There are group paddling opportunities which welcome experienced and novice kayakers, including Tuesday (Ellicott Creek) and Thursday (Lake Ontario) paddles hosted by Paths, Peaks & Paddles. In the Southern Tier, Evergreen Outfitters hosts Tuesday night paddles (Barcelona Harbor, Lake Erie) and Thursday morning outings (sites vary).
But if you're ready to explore waterways on your own, Sue Freeman, coauthor of "Take A Paddle Western New York: Quiet Water for Canoes & Kayaks," offers three of her favorites:
* Oswayo Creek: "It starts around Shinglehouse, Pa., and flows up to Portville," Freeman said. "I liked it because it's very wild. You see almost no evidence of human habitation whatsoever. It's a mild-mannered creek that flows through the countryside, changing from woods to fields. There are deer in the creek and ducks, and heron flying overhead. Anybody who wants an escape into nature, this one is just fantastic."
* 18-mile creek: "Put in below the Burt Damn and go up to Olcott," Freeman explained. "It's like you're floating on top of an aquarium. The fish are all over the place, darting in and out of grasses. There's a small current there, and I just couldn't help but put my paddle down and drift and watch the fish."
* Buffalo River: "We kept putting this one off when we were researching the book because we wondered how interesting a city paddle could be," Freeman. "When we did it, it just blew our minds. It was gorgeous and historic. It's so unique and totally different."
For Freeman, there is no better way to get acquainted with the area than to start paddling.
"You don't have to go far out of Buffalo or Rochester to get into some wild nature," Freeman said. "Kayaking is such an easy sport. Almost anyone can do it and it's the only way to see some parts of Western New York, parts you can never see from the road. I always encourage people to get out there and do it. The beauty and diversity will surprise you."
-- Amy Moritz