Field Trip: Paddling on the Gowanus Canal

Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club
Guided tours of the Gowanus Canal in South Slope launching from 2 19th Street, Brooklyn

By train: Take the R to Prospect Avenue, and then it’s a downhill walk (the slope!) to the canoe club’s bunker in the middle of an industrial park. About 35 minutes.
By bike: A quicker ride, and you can lock your bike right at their bunker and launch dock.
By car: Lots of parking out there, and for the sunset tour, you can park right at the bunker.

I have always wanted to paddle up the Gowanus Canal, and somehow heard about the Gowanus Dredgers, a non-profit canoe club that has been paddling on the canal for 20 years. They offer regular guided tours; you can also launch your own craft from their dock. HOWEVER! The DEP is doing remediation on the canal — dredging that the club supports — and so their regular boat house (at 2nd Street in what I think they would call Carroll Gardens or Central Gowanus) and much of the canal is NOT accessible. They instead have built a bunker in the South Slope at the end of 19th Street and launch from there into Gowanus Bay.

Our trip took us a short distance up the canal but we also got to paddle into Gowanus Bay, which was very exciting (and even a little scary) since three tug boats came in and out during our time out there. It’s a working waterfront! There is a huge Sanitation transfer station, DEP facilities, scrap yards where cranes were working at 8:30 at night, and a pretty constant smell of garbage. You go under bridges (for one you have to duck) and through three distinct neighborhoods:

It’s an amazing look into how the city *really* works, especially when you live in a completely sanitized neighborhood like Tribeca, where there are no municipal uses.

The Gowanus Dredgers are really an advocacy organization — they promote awareness of harbor contamination issues with a focus on sewage overflow during rainstorms. “PLEASE Skip a Shower When it Rains!” is their #1 message. From the Dredgers website: “The Gowanus has been called the ‘shortest,’ ‘most important,’ and ‘busiest,’ but was perhaps best known as the ‘most polluted’ canal in the country. For nearly 150 years the Gowanus Canal was the repository of toxic sludge, raw sewage, and commercial garbage. It earned the title Lavender Lake in honor of its constant oily sheen and for decades offended nearby residents with its foul odors. But now, against all odds it is making a comeback.”

There are two public housing sites in North Gowanus, and now some industrial land is being converted for market residential, with plans for a permanent boat house. Naturally there’s the gentrification canary: a Whole Foods right on the canal at 3rd Street and Third Avenue.

Luigi’s Pizza: I picked this off the map as something convenient to the subway and the boat launch, and it was just added to Eater’s most recent “iconic pizza” list, even though it opened in 1973. (Adam Sandler also shot a scene for “Big Daddy” there.) Thin, crispy crust, real cheese, pesto drizzle. It was amazing. Fountain sodas where you can still get grape. The calzones are square and filled with a sharp ricotta. There are lots of other restaurants up and down 5th Avenue too.



  1. Hi, I’m the Captain of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club. Thanks for coming out & learning about our favorite Super FUNd site & how to get involved for advocacy & remediation. We believe the lessons learned here, can be applied to the world around us & give us all hope that saving our planet is an easy thing to do.

  2. I thought the Gowanus canal was a Superfund site. They have been dredging toxic waste for years.. decades maybe? Disappointing to hear it’s still polluted and closed off. I guess the situation is somewhat improving?!?! Since you were allowed to canoe, but no showers after rainfall tends to tell another story.

    …Pizza looks amazing.

    • You’re right, hence the dredging. It is still being cleaned and it is still surrounded by industrial uses, including garbage transfer stations. Keep in mind that during heavy rains, sewage goes into all the city’s waterways through outflows, not just the Gowanus!