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Kayaking in NYC is a little different than what you might be used to elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean the options are limited. The New York City Water Trail connects 160 square miles of river, ocean, inlet, and bay, with launch points from all five boroughs. Pretty cool set-up, right? And since owning a kayak is nearly as unreasonable as owning a car (at least for Manhattanites), most launch points have kayak rentals, too.
Here are the best spots to take off from around the city.
Whether you’re new to paddling or just to the area, the Long Island City Community Boathouse is a solid place to start. They offer free group paddles from the Anable Basin, and volunteers guide groups to further destinations like Brooklyn Bridge Park. You have to register online, but they’ll hook you up with a free kayak rental. If you’re looking for a quick escape into the water, LIC also offers free 20-minute sessions from Hallet’s Cove. Though, when it’s not busy, you can stay out longer.
From Manhattan, you can pick up a free kayak at Pier 26 or Pier 96 and coast through the calm bays along the west side of the city. There’s a catch, though. If you're a novice kayaker, it paddling here can be rather unsafe without a guide. Luckily, Manhattan Kayak + SUP offers guided tours (the only to do so on the Hudson) ranging from three to 30 miles, depending on how far you want to adventure. And with views of the Statue of Liberty from downtown and the Empire State Building from Midtown, you'll want to adventure far.
New York really hooks it up with the free kayaking options. From Pier 2 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, you can paddle out into the bay facing the East River and take in Manhattan’s skyline. Single and double kayaks are available, and if you need a lesson, the boathouse volunteers are available. Once you’re done, head over to Ample Hills for the best ice cream on the pier.
Visiting the Statue of Liberty by ferry is cool, but reaching it by kayak is even better. From Midtown, it’s about two hours each way via kayak. Manhattan Kayak offers group tours, and requires kayakers to have passed Kayak 1-2-3 (three sessions that get you to intermediate level) since the water can get choppy.
Start at this Red Hook outpost and cruise around the picturesque New York Harbor. You might just spot some wildlife near the park’s estuary. Red Hook Boaters offers free rentals to anyone who spends 15 minutes before or after helping clean up the beach (pretty sweet deal if you ask us). While you’re out in Red Hook, grab some food at Brooklyn Crab or Hometown Bar-B-Que after your paddle.
When you need to get out of the city, STAT, Cold Spring is always the move. An hour north of Grand Central, Cold Spring is home to the Breakneck Ridge Trail and tons of cool kayaking opportunities. You can go out to Bannerman Castle, explore Foundry Cove, or paddle through Constitution Marsh to see an amazing waterfall. Grab kayaks from Hudson River Expeditions — depending on how long you go out, rentals sometimes come with lunch.
Brooklyn’s biggest park looks more like the Florida Everglades than a typical New York green space, and that’s why we love it. From Gerritsen Inlet, you can paddle through the quiet creeks and marshes for a few miles. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can head all the way out to the Atlantic Ocean or the Rockaways. Take note though: you’ll need a permit to launch a kayak on your own here.
As you head out from the World’s Fair Marina launch, you’ll catch a glimpse of the “flying saucers” left over from the 1964 fair (as seen in Men in Black), and notice planes coming in and out of LaGuardia. If you’re looking for more time out on the water, you can also head out of the bay toward Rikers Island. And if you need a kayak, Wheel Fun Rentals has you covered.
Road trip: Letchworth might be a trek (a five-hour one, specifically), but it’s more than worth it for a weekend at the “Grand Canyon of the East.” The park has five-and-a-half miles of Class I and II whitewater kayaking down the Genesee River, and some gorgeous waterfalls on the south end. Plus, the park is half an hour south of Rochester, which has lots of cool restaurants and museums to explore.
Esopus Creek offers some of the best intermediate kayaking opportunities in the Catskill Mountains. And if you’re down for a full day, it can be reached on a day-trip from the city. There are several Class II, III, and IV rapids to explore, with launch points off Route 28 in Phoenicia and Allaben. FYI: the further north you go, the more challenging and narrow the waters tend to be.
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