Cayuga-Seneca Canal

Cayuga-Seneca Canal Facts

The canal wall in Seneca Falls.
Length: 12 Miles
Depth: 12 Feet
Bridge Clearance: 16.5 Feet
Number of Locks: 4 Locks
Speed Limit: 10 MPH (man-made sections)
Channel Markers: Red buoys on the north-west side, green on the south-east side.
Canal Towns Seneca Falls

The Cayuga-Seneca Canal connects the Erie Canal to Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake of the Finger Lakes Region of New York. Departing from the Erie Canal at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge near Seneca Falls, it is a quick trip through one lock to Cayuga Lake. Continuing along the canal through an additional three locks brings you to Seneca Lake.

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Cayuga-Seneca Canal History

The Cayuga-Seneca Canal is unique among the four main canals remaining today. Unlike the others, its was built in stages, and went through many enlargements as well as route and lock location changes. The first canal in the area opened in 1821 and only connected Seneca Lake to the Seneca River Outlet at Cayuga Lake and consisted of eight locks. This canal was a moderate success, but locals yearned for a navigable route from Seneca Lake to the then new Erie Canal. Furthermore there was no towpath along the route, which meant that boats had to be self-propelled (oars or pole). In 1825 they got their wish and the canal was to be extended to connect with the Erie Canal. This extension added 4 locks and added 12.5 miles to the length and officially opened in 1828.

The new canal system brought wealth to the region, but also headache. Water level fluctuations in the area caused many boats to bottom out in the canal in times of drought and the surrounding lands to flood in times of heavy rain. Furthermore, all the locks were built out of wood rather than stone which meant that they required constant maintenance. There were many attempts to correct the problems; dams were constructed, channels were dug deeper, and adjustable dam gates were installed. Unfortunately these attempts only were a band-aid on the larger problems on the waterway.

The New York Legislation appropriated funds to correct the problems on a rolling basis which meant that some places got better while old wooden locks decayed further. Two conditions of the new funds were that all new projects would be made of stone for durability and made to a minimum dimensions of the new enlarged Erie Canal. This marks the 3rd generation of the Canal System, which started in 1836 and work continued on and off until 1862.

New locks were created and others removed, target water levels were changed slightly along the existing route, dams were rebuilt and move-able gates were added. All these efforts payed off in the end and the canal was a large success. The route went relatively unchanged for about 50 years when a new much larger canal would be built.

The modern Barge canal was built along the route utilizing the river itself and no artificial canals. This resulted in a large change to the area; the mill area of Seneca Falls would be submerged under what is now Van Cleef Lake, the route would not begin in Geneva, the Seneca Outlet would not directly enter Cayuga Lake as in the past and the village of Cayuga would not be the entrance into the lake. The then current 11 stone locks were replaced by only four modern concrete locks.

Cayuga-Seneca Boater's Guide

The Cayuga-Seneca Canal begins at the junction of the Erie Canal at Montezuma. Here the canal follows the Seneca River south to Cayuga Lake. Immediately after entering the canal the Thruway (Interstate 90) is visible. This stretch of the canal is cut through the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, a former swamp that now protects the habitat of many types of birds and other land based animals. Taking it slow to not disturb the wildlife will reward you with many animals for viewing along the shoreline. Just north of the State Route 5 and 20 bridge on the western shore is a public dock that gives access to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge interpretive area. This area is a scenic area to take a bike ride, walk, see animals and take pictures.

Continuing south from the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge the river splits into two channels with the east channel leading to Lock CS1. Lock 1 is in a scenic location and lifts boats 25 feet. The area and lock is traditionally referred to as Mud Lock due to the soft land (a former swamp) it is built upon. When leaving Lock 1 to Cayuga Lake be mindful of the buoys and your depth. This area is quite shallow outside the channel. Once in the lake, there is the option to continue south to Ithaca or immediately turn to the west and continue along the Seneca River to Seneca Lake.

When choosing to head towards Seneca Lake, the river winds along the southern end of the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge until reaching Locks 2 and 3. This lock and dam is quite impressive, if time is available it is worthwhile to stop and explore. Beside viewing the lock, there are guided tours of the adjacent hydro-electric station and Elizabeth Cady Stanton is about 2 blocks north. Contact the lock master for the best place to dock. There is a space on the east side of the lock, a small floating dock on the south west side of the lock and the Seneca Falls wall is a medium walk away.

Upon leaving the lock, one enters Van Cleef Lake and the Trinity Episcopal Church, perhaps the most widely recognized building in the Finger Lakes, comes into view. Van Cleef Lake was formed by building the Locks 2 and 3, which submerged the flats area of Seneca Falls and even condemned the basement of the church. After rounding the corner by the church, the walls of Seneca Falls comes into view. There is mooring available on both the north and south side of the river, with the north side of the river often preferred. On the south wall there is the remains of the stone Lock 3 of the enlarged Cayuga-Seneca Canal.

When past the town walls, the Seneca Falls Community Center comes into view. At the west side of the building there is a small stone lined island. Here before the current canal, the south side of the river was protected by a dam. The south side of the river was the tow path and the north side was a dam with the water being used in dams. This island and associated stone structure on land (still visible) once was a guard lock. It consisted of one set of doors which would allow the river to return to its natural state during the off season or when the canal needed repair.

From here the river is lined with houses, and it is approximately 3.5 miles until Lock CS4. Lock 4 lifts boat 14.5 feet to the Seneca Lake level. Once on the high side of the lock, there are are few options for docking. The south side of the approach wall is the former Waterloo Terminal wall; there are no services. The north side of the canal is Oak Island which has been transformed into a local park with docking, restrooms, pavilion, and boat launch. For those interested in the Old Cayuga-Seneca Canals, here at Oak Island the old canal can be seen (on the north side) with the former tow path transformed into a walking trail.

From here the canal passes by many marinas and houses before reaching Seneca Lake. Once on the lake, Geneva is to the north where there are free docks with power, water and restrooms (just north of Long Pier) for exploring Geneva and the waterfront park. There are also a few docking spaces at the boat launch with nearby restrooms, but no power or water and the depth is limited to shallow draft vessels. From here you can head south down the lake to Watkins Glen or explore the many parks and wineries along the lake.

Cayuga-Seneca Canal Locks

Main article: Cayuga-Seneca Canal Locks

There are four locks on the modern Cayuga-Seneca Canal which gives access to Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. Locks 2 and 3 are combined forming an impressive 49 feet of lift over what was once the Seneca Falls. The modern locks accommodate boats that are up to 300 feet long, 43.5 feet wide and have a 12' Draft. The maximum height above the waterline is 15 feet, which means most recreational cruisers can travel the Cayuga-Seneca Canal.

Cayuga-Seneca Canal Photos

Trinity Church (Photo by NYS Canal Corp.)
Trinity Church (Photo by NYS Canal Corp.)  
The east side of the former guard lock.
The east side of the former guard lock.  
The door pocket of the former guard lock.
The door pocket of the former guard lock.  
The west side of the former guard lock.
The west side of the former guard lock.  
The former enlarged Cayuga-Seneca Canal looking west from Bridge Street.
The former enlarged Cayuga-Seneca Canal looking west from Bridge Street.  
The boat launch in the rear of the Community Center (hand launch).
The boat launch in the rear of the Community Center (hand launch).  
The Seneca Falls Community Center.
The Seneca Falls Community Center.  
The eastern floating docks in town.
The eastern floating docks in town.  
The southern wall in Seneca Falls on a foggy morning.
The southern wall in Seneca Falls on a foggy morning.  
An entrance to the waterfront.
An entrance to the waterfront.  
The floating dock at the topside of the lock.
The floating dock at the topside of the lock.  
The guard gate at the top of the lock protects the lock and permits maintenance.
The guard gate at the top of the lock protects the lock and permits maintenance.  
The sign covering both locks.
The sign covering both locks.  
The east side of the upper doors leaking.
The east side of the upper doors leaking.  
The lower chamber on a foggy morning.
The lower chamber on a foggy morning.  
The lower chamber on a foggy morning.
The lower chamber on a foggy morning.  
The sign at Lock 4.
The sign at Lock 4.  
The guard gate at the top of the lock protects the lock and permits maintenance.
The guard gate at the top of the lock protects the lock and permits maintenance.  
The lock chamber looking west.
The lock chamber looking west.  
The hydro-electric station at Lock 4.
The hydro-electric station at Lock 4.  
The east doors of Lock 4.
The east doors of Lock 4.  
The large movable gates at Lock 4.
The large movable gates at Lock 4.  
Looking west from Lock 4.
Looking west from Lock 4.  
A sunrise over Lock 4 on a foggy morning.
A sunrise over Lock 4 on a foggy morning.  

Free Docking, Boat Launches and Marinas along the Cayuga-Seneca Canal

Free Docking

Public Boat Launches

Marinas

  • Cayuga Marina, 6721 River Road Route 90, Cayuga, NY 13034, (315) 252-5754
  • Seneca Falls Harbor, 60 State Street, Seneca Falls, NY 13148, (315) 568-2703
  • Waterloo Harbor & Campground, 1278 Waterloo-Geneva Rd., Waterloo, NY 13165, (315) 539-8848
  • Hidden Harbor Marina, 1076 Waterloo-Geneva Rd., Waterloo, NY 13165, (315) 539-8034
  • A & B Marinem, 634 Waterloo-Geneva Rd., Waterloo, NY 13165, (315) 781-1755
  • Inland Harbor Marina, 608 Waterloo-Geneva Rd., Waterloo, NY 13165, (315) 789-7255
  • Barrett Marine Inc., 485 W. River Rd., Waterloo, NY 13165, (315) 789-6605
  • Montour Falls Marina, Marina Drive, Montour Falls, NY 14865, (607) 535-9397
  • Stiver's Seneca Marine, 401 Boody's Hill Road, Waterloo, NY 13165, (315) 789-5520


Cayuga-Seneca Canal
Related pages Cayuga-Seneca CanalCayuga-Seneca Canal Locks Cayuga-Seneca Boater's Guide
Towns Seneca FallsWaterlooGeneva

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