Local Canoe Launches
If you’re looking for a shorter drive than the Adirondacks, here are some of the local put-ins that can give everything from a small winding creek to a ‘when I grow up I want to be a Great Lake’ experience.
Beaver Creek. Nicest location, hindered by a 70 yard approach and a crappy put-in. The parking lot is quiet, the trail to the creek obvious. Unfortunately, to get the boats in the water requires sliding them through the long grass/swamp for 30 feet, which is sort of fun unless you have someone unwilling to get wet muddy feet. Paddle upstream for as long as you want, or until you can't turn the boat around, then paddle back.
Nine Mile Swamp. (not a swamp) Easy put in as long as there aren’t too many other cars there. You can only park at the put in, which is upstream and south of the bridge. (Not on the other side of the road, not up the road on the lovely grass. I speak from experience.) Paddle upstream on a nice little creek, until you run out of water or time. Read up on the local legend of the Loomis Gang before going, this was their hideout!
Lake Moraine boat launch. Can be quite busy, but if you stay on the north side of the causeway there will be no motorised traffic. The parking lot and put in can be quite busy, lots of anglers being messy. A nice lake, often with a bald eagle or two. If you want a place to tow the inflatable out and let the kids swim, use the southern side of the lake, there is less weed. If you stay out of the center the speedboats won't run you over.
Cazenovia Lake. Nice, big lake, busy, but easy launch and a pretty little town with good ice cream and pastry shops. If you can park in this lot, you can launch right there.
Delta Lake State Park. The only one on this list that you have to pay for, but it gets you access to Delta Lake, not too big, not too busy (especially if you stay to the east). Launch area makes you interact with power boats, and is not sheltered from prevailing winds.
Erie Canal options
Marcy, Lock 20. Sort of a town park, with porta-potties and water. Also, a cool lock to look at. A 100 yard carry over flat grass to the put-in, although some people drive their cars over the grass, drop the boat, then go back and park. But then, there are always people like that. Your call.
Rome. Old Hamilton boathouse. Easiest. Park next to the water, put-in right there. Busy and a little dirty but not too bad. Paddling the canal is interesting the first time, historically engaging the second time, and pretty boring after that. It's like a treadmill for boats.
Rome. Town boat launch. Newly built, easy launch, 40-yard carry to a constructed shingle beach and floating dock. Takes a little time to get away from the post-industrial apocalypse that is Rome. The closest to campus of all these options. Floodwaters coming down the river have somewhat spoiled the beach, making it uneven and shallow, but still functional.
New Hamilton Boathouse. Maybe open in Spring 2022. Just east of the town boat launch, it will have a floating dock that some will find easier than a gravel beach. And others won't. Your call.
Sylvan Beach. Not a good choice for many, but the best place to access ‘big’ water. This is the downwind end of 30 mile-long Oneida lake. A 30-mile fetch can produce some big inland waves, which can be exciting or terrifying depending on your goal for the day. The put-in is in an inlet off the canal and is completely sheltered.
Put-in under the bridge that goes over the canal, at a sketchy, semi-legit parking area at the end of Willow Drive, right next to the water, across from the carnival rides. It’s a scene in the summer: lots of noise, muscle boats, and people fishing under the bridge (watch for glass and needles on the ground). Am I selling this well? I use it for sea kayaking, as you can paddle right out onto Oneida lake and there are what passes for waves and rocks in this region.
You can also go the other way, head down the canal, then turn left up Fish Creek, for a much quieter but not very rural paddle. The houses and campgrounds do peter out eventually, but it might take you an hour before they do.
Here is a useful site of put-ins across the country.