The Genesee River is one of only a few north flowing rivers in the US. It begins as a trickle from springs near Gold, Pennsylvania and runs for 158 miles before emptying into Lake Ontario. In the southern reaches it’s a fast-moving clear-water stream. Mid-way it plummets down significant waterfalls through Letchworth Gorge and then is tamed by the Mount Morris Dam. North of the dam the river widens and deepens to become a true river. It foams again while plummeting over three more waterfalls in Rochester before merging with Lake Ontario in Charlotte.
It’s the creek-like southern section that offers a wild weekend paddle. It’s 10 miles from Wellsville to Belmont. Then with a portage around a small dam and some small waterfalls, it’s another 40 miles from Belmont to Portageville. Spring is the best time to paddle, but be sure to check the Genesee River-Wellsville water gage. It’s not navigable below 4.5 and could become significant white water at high flow. Time it right and you’re in for an exhilarating ride on fast moving, crystal clear water with ripples and surges. Tight curves offer gravel banks for scouting the run ahead. You’re paddling through a wide valley carved by the water with few signs of man. It’s a geologists delight to study the multi-layered banks carved by the water. Pick any gravel bank for camping along the way.
For a much more sedate paddle, launch into the Genesee River at Genesee Waterways Center across from Genesee Valley Park, and paddle the river in a segment that’s wide, deep, muddy, and virtually without current due to dams. You can paddle north to the dam near Rundel Library or head south and venture up Red Creek, or head either direction on the Erie Canal. Enjoy this leisurely segment any time of year.
To experience an entirely different river, put in at the Monroe County boat launch at Ontario Beach Park. Upstream, you quickly leave the busyness of marinas and boat traffic and enter a wilderness tucked deep below the populated areas of Charlotte and Rochester. The Genesee River carved its way into a deep gorge with tree-lined banks. Upstream 1.7 miles is a wide turning basin with cattail marshes lining the shores. Here you’ll find the docks and winding raised walkway of Turning Point Park, which has a free canoe launch, but requires a long carry down an old railroad grade.
Continuing upstream you’re in a world of your own. City noises disappear, replaced by bird songs. To the left, pass docks and trails leading to Seneca Park, then high overhead, the Monroe County Pure Water’s Pedestrian Bridge, followed by the sweeping arches of the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge.
Paddle by Seth Green Islands, then under Driving Park Bridge. 5.5 miles from Ontario Beach Park, is the thunder of Lower Falls, a 78-foot-high cascade. Depending on the current in the river, you may or may not be able to paddle within its sight.
Before heading out, pick up a copy of the guidebook “Take a Paddle – Western New York Quiet Water for Canoes & Kayaks”www.footprintpress.com (, 1-800-431-1579). It contains maps and details (including how to look up the water gages) for paddling all segments of the Genesee River as well as many other ponds and streams. Begin by exploring the diversity of the Genesee River, starting near home.
by Sue Freeman