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Special Adventures - Paddling in the Finger Lakes Region

By Sue Freeman

The Finger Lakes are gorgeous. They’re long, slender, deep lakes set in glacial valleys between steep, verdant hillsides. But, they’re large bodies of water that are a playground for motorboats, and the valleys can channel strong winds. This makes them less than ideal for paddlecraft.

One way around this is to choose the smaller Finger Lakes for paddling. One of my favorite adventures is to don my swim suit, pack a picnic lunch, and paddle to Red Bank Island in Lamoka Lake. Nestled between the big fingers of Keuka and Seneca Lakes, Lamoka and her sister Waneta Lake are two of the smaller, lesser known lakes. The kayak launch is off County Route 23, into a channel that connects the two lakes. An easy downstream paddle winds through lilies and an abundance of birdlife. Once you reach Lamoka Lake the horizon widens and you can see distant cottages and a tree-covered island. Paddle the 0.5 mile to the island and find the sandy beach to tie up your boat. Go for a dip if you’ve worked up a sweat, or maybe even swing out into the water on the tree rope that dangles from an overhead branch. Then, break out your picnic lunch, lounge in the shade, and stoke up your fuel for the return trip.

Have you ever seen an aqueduct? There are several in the Finger Lakes region that were built to carry the early Erie Canal over creeks. This was necessary in order to control the water level in the canal to avoid flooding and drainage before engineering skills improved. OK, maybe you’ve seen an aqueduct, but have you ever paddled under one? Now you can, because in 2010 the volunteers at Erie Canal Park in Camillus rebuilt and re-floated water through the Camillus Aqueduct. As part of the Erie Canalway Trail, you can walk the original towpath next to the aqueduct. Or, you can paddle under the aqueduct by paddling down Nine Mile Creek for a 3.2-mile paddle on translucent green, gently flowing water. The launch is at Munro Park in Camillus and the take-out is a point along Thompson Road, shortly before the dam in Amboy. As you pass under the aqueduct, imagine the entire Erie Canal over your head! Actually, what is over your head is a short segment of the Old Erie Canal. As the boat traffic and shipping requirements grew, the Erie Canal was widened, deepened, and in some places, rerouted. The current Erie Canal (the Barge Canal) now runs north of Camillus.

For an entirely different experience, how about paddling past a lighthouse and getting rewarded with an ice cream cone? Park at the end of Pier Road in Ithaca, and launch your kayak into Fall Creek. Paddle downstream and then out into Cayuga Lake. You can go upstream, but as the name implies, you’ll shortly run into strong current from water rushing over Ithaca Falls. Out in Cayuga Lake, round the lighthouse and head up Cayuga Inlet where you’ll find docks that lead to restaurants, bars, and an ice cream shop with outdoor seating. You can even try this trip if you don’t own kayaks – simply rent from PuddleDockers (704 West Buffalo Street, Ithaca) and be on your way.

Learn more about these trips as well as many others with the guidebook “Take A Paddle – Finger Lakes New York Quiet Water for Canoes and Kayaks.”