Coordinates: 42.901°N 76.538°W
Elevation: 710 feet/216 meters
Finger Lakes author Arch Merrill described Owasco Lake as a "sapphire gem of purest ray serene seemingly born to shimmer unseen, away from casual tourist gaze." (Slim Fingers Beckon, 1945) But Owasco's beauty is now well known and certainly worthy of every tourist's gaze, especially those visiting Cayuga County.
Owasco Lake lies entirely in Cayuga County. Its name is thought to come either from the Indian word Osco, which means "the crossing place" or from the word Wasco, which means "outlet" or "floating bridge."
The lake is 10.7 mi./17.2 km. long and runs between the City of Auburn in the north and the Village of Moravia in the south. With a distance of about 25 mi./40.2 km. around the lake and easy to moderate terrain, Owasco is considered an ideal place to go cycling.
The maximum depth of the lake is 177 ft./60 m. The water is relatively clean and provides drinking water for the City of Auburn and several other municipalities.
Owasco Lake is mesotrophic, a clear-water lake with medium levels of submerged nutrients--in this case phytoplanton, a food source for small fish (and zebra mussels). This type of lake is usually healthy with a variety of aquatic life, and Owasco Lake is no exception.
The shore of Owasco Lake is the starting and finishing location of The Great Race. Also known as the Capt. Myles Keogh Paddle, Wheel & Run, it is the largest team triathlon event in the United States. In addition, every year the Owasco Watershed Lake Association holds a Ring of Lights celebration on the same night as their fireworks event for Independence Day. The Ring of Lights celebration mimics Genundowa (Festival of Lights)--a Seneca Indian custom where lake fires were lit to express gratitude for the beauty and abundance of the lake.
PUBLIC ACCESS TO THE LAKE
Like many of the Finger Lakes, much of the shoreline is developed with cottages and year-round homes, limiting public access. Here are the best ways to access the lake.
From the South
Like all of the Finger Lakes, Owasco Lake's water runs from south to north. At the southern end of the lake is the Owasco Inlet, a 20 mi./32 km. creek, beginning in Tompkins County, that winds through farmland and woods before entering the lake. This gentle, scenic creek ranges from 10 ft./3.04 m. to 60 ft./20 m. wide and is ideal for canoeing and kayaking, however, unless you are an expert, you should only attempt the section from State Route 38 northward, which is about 4.2 mi./6.7 km. (See photo at right.) The section south of Rt. 38 (1.1 mi./1.7 km.) is fast flowing with numerous sharp turns suitable only for those of expert ability. There is a small pull-off spot where the inlet runs under Rt. 38 where one could launch a paddle boat, however, this isn't an official launch site.
Just before the Inlet Creek flows into the lake, it spreads out into the Owasco Flats, a 750-acre wetland, not the cattail kind but mostly the trees and ferns of a silty flood plain forest. This is a rich and diverse ecosystem that provides important breeding habitat for a variety of fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals, like beavers, muskrats, spotted turtles, rose coreopsis, and big shellbark hickories.
During migration, you might be able to spot tundra swans and common loons resting on the lake. During breeding season, watch for bald eagles and osprey, fishing the length of the lake. The Flats also hosts a great blue heron rookery. These are just some of 102 bird species known to breed in the Owasco Valley.
From the North
The outlet for the lake at the northern end is called the Owasco Outlet, which becomes the Owasco River. The river runs through the City of Auburn, eventually making its way to the Seneca River and beyond. The easiest way to access the lake from the northern end is from Emerson Park in the Town of Owasco. Emerson Park, named for Fred Emerson, who once owned Enna-Jettick Shoes and donated the park to the county, has a boat launch for both motorized and non-motorized boats as well as parking. A parking fee is charged. The park, which has been used as a recreational facility since 1889, also has a picnic area and a pavilion and hosts special events throughout the year, including a Winterfest with rides on old-fashioned horse-drawn sleighs and great views of the lake.
The outlet can be canoed/kayaked from the northern end of the lake to the first dam in the City of Auburn. This is a leisurely ride through a residential part of the city. The river is dammed in the city about 1.8 mi./3 km. downstream from the northern end of the lake. This controls the water level of the lake and makes through traffic from Owasco Lake impossible. However, canoeing and kayaking are possible for the last 9.6 mi./15.4 km., exiting into the Erie Canal/Seneca River at a spot called Mosquito Point. This section of the Owasco River should only be attempted by those of expert ability as the river can be fast flowing with riffles. (Some portage around downed trees may be required.) Access to the river is available where the river runs under Turnpike Road in the hamlet of Throopsville (Port Byron). This is not an official launch site and has steep banks.
Paddling both the inlet and outlet are more fully described with maps in Take a Paddle by Rich and Sue Freeman. See the Bookstore at the bottom of the page.
Marina & Boat/Canoe/Kayak Rentals
2810 Firelane #1, Rt. 38
Moravia, NY 13118
BIKING THE LAKE
Because the distance around the lake and inlet is only 32.5 mi./52.3 km., Owasco Lake is a popular biking destination. Most people start early in the morning at the southern end of the lake in the Village of Moravia, heading up the west side of the lake and down the east side. Whichever way you go, you will be going uphill in one direction and downhill the other. The north end of the lake is about mid-way in the trip. Here you will come to Emerson Park where you can rest, eat a picnic lunch, and use the bathrooms. The ride is on paved roads with good shoulders for most of the way. Helmets are required by state law for children and highly recommended for adults.
79 Lakeshore Dr.
Auburn, NY 13021
6141 W. Lake Rd. (Rt. 38 South)
Auburn, NY 13021
Finger Lakes Premier Properties (formerly Rental Plus)
1686 State Rt. 38
Moravia, NY 13118
Fillmore Glen State Park is an oasis of cool, dense woods crowding into a long, narrow gorge. Its hiking trails offer spectacular views, unique geological formations, including five waterfalls, and a botanically rich glen. The park has 60 campsites and a stream-fed swimming pool. Park activities, including tours through the gorge, are offered from Independence Day (July 4) through Labor Day (the beginning of September). In the winter, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling are permitted on unplowed roads.
6900 Fosterville Rd.
Auburn, NY 13021
Updated 15 July 2012