Kayaking the Genesee River to Lower Falls!

Kayaking up toward the Lower Falls, Rochester, New York
Kayaking up toward the Lower Falls

Did you know that you can paddle up the Genesee River to the very impressive Lower Falls?  I certainly didn’t know it until recently, when I got a book about local paddle routes out of the library.  You know what else?  It has amazingly natural scenery along the route, despite going through a very urban part of Rochester.  Sure, there are three bridges over the river, the outlet of the storm sewers, a water treatment plant, and a few visible high rises/smokestacks.  But in general, you’re paddling between marshy shores below forested gorge walls for the four or more miles to Lower Falls.  It’s even more beautiful in the autumn when the trees are colorful.  And the view of Lower Falls from the end of the paddle is amazing!

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 8 miles Trail Type: Kayak/Canoe Paddle Elevation Change: N/A Fees: None

Kayakers under the pedestrian bridge between Maplewood and Seneca Parks, Rochester, New York
Kayakers under the pedestrian bridge between Maplewood and Seneca Parks

I started at Turning Point Park.  There are two problems with starting here: 1) you’ll have to carry your kayak or canoe down a very steep hill from Boxart Street to river level (that’s about a quarter mile each way), and 2) if the water in Lake Ontario (and therefore this part of the Genesee) is low, there’s no easy way to launch the boats.  For the first problem, at least there’s a paved pathway down the hill, and a cart could come in handy.  For the second problem, we found a creative solution:

Lowering kayaks off of one the fishing platforms in Turning Point Park, Rochester, New York
Lowering kayaks off of one the fishing platforms… the ladder was missing two rungs, which made it more… exciting

Not that I recommend our method of launching the kayaks!  If the water is higher, you can launch from the bottom of the stairs.  But the water had receded too far for us to plop the kayaks in the water, and that mud looked like it had who-knows-what in it, so we didn’t really want to go wading in it.

The more official kayak launch in Turning Point Park, Rochester, New York
The more official kayak launch… but the water had receeded too far to use it

I hear there’s a very nice canoe/kayak launch down closer to Ontario Beach Park (it may or may not cost $7-$10 to launch) and I hear Shumway Marine allows free kayak launch (as of 2004).  But you’ll have to check those out for yourself.  The reason I didn’t want to start that far north is because it adds 1.7 miles each way to your kayak trip.  We couldn’t start until afternoon, so we weren’t exactly looking to make our trip longer.

The McKeil Spirit unloading its cargo at the cement factory
The McKeil Spirit unloading its cargo at the cement factory

Once we finally got the kayaks in the water (thanks to my very strong brother – I couldn’t have done it!) we started paddling upstream (right/south).  We very quickly passed by a huge laker unloading its cargo at the cement factory on Boxart Street.  It was exactly the same laker that “just happened” to be unloading the first time I biked the Genesee Riverway.  It was super cool to be that close to such a huge boat.

Rotting docks near Turning Point Park, Rochester, New York
Rotting docks

After that, the river quiets down, with rotting docks on the right turning into marshes on both sides of the river.  In the spring, there could be quite the current.  In the fall during a drought, it was pretty much backed up due to low lake levels, so while there was certainly current, the breeze coming upriver overcame the current and then some.  There were a few motorboats (especially on our way back; the salmon fishers were out!), but they gave us a wide berth and were very respectful (even as we got out of their way).

The hills behind the trees are red! Genesee River, New York
The hills behind the trees are red!

The first real excitement is heard more than seen, about 2 miles from Turning Point Park: over on the right, there is a small waterfall.  It’s not very natural, but it is pretty.

I think it's called Maplewood Falls, Rochester, New York
I think it’s called Maplewood Falls

Keep kayaking upriver.  After another 0.6 miles, you’ll pass the water treatment plant on the right, the outlet of the storm sewers (signs say to keep out), and go under the footbridge between Maplewood Park (right) and Seneca Park (left).  Actually, that’s part of why this area is so natural: you’re surrounded by parks!  In fact, I saw more birds in the 0.4 miles between the two bridges than anywhere else on the river.

An osprey in a dead tree along the Genesee River, Rochester, New York
An osprey in a dead tree

Fairly quickly after this, you’ll pass under the Veterans Memorial Bridge (better known to me as the Rt. 104 Bridge into Kodak Park).  It reminds me of something out of Medieval Europe, and in the fall, the views are definitely best looking back from the southern side.

The Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Genesee River, Rochester, New York
The Veterans Memorial Bridge

Almost immediately after the Veterans Memorial Bridge, you’ll come to an island.  This is as far as most motorboats venture.  In higher water, you could probably go on either side of the island, but we went on the right (west) side and were thankful we did so.  The water gets progressively shallower with more rocks in the water (keep a good eye out!) as you continue beyond the island.  The current picked up a little bit, too.  I’d expect this section of river would be a challenge in the spring.

Placid Genesee River south of the Veterans Memorial Bridge, Rochester, new York
Placid river beyond the bridge

At last, almost another mile beyond the Veterans Bridge, you’ll pass under one more bridge (Driving Park Avenue); the falls are just beyond this.  On our visit, there were people fishing for salmon up and down the river at this point.  We tried to stay to the west side of the river (sort of hard at times because of the rocks under the water) to keep out of their way.

Lower Falls and the Hydroelectric Plant, Rochester, New York
Lower Falls and the Hydroelectric Plant

To the left of the falls is RG&E Station 5 Hydroelectric Plant.  It looks like it’s seen better days but is still producing power.  Signs say that if a warning sounds, you should leave the gorge immediately – they’re about to let through a flood of excess water.  I figured we weren’t in too much danger at this time of year, but we kept our ears open anyway.

Views of the Lower Falls from about as close as I could get in my kayak, Rochester, New York
Views of the Lower Falls from about as close as I could get in my kayak

You can only go so far up toward the falls (at least during this dry spell).  We pulled out kayaks up on the rocks and scrambled up closer to the falls on foot.  The views were great, even if the gorge blocked the sunlight from much of the falls.

More head-on view of Lower Falls from the rocks on the other side of the gorge, Rochester, New York
More head-on view of Lower Falls from the rocks on the other side of the gorge

And that’s it!  Kayak back down to where you launched.  Overall, while it was a long paddle, I enjoyed it – and the Lower Falls at the end made it so worth it!

Paddling back toward Turning Point Park, Rochester, New York
Paddling back toward Turning Point Park

Round Trip Paddle Length: 8 miles from the Turning Point Park launch

Elevation Gain: Minimal, though my gps map said it’s about 110ft.

Facilities: None

Fees: None

Paddle Notes: The current water flow will dramatically change how easy or hard this paddle is.  In late September in the middle of a drought, the flow was minimal and the paddle slightly more difficult than a lake.  The current flow will also dictate how much water is on Lower Falls – though it flows nicely no matter how dry the weather.

The laker on the Genesee River, Rochester, New York
The laker

Ease of Paddle ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★

Overall Rating: ★

Sea gulls near Lower Falls, Rochester, New York
Sea gulls near Lower Falls

GPS Coordinates for Turning Point Park/Genesee River Paddle to Lower Falls

Parking area at the end of Boxart Street: 43.227836, -77.617750 (43°13.67016′, -077°37.06500′ / 43°13’40.2096″, -077°37’03.9000″)

Fishing platform in Turning Point Park: 43.230659, -77.616671 (43°13.83954′, -077°37.00026′ / 43°13’50.3724″, -077°37’00.0156″) (244ft.) (0.0)

Base of Waterfall : 43.204907, -77.627130 (43°12.29442′, -077°37.62780′ / 43°12’17.6652″, -077°37’37.6680″) (262ft.) (2.08)

Pedestrian Bridge between Maplewood Park and Seneca Park: 43.197840, -77.620541 (43°11.87040′, -077°37.23246′ / 43°11’52.2240″, -077°37’13.9476″) (255ft.) (2.66)

The pedestrian bridge between Seneca and Maplewood Parks, Rochester, new York
The pedestrian bridge between Seneca and Maplewood Parks

Veterans Memorial Bridge: 43.1925860°, -077.6205780° (43°11.55516′, -077°37.23468′ / 43°11’33.3096″, -077°37’14.0808″) (256ft.) (3.04)

Driving Park Avenue Bridge: 43.1810470°, -077.6282280° (43°10.86282′, -077°37.69368′ / 43°10’51.7692″, -077°37’41.6208″) (279ft.) (3.97ft.)

Lower Falls: 43.179927, -77.628298 (43°10.79562′, -077°37.69788′ / 43°10’47.7372″, -077°37’41.8728″) (355ft.) (4.07)

Looking back down the gorge from the rocks near Lower Falls, Rochester, New York
Looking back down the gorge from the rocks near Lower Falls

The gpx file for the Genesee River from Turning Point Park to Lower Falls can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when paddling this route.

Download GPX File size: 20.4 KB Downloaded 12 times

(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website.  Thanks!)

The McKeil Spirit - a laker delivering supplies to the cement factory, Rochester, New York
The McKeil Spirit – a laker delivering supplies to the cement factory

Getting to Turning Point Park Kayak/Canoe Launch

From Rt-104 (either east of the Genesee River or Kodak area/Greece), drive to Lake Avenue and turn north (left from Kodak, right from the Veterans Memorial Bridge).  After 2.2 miles, turn right onto Boxart Street (there is a light).  You’ll need to turn right again almost immediately.  Take Boxart Street to its end at a medium-sized parking area.  Park here (assuming the gates are closed – like they usually are – and you can’t just drive down to river level) and carry your craft down the paved trail/road to river level.  The parking area can be a bit busy in the evening and also on nice weekends.

Kayaking a short way south of Turning Point Park, Rochester, New York
Kayaking a short way south of Turning Point Park

From the Ontario State Parkway, drive to Lake Avenue and turn south.  Boxart Street (it has a light) will be on the left after 1.7 miles.  Turn left; take a quick right, and then drive to the road’s end at a medium-sized parking area.  Park here (assuming the gates are closed – like they usually are – and you can’t just drive down to river level) and carry your craft down the paved trail/road to river level.  The parking area can be a bit busy in the evening and also on nice weekends.

Visual trail map and elevation profile (sort of!) for my kayak trip from Turning Point Park to Lower Falls, Rochester, New York
Visual trail map and elevation profile (sort of!) for my kayak trip from Turning Point Park to Lower Falls

Zoom map out to browse nearby hikes & places of interest

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