovel to remove the snow. Cross-country skiing from one end to the other or walking with snowshoes can also be done. You may have competition from some ice racers, though their number seems to be dwindling. These are people who race with cars on the lake. Watch out, there's no speed limit.
2800 St. Rt. 288
Alpine, NY 14805
Cayuta Lake Camping
2457 Co. Rt. 6
2540 St. Rt. 228
Odessa, NY 14521
2619 County Rt. 6
Alpine, NY 14805