Kayakers on the Hudson River

Paddling Guide to the Hudson River

From tranquil tidewaters to raging whitewater, New York’s storied waterway offers paddling destinations for every skill level.

The historic Hudson River flows more than 300 miles, starting from Lake Tear of the Clouds on the upper slopes of New York’s highest point (5,344-foot Mount Marcy) all the way to the tidal waters of New York Harbor. On the journey from the heights of the Adirondacks’ High Peaks Wilderness Area to the heart of the world’s largest metropolitan area (by urban landmass), the Empire State’s marquee waterway serves up endless paddling opportunities. And if you know where to look, you can find as many destination-worthy options across different paddling disciplines as there are fall colors along the Hudson’s banks. Whether you’re after whitewater in its headwaters, tranquil flats mid-state, or estuarine options closer to the coast, this diverse river corridor presents a melting pot of paddling fun for all ages and abilities (and all within reasonable driving distance of the New York metro area). Following are a few hotspots to add to your list, starting from the closest, simplest options in the greater New York Tri-State Region, before heading to more technical (and distant) waters upriver. 

Sea Kayaking the Big Apple 

Don’t overlook the best of the Hudson’s big-water, big-city options. These unexpectedly scenic and secluded urban escapes can often include some of the best views of the New York skyline. Go on your own if you have the skills to handle dynamic, tidal-influenced (and sometimes heavily trafficked) water, or head out with an outfitter like Kayak Hudson. Following are a few local paddlers’ favorite trips.

Utilize a Boathouse

Whether you’re a novice or a pro, you can benefit from the services of a boathouse along the Hudson, established to help people experience Manhattan from the water. Many offer lessons, rentals and storage, making it easier than ever to enjoy the water. One favorite: the all-volunteer/nonprofit Downtown Boathouse in Tribeca, built in 1994 to provide free public access for kayaking the harbor (it’s helped launch a half-million people on the water). Find it at Pier 26 Boathouse at North Moore St. 

Tour Sleepy Hollow

Yes, paddle in the wake of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as you stroke past the historic Tarrytown Lighthouse, built in 1883, and the 3-mile-long, cantilevered Tappan Zee Bridge connecting Westchester and Rockland counties. Put in at Kingsland Point Park in Sleepy Hollow (an hour north of Manhattan).   

Cruise the Croton River

Explore a tributary of the Hudson while training your binos on such birds as osprey, hawks and herons. Fun fact: You’ll also pass the historic Van Cortlandt Manor, a pre-revolutionary estate. Put in at Croton-on-Hudson, and combine your tour with a night camping at 500-acre Croton Point Park (10 miles upriver of Sleepy Hollow), situated on a peninsula overlooking the river with cabins and tent sites. 

Two kayaks on Hudson river from above

Touring Midstate’s Best Moving Water 

For easier (though no less scenic) paddling ventures, head a few hours north to New York’s capital of Albany, where the Hudson skirts the city’s many riverside attractions. Launch at one of numerous access points downtown such as Corning Preserve and Jennings Landing Park, offering parking, trails, picnic tables, playgrounds and an amphitheater (hint: time your float when a band’s playing). Paddle round-trip or point-to-point with the river’s countless launching/landing spots, stopping to dine or picnicking along its banks while exploring its myriad canals and marinas. Its paddling options are suitable for everything from sea kayaks and canoes to SUPs and rec kayaks. Want more river time? Head for one of the following.

Henry Hudson Park

Just south of Albany, this Bethlehem town park offers a nice launch for a 30-mile float trip downriver to Germantown, a flatwater section featuring a gentle current, bald eagles and more. Make it an overnight outing by camping at Grays Point in Hudson River Islands State Park.

Mohawk River/Erie Canal

And just north of Albany, the boat launch located in Waterford opens access to the Mohawk River (the Hudson’s largest tributary) as well as the greater Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. Paddle up to Horseshoe Falls around Peebles Island, or explore the area by Lock 2 to see the boats lined up waiting to use the locks. Want to enter them yourself? From the Flightlock Road Boat Launch, paddle down the Flight of Locks for a 2.7-mile flatwater journey that drop 169 feet through five locks before ending at Upstate Kayak Rentals Waterford location (one of 13 different rental locations, with 11 self-serve rental operations on the Hudson and Mohawk rivers). Local tip: Before leaving, contact the paddler-friendly Lock 6 Lockmaster (518-237-4014) to let them know you’re paddling eastbound so they can open the initial lock. 

High Adventure on the Hudson’s Whitewater 

The upper Hudson is considered one of the top whitewater rafting destinations in the country for its scenery, rapids and easy access. Depending on the time of year and the river section, enjoy a family float interspersed with splashy rapids or heart-pounding whitewater. In spring, rapids reach their peak, approaching Class IV-V. By mid-summer, the river mellows to Class II-III, with autumn rains boosting it up a hair (and aiding the region’s incredible fall foliage along its wooded shores and towering cliffs). Check with local outfitters like North Creek, N.Y.-based Hudson Rafting Co., for the best trip for your experience level. 

The Hudson Gorge

Located in Upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains, this spectacular 17-mile whitewater run is known for its continuous rapids that range from Class III-V in spring, to Class III in summer. Heading out with your family? Visit during the warmer weather (and water) of the summer, when you can swim in tranquil pools by sandy beaches, or fall, which offers changing colors and an escape from the crowds. And don’t worry about water levels; controlled dam releases provide flows all season. Want to sleep under the stars? Some outfitters even offer overnight trips, adding camping fun to the mix. 

Sacandaga River

Just 10 minutes from Lake George Village (an hour north of Albany), the Sacandaga River offers an easy, fun option for families, flowing 3.5 miles into the Hudson. Get splashed by gentle Class II-III waves and swim in the tranquil sections with the Adirondacks as your backdrop. With guaranteed flows from dam releases, the trip starts at the base of the Stewart’s Dam before quickly hitting a wave called Vesuvius, followed by a mile-long swim section and then a pair of final Class IIIs before its confluence with the Hudson.    

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.