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Rivers of the Finger Lakes

Mid-October along the Susquehanna River at Owego in Tioga County, New York.

There are 13 rivers (entirely or in part) in the Finger Lakes. Some are small, but others, like the Genesee and the Susquehanna, are large and economically important.

Geology of the Region 

There is a continental divide that runs through the Finger Lakes in a southwest to northeast direction. This divide is called the St. Lawrence Seaway Divide. It is geologically important because all water on the north of the divide drains in a northerly direction into Lake Ontario. All water to the south of the divide drains in a southerly direction into the Chesapeake Bay. Either way, all water in New York State ultimately winds up in the Atlantic Ocean. While you're looking for a river on which to boat, keep these directions in mind. They will explain to you why two rivers as close as the Genesee and the Canisteo run in different directions.

Property Rights

In the United States, every states sets its own laws concerning property rights. In New York State, land is private and off-limits to the public unless permission has been given by the landowner for the public to enter on the land. HOWEVER, there is also a law that designates all flowing waters as public highways. (This was done in the 1800s to protect the lumber industry's right to float logs down rivers.) THEREFORE, the public is free to boat on the water of any river, but boaters are not free to enter on the land along the river unless permission is given. HOWEVER, the land near bridges is usually owned by either the state, county, or town for maintenance purposes. THEREFORE, it is common for people to use this land from which to launch boats into the river. Unless there is an emergency, do not travel beyond the land of the launch area. Do not stop and picnic on private property. And, please, do not litter.

Getting Your Feet Wet

Your chances of finding a dock from which to launch your boat along any of the 13 rivers in the Finger Lakes are slim. Almost all launch areas are from the bank directly into the water. Be prepared to get your feet wet, literally.

It's the Law

From November 1 to May 1, all kayakers, canoeists, and individuals aboard motorboats under 21 ft./6.4 m. must wear Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices (life jackets) while on the rivers, lakes, and other waterways in the state. Violators can face fines up to $250.


Helpful Hint: Use Google Earth to view the river at close range.









Part 1-Location and Physical Features

Part 2-Fillmore (Allegany County) to the Mt. Morris Dams (Livingston County)

Part 3-Mt. Morris (Livingston County) to the State Route 253 Bridge in Scottsville (Monroe County)

Part 4-Black Creek to Genesee Valley Park

Part 5-Genesee Valley Park to Lake Ontario




Howland Island




East Branch

West Branch



Updated 2 April 2021





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