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Tully Lake

Coordinates: 42.77696°N 76.13428°W

Elevation: 1190 feet/362.7 meters



A lone boathouse sits on the shore of Tully Lake on a misty morning.


Tully Lake is divided through the center with the northern half in the Town of Tully in Onondaga County and the southern half in Preble in Cortland County. The lake itself lies in a long valley that runs between the cities of Syracuse and Cortland.

Physical Features

Tully is the largest of six glacial lakes (along with Crooked, Tracy, Mud, Green, and Song) clustered together--and collectively known as the Tully Lakes--in a wide valley bordered by rounded hills. The lakes sit on glacial debris call Valley Heads Moraine, which was deposited at the southern end of the Tully Valley. This moraine constitutes part of the St. Lawrence Seaway Divide that separates the north-flowing drainage into the Tully Valley and the south-flowing drainage of the Tioughnioga Valley.


The West Branch of the Tioughnioga River begins in a wet area just east of the Village of Tully and enters Tully Lake on the lake's southeastern side and continues from the southern end of the lake.


For a more detailed explanation of the lakes' physical features and some interesting maps, see "Hydrogeology of the Tully Lakes Area in Southern Onondaga and Northern Cortland Counties, New York" by the U.S. Geological Survey.


Cottages line the shore of the lake as autumn leaves are reflected in the lake's calm waters.


The Town of Tully was settled in the late 1700s, but it wasn't until nearly a century later that people started to view the lake as a tourist destination. In the late 1800s, Chautauquas--gatherings where groups of adults discussed the social, political, and cultural issues of the day--were popular. The Tully Lake Park Association was incorporated in 1888 and purchased 64 acres on the west side of the lake to establish a type of Chautauqua. Construction was started almost immediately on 50 cottages. The Association also established a community house for picnics, art exhibits, and dances, and a dock for the various boats that plied the lake's waters.


The next year--1889--saw the construction of the Tully Lake Park Hotel with 150 rooms. Touted in advertisements as the "most healthful, most pleasant summer resort in Central New York," the hotel was open from June 15 to September 15. The hotel had a post office, a barber shop, a pool and billiards room, and a tennis court and offered dancing every evening to music by Chase and Beebe. The cost for your stay, including meals, would set you back between $7.50 and $12.50 per week, depending on the accommodations.


The Tully Lake Park Association quickly became a private resort favored by people from the Syracuse area who rode the train to the Tully Lake Park station each summer.


Another Chautauqua, Assembly Park, opened on the east side of the lake. It offered 42 programs throughout the summer. On 3 July 1913, The Syracuse Herald reported that Mrs. F. R. Hazard was the scheduled speaker on Women's Suffrage Day.


Although there are no hotels on the lake any more, many of the cottages built around the lake have remained and have been passed down through the generations. It is for this reason that so much of the lake shore is privately owned and that there is only one public boat access site.


Extremely irregular in shape, Tully Lake provides boaters with a number of interesting coves and bay to explore. The lake is 234 acres in size with a maximum depth of 30 ft./10 m. It is ideal for kayaking, canoeing, and quiet motors.


There is only one public boat launch site. To access this site, take Song Lake Crossing Road in the Town of Preble (Cortland County) at the southern end of Tully Lake to Saulsbury Road. Turn north. Follow Saulsbury Road a short distance to Friendly Shores Road, which will be on the left. Follow this as it curves around to the right. The boat launch is at the end of this road. Large parking area with gravel ramp. No amenities.


Tully Lke is calm and, consequently, not good for sailing, but it provides excellent motorboating and paddling.


Most of the people who live on the lake have docks and swim in the lake from their docks, however, there are no public swimming facilities on the lake.


There are no off-road bike trails around the lake, however, all the roads in the vicinity of the lake are interesting to bike. State routes 41 and 281 as well as U.S. 11 have paved shoulders and all of the county and most of the town roads are paved but don't have shoulders.


Hiking is available on several trails in the Svend O. Heiberg Memorial Forest owned by the State University of New York's Environmental Science and Forestry School. The forest is located south of the Village of Tully in the Town of Preble in Cortland County and is open to the public for day use only. Notice to Visitors

More information and photos


Tully Lake offers many opportunities to watch wildlife. You may see deer, beavers, muskrats, opossums, a variety of turtles and salamanders, northern water snakes, squirrels, and chipmunks in and around the lake. You might also see Canada geese, mallards and other ducks, osprey, kingfishers, warblers, woodpeckers, several species of owls, blue jays, crows, and may other species of birds.


One oddity in the area is the black squirrel. This is actually a gray squirrel with two recessive genes that causes it to be black. There is a large population of black squirrels in Syracuse in and around Oakwood Cemetery just south of Syracuse University. The closer to Syracuse you get, the more black squirrels to tend to see. Watch for them in the Tully Lake area.


The Tully Lakes are all photogenic and worth every click of the shutter at any season. It is often a calm and quiet lake with a peacefulness that attracts wildlife.


Wildlife watching and photography opportunities abound on Tully Lke.

Parks, Forests and Wildlife Management Areas

Dog Hollow State Forest

Donahue Woods State Forest

Highland Forest Park

Kettlebail State Forest (Located on Kettlebail Road in the Town of Truxton in Cortland County)

Labrador Hollow Unique Area See also

Morgan Hill State Forest

Nearby Places of Interest (a partial list)

Beak & Skiff Apple Farm Winery 

Cortland Repertory Theatre

Frog Pond Farm Folk Art GalleryAutumn can be a beautiful time on the lake.

Labrador Mountain

Little York Plantation

Song Mountain Resort

Toggenburg Mountain

Tully Area Historical Society


Because the area is relatively rural, there are no bed and breakfasts or campgrounds in the area. A number of the cottages and houses on the lake are available for rent. Check the links below.


Finger Lakes Premier Properties (formerly Rental Plus)





Resort Property Rentals of the Finger Lakes


Vacation Rentals by Owner




Updated 9 November 2009








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