Like the other Finger Lakes, Cayuga was carved by glaciers and they really went for a ride here, as it is the longest, measuring 38.2 miles long. With a maximum depth of 435 feet, it is the second deepest, only behind Seneca Lake. Its most notable city, Ithaca, resides at the southern end of the lake but other townships include Cayuga, Union Springs, Aurora, and Seneca Falls.
Freight barges and ferries carried goods and visitors up-and-down the lake in the old days. That activity eventually came to an end – perhaps because a steamboat ran aground in 1907 and remained underwater until World War II when it was actually recovered and used for scrap iron.
Cayuga Lake is connected to its peers and area waterways. In 1918 the Seneca River Canal was completed between Seneca and Cayuga lakes. Mud Lock on the north end of the lake regulates the water level, and it is also connected to Lake Ontario via the Erie Canal. Not to mention, more than 140 tributaries make their way into Cayuga Lake waters.
The nearby town of Seneca Falls was also the home of the Women’s Suffrage movement and sites there memorialize those efforts.
What It is Known For
Cayuga Lake offers something for everyone. Whether its hiking, boating, hunting, or just visiting the more than dozen wineries, four distilleries, a cidery, and a meadery that call the lake shores their home. The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail – said to be America’s first – is a good place to start.
Visitors can navigate the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway by car, through Seneca, Cayuga, and Tompkins counties. Stop and catch a glimpse of Taughannock Falls, a 215-foot tall waterfall among cliff gorges within Taughannock Falls State Park just south of Ithaca. Hiking and camping are popular here. Want to get out of the car for some exercise? Try the eight-mile Black Diamond Trail in the park that follows the old Lehigh Valley Railroad line.
If on-the-water activity is more your style, fishing and recreational boating are both wildly popular on Cayuga Lake. Unlike some of the other Finger Lakes, there are many public parks and boat ramps to launch yourself, or rent a boat around the shoreline.
Education also resonates with Cayuga Lake as Cornell University and Ithaca College in Ithaca, and Wells College in Aurora all call the lake home.
- While Seneca Falls is most known for the Women’s Suffrage movement, it also has ties to the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” – the city served as the setting of fictional Bedford Falls in the flick
- Both Cornell and Ithaca’s alma maters reference Cayuga Lake
- Wells College cancels classes if the lake completely freezes over. But don’t count on it, as it happened most recently in 2015 and that was the first time since 1979.
- Cayuga Lake has been a stop on the Bassmaster Elite professional fishing tour twice (2014 and 2016)
- Do you have what it takes to complete the Cayuga Lake Triathlon? Even if not competing you can see the athletes swim, bike, and run at Taughannock Falls State Park
- The waters of Cayuga Lake aren’t used for drinking like many of the other Finger Lakes, but it does cool the machinery of many nearby industrial operations