Paddle the Water Trail

Paddle New York's Legendary Canals!

Get close to the water and experience New York's canals by kayak, canoe and stand-up paddleboard. The NYS Canalway Water Trail is comprised of 450 miles of canals and interconnected lakes and rivers. It includes the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Oswego, and Champlain canals. With more than 140 access sites and several boater-biker-hiker facilities that allow overnight camping at canal parks, it's easier than ever to enjoy the waterway.

The NYS Canal System has partially opened for the 2020 Navigation Season. Construction and maintenance activities continue at several locks, which will not open until later this summer. The entire canal system is anticipated to open for end-to-end navigation by August 10. Very low water levels in much of the Mohawk River section of the Erie Canal west of Lock 9 will continue through July as work continues at Locks E7 and E19.

Consult the NYS Canal Corp's Notice to Mariners for up-to-date information what's open and closed.

PLEASE READ: Paddling Safety in the Mohawk River

Paddling the Free-Flowing Mohawk River- Eight moveable dams that typically create navigation channels between Fort Plain and Schenectady remain raised in their winter positions. While a free-flowing Mohawk River may seem like a fine opportunity for paddlers and some sections are safe, other areas present serious safety concerns.

  • River Conditions and Currents- The Mohawk River is extremely low in many areas. Rocks and limbs are common hazards.
  • Movable Dams- Please do not run the dams. While they may look like bridges from a distance, these dams have concrete sills in the riverbed that have essentially the same hydraulic effect as low-head dams. Low dams are extremely dangerous because they can form recirculating eddies that are almost impossible to escape. During storms and high water, currents can be very strong and the true nature of the drop may not be apparent from boat level when approaching from upstream. During low water, obstructions in the water could damage your boat or prohibit you from passing safely.
  • Portage- Riverbanks on the side opposite from locks are typically steep and covered with large stone riprap. Plan a trip that avoids locks and dams in the Mohawk River.
  • Launch Sites- Getting on and off the water at present levels will likely be a challenge in many locations. With lowered water levels, hand-launching is possible at public boat ramps, but trailer launching is not. Concrete ramps were built for normal canal operation navigation pool levels and end above the winter waterline. Most drop-off abruptly into coarse stone riprap and/or mud. Be aware that if you get into trouble, emergency responders may not be able to launch rescue boats at those sites.
  • Rescue Boats will not be able to enter the water to assist in case of an emergency.
  • Bottom line: Scout your trip carefully in advance. Know what your put in and take out locations look like. And be sure to make a float plan to help ensure your safety should something unexpected arise.

NYS Canalway Water Trail

The water trail flows through time and history, connecting magnificent scenery and remarkable communities.

NYS Canalway Water Trail Guidebook and Map Set


Order a Complimentary Copy
"It is an incredible experience to 'paddle back into the past'. As you glide down the waterway so important to the growth of this country, it is impossible not to feel the spirit and strength of those who traveled so early in our nation’s history also by their own power. "
- Paul Comstock, Houston, Texas

Paddler's Q & A

Can paddlers go through the locks?

Yes. Going through a lock is one of the unique aspects of paddling on the canal. Alert lock operators by cell phone. Telephone numbers are listed here. If you have a handheld marine band VHF radio, contact lock operators on channel 13 and other boaters on channel 16. If you are renting a kayak or canoe, you can ask the rental operator to call ahead for you. It takes about 15-20 minutes to lock through.

How much does it cost?

It's free for paddlers to go through the locks.

What do we need to bring?

Always wear a personal flotation device. Protect yourself from the sun with suntan lotion and a hat and bring snacks and water. It is very important to stay alert and hydrated while you are on the water.

Can I get advice or connect with other paddlers?

Paddlers are sharing information, asking questions, and meeting others who share a passion for paddling the canals on the New York State Canalway Water Trail paddling group on Facebook. With nearly 700 members, this peer-to-peer group is a great place to get inspired for a paddling adventure on the Erie, Champlain, Oswego and Cayuga-Seneca Canals. Join the conversation:

Can we fish?

Fishing is allowed; you need a valid fishing license from the Department of Environmental Conservation. Bass, pike, and walleye are common catches; trout fishing is popular on the Oswego Canal and on Seneca and Cayuga Lakes.

What wildlife will we see?

Watch for blue herons, eagles, osprey, ducks and geese, turtles, otters, and mink. You'll see more wildlife in more remote sections of the canal. Check out our wildlife slideshow.

Is there a current?

Yes. Even though it is a canal, there is noticeable current in most places. Plan accordingly. If you plan to launch and end at the same place for a day trip, go upstream for the first leg. It makes getting back at the end of the day much easier.

Are there hazards?

Be careful around dams, if you are paddling one of the river sections. The movable dams in the Mohawk River are easy to spot from a distance. Low fixed dams can be hard to see when approaching from upstream. Most dams have a line of orange balls upstream. NEVER go below the markers. Be careful after floods, the safety balls sometimes get displaced.

Follow the buoys: "Red on the right when returning from sea" is standard convention. That means that red markers will be on the LEFT side of the channel when you're paddling east (and generally downstream) on the Erie, south on the Champlain, and northeast on the Cayuga-Seneca Canals. Red buoys are on the right side of the channel on the Oswego Canal.

How far can we go?

The NYS Canal System consists of more than 524-miles of interconnected canals, lakes, and rivers, including the Erie, Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca Canals. You can paddle all of it. Paddlers going from end to end of the Erie Canal typically plan 2.5 to 3 weeks to make the 338 mile journey. For day or weekend trips, choose mileage that will be comfortable for you to cover in a day-- and leave time to stop and explore on land as well. It takes 15-20 minutes to go through each lock, so be sure to add time for locking too. If you are new to paddling, test the waters with an hour or two of paddling.

How many miles is each canal?

  • Erie Canal, which connects the Hudson River with Lake Erie, 338 miles to the west;
  • Champlain Canal, which connects the tidal portion of the Hudson River with Lake Champlain, 63 miles to the north;
  • Oswego Canal, which follows the Oswego River from the Erie Canal 23 miles north to Lake Ontario;
  • Cayuga-Seneca Canal, which connects the Erie Canal to 92 miles of canalized rivers and lakes, including the Seneca River and Cayuga and Seneca Lakes.

Can we get a lesson?

Many paddling rentals offer a variety of lesson packages or tips to ensure you are comfortable before heading out.

Many Thanks to Our Sponsors

Generous financial assistance was provided by a grant from Market NY through I LOVE NY, New York State’s Division of Tourism, as part of the State’s Regional Economic Development Council initiative; the New York State Canal Corporation; the National Park Service; New York State Office of Parks, Recreations and Historic Preservation, the Community Foundation of Herkimer Counties, Inc.; Rome Community Foundation; Mohawk Valley Collective; and individual donors.

® I LOVE NEW YORK is a registered trademark and service mark of the New York State Department of Economic Development; used with permission.

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