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Lake Como

Coordinates: 42.677°N 76.303°W

Elevation: 1309 feet/399 meters


The high hills of the Town of Summerhill overlooking Lake Como in the Finger Lakes, New York USA.

There's a certain appeal to high glacial lakes and, at 1309 ft./399 m., Lake Como is more than 200 ft./61 m. higher than Canadice, the highest of the Finger Lakes. Covering only 64 acres, Lake Como is relatively small. Originally known as Locke Pond and Summer Hill Lake, Lake Como is located entirely within Cayuga County. It is .62 mi./1 km. long with a maximum depth of 22 ft./6.7 m.


Unlike the Finger Lakes, which flow south to north, Lake Como's flow is fed by two unnamed northern tributaties (as well as some underground springs) and drains at its southern end into Fall Creek, one of the main tributaries of Cayuga Lake. In the spring when the snow is melting or after a hard rain, Fall Creek as it enters Cayuga Lake, can be a raging torrent. Yet, at Lake Como, it's just a tiny rivulet through a picturesque wetland.


Although Lake Como is a high lake, it's actually in a valley with a steep (1700 ft./518 m.), forested hillside to the west and rolling farmland hills to the east.


The lake cleans itself about three times a year. On the negative side, the shallowness of that lake means that the lake bottom is filled with a deep muck sediment and is, therefore, unappealing to swimmers. The lake's alkaline water is slow moving (not good for sailing) and warm in the summer, which promotes the growth of algae. On the upside, the sediment promotes the growth of rooted aquatic vegetation (eelgrass, water niad, and water stargrass), providing breeding areas for fish, birds, and insects. There are also patches of non-native white and yellow water lilies in shallow areas, as well as other plants.


The lake is dimictic, turning over in both spring and late summer. In the summer the water temperature can rise to close to 70°F/21°C, making it a tempting place to use large inner tubes, rafts, and other types of floats. In the winter, the lake freezes over. The region has a tendency toward snow squalls and is popular with cross-country skiers and snowmobilers.


This region of Cayuga County has thousands of acres of undeveloped land and provides homes to all of the animal species common to the Finger Lakes. The lake attracts migrating waterfowl in the spring and fall, and the entire Summer Hill region has been listed by the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area. Lake Como and its wetlands are great places to watch for dragonflies and damselflies. Common whitetail, darners, and jewelwings are just some of the ones that can be seen. Historically, there were few fish species in Lake Como. Since the 1970s, many non-native fish have been introduced into the lake.  It appears that the effects of this have never been studied.


Lake Como is ideal for canoeing and kayaking. Unfortunately, the entire shoreline of the lake is privately owned. In theory, it is possible to launch a boat from the Dorothy McIlroy Bird Sanctuary at the southern end of the lake, however, a boat would have to be carried nearly 400 ft./122 m. from the parking area to the outlet. The only other alternative, and the one used by the vast majority of boaters, is to launch from a small store and eatery called the Lake Como Inn on the northeast shore. (1297 E. Lake Rd., Cortland, NY 13045, 315-496-2149) Parking is available. A fee is charged.

Wetland at the northern end of Lake Como in the Finger Lakes, New York USA.


There are no bed and breakfasts on the lake nor are there any campgrounds. However, camping is allowed in Summer Hill State Forest and Fillmore Glen State Park (described below).

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Dorothy McIlroy Bird Sanctuary

At the southern end of Lake Como is the McIlroy Bird Sanctuary owned by the Finger Lakes Land Trust. This 156-acre parcel of creek, peat swamp, fen, and cool, moist hemlock woods is a great place to see native plants and birds, especially in the spring. A marked circular trail allows you to sample the different habitats and leads you to a viewing platform over the swamp. There are benches on the platform, which provide a pleasant place to eat lunch. If you can manage to backpack in a spotting scope, you'll enjoy the area even more. About 400 ft./122 m. in from the parking area is a kiosk with trail maps and other material. These can also be downloaded from the Land Trust's Web site.

Summer Hill State Forest

On the western hill tops above Lake Como is Summer Hill State Forest. These 4,413 acres are mostly Norway spruce and native deciduous trees such as maples, oaks, and ashes with some understory vegetation. The roads running through the forest are one-lane dirt roads that are not plowed in the winter and appear to be designed for snowmobile use. They would be pleasant in the spring, summer, and fall for biking with a hybrid or mountain bike. There are no hiking trails though the forest, but snowmobile trails can substitute. Make sure you bring water and a compass. There are no designated parking spaces, but parking is permitted along the road so long as the roadway isn't blocked. Cars are not permitted in the forest proper. Camping is allowed in all state forests for free for a maxium of three days without a permit. In the winter, cross-country skiing can be done anywhere in the forest. Because of the large number of spruces in the forest, Summer Hill seems to be a haven for crossbills, who sit in the trees, picking seeds from the cones while making a jit-jit call. You should also be able to find a wide variety of forest-dwelling birds like woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, juncos, brown creepers, hawks, and owls.

Fillmore Glen State Park

Within easy driving distance of Lake Como is Fillmore Glen State Park. Located in the village of Moravia, Fillmore Glen provides trails that take you through cool, moist shale gorges with lovely waterfalls. A great place to spend a hot summer day, Fillmore Glen is popular with the locals. If you plan to camp here, be sure to make reservations, so you won't be disappointed. In late fall when the leaves drop from the trees, many of the area state parks close their trails because wet leaves make the trails slippery and dangerous. At this time of year, it's best to check with the park to make sure the trails are still open.


Updated 9 July 2010








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