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History of the Finger Lakes

The unique Finger Lakes Region and how it started

Our lakes are old, natural, and non-manmade. Native American legend explains the Finger Lakes this way: the Creator looked upon this land with special favor and reached down to bless it, leaving the imprint of His hand, hence, the Finger Lakes.

Geology tells a different story. As the last ice age ended, the final glaciers covering what is now the northern reaches of the United States receded. The incredible grinding pressures of the receding glaciers gouged enormous holes in what is now the Finger Lakes region. These became not only our Finger Lakes, but also the magnificent geologic anomalies throughout the region that include our incredible gorges and numerous waterfalls.

There are eleven Finger Lakes: Canadice, Canandaigua, Cayuga, Conesus, Hemlock, Honeoye, Keuka, Otisco, Owasco, Seneca and Skaneateles. Each of the Finger Lakes ranges from 40 miles in length and up to 618 feet in depth. They lie within a triangle between Syracuse, Rochester and Elmira-Corning. Despite their huge presence, the lakes are only a part of our waters. Learn more about each of the Finger Lakes.

Across our northern tier lies a Great Lake, Lake Ontario, and the historic Erie Canal. The Canal enters the region at Syracuse and extends through Rochester. Once the lifeblood of a young nation, much of the Canal is still open for recreational use. The lock system, the engineering marvel of its day, still operates and the Canal System is lined with museums, biking and hiking paths, byways and a host of attractions celebrating a bygone era that will captivate your imagination. Enjoy the perspective from the water aboard a tour boat.

Protecting our lakes and water quality is an important priority in the Finger Lakes Region. The Finger Lakes-Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance fosters local stewardship of water resources through education, research and water quality monitoring, and implementation of pollution control measures in the Finger Lakes counties.