Excerpted and adapted from the newly updated Quiet Water New York, 3rd ed., out now from AMC Books.
Although few places in the United States surpass the wildness of Adirondack lakes and meandering flows, New York offers many other outstanding paddling destinations. From the tidal estuaries of Long Island to the wild and marshy inlet creeks of Lake Ontario, tremendous paddling exists near and far—places just right for a several-day expedition or for a half day of paddling near home. Here are eight quiet water paddles to try this summer, taken from the newly updated AMC’s Quiet Water New York.
1. NISSEQUOGUE RIVER | Smithtown
The Nissequogue is almost totally undeveloped and one of Long Island’s most popular paddling locations. Spartina islands and the shoreline offer hours of exploration at high tide. In places, channels have gradually closed in, leaving narrow, sinewy, maze-like creeks that wind among the islands. Look for ospreys, herons, ducks, geese, mute swans, double-crested cormorants, and egrets. Outfitters rent boats and provide shuttle service. The modest current would not prevent an up-and-back trip, except near the river’s mouth, although you might want to shuttle if you have to deal with both current and wind.
From I-495, take Exit 53 and go 6 miles north on Sunken Meadow Parkway to Exit SM4E. Go east 2.2 miles on Pulaski Road/Old Dock Road and turn right on Saint Johnland Road. Go 0.4 mile to the Nissequogue River State Park Access entrance on the left. Access also possible at Paul T. Given County Park Access.
Area: 5.5 miles one way
2. JAMAICA BAY WILDLIFE REFUGE | Brooklyn, Queens
Huge Jamaica Bay is dotted with dozens of islands and supports an extraordinary number of birds. How does one explore a marsh of this size? You could paddle the eastern section, investigating the nesting colonies on the Jo Co Marsh. You could also explore the more island-choked western section, eventually heading up to Canarsie Pol Island to look for heron rookeries.
Because you can easily get lost among the islands, we recommend that you take along a compass and a map. Wind can affect this big water; always wear your personal flotation device. We recommend first-time Jamaica Bay paddlers go out with experienced hands.
Follow signs to JFK Airport. From the Van Wyck Expressway, I-678, Exit 1W, go 0.5 mile west, and merge onto Route 27/Conduit Avenue. Go 0.1 mile and merge onto Belt Parkway. Go 1.9 miles to Exit 17S, Cross Bay Boulevard. Go 3.6 miles south on Cross Bay Boulevard to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on the right. Access is also possible at Cross Bay Boulevard and Rockaway.
Area: 9,155 acres
3. CLIFF LAKE | Bethel, Highland, Lumberland
This out-of-the-way reservoir attracts few visitors, making it a delightful place to paddle. It’s small, but because it’s long and relatively narrow, you can paddle more than 4 miles of shoreline. Cliff Lake and the surrounding upland belong to Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, but the company allows public access from May 1 through November. When we hiked up to Cliff Lake and around the reservoir, the meadows—some carpeted with ferns, some filled with shade-loving grasses or sedges—struck us as particularly gorgeous. We recommend visiting before fall to improve chances of finding the reservoir full. As with other nearby reservoirs, watch for bald eagles; we saw three on our last visit.
From the Mongaup Falls Reservoir access, continue 0.3 mile west on Route 43, turn right, and go 2.0 miles to the access.
Area: 200 acres
Info: Cliff Lake; Quiet Water New York, p. 78
4. GRAFTON LAKES AND DUNHAM RESERVOIR | Grafton
Grafton Lakes State Park—which includes Long, Second, Shaver, and Mill Ponds—and Dunham Reservoir draw many hikers and boaters near Albany and Troy. Wildlife includes ospreys, mallards, Canada geese, and beavers. The large beach area on Long Pond gets crowded on sunny summer weekends, so we recommend visiting midweek or outside of the summer season.
We found the less-accessible Shaver Pond and Dunham Reservoir the most enjoyable to paddle. The easy half-mile carry into Shaver Pond follows a nature trail, suitable for a portage cart. Explore the eastern end of Dunham Reservoir and the winding inlet stream. A great place for families that enjoy paddling, hiking, and camping, the park boasts several trails.
Dunham Reservoir Accesses. From Troy, go east on Route 2 to the junction with Route 278, then continue 5.4 miles on Route 2 before turning right on Dunham Road. Go 0.8 mile to a gate. Park and carry down to the reservoir’s western end. To reach the eastern end, go back to Route 2, and take three right turns to the access.
Long, Second, and Shaver Ponds Accesses. At the intersection with Dunham Road, continue 1.4 miles east on Route 2 to the park entrance on the right. Follow signs to the access to Long and Second ponds. For Shaver Pond, park in the main parking area, and take the trail from the southwest end of the parking lot.
Area: Long Pond, 113 acres; Second Pond, 29 acres; Mill Pond, 19 acres; Shaver Pond, 45 acres; Dunham Reservoir, 98 acres
5. TAYLOR POND | Black Brook
If it’s not windy, this is a great place to paddle, and the mountainous backdrop lends the pond a wild feel. We love camping here, especially in sites accessible only by water. Because of its out-of-the-way location and the campground’s rustic character, the pond does not draw large numbers to its shores. Expect to see loon, bald eagle, osprey, great blue heron, and a variety of woodland species. We gazed out over the water to the wooded peaks and extensive shoulders of Catamount Mountain that seem to guard the entire southern shore. Hiking trails ring the pond and extend into the nearby hills, adding an extra dimension to this beautiful location.
From I-87, Exit 34, drive 9.8 miles west on Route 9N, and turn right on Palmer Street/Silver Lake Road. Go 9.4 miles and turn left to Taylor Pond Campground. Walk down to the boat ramp for water access.
Area: 803 acres
Info: Taylor Pond; Quiet Water New York, p. 154
6. LAKE KUSHAQUA AND RAINBOW LAKE | Brighton, Franklin
The Kushaqua Lake area contains several different types of water; you could spend days exploring it all. Lake Kushaqua offers picturesque scenery with forested hillsides and secluded lakeside camping, but the relatively round lake offers few inlets and marshes to explore. Kushaqua Narrows has interesting coves and islands.
The Saranac River North Branch enters the narrows from the west—beginning with a maze of drowned timber, floating vegetation, and a large, thickly forested island. If you have limited time, make this your prime destination. Rainbow Narrows, boasts much the same beauty but with slightly more boat traffic from Rainbow Lake. Rainbow Lake gets much attention from personal watercraft, water-skiers, and motorboats.
From the junction of Bloomingdale Avenue/Route 3 and Church Street in Saranac Lake, go 6.4 miles north on Route 3, and continue straight on State Street/Oregon Plains Road where Route 3 goes right. After 5.8 miles, turn right on Route 60/Gabriels-Onchiota Road, follow that road for 0.8 mile, and continue straight on Kushaqua-Mud Pond Road where Route 60 goes right. Go 0.6 mile to the access on the left before the bridge. Access is also possible at Lake Kushaqua Outlet and Buck Pond Campground.
Area: Lake Kushaqua, 377 acres; Rainbow Lake, 558 acres; river length, 3 miles one way
7. LOWER SARANAC LAKE | Harrietstown
Despite the motorboat traffic, Lower Saranac presents a wonderful, historical place to paddle. The surrounding Adirondack peaks form a dramatic backdrop, providing many hiking trails for those seeking a wilderness experience. Many islands dot Lower Saranac’s surface, breaking up the view. These same islands provide many attractive campsites and block the wind—indeed, wind can pose more of a problem on smaller, but less protected, Middle Saranac. It takes quite a while to fully explore the lake’s 17 miles of shoreline and many islands, making this a great location for a several-day vacation.
From the junction of Route 3/River Street and Church Street in Saranac Lake, go 4.3 miles west on Route 3 to the Second Pond access on the left. Paddle under the Route 3 bridge to the left.
Area: 2,214 acres
8. GENESEE RIVER GORGE | Rochester
The Genesee River’s lower section offers a wonderful morning or afternoon paddle within Rochester’s city limits. Ships ply these waters, but most boat traffic stays north of Turning Point Park and heads out onto Lake Ontario. The river’s high banks help paddlers feel remarkably separated from the surrounding city. You go under a few bridges and glimpse a few large buildings and smokestacks, but mostly you paddle isolated from the urban congestion.
About 4 miles from the put-in, the current picks up, and you have to dodge protruding rocks. You may be able to continue paddling upstream, or you can beach your boat and walk along the shoreline. Red cliffs appear ahead, and around the bend in the distance, the northernmost falls on the river roars. You can almost forget that New York’s third-largest city churns away above you.
From the junction of State and Main streets in Rochester, go 5.2 miles north on State Street/Lake Avenue, and turn right on Boxart Street at the sign for Turning Point Park. Continue 0.4 mile to the parking area inside the gate (check closing time). Carry 0.25 mile to the river; a portage cart works fine.
Area: 4 miles one way
Info: Genesee Waterways; Quiet Water New York, p. 356