Paddling the River

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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 must bring their own equipment. The National Park Service does not maintain the river for recreational use. Paddle at your own risk. You are responsible for your own safety. Always be aware of your surroundings, the weather, and the water level. Know your equipment, limits, and skills. Don't paddle alone: let someone know your plans and when you expect to return.

Section maps and additional information are on the Cuyahoga River Water Trail website.

News is posted on the Cuyahoga River Water Trail Facebook page.


Current Known Hazards

Permanent hazards are listed in the links for each river access point. Other hazards are common but change with the changing river conditions. We will post longer-term natural ones as information becomes available. 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.
  • 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.

 

Accessing the River

Five access sites are currently available for paddlers.

 
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    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.

    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 via USGS Great Lakes NowCast. Advisories are posted by approximately 9:15 a.m. daily from May through October.

    Visit the water trail’s Plan a Safe Trip page before you leave home.

    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 and 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. Bring proof of residency if you are visiting from a state that does not require canoes or kayaks to be registered.

    • ORC 1547.25 US 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 without a permit.)

    • 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.
    • Only human powered vessels are allowed on the Cuyahoga River. Inner-tubes and inflatable toy flotation devices are prohibited.

    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.

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

    Other Paddling Opportunities in the Park

    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.

    Paddling Opportunities outside the Park

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

    Last updated: May 19, 2021

    Contact the Park

    Mailing Address:

    15610 Vaughn Road
    Brecksville, OH 44141

    Phone:

    (440) 717-3890

    Contact Us