Owasco Lake – New York’s Finger Lakes

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Location / Directions / Maps

Location: Cayuga County, New York.

Surrounding Communities: AuburnMoravia.

Maps: Google MapBing MapsMulti-Map (topo), Contour Map.

GPS: Southern inlet, Owasco Inlet : (N 42.75544 / W 76.46364)
Northern outlet, Owasco Outlet: (N 42.90326 / W 76.54265)

Size: Area: 6,665 acres, Length: 11 miles, Max width: 1.3 miles.

Max depth: 177 feet.

Volume: 212 billion gallons.

Water Quality: Good.

Water supply for Auburn, Moravia

Elevation: 712 feet

Directions: Rt 38 runs along the western shore of the lake, while 38A skims the northern end on the eastern side. Rockefeller Rd. reaches down the eastern side from 38A to Moravia in the south.


Pronunciation: “oh-wah-sco”
From the Iroquois name meaning “Place of stone”

Owasco Lake, the third easternmost and 6th largest of the Finger Lakes, is one of the smaller, shallower members of the eight glacial lakes. Since it has nowhere near the mass or depth of the larger lakes, it cannot maintain the cooler microclimate in the lake valley that Seneca and Cayuga Lakes have, and thus it does not cater well to vineyards. Although slim on wineries, the majority of the property surrounding the lake is agricultural, making  pesticide and fertilizer run-off a water quality concern.

A site just north of the lake was originally one of the earliest Cayuga tribe settlements, called Wasco. The Sullivan Campaign, set out to wipe out any native tribes allied with American enemies, and was successful at doing just that to Wasco. After the Revolutionary War, American veterans came to settle here and founded Auburn. When construction on the Erie Canal was finished in 1825, the new waterway passed by the city to the north. Future plans to connect it to the lake through Auburn were scrapped when the Syracuse Railway constructed a route down the west side of the lake. Soon after, Owasco became a high-profile resort lake catering to the elite. The railway brought people from as far as Syracuse and then steamboat services shuffled them from one resort to the next. The lake became known for drinking, gambling and entertainment and featured a large amusement resort to the north near Auburn (at present day Emerson Park).

Today, the lake’s surroundings are pretty tame in comparison. The shore is lined with homes and cottages, with several private “scout” camps in-between. The shallow depths allow the water to warm up quickly, making it excellent for swimming and recreational boating. The downside is that there is only one public beach. In fact, there is only one public access point on Owasco Lake: Emerson Park in Auburn.

The City of Auburn, cradling the northern end, is filled with numerous historic sites; including the former residence of abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman. Amongst the numerous turn-of-the-century homes and refurbished factory spaces are such historical and architectural gems as the  Willard Memorial Chapel, designed by Louis C. Tiffany; and the Seward House, the home of former NY state governor and Lincon’s secretary of state (and the one responsible for purchasing Alaska for $2 an acre). Auburn is also jam-packed with museums, galleries and theaters, including the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse at Emerson Park, housed in a former carousel building along the lakeshore. Baseball is another favorite here. The Doubledays, Auburn’s AA team, brings in thousands of fans to Falcon Park for exciting games.

At the southern end is the historic village of Moravia; the birthplace of Millard Fillmore, our 13th President, and home to the wonderful Fillmore Glen State Park and its many waterfalls.

Owasco Lake

Owasco Lake Parks / Beaches / Access Points

Emerson Park / Island Park

Emerson Park - Owasco LakeDescription: Former lakeside resort is now a beautiful municipal park and a model for Finger Lakes lakefront development. Surrounding the Owasco outlet channel and offering walking access to the scenic views at the end of its two sea-walls, Emerson Park has plenty of places to explore on foot. Boats cruise in and out of the channel and one could sit on one of the many benches or swings and watch the traffic pass by, or walk along the two gorgeous beaches. In summer, crowds flock here to swim at the only public beach on the lake.

Nighttime crowds gather at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse for classic shows and events. For those interested in the region’s history in farm equipment , the Ward W. O’Hara Agricultural Museum may be of interest. The park is also equipped with numerous playing fields as well as an 18-hole disc golf course. But the main attraction here is the Lake, and nowhere else will you be able to get a better view of it. The park is host to numerous events throughout the year. Be sure to check the schedule to find out what’s happening during your visit.

Across the outlet is referred to as Island Park, and yes it is surrounded by water.

Seasons/Hours: Year-round. From dawn until dusk.

Directions: Northern end of the lake, in Auburn, on East Lake Rd. Google Directions.

Best time to visit: Summer.

Pets: No pets May through October. Dogs are allowed on leashes on the Fleming side of the park. (West of Deauville Island and across from the Express Mart).

Admission: $2 parking fee (in season), more fees.

Parking: Plenty of parking is available in the 3 large lots on the east end of the park.

Handicap accessibility: Yes.

Swimming: Beach is open and guarded generally from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

Boat launch: There is a boat launch on the outlet with 3 concrete ramps and a dozen or so slips across from it on the Island. Boat launch rates are here. Hand launch from a small ramp west of the island.

Accommodations: Restrooms; picnic tables; bathhouse; pavilions (open/enclosed); gazebos; playing fields; disc golf; performance theater; agriculture museum; historic information.

Contact: Cayuga County: (315) 253-5611, e-mail: parks@co.cayuga.ny.us.

Map: Park Map

Owasco Lake Weather

Latest Auburn, New York, weather conditions and forecast

Latest Moravia, New York, weather conditions and forecast

Fishing Information

Common species

Lake trout; brown trout; rainbow trout; smallmouth bass; largemouth bass; walleye; northern pike; pickerel; pumpkinseed; bluegills; rock bass; bullhead; perch; alewives; yellow perch.

Best fishing spot

There’s great Walleye fishing from Emerson park west of the island. Either pier is also great for Walleye or Lake Trout.

Fishing conditions

For current fishing information a fishing hotline is available at Central New York Fishing Hotline or by calling (607) 753- 1551.

Interesting Stuff

The Underground Railroad

The Auburn-Cayuga Freedom Trail is a wonderful self-guided tour, showing the  important role Cayuga County played in the Underground Railroad portion of the abolitionist movement. The historic landmarks outlined in this tour cover abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman, slaves fleeing to Canada, and other supporters of the cause. Just stopping at a few of the featured sites is well worth the time.

Owasco Flats

The state DEC wants to turn the Owasco Flats, the wetland valley at the southern end of the lake, into a wildlife management area. Land acquisition needs to take place, wildlife management policies need to be formed, and access and recreation opportunities need to be developed. This plan would open up a much needed secondary public access point to the lake. You can read the DEC’s plan here (PDF).

Related Links

Contact Information

Recent Lakes and Parks Discussion Topics

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