Formation of the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes region of New York State is one of the most geologically spectacular areas of the eastern United States. Few other places east of the Rockies expose so much sedimentary rock in such a visually striking manner. It is an area not only of extraordinary beauty, but also of extraordinary geological importance. Here we can not only marvel at geology, but also learn a great deal about it.
The Finger Lakes consist of 13 long, narrow, roughly parallel lakes, oriented north-south as fingers of a pair of outstretched hands. The southern ends have high walls, cut by steep gorges. Two of the lakes (Seneca and Cayuga) are among the deepest in North America and have bottoms below sea level. These lakes all formed over the last two million years by glacial carving of old stream valleys. Ithaca is located at the south end of Cayuga Lake, the longest and the second deepest of the Finger Lakes. Cayuga is 38.1 miles long and 435 feet deep (53 feet below sea level) at its deepest spot. The actual depth of carved rock is well over twice as deep, but it has been filled with sediments; there may be as much as 1000 feet of glacial sediment in the deep rock trough below the lakebed.
The Finger Lakes originated as a series of northward-flowing rivers that existed in what is now central New York State. Around two million years ago the first of numerous continental glaciers moved southward from the Hudson Bay area, initiating the Pleistocene glaciations, commonly known as the "Ice age."
The "Ice age" was really a series of many advances and retreats of glaciers. The Finger Lakes were probably carved by several of these episodes. Ice sheets more than two miles thick flowed southward, parallel but opposite to the flow of the rivers, gouging deep trenches into these river valleys. Traces of most of the earlier glacial events have vanished, but much evidence remains of the last one or two glaciers that covered New York. The latest glacial episode was most extensive around 21,000 years ago, when glaciers covered almost the entire state. Around 19,000 years ago, the climate warmed, and the glacier began to retreat, disappearing entirely from New York for the last time around 11,000 years ago.
Here are a list of the lakes and some fun facts:
“Always Beautiful” Area 3,420 acres Length 8 miles Shoreline
18.5 miles Max. Depth 66 feet Max. Width 1 mile Volume 42.6 billion gallons Elevation 818 feet Largest town Lakeville Characteristics Small, quiet and pretty.
It is a source of drinking water for nearby towns and villages.
The only lake the white man named which refers to the native American word “Ohnehda” Area 1,800 acres Length 7 miles Shoreline 17.1 miles Max. Depth 91 feet Max. Width 0.5 mile Volume 28.7 billion gallons Elevation 905 feet Largest town Hemlock Characteristics Outboard motors are limited to under ten horsepower and access is allowed by permit only. It is one of the sources of water for the City of Rochester.
“Long Lake” Area 649 acres Length 3 miles Shoreline 7.2 miles Max. Depth 95 feet Max. Width 0.3 mile Volume 11.6 billion gallons Elevation 1096 feet Largest town Canadice Characteristics The highest in elevation, yet the smallest of the Finger Lakes. Boats may not exceed 16 feet in length and motors may not exceed 10 horsepower. Access to the lake is by permit only. It is one of the sources of water for the City of Rochester.
“Finger Lying” Area 1,772 acres Length 4.5 miles Shoreline 10.8 miles Max. Depth 30 feet Max. Width 0.8 mile Volume 9.5 billion gallons Elevation 804 feet Largest town Honeoye Characteristics Small and the shallowest of the Finger Lakes. Its principle use is for water-based recreation.
“Chosen Spot” or “Chosen Place” Area 10,558 acres Length 15.5 miles Shoreline 36 miles Max. Depth 276 feet Max. Width 1.5 mile Volume 445.5 billion gallons Elevation 688 feet Largest city Canandaigua Characteristics Mostly lined by homes, Canandaigua Lake serves as a public water
supply for Canandaigua, Newark, Palmyra, Rushville and the township of Gorham.
“Canoe Landing” Area 11,584 acres Length 19.6 miles Shoreline 59 miles Max. Depth 183 feet Max. Width 1.9 miles Volume 390 billion gallons Elevation 715 feet Largest town Penn Yan Characteristics Y shape with a bluff 800 feet above lake level. The only Finger Lake with an outlet into another Finger Lake (Seneca). The lake serves as a public water supply for Hammondsport, Branchport, Penn Yan and Keuka College.
“Place of the Stone” or “Stoney Place” Area 43,343 acres Length 38 miles Shoreline 75.4 miles Max. Depth 618 feet Max. Width
3 miles Volume 4.2 trillion gallons Elevation 445 feet Largest city Geneva Characteristics The deepest and widest of the Finger Lakes and the second
deepest lake in New York State. Has more wineries than any other Finger Lake and has frozen over only nine times since the beginning of weather recordkeeping.
“Boat Landing” Area 42,956 acres Length 40 miles Shoreline 96 miles Max. Depth 435 feet Max. Width 3.5 miles Volume 2.5 trillion gallons Elevation 382 feet Largest city Ithaca Characteristics Longest of the Finger Lakes and the lowest to sea level. This lake accesses the Erie Canal through the Cayuga-Seneca Canal which joins the northern ends of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes.
“Floating Bridge” or “Crossing Place” Area 6,665 acres Length 11 miles Shoreline 23 miles Max. Depth 177 feet Max. Width 1 mile Volume 212 billion gallons Elevation 711 feet Largest city Auburn Characteristics Laid back and a good trout fishing lake.
“Long Lake” Area 8,960 acres Length 15 miles Shoreline 31 miles Max. Depth 315 feet Max. Width 1 mile Volume 424.5 billion gallons Elevation 863 feet Largest town Skaneateles Characteristics Cold, clean water with shale base. Has steep hillsides at southern end and is the third deepest Finger Lake.
“Waters Dried Away” Area 2,214 acres Length 6 miles Shoreline 13 miles Max. Depth 76 feet Max. Width .75 miles Volume 21.1 billion gallons Elevation 788 feet Largest town Amber Characteristics Ringed by small
lakeside camps and homes.
“People of the Hills” Area 2,944 acres Length 5 miles Max. Depth 71 feet Max. Width 1 miles Volume 35 billion gallons Elevation 400 feet Largest city Syracuse Characteristics Originally known as Ganantaha, this lake - named for the Onondaga Indians
“People of the Standing Stone” Area 97,000 acres Length 22 miles Max. Depth 55 feet Max. Width 5 miles Volume 370 billion gallons Elevation 370 feet Largest town Brewerton Characteristics The largest inland lake in New York State, is named for the Oneida Indians whose ancestral territory surrounded this body of water.
Here’s a list of the lakes organized in order or my most favorite to my least favorite: