There is a great deal to see in these parts that can’t be accessed nearly so intimately from land as from a boat. Peak experiences like witnessing a bald eagle plunge into the water and emerge with a fish in its claws, at close range, are all in a day’s paddle if you’ve got a kayak handy.
But what if you don’t own one yet, or have a friend who’s willing to lend theirs on a perfect paddling day? It’s a good idea to try out a few different types and models of kayaks before you make a long-term investment in one. You’ll learn a lot in a short time about what you want and what you don’t. For instance, many novice paddlers imagine that a kayak with a large opening is more user-friendly than one that’s a tight squeeze. Not so: You don’t really sit in a kayak so much as “wear” it, and having your hips and thighs wedged tightly against the gunwales confers a huge steering advantage that greatly outweighs the ease of access of a big open cockpit.
If you don’t know where to start, consider going out with a group your first few times. Ulster County has a fabulous resource in the City of Kingston’s Parks and Recreation Department, which runs two-hour guided kayak tours beginning in late May out of the Forsyth Nature Center. Boats launch from the beach at Kingston Point Park, the Rondout waterfront and the Esopus Creek not far from the Kingston traffic circle, depending on destination. The cost is typically $25 for City of Kingston residents, $35 for non-residents: quite reasonable, since that includes rental of your boat, paddle and Personal Flotation Device, plus the guide services of a professional environmental educator who knows where to look for wildlife.
On the menu are Saturday evening Hudson River Sunset Paddles, departing from Kingston Point; the Friday evening Up the Creek Kayak Tour, leaving from Gallo Park, where you’ll get closeup views of the many sunken barges along the banks of the Rondout Creek; the Saturday morning Good Morning Paddle on the Hudson, leaving from Kingston Point; and occasional Esopus Creek Kayak Tours. Reservations are required and these small-group outings fill up rapidly, so plan ahead; bad weather cancels. To sign up or find out more, call (845) 331-1682, extension 7336, or visit www.forsythnaturecenter.org or www.kingston-ny.gov.
Another entity that conducts guided kayak excursions on the Hudson, among many other destinations in the Northeast, is Atlantic Kayak Tours. Trips launching from the Norrie Point Paddlesport Center at Margaret L. Norrie State Park in Staatsburgh in Dutchess County visit destinations including the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse. Other points of departure for this commercial outfitter include the shoreline below the Rhinecliff Train Station, heading for the Rondout; Tivoli Bays, which abound in wildlife; Dutchman’s Landing in the town of Catskill, heading either north to the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse and RamsHorn Creek or south to the Saugerties Lighthouse or Germantown Landing; Plum Point in New Windsor to Storm King and Bannerman’s Castle; and many other outings further up and down the Hudson Valley. For dates, prices and other details visit www.atlantickayaktours.com.
If all you want is a boat and some basic gear to try out, Kingston offers two popular places for kayak rentals. Kenco, the outdoor equipment and apparel store located on Hurley Mountain Road just off Route 28 a little west of Kingston, rents kayaks by the day. You can get a “recreational” kayak (the sit-on-top kind) for $55 or a touring or tandem kayak for $65 for a full 24-hour period; for $100, you can hang onto your boat for the whole weekend.
Obviously you can’t launch your boat right from the landlocked Kenco store site; but if you don’t have a rack on your car, your loaner will come with a set of foam blocks and straps so that you can carry your kayak on the roof anyway. The rental counter is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Reservations are recommended, but if it isn’t a busy weekend, you may be able to get a boat on a walk-in. Phone (845) 340-0552 or visit www.atkenco.com.
Marinas and yacht clubs aren’t usually the best places to launch a kayak, since these tippy craft are easier to get into by wading alongside them on a ramp, rather than by trying to pivot one’s center of gravity into the cockpit from a floating dock. But New Ulster Marine, located under the old railroad trestle at 440 Abeel Street in Kingston, has the advantage of renting kayaks where you can launch them right into the Rondout Creek. For details call (845) 339-4364 or visit www.newulstermarine.com.
If you’re feeling timid about taking your rented kayak out onto moving water your first time out, a stillwater option in Ulster County is the Kenneth L. Wilson Campground and Day Use Area on Wittenberg Road in Mount Tremper. You can rent a boat and paddle around the lake to your heart’s content; then, once you’re feeling more confident about how to maneuver your craft, you can check out a more adventurous alternative. To find out more, call (845) 679-7020 or visit www.dec-campgrounds.com.
That same Department of Environmental Conservation website is a great resource for kayak put-in spots all around New York State. Also check out www.ulstertourism.info/landing/paddle-past-beautiful-scenery and the Kingston Paddle Pals’ newsgroup on Yahoo at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/KingstonPaddlePals for long lists of ideas of intriguing places where you can launch your rented boat in and around Ulster County. Before long, you’ll be looking to buy your own!