Best Lake Access to Lake Ontario: Cayuga County

Sunfish sail

By Susan Peterson Gateley

For more than 150 years water has been drawing vacationers to the village of Fair Haven, Lake Ontario and Little Sodus Bay. The Fair Haven Beach State Park has one of the few sandy swim areas along this stretch of coastline and also includes a spectacular lakeshore bluff accessible to hikers. Here on a good clear day you can pick out landmarks 25 miles distant.

No other portion of Lake Ontario shoreline has more public access to the water than Cayuga County’s. Little Sodus Bay, also called Fair Haven Bay, is one of just two large sheltered embayments on the lake’s New York shore with a deep-water channel. The bay has four shoreline parks for the land bound, while each summer the village welcomes pleasure boats and yachts from 8 to 80 feet. Offshore vessels from Germany and South Africa have dropped anchor here. Two years ago a 100-plus footer stopped in for the night and a crew aboard a big schooner once owned by General George Patton tied up at a waterfront restaurant for dinner.

Fair Haven is known around the lake as being a boater-friendly community with a public dock, three free launching ramps for paddle craft and car toppers and a good all season ramp at the Fair Haven Beach State Park suitable for launching larger boats. If you don’t have a boat to get afloat, the bay also has excellent access to the water for fishing, wading or bird watching.

Not surprisingly given the ease of reaching the water here, several businesses cater to getting you out on it. If you don’t have a boat Anchor Resort & Marina at the bay’s south end rents kayaks, canoes, runabouts and pontoon boats.

If you want to set sail, you can do so with Silver Waters Sailing School located at the Pleasant Beach Hotel and Restaurant. Instructor Susan Gateley holds a Coast Guard license to carry passengers for hire and teaches aboard a 22-foot keel sloop providing individualized instruction for couples and single would-be sailors

“We’re celebrating 20 years of helping women take the helm this season” says Gateley. She invites all genders to set sail this summer with a special introductory two-hour lesson on Little Sodus Bay.

A few years ago the village took over stewardship of the West Barrier Bar Park, a lightly developed gravel and sand spit at the north end of the bay. It’s a great spot for beach combing, sun bathing, picnics or seasonal bird watching. The barrier bar includes a drivable right of way to the west jetty where people can take a stroll on a summer day and watch the ever changing weekend parade of boats moving in and out the channel. Here, too, you can scan the lake’s bold shoreline and clay cliffs to the east for a passing eagle.

There are many miles of hiking trails in the area in the state park, Sterling Nature Center and along the old LeHigh Valley rail bed that runs 14 miles south to Cato. It’s an easy bike ride over level terrain on a gravel-and-dirt surface that isn’t ideal for skinny tires.

The village of Fair Haven has seen several new businesses open over the last few years, including a cidery and a winery and is becoming a bit of an art destination with three galleries and a nonprofit art center that offers a variety of classes.