The woman, believed to be in her 70s, was found in the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at 7.15am on Tuesday by a member of the public. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
She was wearing a three-quarter length brown quilted jacket, a black shirt and a woollen hat, and might have been carrying a black handbag and an orange canvas bag.
Police believe the woman might have been in the Starkey Lane area at about 7.15am on Monday, and could have spent some time in a pub in the area. It is believed she was seen near to the canal at 11.30pm the same day.
It is believed she could be from the Manchester area and police are working with Greater Manchester Police in order to identify her.
Detective Superintendent Dai Malyn, who is heading the investigation, said: “We are working to establish the circumstances as to how this lady came to be in the canal. If anyone saw a woman matching her description, I would ask them to contact the police straight away as they may have vital information that could help my inquiries.”
Anyone able to help should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, select option 1 and pass the information to the Force Control Room, quoting 12140026881.