Everybody knows about the Hudson. But in her new book, A Kayaker's Guide to the Hudson Valley, New Paltz's Shari Aber shares some out-of-the-way places to paddle.
Kayaking on the Hudson has become increasingly popular. But one area resident spent more than a year exploring the quieter, back waterways of the region. She shares her adventures... and a few good routes
When Shari Aber retired from the Newburgh Free Academy in 2005 after teaching English for 29 years, the longtime outdoor enthusiast was inspired to add kayaking to her expanding list of recreational activities.
But there was one problem: Where would she go? Naturally, she and her husband Joe could take their shiny new recreational kayaks to the Hudson — and, eventually, they did. But the mighty river has tides and currents to navigate, and the New Paltz resident wanted to renew her childhood passion for the water under somewhat tamer conditions.
Aber knew the region was dotted with waterways of all kinds, but she wasn’t sure where to gain access to them. “Most people did not know much about where to kayak. Even when I heard about places, it was difficult to find them,” she recalls. “A friend of mine had told me about the stretch of the Rondout Creek from Accord to High Falls. So I took my kayak, went to Accord, and started to look for a place to put it in the creek. I asked people in local stores about the public access to the Rondout, and they had no idea.”
Aber often wondered why there was no kayaking guide to the other waters of the Hudson Valley. Finally, she stopped wondering and started exploring. The result: A Kayaker’s Guide to the Hudson River Valley: The Quieter Waters, Rivers, Creeks, Lakes and Ponds, Aber’s 224-page compendium which was recently published by Black Dome Press in Hensonville. Compiling the book was no simple task. “I searched on the Internet, I spent a lot of time poring over maps, and then I would go drive around and scout out areas,” Aber says. “I started with local outfitters, I talked to the folks at the DEC, I did a lot of networking. The fishermen are always good people to ask.” The guide details more than 70 routes — from the fast, white waters of the Neversink River, tucked into the far southwestern corner of Orange County, to the peaceful lakes in Columbia County. Readers learn exactly where to access a body of water and what kind of ride they can expect. “The lakes are very solitary, very calm, but the creeks and rivers are much more exciting,” the author says.
During her treks, Aber had more than a few adventures. She once pulled her kayak out of the Fishkill Creek because there were too many downed trees — and got lost for several hours in the woods. While paddling on the Bashakill, she saw an eagle for the first time: “It was so impressive,” she recalls. And then there was the time she mistook a beaver swimming beside her for a log. “By the time I realized what it was, it was too late to get the camera out.”
But wherever she finds herself, Aber remains fascinated by the new perspective kayaking brings to familiar places. “It brings nature so close. I live right by the Wallkill, and I’m used to seeing it from the road. But you put your boat into the water and even though you’re just a few yards away, it feels completely different. It looks so much like it probably did 200 years ago. You see abandoned factories. You pass docks and piers that have been abandoned, buildings that are no longer in use, towns that are being renovated. You really see the history of this region.”
Kayaking is a fast-growing sport. “I can’t believe how many kayaks I see on top of cars in New Paltz these days,” says Aber, who attributes this growth, in part, to updated technology and today’s sleek, light kayaks. She also points out that kayaking is fairly easy, with no lessons required. “You don’t need a great amount of physical strength,” says the paddler (although she does admit that her arms are stronger and more toned now than they were before she began her odyssey).
Below, Aber shares the entire text of one of the more interesting treks included in her book. The Rondout Creek in Kingston is a moderate paddle — and especially fascinating for the way it showcases the unique contrast between city and nature. Keep reading for snapshots of several other routes, and a list of local outfitters who rent and sell kayaks.
Rondout Creek in
Route: Launching from the Strand in Kingston, paddle southwest to the Eddyville dam, then back.
Total Mileage: 6+ miles round-trip.
Hazards: This trip begins at the point where the Rondout meets the Hudson. Tides, weather, and boat traffic always pose some danger to small craft.
Remarks: Combines human and natural history, as well as urban and rural settings.
In an era when water transportation reigned supreme, the Rondout’s location at the midpoint on the Hudson River between New York City and Albany, and at the port of entry from the Rondout Creek and the Delaware and Hudson Canal, established its position as the principal port between the terminal cities. From the time the D&H Canal was completed in 1825 until the railway system supplanted the system of canals and waterways late in the century, Rondout was king, a commercial hub supplying the growing city 90 miles south with cement for bridges and roads, bluestone for sidewalks, Pennsylvania coal for fuel, and ice harvested during the winter months from the Hudson River for refrigeration in the hot summer months. With its 19th-century growth and economic prosperity, the village of Rondout joined with the village of Kingston, forming the incorporated city of Kingston. New technology, however, made much of the new city’s commerce obsolete. The D&H Railroad replaced the canal. Later the ice industry died, a victim of refrigeration. Like many other Hudson River ports, Kingston languished, the bustling activity of barges and tugboats a mere memory of its glorious past.
Today, recreation and renovation have partially restored a portion of the river here. As you paddle from the Strand to the Eddyville dam, you pass marina after marina, your small kayak next to cabin cruisers, mega-yachts, trawlers, sailboats, and catamarans. Yet rusting hulls of partially submerged barges remain, vestiges of the city’s past. These, too, you pass, as you head northeast towards the Hudson and the Rondout Creek Lighthouse.
Directions: To get to the Kingston riverfront, take exit 19 on the New York State Thruway. At the traffic circle, turn onto I-587 (
The Paddle: Across from you, as you put in, is Dock Island, a man-made spit of land created to provide both additional storage for the anthracite coal shipped via canal and river to New York City, and a place to deposit what was dredged from the bottom. Despite its name, it is not an island and dead-ends a half a mile or so to the west. Turn to your left towards the Hudson — you will see the US-9W bridge over the Rondout ahead of you — and then right, around Dock Island and west upriver.
Go under the Wurts Street Suspension Bridge. On your right are the woods along the southern bank of Dock Island; on your left, Port Ewen; ahead, Wilbur Bridge, a still-used railroad crossing. You soon leave Dock Island behind, and now the parade of marinas begins in earnest, hundreds and hundreds of boats anchored at their facilities. Fortunately, most of the Rondout is a no-wake zone, the designation allowing you to proceed safely. On the Port Ewen side, huge pyramid-like piles of what looks like gravel, and elaborate metal structures for conveying the material, serve as a reminder that the waterways and their banks are not simply for play.
Gumaer Island lies ahead, with the wider passage to the north. Just as you pass the last of the marinas and large boats, you glimpse the Eddyville Bridge ahead and hear the rumble of the water tumbling over the Eddyville dam. You may well see some fishermen by the water’s edge. Most species of fish cannot swim past the dam — a fact that has caused some sportsmen and environmentalists to advocate a renovation of the dam — and many fish congregate between the frothy waters beneath the dam and the SR-213 overpass.
Turning back towards Kingston three miles from where you started, explore the other side of Gumaer Island. Here there is no bustle, there are no boats, no bridges, and no buildings, and for the moment you feel far from the urban experience of this Kingston paddle. This is a marsh, and in summer the vegetation grows lush. Around the island you reemerge in the creek, which is so studded with boats that it seems busy even when they are all at anchor. If you stay to the right, you might notice the decaying wooden struts of some former structure. An array of plants is rooted in each, a hint that nature is again reclaiming the debris that we leave.
Approaching the Strand, you can turn left around Dock Island and return, or continue towards the Hudson to see the Rondout Creek Lighthouse. The mile stretch to the lighthouse is a stark reminder of what this port once was. Though Kosco oil tanks stand on both sides of the creek, speaking of the energy of contemporary America, rusted barges and tugs, decaying planks and pilings, signal the death of another era. Tons of refuse and wreckage lie at the water’s edge on the south bank.
Follow the waterway as it turns to the right and you will see at last the lighthouse, the third of three erected at the mouth of the Rondout Creek. This final rendition was built at the end of a long jetty and has withstood the hammering of the water and the weather since 1913. If the river is not too rough, you may be able to dock your kayak and look around before you head back to the small-boat launch at the Strand.
A few other routes:
Tenmile River from Dover Plains to Webatuck
Route: Starting in Dover Plains, paddle south towards Wingdale. Follow the river as it turns east towards Connecticut, pulling out in Webatuck.
Total Mileage: 7.75 miles one way.
Setting: Rural landscape with hardwood forests, fields, farms, rolling hills.
Hazards: This is moving flat water. There are occasional shallow riffles with rocks and small rapids, some low-hanging branches and deadfall. As with all moving water, caution must be taken.
Remarks: Requires two vehicles. Rainfall amounts will impact trip.
Silver Mine Lake in Woodbury
How to Get There: Go to Harriman State Park. Take Seven Lakes Drive. The lake is 1.5 miles south of the intersection with US-6 on the east side of the drive.
Where to Put In: You can drive in front of the parking lots down towards the lake to upload your boat right by the water. Then park in the main area.
Remarks: Only a tip of the 82-acre lake (edged with lilies and other plants) touches the road. So, against a backdrop of mountains you can enjoy much seclusion.
Note: You need a Harriman State Park boat permit. Call 845-786-2701 for information.
Catskill Creek into Catskill
Route: After launching from Dutchman’s Landing, paddle around Catskill Point into the mouth of the creek. Follow the creek, passing under the US-9W overpass. At the old dam, turn around and return.
Total Mileage: 5.4 miles round-trip.
Setting: Hudson River into the wide channel of the mouth of the Catskill. Pass first through old industrial Catskill, then through the residential section, and finally out of town and into the woods.
Hazards: Currents, tides, weather conditions and boat traffic on the Hudson always pose some danger to small craft.
Remarks: Short trip offers great variety of scenery.
Caption: 1. Kayakers and canoers follow the flow of the East Branch of the Croton River southward on a guided wildlife safari.
2. A northern water snake suns itself on the edge of Black Creek
3. An eagle watches over the Bashakill wetland and swamp.
4. Evidence of busy beavers on trees along the edge of Dubois Creek
5. The picturesque view from under the railroad bridge on the Otter Kill.
6. The Claverack and Kinderhook converge to form the wide, much deeper Stockport Creek as they approach the Hudson.
7. This sign, visible from the Rondout, serves as a clear reminder of the history of the region.
8. The 1869 Saugerties Lighthouse at the mouth of the Esopus was once an important warning light for shipping vessels; it now houses a small museum and lighthouse.