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Paddling

Two groups of kids canoeing on a lake
paddling

New York State has more than 7,500 lakes, ponds and reservoirs and more than 70,000 miles of rivers and streams. Paddling on these water bodies can take the form of canoes, kayaks, and rafts. Many lakes, ponds and rivers in the Adirondacks and Catskills provide paddling opportunities without motorized boating.

Paddling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, view the forests and mountains and watch wildlife on the water and along the shore. Whether it's a leisurely flat water paddle on a pond or lake or an exciting whitewater paddle on a raging river, there is a range of paddling opportunities in New York State to meet the desires of all paddlers.

Information on paddling safety, rules, and etiquette

Where to Go

Here is a sample of areas with paddling opportunities. To explore other DEC lands across the state, visit our places to go page.

Flat Water Paddling

Many DEC Campgrounds are situated on bodies of water and provide access for paddlers. Most campgrounds also offer canoe, rowboat, and/or kayak rentals.

St. Regis Canoe Area - It is the only designated Canoe Area in New York State, the number and proximity of lakes and ponds make possible a remote and unconfined type of water-oriented recreation in an essentially wilderness setting.

Essex Chain Lakes - The Essex Chain Lakes Complex contains 18 waterbodies totaling 785 acres that range in size from 3-acre Chub Pond to 216-acre Third Lake. Ten miles of the Hudson River on the eastern boundary and four miles of the Cedar River in the southern section make this is a paddler's paradise.

Tivoli Bays - The site includes two large coves on the east shore of the Hudson River including Tivoli North Bay, a large intertidal marsh and Tivoli South Bay, a large, shallow cove with mudflats exposed at low tide.

group on canoers paddling on calm water the adirondacks

Saranac Lakes Wild Forest - This area features countless paddling opportunities with 144 water bodies ranging from small ponds entirely owned by the State to large lakes with a mix of State Land and private lands.

Extended Backcountry Trips

Northern Forest Canoe Trail (leaves DEC website)- This is a 740-mile (1,190 km) marked canoeing trail in the northeastern United States and Canada, extending from Old Forge in the Adirondacks of New York to Fort Kent, Maine.

White Water

Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area - This area is known for spectacular scenery created by a deep gorge, sheer cliffs, flowing waterfalls, and dense forests. The rapids in the gorge normally range from Class 2 through Class 4, depending on water level.

Hudson Gorge Wilderness - Whether you are a hardcore thrill seeker or have a family, rafting through the Hudson Gorge is one of the most thrilling experiences on an Adirondack water.

Letchworth State Park (leaves DEC website) - This park features the Genesee River flowing through a meandering 550-foot deep river gorge lined with slate cliffs. The rapids in the gorge normally range from Class 2 through Class 3, depending on water level.

Water Releases for Esopus Creek Recreational Events - DEC facilitates the recreational use of Esopus Creek by directing New York City to make increased diversions into the creek for whitewater events on up to four weekends per year. Historically, the Department has received requests from a consortium of recreational groups that hold these events including American Whitewater, the Kayak and Canoe Club of New York, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the American Canoe Association. These groups coordinate scheduling with other planned boating events throughout the region.

Protect Yourself

Always wear a personal flotation device (PFD, aka life jacket) while on or along the water. Especially when water temperatures are cold or when currents are swift.

  • Immersion in cold waters can quickly result in lowering of core body temperature, leading to inability to move, hypothermia and drowning. Wearing a PFD can prevent drowning.
  • Falling in to swift currents can easily result in being pulled and kept under water and collisions with rocks, logs and other objects causing injury. A PFD can prevent drowning. A helmet is strong recommended when paddling in whitewater and other swift currents.
    State law requires all children under 12 to wear a PFD while on a watercraft.
  • State law also requires all people on a pleasure vessel less than 21 feet long to wear a PFD between November 1 and May 1.
  • Large waves can form on large waters bodies with steady winds. Heavy winds can create large waves on small and medium-sized water bodies. Know your abilities and the forecast for wind before setting out.
  • Turn you canoe or kayak to point into large waves (or wakes from motorboats) to prevent being overturned
  • Find shelter on shore when you hear thunder.
  • Hire a guide if you are unsure if your skill levels meet the challenges of paddling.
  • See the NYS Outdoor Guides Association (leaves DEC website) for information on outdoor guides.
  • Additional information on Outdoor Safety
  • For more information about paddling requirements & paddling safety, visit the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historical Preservation (OPRHP) boating page (leaving DEC website).

Respect Others

kayaker paddling on river
  • When paddling in waters with motorboats:
    • Keep close to the shorelines and out of the channels to allow safe passage of motorboats; and
    • Groups should paddle behind one another not abreast to prevent blocking passage of motorboats and other paddlers
  • Do not block carries (portage trails), put-in or take out sites with your watercraft or gear.
  • Load your gear out of the way of others who are ready to launch or retrieve
  • Watch ahead when portaging, so you don't run into others using the portage trail.
  • Speak quietly to not disturb others, sound carries across water.

Protect the Lands & Waters

  • Know the rules of the lands & waters you will be recreating on
  • Know the principles of Leave No Trace (leaves DEC website).
  • Carry out what you carry in.
  • Pack all gear, supplies, clothing and food in waterproof bags which is strapped or secured to the kayak, canoe or raft. If you overturn you will be able to retrieve your belongings and not litter the water.

Access to the Water

DEC provides many points throughout the state. These include both hand launch and boat launch sites. Hand launch sites allow for the launching of non-trailered (aka car top) watercraft such as canoes, kayaks, john boats and other small boats. Some hand launches are for watercraft with or without outboard motors, many hand launches are watercraft without motors - check the regulation.

Boat launches are mainly for trailered boats, but non-trailered watercraft may use them as well. DEC provides a list of boat launch sites by county.

Paddlers should share the boat ramp and docks with other users and launch quickly and safely.