Common River Hazards

Hazards bring challenges to the paddler. Some are natural such as currents, rocks, narrowing channels or other submerged objects. Other are man-made such as dams and abutments.

Floods and Swift Water

  • Know the river flow before you go. Check river gauges online.
  • Never boat on flooded rivers. High water makes hazards such as lowhead dams, floating logs, and submerged trees more dangerous.

Water Quality

  • Water quality has greatly improved in recent years, however, caution is advised. After periods of rain there is an increase in harmful bacteria, particularly from Akron to Cleveland. Check current conditions online.

Lowhead Dams and Waterfalls

  • Know the location of these hazards. Portage (carry your boat) around and launch at a safe distance downstream.
  • Small dams are especially dangerous.
    Hydraulic turbulence at the base can trap you.


  • A strainer is created by a manmade or natural obstruction that allows water to pass through, but traps boats and people.
  • Avoid strainers or other obstructions, especially in swift water. These include
    overhanging branches, downed trees, log jams, and flooded islands.
  • Portage (carry your boat) around any section of water that seems unsafe.

Foot Entrapments

  • Never stand or walk in swift water. If you fall, you can become pinned underwater.
  • Always keep your feet up and pointed downstream.
  • Swim to shore or calm water before standing.

Use Extra Caution in Cleveland

  • Search “Cuyahoga River Safety Task Force” online for critical safety information including a map showing passing zones, which can also be found on the bulkhead as you launch from Merwin’s Wharf.  
  • The huge freighters in the shipping channel cannot see you. They do not leave much room on the sides when maneuvering the bends. Their side propellers create waves that can knock you over.
  • Be aware of motorized recreational boats.
  • Stay close to shore unless crossing, wear bright colors, and always point your boat into the wake to avoid capsizing.
  • Monitor boat traffic on a VHF marine radio, track freighter transit on marine traffic apps, and know your passing zones.

Plan a Safe Trip

A hallmark of the Cuyahoga River Water Trail is the diversity of opportunities around every crooked turn. Enjoy nature, exercise, and peaceful appreciation. Differences in the paddling skills needed, seasons of flow, and equipment options contribute to this variety.

The calm, rural waters of the Upper Cuyahoga State Scenic River above Kent are best for beginners. Intermediate paddlers might explore from Kent to Cuyahoga Falls with its frequent access points.