With the first great American river as its namesake, it should come as no surprise that the Hudson Valley boasts a wide assortment of water recreation options. You can jump in a kayak or canoe and paddle through wetlands populated with all manner of shy wildlife in an estuary, shoot some rapids in a Catskill stream, take a dip in public swimming area or see the good side of our cities in a kayak or tour boat on the Hudson itself.
Aside from the mighty Hudson, few area waterways are suitable for motorized boats –– they’re just too shallow. Human-powered watercraft, particularly kayaks, owing to increased availability and affordability, have become popular in recent years. It’s easy to see why –– paddling a kayak on a small river allows a person to glide almost soundlessly in as little as six inches of water, offering unparallel maneuverability. You feel that you’re a part of the environment. Animals who would take flight at the sound of an outboard motor seem not to know what to make of a person in a kayak; I’ve had both deer and fox stare me down quizzically from the shore even as a was headed straight toward them, the spell broken only when I made a sudden sound or movement.
Let’s start with a couple bodies of water suitable for beginners. Shari Aber, author of A Kayaker’s Guide to the Hudson River Valley: The Quieter Waters––Rivers, Creeks, Lakes and Ponds suggests the Great Vly on the border of Saugerties and Greene County, and Chodikee Lake in the town of Lloyd just east of New Paltz. Both are relatively still, predominantly wetlands, with no currents to battle and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities. The first time Aber visited the Vly last year she noticed some movement in the undergrowth near the shore –– it turned out to be two small bear cubs.
“You almost always see some wildlife,” she said.
Be on the lookout for osprey, bald eagles, kingfishers, beavers and great blue herons, the latter particularly numerous at Chodikee Lake. The Great Vly is a bit larger and mostly shallow water, while Chodikee Lake begins as deep lake, narrowing to a shallow channel as you make your way north. Eventually this channel becomes the Black Creek––quite a different animal altogether. On an early spring day, the water rushed over rocks and dropped several feet in places, and creating a constant WHOOSH sound audible for 10 minutes before I came near enough to see the bend. If you’re adventurous and experienced in whitewater kayaking, you can follow the creek up to the Hudson. If not, it’s quite obvious in advance when the northern channel of the lake becomes rough, so you can just turn around.
Go with the flow
Rivers offer different challenges and rewards than wetlands. There’s the current to cope with, and usually plenty of signs of human development on the shores, which can be discouraging to those expecting a Last of the Mohicans viewshed. Aber suggests the latter isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She recommends paddling the Rondout Creek, starting at the waterfront park on The Strand in Kingston, and heading inland a couple miles until you reach the Eddyville Dam, then turning around. “It’s like an urban experience,” said Aber. “You go from urban area right into the water, and it’s a shocking change. I like it.”
Starting off with a view of the Kingston waterfront, meant, after all, to be seen from a boat, as you make your way up river you’ll see the relics of docks and barges from the era when Rondout was the main port between Albany and New York City, says Aber.
The end of the paddle is pleasant, usually with numerous fishermen and herons culling the fish corralled by the dam. This area of the Rondout is influenced by the tide of the Hudson, so when the tide is rising the current will be stronger, and vice versa.
In Dutchess County, Wappinger Creek is a popular place to put in. It even has its own derby, with the 40th annual taking place this year on Sunday, April 24. Wappinger Creek is a bit more rough and tumble than the other bodies of water we’ve mentioned up to now, and you can expect to get wet. It doesn’t qualify as whitewater kayaking, but you should know something about how to read the water around obstacles, and be able to right you boat if you capsize, says Aber. She suggests beginning at Cady Park in Pleasant Valley, and following the creek for about seven miles as flows southwest, ending at Greenvale Park.
Back in Ulster County, the Wallkill River is a similar paddle. According to Lisa Berger, director of marketing for Ulster County Tourism, there are a number of routes. You can go from Wallkill to Gardiner, or Gardiner to New Paltz, each about six or seven miles (or you could do both if you’re feeling vigorous and have most of the day to kill). Needless to say, you’ll need two cars to make any of these work.
Another good paddle is the Esopus Creek in Saugerties, above the Cantine Dam but well below the rapids. The water does move, but the current is usually quite leisurely. This area is only a couple miles in length, but it abuts the 187-acre Esopus Bend Nature Preserve, and it’s worth checking out.