Kayaking in the Hudson Valley

Kayaking is one of our ultimate outdoor adventures in 2013




A group of kayakers pose in front of Storm King Mountain

Photograph courtesy of Storm King Adventure Tours

When he was just 14, Jesse Hicks bought a pair of secondhand kayaks “as a goof” so he and his friends could muck around with them on the Hudson River. Before he’d even had the chance to lower his new vessels into the water for the first time, two passersby offered him $100 to rent his boats. Taken aback, he demurred, but a business was born that day.

Last summer, some five years later, Hicks returned to the river with his two kayaks, setting up shop as A Day Away Kayak Rentals on the Rondout Creek, which flows into the Hudson just below Kingston. “I threw out my original business plan after my first three weeks running it because my numbers were through the roof,” he says. This season, the 20-year-old SUNY New Paltz business major has 16 boats and a rapidly expanding company. “We’re seeing a lot of return business from word of mouth,” says Hicks. “We’re getting a lot of new tourism, especially from New York City.” 

You see, when your commodity is as invaluable as the Hudson River and its creeks and estuaries, and your vehicle for enjoying it as fitting as the kayak — gliding simply and effortlessly through the water as you take in the edges and ripples and folds in the landscape — it’s not terribly hard to make a living at it. “It’s the perfect location,” says Hicks. “Bald eagles live on the ridge near where we’re located. There are islands where you can have a picnic.”

Rondout Creek is also favorable because “it’s beautiful water and very lightly tidal, which is similar to a lake scenario.” This matters: At times, the river itself may look smooth as a mirror, but its flows are deceptive. This is a major waterway, after all, carrying both commercial shipping and an unfathomable amount of water downriver and into the Atlantic Ocean. “It’s not so much that it’s difficult, but you definitely have to know where you are and that the current is strong,” says Hicks. That means being mindful of how much upstream paddling you’ll have to do and knowing how to absorb the waves traveling off passing ships.

For the more seasoned kayakers, races have started cropping up all over the area. The oldest and best known is the annual Wappinger Creek Water Derby, an eight-mile race — which most of the several hundred entrants don’t treat as one — from Pleasant Valley to Poughkeepsie.

And for those looking for a different experience altogether, several kayak outfitters offer trips to Pollepel Island, which include walking tours of the remains of Bannerman Castle, a replica of a Scottish fortress built by munitions dealer Frank Bannerman as a summer getaway in 1901. Hudson Valley Outfitters of Cold Spring has been offering the tours for about a decade. They’re also the only ones to offer access to the old castle as part of the camping trips they arrange to the island. “We sleep near the residence,” explains owner Teri Barr. “Its reddish rocks are lit up and complement the starry summer sky. To be on the island at night is pretty magical.”

Where to try it:

Storm King Adventure Tours, Cornwall-on-Hudson; www.stormkingadventuretours.com
Hudson Valley Outfitters, Cold Spring; www.hudsonvalleyoutfitters.com
Atlantic Kayak Tours, Saugerties; www.atlantickayaktours.com
A Day Away Kayak Rentals, Kingston; www.takeadayaway.net

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