I made my first visit to the canal this evening after work. I put in at Cedar Bay Park & Picnic Area and used their canoe launch area. It is about 30 yards from the parking lot to water down a gravel path.
After I put in, I headed west. The canal is about 10-15 yards wide in most places with no perceptible current. I mostly thought about the history of the place as I paddled. As the only boat on the water, it was hard to imagine that "Clinton's ditch" was one of the country's most important highways in its time. As I watched the carp swim near the surface and the bass jump, I also thought about how the canal was essentially dug by hand.
After approximately one mile, you go through a culvert ("low bridge, everybody down"). The pigeons scared me silly. As I approached the next few footbridges, I made more noise to scare the birds out before I went in.
After the second mile or so, you need to go through a narrow passage of about 5 feet wide. I slowed down and paddled canoe style for about 30 feet, and then the canal opens up before you again.
I paddled about 3 miles West before turning around -- far fewer than the fifteen miles per day that the old canal barges used to travel with mule-power. Along the way, you will notice old canal stones, turtles, fish jumping, and numerous walkers along the old mule path. This is a very popular walking and biking trail.
One note: depending on the weather, portions of the canal can be a little stagnant, but I noticed no odor. I was expecting to deal with flies and mosquitoes, but that did not happen.
All in all, a very nice historical paddle. However, this area is no longer pristine, and for portions of the trail you can hear cars on the parallel road through the trees. I recommend bringing bug spray. Posted signs indicate that the water is contaminated, so avoid contact with the water. Wash body parts that contact water.
Running water in restrooms at the park
From Erie Boulevard in Syracuse/Dewitt, turn on Kinne Rd toward Shoppingtown Mall. Go past the mall and up the hill past the cemetery. You will approach a series of stop signs and go over the highway. As you go up the hill, Kinne dead ends at Cedar Bay Drive. Turn left. You will see an unmarked put-in on the left. Continue for about 1/2 mile and you will see the park.
New York State Parks -- Old Erie Canal State Park, Town of Dewitt Cedar Bay Park & Picnic Area.