Canoeing and Kayaking

NPS /D.J. REISER
A group of kayaks passing a rocky beach on the Cuyahoga River in summer.

NPS/ D.J. Reiser

People who want to canoe or kayak the Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Valley National Park need to bring their own equipment and have experience to manage the safety risks posed by the river. The National Park Service does not maintain the river for recreational use. Canoeing and kayaking the river can be dangerous. Water quality, low head dams, and debris in the river all pose hazards.

Paddle at your own risk. You are responsible for your own safety. Always be aware of your surroundings, weather and water level. Know your equipment, limits and skills. Don't paddle alone, and let someone know your plans and when you expect to return.


Current Known Hazards

This will be updated as information is available, but the river frequently changes. Some of these hazards are fixed or human created hazards and others are natural and may change. When in doubt, take out!

Fixed hazards:

  • Lock 29 shelf and dam remnants: Bedrock shelf and the remnants of a lowhead dam create a hazard for paddlers just before the Lock 29 access point. Take out upstream from the hazard. The take out and portage is not easy, although there are multiple options. Novice paddlers should plan to only put in at Lock 29/Peninsula and paddle towards Boston.
  • Canal Diversion Dam, Station Road: Although the dam is scheduled to be removed this fall, currently, it still exists and is a hazard for ALL paddlers. A significant hydraulic will pin boats and potentially cause drowning. Take out at Chippewa Creek. Do NOT attempt to paddle over the lowhead dam.
  • Metal pylons and timber groynes, upstream from Rockside Road/Lock 39 access: Old metal pylons and timber groynes create frequent large woody debris hazards just before the Lock 39 access point. Currently there is a not a navigable path through the debris. This may change with storms, however, it is not advisable to attempt to paddle this hazard at this time. At medium to low flows (below 2000 cfs) a good beach on river right provides a nice eddy and easy portage around the hazard. When putting in after the hazard, strong paddling skills are needed to avoid an additional strainer on river right.

Areas of significant large woody debris

  • Between Red Lock and Station Road: There are two areas of navigable large woody debris between Red Lock and Station Road. They both involve large trees across the river. At higher flows (roughly above 700 cfs), there is a navigable path around them, however at lower flows, strong paddling skills or a portage will be necessary.

Have you been out on the river recently? Have conditions to report? Send us an email with as much detail as you can provide. If you were able to get photos or videos, send those along as well.

 
A map of access points along the Cuyahoga River. Access points listed from north to south include Lock 39/Rockside Rd, Station Road, Red Lock/Vaughn Rd., Boston Store, and Lock 29/Peninsula.
Map showing Cuyahoga River access points

NPS

Accessing the River

Four temporary access sites are currently available for paddlers. Locations include:

  • Village of Peninsula: Access the river from the Lock 29 Trailhead parking lot.

  • Village of Boston: A path to the river is located along the entrance drive to the Boston Store Visitor Center parking lot. Please drop off your boats and park in the large vehicle lot or overflow lot.

  • Vaughn Road: Access the river from the south side of the Vaughn Road bridge over the Cuyahoga River. This bridge is located near Red Lock Trailhead.

  • Station Road Bridge Trailhead (take out only): A mowed path leads from the southeast corner of the trailhead parking to the river. Station Road Bridge Trailhead is not a put-in location due to a dangerous low head dam immediately downstream.
  • Lock 39 Trailhead: A small, pathway is located on the southwest side of the parking lot at the Lock 39 Trailhead just north (dowstream) of the pedestrian bridge. The Lock 39 parking area is relatively small. If the parking lot is full, overflow parking is located at the Rockside Road parking area.

Commercial use of the Cuyahoga River is not being authorized at this time. For more information visit our permits page.

Ponds within the park are open to paddlers. All canoes and kayaks must be properly registered. Motorized canoes and boats are not permitted on ponds.

 

Safety

The park does not maintain the river channel on a regular basis, and stream conditions are ever changing. Paddlers must assume complete responsibility for their own safety.

Low head dams at Peninsula and Station Road require portage. DO NOT attempt to paddle over the dams. Dams are extremely dangerous, and drowning can occur in the hydraulic that forms below the dam.

Swift currents, log jams, and strainers are common and serious hazards on the river. Strainers are downed branches or trees that allow water to pass through. Currents can pull boats into the strainer, trapping the paddler and creating a potential drowning situation. Paddlers should portage around obvious hazards or areas of uncertainty.

After it rains, the water may contain bacteria from combined sewer overflows and storm water runoff. A high level of bacteria in the water can be a health hazard. Check the latest water quality information at Ohio NowCast. Advisories are posted by approximately 9:15 a.m. daily from May through October.

Visit the National Park Service's Prepare for Your Activity webpage for more info on water safety.

River water temperature and flow are recorded by the United States Geological Survey. The three nearest gages are: USGS Old Portage Gage, USGS Jaite Gage, or USGS Independence Gage.

Make sure you are aware of your location on the river in case of emergency. In the event of an emergency call the park's Communication Center at 440-546-5945 or dial 911.

Rules & Regulations

All paddlers on the Cuyahoga River should be familiar with Federal, State, and Park regulations that apply to the river. Ohio boating laws apply to all paddlers in Ohio, including visitors from other states. The National Park Service does not allow any alcohol to be consumed on Cuyahoga Valley National Park property without a permit.

  • ORC 1547.54 All boats--including canoes, kayaks, motorboats, and most inflatable boats-- must be registered. Ohio law requires that a boat's registration be carried onboard the boat. Bring proof of residency if you are visiting from a state that does not require canoes or kayaks to be registered.
  • ORC 1547.25 U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets are required for every person onboard. They must be in serviceable condition and correctly sized for the wearer.
  • ORC 1547.24 Children under the age of 10 are required to wear a properly fitted, US Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times while on a boat under 18 feet in length.
  • ORC 1547.11 Operating any boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is prohibited. Ohio's limit for impairment is 0.08 blood alcohol content level for persons who are of legal drinking age. It's 0.02 for anyone who is under 21. (Alcohol is not permitted on the river or in the national park.)
  • ORC 1531.29 Disposing of any item considered to be litter in any ditch, stream, river, lake, pond, or other waterway is illegal.
  • Children under the age of 12 who are operating a manually propelled boat must be directly supervised by an adult.
  • Respect the rights of landowners. Be aware that some of the land along the river is privately owned. Seek the owner's permission before using any private property.

Paddling Opportunities Outside the Park

Visit the Cuyahoga River Water Trail website for more information about paddling outside the park.

Opportunities are growing. The list below may not be comprehensive.

Last updated: November 13, 2019

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

15610 Vaughn Road
Brecksville, OH 44141

Phone:

(330) 657-2752

Contact Us