Boat Safety for Onondaga Creek

Paddling Onondaga Creek is enjoyable and doesn’t require a lot of special expertise or equipment if you take a little time to prepare yourself. We also organize several group floats throughout the season if you’d like to join us for your first trip down the creek. Connect with us and we’ll let you know some upcoming times we plan to be on the creek.

General information and a video preview of a paddle down the creek can be found on Enjoy the Creek.

Trip Length

2 hours.

The longest trip normally available is from Dorwin Ave to the Lake channel, approx. 10 miles. At a leisurely pace this will run you around 2 hours. This is a one-way trip from launch to wherever you’ll take out  — you generally can’t paddle back upstream against the current. 

Before You Go

  • Plan a launch and takeout site using the map on this website.
  • Much of the creek is visible from the Creekwalk. A bike ride or walk helps to scout for downed trees or other obstacles in advance of your trip.
  • Park a car/bike at the takeout, or arrange for someone to transport you back to the launch site when you’ve finished your trip.
  • Tell someone you’re going, and when you’ll be back. Keep them updated with your actual start time, and confirm when you’ve made it to your takeout safely.

Best Time To Go

  • Any time of day when there will be plenty of light to see objects in the water.
  • When the water is below liner depth, meaning you can see where the concrete/limestone edge ends and the shore begins. Links to flow gauges are in our resources.
  • When there isn’t rain in the forecast — rain causes the creek depth and flow to change fast.
  • December to April are high water months and usually not safe for boating.

Best Craft To Use

Rigid hull canoe or kayak.

The creek depth varies sporadically from just an inch or two to approximately 6 feet over the journey, so canoes or kayaks are the best — motor boats or anything that sits low in the water is going to get hung up along the way. We’ve had enjoyable trips with both sit on or sit in rigid kayaks, and both single or double canoes. A rigid hull (plastic, fiberglass, aluminum, etc) is a must — inflatables won’t survive the trip.

Gear Tips

  • Wear a USCG approved life jacket with a whistle. Bring an air horn in your boat if you have one to get attention over the noise of traffic above.
  • Have a rope on your boat in case you stop, need a hand, or have to tie-off to navigate a downed tree or other obstacle. A rope pre-tied to the front, and another pre-tied to the back of your boat are convenient if you have to improvise quickly.
  • Wear sturdy shoes with a good sole in case you must get out of the boat or walk around blockages.
  • A pair of gardening loppers can be helpful to have when navigating through unexpected brush.
  • An extra paddle, if you have one, is helpful as the current can whisk them away more quickly than you’d guess.
  • A waterproof bag/box for for your phone, keys, wallet, etc. Tying this to your boat helps in case you tip.
  • Bungees or string for your glasses helps when ducking through overgrowth.

Where To Launch & Take Out

There are a few places you can use — the map on this website overviews key spots. As of 2022 the City of Syracuse is leaving the gate at Dorwin Ave (Kelley Brothers Park) open which makes for easy access.

Ollie’s Point makes for an easy spot to beach, and get you and your boat out of the creek. If you’ll be going all the way to the lake, just beyond Ollie’s Point is a concrete weir. During most of the year you can float over it just fine (especially if you aim center/center-left), and there is also good portage to the right of it.

Other Tips

  • Dress for the weather and water temperature — quick dry clothing helps. Much of the creek is shaded and the water is generally quite cool, so a dry towel and dry footwear at the takeout point are often welcome.
  • Bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
  • Try to keep your boat parallel with the creek’s current  — it’s when your boat is sideways that it’s easy for the current to roll you (flip you). If you need to go upstream, consider paddling backwards instead of turning your boat around. If you must turn around, be quick about it so you’re not sideways across the creek for very long. Last, if you do get caught someplace and sense the current is turning you around, don’t fight it — let it turn you, paddle backwards downstream where the current isn’t as fast, and then turn yourself back around.
  • If you do flip your boat, don’t panic. In most spots you’ll be able to put your feet down and touch the creek floor. If it’s a rare spot where the water’s over your head, in a few feet further you’ll probably be able to touch the creek floor again.

In An Emergency

Call 911. If you can make it to a bridge, call up for pedestrians passing overhead. When possible, paddle in groups.

Have a tip, resource, or advice we missed in our boat safety overview? Please let us know!