New York City is known for many things: Broadway theatre, world-wide cuisine, the Statue of Liberty and a bustling night-life, to name a few. But kayaking? You might be surprised and wonder, “Can you kayak in NYC?” The answer is yes!

If paddling is something you make a point to do no matter where you go, or if you just want to be able to tell people, “I kayaked in the Big Apple,” this guide will give you all the information you need to know to make it happen.

Where to go kayaking in NYC

So, where can you kayak in NYC? The Hudson River hosts many of the kayaking opportunities in the city, but you can find some quieter areas too. And, because many residents don’t own cars, let alone kayaks, you can find rentals at most of the launching sites.

The Hudson River

Flowing straight through the city and opening up into the busy New York Harbor, the Hudson River seems more home to sailboats, cargo ships and motorboats than any paddle-propelled watercraft. So much so that you may wonder, “Is it legal to kayak the Hudson River?” Again, the answer is yes. In fact, paddling in both of these areas has skyrocketed in popularity with local kayakers in recent years.

People of all skill levels can enjoy paddling the Hudson. For beginners, it is highly recommended to have a guide the first time. If you have previous kayaking experience, you will still want to make yourself aware of certain safety precautions, conditions of the river and the large amount of boat traffic it receives.

As the Hudson River flows into the Atlantic Ocean, it is important to be aware of changing tidal conditions. Weather is an important factor in planning your excursion too. Waters can get very choppy during rain and storms, which also creates reduced visibility situations. These conditions make it even harder for larger boats to see kayakers, creating a potentially dangerous situation.

Speaking of boats, as implied above, the Hudson River and Port of New York are very busy areas. You will need to be aware of not only motorboat traffic, but large commercial ships and barges as well. You should be especially cautious at ferry terminals.

Here are a few more important safety tips:

  • Never try to “outrun” another boat; always wait.
  • Make your intentions clear to other boaters and never assume they see you.
  • When possible, especially in high-traffic areas, approach other boats at right angles to increase the chance of the other boater seeing you.
  • Avoid paddling at nighttime. If you do, make sure to mount a light on your kayak.
  • Angle your rig into the wake of other boats to minimize your chances of capsizing.
  • If you are new to kayaking the Hudson River in the city, it’s worth noting that the Battery area can be especially chaotic.

The Hudson River in New York City is part of the greater Hudson River Greenway Water Trail, which spans 256 miles (412 kilometres) in length and offers more than 100 access sites. In NYC alone you can find at least nine launch sites, over half of them located within Hudson River Park. You can find a full list and map of launch sites on the water trail’s website.

Upper New York Bay

How does the unique experience of visiting the Statue of Liberty via kayak sound? If you’re feeling adventurous, you can head out from Midtown for a four-hour, round-trip paddle to do just that. Manhattan Kayak offers guided tours, but you will be required to pass their Kayak 1-2-3 classes (three sessions) before heading out on this tour due to the rough nature of the waters surrounding the island.

Marine Park

If you’re looking for a sanctuary within the city, don’t pass up a visit to Marine Park. Many claim this 530-acre park in Brooklyn looks more like the Florida Everglades than a typical city park. You can explore the calm creeks and salt marshes of the park from Gerritsen Inlet. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can paddle straight out to the ocean or the Rockaways.

Can you kayak in Central Park?

Unfortunately, there are no longer any opportunities to go kayaking in Central Park. The Loeb Boathouse used to offer kayaks for rent, but in recent years has done away with them and currently only offers rowboats for rent.

There is also a decommissioned reservoir within the park, but there is no boating (or fishing or swimming, for that matter) allowed there either.

Free kayaking in NYC

No boat, no permit, no problem! You may be surprised to learn that there are tons of places around the city that offer free kayaking.

Check out the list below to enjoy no-cost kayaking in the Big Apple.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse

Red Hook Boaters

North Brooklyn Boat Club

Hudson River Park

L.I.C. Community Boathouse

Kayak Staten Island

Kayak rentals in NYC

In addition to the locations listed above, you can also find reasonably priced kayak rentals at the following outfitters for the opportunity to explore the waters of NYC on your own.

Manhattan Kayak

For beginners, $10 grants you 45 minutes to play around in the calmer waters of Intrepid Bay. Or, try the Skyline Kayak Adventure or New York After Dark tour. Manhattan Kayak also offers group classes and private lessons, as well as guided tours for intermediate paddlers and up who have passed required prerequisites.

Wheel Fun Rentals

Wheel Fun Rentals is a franchise business, so you can find several different locations to rent kayaks from around the city, including two in Brooklyn and one in Flushing. Check out the latter for a leisurely paddle on North Meadow Lake. You can rent a single kayak starting at $16/hr.

Best kayaking near NYC

If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing and remote, there are plenty of other paddling options nearby in the beautiful state of New York.

Cold Spring

For views of the beautiful Hudson Highlands, head an hour and 15 minutes up the river to Cold Spring, NY. Constitution Marsh, Foundry Cove, and Bannerman Castle are all great places to explore. Hudson River Expeditions offers rentals starting at $25/hr for a single kayak. They also offer tours in the area, including moonlight paddles and a four-hour afternoon excursion that includes lunch.

It is also worth noting that while you’re in the Northern Hudson River area, there are plenty of opportunities for overnight trips. The Hudson River Greenway Water Trail has provided campsites along the river about every 15 miles so you can enjoy as much time on the water as you like.

Breakneck Pond

Head about an hour north of the city for a calm paddle on Breakneck Pond, located within Harriman State Park (the state’s second-largest). This 64-acre pond has recently been cleaned up after years of abuse, as well as damage from when Superstorm Sandy hit the area in 2012. Unfortunately, fishing is not allowed on this pond, but you can still enjoy some wildlife viewing and birdwatching.

Esopus Creek

Although a bit farther drive at around two hours north of the city, Esposus Creek is the place to go if you’re seeking some thrills. Located in the Catskill Mountains, you can find class II, III and IV rapids along this creek to get your heart pumping. There are launch points off of Route 28 in Phoenicia and Allaben, NY to get you started. It is also worth noting that the farther north you go on the creek, the more of a challenge you will find.

New York kayak laws

To ensure you have the best experience kayaking NYC, let’s go over some commonly asked questions about rules and regulations.

Do you need a permit to kayak in NY?

Being such a busy city and wanting to ensure the safety of all of its water-loving citizens, the Big Apple requires you obtain a permit if you’re planning to use any of the kayak and canoe (as well as power and sailboat) launch facilities in the city. Kayakers are allowed to launch at any NYC Parks designated launch sites so long as they have a permit. (Permits are $15.)

Do you have to register a kayak in NY?

According to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation site, “watercraft without a motor do not need to be registered.”

Do you have to wear a life jacket in a kayak in New York?

In New York state, all boaters (including kayakers) must wear a PFD from November 1 through May 1. All children under the age of 12 are required to wear a Coast Guard-approved PFD at all times.

For a complete list of rules within New York City, please head over to the NYC Parks page.

NYC has a variety of activities for people with all manner of interests, but the fun doesn’t end at the water’s edge. Whether you are looking for amazing views of the skyline or a slower-paced experience nearby, you are sure to find a kayaking trip in the Big Apple that’s right for you.

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