Towering grain elevators. Soaring cliffs. A water lily-filled marsh. A 19th century lighthouse. The Big Ditch itself. These are just a few of the scenic views that await the intrepid kayaker in Buffalo. There’s never been a better time to grab a boat, a couple paddles and a life jacket and take to the water. It’s a socially-distancing pastime, great exercise and sure to relieve the stress of the unprecedented times we’re all living through. A word of caution: remember the sunscreen and always wear a life vest.
Here are seven VBN-vetted kayaking spots arranged by their proximity to downtown Buffalo. Rental kayaks are available at four of the locations.
Mutual Riverfront Park, 41 Hamburg St., Buffalo
Located in Buffalo’s Old First Ward this launch site offers up the prospect of Elevator Alley as soon as your boat touches the water. You could just sit there and stare and it would be a pretty cool experience. But don’t linger. Paddle up river and take in the abandoned Cargill’s and Concrete Central grain elevators and the railroad bridges that still carry freight and Amtrak trains on a daily basis. While it gets quite busy at the launch spot, the upstream riverfront that was once part of America’s largest inland port is now a surprisingly peaceful home to white-tailed deer, blue heron and red-tailed hawks.
Canalside, 44 Prime St., Buffalo
This spot is the original terminus of the Erie Canal and though it’s not as busy as it was in its 19th century heyday, it’s still a very busy waterway, so keep your head up and give larger vessels the right of way. The Instagram opportunity you won’t want to miss is the historic Buffalo Lighthouse, one of the oldest surviving buildings on the Great Lakes, located a short paddle downstream where the Buffalo River meets Lake Erie. For calmer waters, head back upriver along the right shoreline and make your way into the City Ship Canal, home of the General Mills plant. On days when they’re busy making Cheerios this will be the sweetest smelling paddle you’ll ever have.
Wilkeson Pointe, 225 Fuhrmann Blvd., Buffalo
Plan on arriving early, since this is a very popular spot in the summer months and parking close to the state-of-the-art launch site is limited. Once you’re on the water, plan on hugging the shore to steer clear of the fisherman, jet skiers and sailors who frequent this portion of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. Observe that small craft advisory and you should have great fun checking out sights like the old Saskatchewan Cooperative Grain Elevator and the boardwalk at Gallagher Beach.
Harlem Road Boat Launch, Harlem Road, West Seneca
This may be a little tricky to find since there’s no official street address, but it’s located off Harlem Road between Clinton Street and Mineral Springs Road in West Seneca, immediately adjacent to a Tops Supermarket. This is a moderately challenging natural launch site, with a slight slope down to the shallow waters of Buffalo Creek. My recommendation is to have a friend drop you off here and arrange to be picked up three hours later, downstream at Mutual Riverfront Park. This will give you a chance to explore the upper reaches of the Buffalo River and its Cazenovia Creek tributary and savor the slow transformation of the river from natural to industrial.
Rentals available from Buffalo River Canoe & Kayak Outfitters | 716-771-2995 | Buffalo River Canoe & Kayak Outfitters
Eastern Park, 280 Fillmore Ave., Tonawanda
Tucked into an industrial corner of Tonawanda, the Eastern Park Kayak Launch – featuring an easy-in set of rollers – is an off-the-beaten-path gem. It offers its users either a quiet paddle upstream past the boathouses and docks of Ellicott Creek or a busier turn downstream toward Gateway Harbor and the Erie Canal and the flashy motorboats found there. The signature sights found in both directions are the massive iron railroad bridges that cross both the creek and canal.
Eighteen Mile Creek, 6449 Lake Shore Road, Derby
Just off the mansion-lined Old Lake Shore Road in nearby Derby, this is a natural put-in that’s sometimes a bit muddy, but, boy, is it worth getting your flip flops a little dirty. Once you’re in the water, you’re surrounded by soaring cliffs that lead out to Lake Erie where you can take in the boulder strewn shore and lakeside remnants of the once great estates of Buffalo’s turn-of-the-century elites. Of particular note is an abandoned set of rusty stairs that once connected the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Graycliff to the water below.
Buckhorn State Park, Woods Creek, E. River Rd., Grand Island
At first glance, Grand Island may appear to be the quintessential suburb, but take another look – from the seat of your kayak — and you’ll find yourself amid hundreds of acres of reeds and water lilies, quite alone with nature. This is another natural put-in – no fancy upgrades here – but the stillness and quiet you’ll find in the middle of the Buckhorn marsh makes it another must-see spot. The park’s creek also leads out to the Niagara River, but the heavy motorboat and jet ski action makes that the less desirable direction to take.
Additional spots to rent kayaks include:
Waterbike and Boat Adventures, 11 Young St., Tonawanda | 716-316-3905 | waterbikeadventures.com