Paddle the Cayuga-Seneca Canal

Paddle the Cayuga-Seneca Canal

Water, wildlife, wine, and women’s rights come together on this four-day excursion that combines two days of paddling with two days of sightseeing. Begin on picturesque Seneca Lake, sampling the region’s award-winning wines. Then, paddle through the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, visiting the place that launched the women’s rights movement. Finish by floating through one of New York’s premier bird refuges.


TOTAL DAYS: 4
CANAL: Cayuga-Seneca Canal
LOCATION: Geneva to May's Point
PADDLING MILES: 21 miles

Trip Highlights

  • Sip wine from the Finger Lake’s award-winning vineyards, many with breathtaking views of Seneca Lake
  • Paddle through four locks, including Seneca Falls’ unique staircase locks
  • Explore the birthplace of the suffrage movement at the Women’s Rights National Historic Park
  • Spot great blue herons, ospreys, swallows, and bald eagles while paddling through the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

ACCESSIBILITY: This trip includes two full days of paddling, with sightseeing options that require physical activity. Several experiences have accessible accommodations, but there are no paddling launches along this stretch of canal that offer adaptive features for those with mobility needs. See the Daily Outline for the type of launch at each stop and additional accessibility information.

TOTAL DAYS: 4
CANAL: Cayuga-Seneca Canal
LOCATION: Geneva to May's Point
PADDLING MILES: 21 miles
Cayuga-Seneca Canal  
Cayuga-Seneca Canal
Geneva  
Geneva
Seneca Falls  
Seneca Falls
Cayuga-Seneca Canal  
Cayuga-Seneca Canal
Geneva  
Geneva
Seneca Falls  
Seneca Falls
Daily Outline:
DAY 1:Explore Geneva and Seneca Lake
Segment 1
Get Started at the Finger Lakes Welcome Center

In the heart of Geneva, the Finger Lakes Welcome Center will introduce you to the area, against a stunning backdrop of Seneca Lake. Learn about Finger Lakes history and attractions while snacking from the Taste NY Café. Be sure to check for any special events or festivals scheduled during your visit. You can stretch your legs walking along the lakefront or right into town.

In the heart of Geneva, the Finger Lakes Welcome Center will introduce you to the area, against a stunning backdrop of Seneca Lake. Learn about Finger Lakes history and attractions while snacking from the Taste NY Café. Be sure to check for any special events or festivals scheduled during your visit. You can stretch your legs walking along the lakefront or right into town.

Get Started at the Finger Lakes Welcome Center
Segment 2
Choose Your Morning

Head south to Watkins Glen State Park, a 40-minute drive from Geneva, to hike the magnificent trails. Within two miles, the glen's stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along the way. The gorge path winds over and under waterfalls and through the spray of Cavern Cascade. Rim trails offer spectacular views of the gorge. With several wineries on the route, plan to stop for a tasting and tour on the way back to Geneva.

Another option is to relax at Seneca Lake State Park. Stretching the entire northern end of the lake, take a hike along the shoreline from the Welcome Center, swim at the beach, or try some paddling. Then stroll into downtown Geneva for coffee or a meal.

Click for Accessibility Note

Trails at Watkins Glen rise in elevation and include several steep staircases. Seneca Lake Park includes accessible pavilions and picnic shelters.

Head south to Watkins Glen State Park, a 40-minute drive from Geneva, to hike the magnificent trails. Within two miles, the glen's stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along the way. The gorge path winds over and under waterfalls and through the spray of Cavern Cascade. Rim trails offer spectacular views of the gorge. With several wineries on the route, plan to stop for a tasting and tour on the way back to Geneva.

Another option is to relax at Seneca Lake State Park. Stretching the entire northern end of the lake, take a hike along the shoreline from the Welcome Center, swim at the beach, or try some paddling. Then stroll into downtown Geneva for coffee or a meal.

Click for Accessibility Note

Trails at Watkins Glen rise in elevation and include several steep staircases. Seneca Lake Park includes accessible pavilions and picnic shelters.

Choose Your Morning
Segment 3
Taste, Tour, and Take in the Views

You’d be remiss to visit Geneva and Seneca Lake without sampling the region’s growing number of wineries. Most offer outdoor seating with stunning views of the lake. If traveling with a group, consider booking a guided day trip, with transportation and reservations at several tasting rooms. Be sure to try an ice wine, made from grapes frozen on the vine. The dessert beverage is unique to cold climates like Upstate New York.

You’d be remiss to visit Geneva and Seneca Lake without sampling the region’s growing number of wineries. Most offer outdoor seating with stunning views of the lake. If traveling with a group, consider booking a guided day trip, with transportation and reservations at several tasting rooms. Be sure to try an ice wine, made from grapes frozen on the vine. The dessert beverage is unique to cold climates like Upstate New York.

Taste, Tour, and Take in the Views
Segment 4
Enjoy an Evening Boat Tour

Take in the sights and sounds of Seneca Lake from the water. Enjoy picturesque vistas and unforgettable sunsets. Learn why the lake’s depths of more than 600 feet makes it great for wine, trout – and testing military sonar!

  • Finger Lakes Water Adventures: Departs from Waterloo. Narrated tour of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal takes you through Lock CS4. Cruises offered Thur.–Sun., 2pm and 4pm.

  • Canal Side Experiences: Departs from Waterloo, with 1.5 to 2 hour narrated tours for small groups. Travel the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and Seneca Lake. Call to schedule: 315-781-6682.

  • Captain Bill's Lake Cruises: Departs from Watkins Glen; Narrated tours and dinner cruises on Seneca Lake. Book online.
  • True Love Schooner: Departing from Watkins Glen, the 67-foot sailboat, featured in the 1940 film “The Philadelphia Story,” sank during a hurricane, was salvaged, and is fully restored.

Take in the sights and sounds of Seneca Lake from the water. Enjoy picturesque vistas and unforgettable sunsets. Learn why the lake’s depths of more than 600 feet makes it great for wine, trout – and testing military sonar!

  • Finger Lakes Water Adventures: Departs from Waterloo. Narrated tour of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal takes you through Lock CS4. Cruises offered Thur.–Sun., 2pm and 4pm.

  • Canal Side Experiences: Departs from Waterloo, with 1.5 to 2 hour narrated tours for small groups. Travel the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and Seneca Lake. Call to schedule: 315-781-6682.

  • Captain Bill's Lake Cruises: Departs from Watkins Glen; Narrated tours and dinner cruises on Seneca Lake. Book online.
  • True Love Schooner: Departing from Watkins Glen, the 67-foot sailboat, featured in the 1940 film “The Philadelphia Story,” sank during a hurricane, was salvaged, and is fully restored.

DAY 2:Paddle from Geneva to Seneca Falls
10.5 miles
Segment 1
Geneva to Waterloo

Launch at the Geneva Waterfront Docks where you'll find a kayak dock, ramp and floating dock available. Paddle east across the top of the largest and deepest of the Finger Lakes. To your left is Seneca Lake State Park, along the north shore. With heavy powerboat activity and winds out of the south, be cautious of big waves and exercise good judgment when paddling. Enter the Cayuga-Seneca Canal from the northeast corner of the lake.

Launch at the Geneva Waterfront Docks where you'll find a kayak dock, ramp and floating dock available. Paddle east across the top of the largest and deepest of the Finger Lakes. To your left is Seneca Lake State Park, along the north shore. With heavy powerboat activity and winds out of the south, be cautious of big waves and exercise good judgment when paddling. Enter the Cayuga-Seneca Canal from the northeast corner of the lake.

Geneva to Waterloo
Segment 2
Explore Waterloo

In approximately 5 miles, you’ll reach Oak Island Park in the Village of Waterloo. A great time for a bathroom break and bite to eat, take out at the Oak Island Park boat ramp and walk to nearby shops and restaurants. Known as the birthplace of the Memorial Day holiday, Waterloo was also a hotbed of social reform movements in the 1800s. Many houses in town were stops on the Underground Railroad and residents played an active role in demanding women's rights.

In approximately 5 miles, you’ll reach Oak Island Park in the Village of Waterloo. A great time for a bathroom break and bite to eat, take out at the Oak Island Park boat ramp and walk to nearby shops and restaurants. Known as the birthplace of the Memorial Day holiday, Waterloo was also a hotbed of social reform movements in the 1800s. Many houses in town were stops on the Underground Railroad and residents played an active role in demanding women's rights.

Explore Waterloo
Segment 3
Lock CS4 to Seneca Falls

Back on the canal, go through Lock CS4, with a drop of 14.5 feet. Paddle downstream and just before you arrive in Seneca Falls, look to your right along the south bank of the canal for a glimpse of the Ludovico Sculpture Trail. The series of works are by female artists, inspired by the women’s rights movement. Next, dock at the Seneca Falls Boat Ramp, just past the Parks and Recreation building on the left (north) side of the canal. It's a short walk on Water Street to restaurants and overnight lodging in Seneca Falls. See the Accommodations section for full camping and hotel options.

Back on the canal, go through Lock CS4, with a drop of 14.5 feet. Paddle downstream and just before you arrive in Seneca Falls, look to your right along the south bank of the canal for a glimpse of the Ludovico Sculpture Trail. The series of works are by female artists, inspired by the women’s rights movement. Next, dock at the Seneca Falls Boat Ramp, just past the Parks and Recreation building on the left (north) side of the canal. It's a short walk on Water Street to restaurants and overnight lodging in Seneca Falls. See the Accommodations section for full camping and hotel options.

Lock CS4 to Seneca Falls
DAY 3:Explore Seneca Falls
Segment 1
Seneca Falls Heritage & Tourism Center

Start the day at the Seneca Falls Heritage & Tourism Center, which includes the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry. Exhibits illustrate how the Seneca River and the Cayuga-Seneca Canal powered the rise of business, fostered cultural development, and spread social reform.

Start the day at the Seneca Falls Heritage & Tourism Center, which includes the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry. Exhibits illustrate how the Seneca River and the Cayuga-Seneca Canal powered the rise of business, fostered cultural development, and spread social reform.

Seneca Falls Heritage & Tourism Center
Segment 2
Celebrate Women’s Rights

Don’t miss the Women's Rights National Historical Park to learn how Seneca Falls launched the Women’s Rights Movement in 1848. Start at the Visitor Center and Wesleyan Chapel to set the stage. Then, head to the nearby waterwall at Declaration Park to read the Declaration of Sentiments. After touring the historical park, draw inspiration from the stories of great women in American history at the National Women’s Hall of Fame, just across the canal in the restored Seneca Knitting Mill.

Click for Accessibility Note

Women's Rights National Historical Park can arrange for an American sign language interpreter and park brochures are available in braille. Service animals are welcome. Women's Hall of Fame has handicap accessible doors; exhibits are widely spaced are and located on the ground floor. Video exhibits are closed captioned.

Don’t miss the Women's Rights National Historical Park to learn how Seneca Falls launched the Women’s Rights Movement in 1848. Start at the Visitor Center and Wesleyan Chapel to set the stage. Then, head to the nearby waterwall at Declaration Park to read the Declaration of Sentiments. After touring the historical park, draw inspiration from the stories of great women in American history at the National Women’s Hall of Fame, just across the canal in the restored Seneca Knitting Mill.

Click for Accessibility Note

Women's Rights National Historical Park can arrange for an American sign language interpreter and park brochures are available in braille. Service animals are welcome. Women's Hall of Fame has handicap accessible doors; exhibits are widely spaced are and located on the ground floor. Video exhibits are closed captioned.

Celebrate Women’s Rights
Segment 3
Dinner, Drinks, and a Stroll

Seneca Falls offers many dining options on Fall Street, which runs parallel to the canal between Ovid St. and the It’s a Wonderful Life bridge. Try Parker's Grille and Tap Room, Fall Street Brewing Co, or 84 Fall. Stroll the promenade after dinner to see the evening sky reflected in the canal.

Seneca Falls offers many dining options on Fall Street, which runs parallel to the canal between Ovid St. and the It’s a Wonderful Life bridge. Try Parker's Grille and Tap Room, Fall Street Brewing Co, or 84 Fall. Stroll the promenade after dinner to see the evening sky reflected in the canal.

Dinner, Drinks, and a Stroll
DAY 4:Paddle Seneca Falls to Mays Point
10.3 miles
Segment 1
Seneca Falls to Lock CS3 & CS2

Launch at Seneca Falls Boat Ramp and head east. You'll soon enter the wide waters of Van Cleef Lake, created in 1915 when the Seneca River was dammed as part of the expansion of the canal system. Look for Trinity Church on your left. It’s one of the most photographed spots on the canal -- especially when the light reflections are just right. In another mile, you’ll approach Locks CS3 & CS2, which form a tandem or staircase lock with a combined lift of 49 feet. There is a low floating dock and gravel beach launch to the right of Lock CS3. Consider getting out here for a bathroom break, as it is the last opportunity for several miles.

Launch at Seneca Falls Boat Ramp and head east. You'll soon enter the wide waters of Van Cleef Lake, created in 1915 when the Seneca River was dammed as part of the expansion of the canal system. Look for Trinity Church on your left. It’s one of the most photographed spots on the canal -- especially when the light reflections are just right. In another mile, you’ll approach Locks CS3 & CS2, which form a tandem or staircase lock with a combined lift of 49 feet. There is a low floating dock and gravel beach launch to the right of Lock CS3. Consider getting out here for a bathroom break, as it is the last opportunity for several miles.

Seneca Falls to Lock CS3 & CS2
Segment 2
Lock CS2 to Lock CS1

In about 5 miles, you’ll see the junction of Cayuga Lake and the canal, which turns north here. Just before the lock, the river divides into two channels. Pay attention to the buoys and stay to the right bank as you approach Lock CS1. The western channel dead ends at a dam. Mud Lock Boat Ramp is just above the lock if you need to stretch or use the restroom. Lock CS1 is known locally as “Mud Lock” because it was built on the soft soil of the Montezuma marsh.

In about 5 miles, you’ll see the junction of Cayuga Lake and the canal, which turns north here. Just before the lock, the river divides into two channels. Pay attention to the buoys and stay to the right bank as you approach Lock CS1. The western channel dead ends at a dam. Mud Lock Boat Ramp is just above the lock if you need to stretch or use the restroom. Lock CS1 is known locally as “Mud Lock” because it was built on the soft soil of the Montezuma marsh.

Lock CS2 to Lock CS1
Segment 3
Montezuma Wildlife Refuge

Just after the lock, you’ll continue paddling through the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge. This 9,800-acre wetland complex is a prime stopover for migratory waterfowl and songbirds. Keep an eye out for great blue herons, ospreys, swallows, and bald eagles. The Montezuma Wildlife Refuge Boat Ramp is a good place to get out for a bathroom break or to stretch your legs.

Just after the lock, you’ll continue paddling through the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge. This 9,800-acre wetland complex is a prime stopover for migratory waterfowl and songbirds. Keep an eye out for great blue herons, ospreys, swallows, and bald eagles. The Montezuma Wildlife Refuge Boat Ramp is a good place to get out for a bathroom break or to stretch your legs.

Montezuma Wildlife Refuge
Segment 4
Kipp Island and Lock E25

Your next stop is a triangular island, marking the junction of the Erie Canal and the Cayuga-Seneca Canal. Stay to the left as you paddle past it and enter the Erie Canal. In about 2 miles, you'll pass through Lock E25. Your final destination is on the right. River’s Crossing Campground and Marina has a concrete ramp and kayak dock for easy takeout.

Your next stop is a triangular island, marking the junction of the Erie Canal and the Cayuga-Seneca Canal. Stay to the left as you paddle past it and enter the Erie Canal. In about 2 miles, you'll pass through Lock E25. Your final destination is on the right. River’s Crossing Campground and Marina has a concrete ramp and kayak dock for easy takeout.

Kipp Island and Lock E25

For this itinerary, you'll need to arrange transportation between your starting and ending locations. One option is to use two cars. Park one at your destination at River's Crossing Campground and Marina in May's Point, then drive to your starting point in Geneva. You can leave your vehicle at River's Crossing for a fee until you finish your trip. It's 18 miles from River's Crossing to Geneva. Alternately, park and launch in Geneva, then get an Uber or Lyft back to your car when you finish the trip.

BY AIR: Rochester International Airport

BY RAIL: Amtrak’s Maple Leaf Line runs from Toronto, Canada to New York City along the Erie Canal, making stops from Albany to Buffalo. The Rochester Station is closest, located at 320 Central Ave, Rochester. Reservations are required to carry your bike on the train.

BY CAR: Take NYS Thruway I90 to exit 40 from the East, Follow NY-31 and NY-89 to May’s Point. From the West, take NYS Thruway I90 to exit 41. Follow NY-318 to NY-89 to May’s Point.

Regional tourism offices provide a wealth of information on things to do and places to stay.

Smith Opera House, Geneva

This historic stage first opened in 1894 with a production of The Count of Monte Cristo. Today, it continues to serve as a cultural center for the Finger Lakes with live performances, movies, and concerts.

Geneva Historical Society Museum, Geneva

Learn about the rich history of the town of Geneva and the Finger Lakes.

It's a Wonderful Life Museum, Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls is believed to be the inspiration for the setting for the holiday classic, It's A Wonderful Life. Find more than 200 movie items on display, from the personal collection of Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu Baily in the film. Hours: Tues.–Sat., 11am - 4pm, with extended summer hours. $5/person.

Waterloo Outlet Mall, Waterloo

Located right off the NYS Thruway, the Waterloo Premium Outlets offer plenty of shopping options.

  • Ice Wine: This sweet dessert wine is made from grapes frozen on the vine. The wine making process is unique to cold climates like Upstate New York.
  • Garbage Plate: Tastes much better than it sounds. This local legend starts with macaroni salad, potatoes, burgers and hot dogs (without the buns) piled high onto a plate. Topped with all the fixings, be sure to sample the special meat hot sauce. You'll find the original at Nick Tahoe Hots in downtown Rochester, but most burger joints in the area have their own version.
  • Grape Pie: Look for this unique pie made with local concord grapes at shops and farm stands around the Finger Lakes.

Getting Here

For this itinerary, you'll need to arrange transportation between your starting and ending locations. One option is to use two cars. Park one at your destination at River's Crossing Campground and Marina in May's Point, then drive to your starting point in Geneva. You can leave your vehicle at River's Crossing for a fee until you finish your trip. It's 18 miles from River's Crossing to Geneva. Alternately, park and launch in Geneva, then get an Uber or Lyft back to your car when you finish the trip.

BY AIR: Rochester International Airport

BY RAIL: Amtrak’s Maple Leaf Line runs from Toronto, Canada to New York City along the Erie Canal, making stops from Albany to Buffalo. The Rochester Station is closest, located at 320 Central Ave, Rochester. Reservations are required to carry your bike on the train.

BY CAR: Take NYS Thruway I90 to exit 40 from the East, Follow NY-31 and NY-89 to May’s Point. From the West, take NYS Thruway I90 to exit 41. Follow NY-318 to NY-89 to May’s Point.

Accommodations
More To Explore

Regional tourism offices provide a wealth of information on things to do and places to stay.

Smith Opera House, Geneva

This historic stage first opened in 1894 with a production of The Count of Monte Cristo. Today, it continues to serve as a cultural center for the Finger Lakes with live performances, movies, and concerts.

Geneva Historical Society Museum, Geneva

Learn about the rich history of the town of Geneva and the Finger Lakes.

It's a Wonderful Life Museum, Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls is believed to be the inspiration for the setting for the holiday classic, It's A Wonderful Life. Find more than 200 movie items on display, from the personal collection of Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu Baily in the film. Hours: Tues.–Sat., 11am - 4pm, with extended summer hours. $5/person.

Waterloo Outlet Mall, Waterloo

Located right off the NYS Thruway, the Waterloo Premium Outlets offer plenty of shopping options.

Sample Local Flavor
  • Ice Wine: This sweet dessert wine is made from grapes frozen on the vine. The wine making process is unique to cold climates like Upstate New York.
  • Garbage Plate: Tastes much better than it sounds. This local legend starts with macaroni salad, potatoes, burgers and hot dogs (without the buns) piled high onto a plate. Topped with all the fixings, be sure to sample the special meat hot sauce. You'll find the original at Nick Tahoe Hots in downtown Rochester, but most burger joints in the area have their own version.
  • Grape Pie: Look for this unique pie made with local concord grapes at shops and farm stands around the Finger Lakes.


Additional Trip Planning Resources

Canalway Challenge
Canalway Challenge


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Erie Canalway itineraries are funded in part by a grant from Market New York through I LOVE NY, New York State's Division of Tourism, as part of the State's Regional Economic Development Council awards.
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