Experience Cortland Navigates the Tioughnioga


Whether you pronounce it Tee-off-knee-oh-ga or Tie-off-knee-oh-ga, the Tioughnioga River is just over 34 miles long. The  east and west branches of the river come together just north of the City of Cortland forming the main branch which than continues on through Cortland County becoming a tributary of the Chenango River which flows into the Susquehanna and on to the Chesapeake Bay. The name Tioughnioga comes from a native word for “forks of the river” or “meeting of waters”.


It’s a pretty great river we have here in Cortland County and we decided to take full advantage of this natural wonder and spend some time kayaking.


Not owning my own kayak, I looked to Lighthouse Landing or help. Just south of Marathon, Lighthouse landing offers kayak, canoe, and tubing rentals.          Rental prices depend on how long you want to go for. The longest / furthest distance is from the City of Cortland to Lighthouse Landing, an 8-hour journey. Then there’s the paddle from Blodgett Mills at 6 hours or the 2 hour trip from the Marathon Boat Launch (which was what we picked).  It is worth mentioning that you only kayak one way and it is conveniently downstream. So if you are new to this and your arms get tired you can just sit back and the river will carry you along.


The 2-hour trip is a great value for your money at just $30.00 per single kayak. Each rental includes your lifejacket, paddle, and helmet (if desired). You get your lifejacket right at the main building at Lighthouse Landing. They have plenty of size options too. The woman who helped us was great and showed us what our trip would look like. You do have to sign a waiver and I highly encourage not going alone. Number one, it can be dangerous, as you are on the water in the natural environment and anything might happen and number two, it’s just more fun to bring along a friend. Lighthouse Landing actually offers group discounts if you have 6 or more people! If you do have a group be sure to call ahead to make a reservation.


We parked at Lighthouse Landing and a mini school bus with a trailer that contains all the equipment (kayaks, canoes, paddles, etc.) takes you to your starting point, again depending on how long of an adventure you want. It’s perfect for either the serious kayaker, or the more leisurely kayaker like myself. The journey from the Marathon Landing, which is located just behind the Maple Museum in Marathon, back to Lighthouse Landing was just shy of five miles. To get to the Marathon Landing-our starting point- Lighthouse Landing has a mini school bus with a trailer attached. The equipment was loading and we hopped on the bus. If you have your own kayak or canoe, Lighthouse Landing can offer the same transport service for a small fee, which is great and really convenient. You don’t have to worry about having to paddle back upstream or where to leave your car. Their staff unloads the kayaks and paddles and are pretty good about knowing which type of kayak to have you use. You want to have the right length.


The bus ride is relatively short compared to the river journey down the river. Once unloaded, we dragged our kayaks to the landing and pushed off into the river. Since it was our first time kayaking on the Tioughnioga River, the staff made sure to let us know where the stopping point was to get ourselves (and the kayaks) back to Lighthouse Landing. It’s literally a stop sign and you can’t miss it.  You pull up onto the riverbank, get out, and leave your kayaks under a tree with a sign designating Lighthouse Landing drop off.  Easy peasy.


We put on our lifejackets and hopped into our kayaks and after a little wiggling we were off. We could not have asked for a better day with sunshine and temperatures hovering in the upper 70s. On either side of the river there was amazing local flora and fauna. The themes for the day quickly became back and forth shouts of “oh look, nature!” or “look, bird!” At one point we spotted a deer drinking from the river. Unfortunately it ran off before I could reach for my camera and capture that Kodak moment. We kayaked passed a couple of beaver dams and saw an amazing variety of birds. Along the way we noticed there were lots of little holes along the river bank for certain types of these birds. I’m not an ornithologist, the best I can do is tell you that they were small black birds. If you happen to be an ornithologist, you’ll love this kayak trip. One animal was missing from our kayaking trip, Alligators. Don’t laugh, they’ve caught two on the river this summer.  Global warming?


It’s not all smooth water on the mighty Tioughnioga. We did encounter a few “rough” spots. We jokingly called them rapids. Jokingly because these parts were merely faster. You do have to be careful here though. Not because of the speed, but there are some whirlpools and it can get very shallow so there’s a chance you can get stuck. We did, but with just a little bit of maneuvering we were able to get loose and continue on our way. Based on our experience this 2-hour kayak trip is perfect for beginners but I do recommend bringing along someone who has kayaked before and can share their useful tips and tricks to deal with certain areas of the river.


We ended up reaching the aforementioned STOP sign in about an hour and a half including   a couple of stops along the way to take some photographs. And at times we found we weren’t content to be floaters and decided to race each other. Once we saw the stop sign for Lighthouse Landing we turned and there is a gentle slope to kayak up on. We jumped out and dragged the kayaks about 20 feet to sit underneath the tree. Don’t leave your paddles or lifejackets here but walk on the path back to the main building and leave them there.


In the end I think I could have handled the longer 6-hour trip from Blodgett Mill but for this afternoon, the shorter journey was just fine. The experience was easy and ended up being a lot of fun. I walked away already wanting to find a day to come back.


Tips? Bring sunscreen and bug spray. I forgot my sunscreen and my arms got burned. There is some shade, but not much. In a few areas, we noticed a lot of mosquitos, so bug spraying yourself before you set off is advised. Also, your feet will probably get wet, if only getting in and out of the kayak-so wear appropriate footwear.


Final thoughts? 10/10 would go again. For as beautiful as the Tioughnioga River is from the shore, it is great to be in it taking in the view from the middle of the river, a wonderful natural setting.


For more information or to plan your kayak or canoe adventure on the Tioughnioga River call Lighthouse Landing at 607 423 5639.

The overall theme became each of us shouting “oh look, nature!” or “look, bird!” At one point, there was a deer drinking from the river. It ran off before I could reach for my camera… What animal was missing from our kayaking trip? Alligators. Thank goodness.