Seneca Lake, New York, USA
Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Seneca Lake.
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Seneca Lake visitor and community guide
Seneca Lake, one of western New York’s famous Finger Lakes, is the largest lake to be entirely contained within the borders of the state. Seneca Lake stretches out over a vast 43,343 acres and 38 long miles, with Watkins Glen on the south shore and Geneva on the north shore. With a maximum depth of 618 feet, the lake is also the second deepest lake in New York State and was a testing site for submarines. In fact, local lore has it that a submarine is sunk in the cool depths of the lake.
Seneca Lake is a stunning panorama of blue waters, bluer skies, and awesome sunsets. It is named for the Seneca Indian Nation, one of the six Iroquois Confederacy that used to make their home in this area. Seneca is derived from the Iroquois word Assiniki, which means “place of stone,” or “stony place.” This is an appropriate name, as Seneca Lake has the steepest, rockiest shoreline of all the Finger Lakes. In fact, the lake is known for its painted rocks, located on its southern shores, which show an American Flag, Teepee, and several Native Americans. The paintings are said to commemorate the Seneca tribe’s daring escape from General John Sullivan to Fort Niagara in the 1700s. Although historians generally agree that the escape happened, the question remains whether the paintings are the artwork of the Seneca tribe or a creation of the boat tour industry years later to promote tourism in the more remote southern end of the lake.
Because of the lake’s depth and width, the water temperature rarely falls below freezing during the winter months. The deep waters average a cool 39 degrees Fahrenheit, although the upper 15 feet warm to a pleasant 70-75 degrees during the summer. The cool water temperature affects the air temperature around the lake, which has, in turn, provided the Seneca area with a microclimate cooler than its Finger Lakes neighbors. This microclimate has created ideal weather for grape growing, and therefore, the Seneca Lake area is the proud home of over 40 wineries, each one waiting to give visitors and residents a taste of their local wines.
Seneca Lake State Park, promising fun for the entire family, is a wonderful place to begin your vacation. Children will squeal with delight as they play at the Sprayground with its 100+ water jets. The park’s two marinas, together providing 132 electric boat slips and 84 non-electrical boat slips, will give you the perfect launching ground for a day boating trip around the lake. Or, just bask in the sun at the park’s beach, and when you get a little too warm, take a quick dip in the lake to cool down.
If fishing is your pleasure, gear up for some fabulous trout fishing, as that is what the lake is best known for. There are several locations around the lake that provide fishing areas, or you can rent a boat at any of the marinas or the State Park, and head out for a quiet day of basking in the warm breezes and waiting for a fish to take your bait.
The New York State Canal System operates the Cayuga-Seneca Canal along the Seneca River, a 12-mile waterway that connects the two lakes. Boaters, canoeists, and kayakers travel through the towns of Waterloo and Seneca Falls and four locks to navigate the canal. Visitors can also hike and bike along the Canalway Trail. The canal was constructed in the early 1800s to connect Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake to the Erie Canal. Today, visitors will also enjoy a visit to the Montezuma National Refuge, located at the confluence of the Erie and Cayuga-Seneca Canals.
If you find yourself lucky enough to visit this lake, don’t be alarmed if you hear what sounds like cannon fire or a sonic boom. Seneca Lake, like its neighbor Cayuga Lake, is one of the few areas in the world to experience the Guns of the Seneca, an aural phenomenon yet to be scientifically explained. To the human ear, the booms sound like distant, but very loud thunder, even when there is not a cloud in the sky. When the early white settlers arrived to the lake, the native Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) told them that the sounds were caused by the Great Spirit in his continuing work to shape the earth. Nowadays, it is said that they could be caused by meteorite impacts, gases escaping from the lake’s surface, earthquakes, and more. Draw your own conclusions or make up your own myths, but whatever you do, try to enjoy this unique experience.
Custom Seneca Lake house decor
Read our full review of these personalized lake house signs.
Things to do at Seneca Lake
- Vacation Rentals
- State Park
Fish species found at Seneca Lake
Best hotels and vacation rentals at Seneca Lake
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Seneca Lake photo gallery
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Seneca Lake statistics & helpful links
Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed
Surface Area: 43,243 acres
Shoreline Length: 75 miles
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 445 feet
Average Depth: 291 feet
Maximum Depth: 618 feet
Water Volume: 12,566,054 acre-feet
Water Residence Time: 18.1
Drainage Area: 707 sq. miles
Trophic State: Oligo-mesotrophic
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