Docile Streams to Meander Down


Flat water is the technical lingo for docile streams that drift along with a gentle or nonexistent current. Without major drops in elevation, they don't plummet over waterfalls or roil in rapids. You can drift down them with a leisurely paddle and not worry too much about sharp turns or impediments along the way. Of course, even the most docile stream can get a blown down tree from a storm or become an angry torrent with enough rain or snow melt. Generally, if you're looking for a docile stream you should limit your paddling to summer and fall.

Docile streams also lend themselves to two-way travel. Without a strong current you can paddle both upstream and downstream. This means you don't have to hassle with spotting a car or arranging for a shuttle.

The Finger Lakes region teems with docile streams that wander through gorgeous countryside. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Circumnavigate an island.  Using a section of the Erie Canal and a remote loop of the Seneca River you can paddle 10.7 miles around Howland Island. This is part of the Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area so be sure to take your binoculars for the excellent bird watching opportunities.
  2. The Erie Canal today is wide and deep dredged years ago to allow passage of barges. But remnants of the old, smaller canal still exist. One such segment runs between Dewitt and Canastota and is called the Old Erie Canal. You can paddle all 17 miles or choose a smaller segment. Along the way you will traverse through aqueducts over creeks and have to duck under bridges. Just like the famous Erie Canal song says, it's low bridge everybody down.
  3. Rent boats at Puddledockers in Ithaca and paddle the Cayuga Lake Inlet. There's much to look at along the way and you can even stop at the docks enroute to enjoy a meal, a drink, or ice cream.
  4. West River Marsh at the south end of Canandaigua Lake is a lazy stream that can be paddled year-round, except when frozen. Enjoy the peace and quiet tucked below the towering hills that surround Canandaigua Lake.

Maps and details for each of these docile streams and others can be found in the guidebook Take A Paddle -Finger Lakes New York Quiet Water for Canoes & Kayaks.