Best Places To Kayak In New York

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New York State is probably most notably known for its largest city, New York City, but the state has much more to offer a kayaker than a night on the town in America’s largest city. As a kayaker heading to New York State, you may be surprised at the diverse kayaking opportunities this northeastern state has to offer!

New York offers many kayaking opportunities ranging from flat water to whitewater and coastal kayaking. The wide range of suitable kayaking water provides scope for the novice, expert, or recreational kayaker. The state has basic rules and regulations for public water kayaking.

If you are interested in kayaking in New York, you will need more information than simply the availability of waters suitable for kayaking. We have all the relevant information you will need to plan a kayaking outing in New York, from kayaking opportunities to legal requirements and the weather you can expect.

Is New York Suitable For Kayaking?

New York State is located in the upper northeastern corner of the United States, with geography ranging from mountainous regions to coastal plains.

The locals make a distinction between upstate and downstate New York. Downstate New York is usually used in reference to the Metropolitan area of New York City, while upstate New York refers to the rest of the northern areas of the state north of New York City.

What Is The Weather Like For Kayaking In New York?

The general weather in the state is classified as a humid continental climate, with 4 distinct seasons in the year. The New York summer months are warm to hot and can be very humid. The winter is cold to very cold and generally has damp conditions.

The region of the Lower Hudson Valley, New York City, and Long Island are on the Atlantic coast, which produces relatively mild winters compared to the rest of the state. The winter temperatures can reach 5°F or -15°C, associated with snow and rain.

Upstate New York has considerably colder winters, with temperatures dropping to a low of -13°F or -25°C with heavy snowfalls.

The winter season across the state generally makes winter kayaking out of the question, with many of the state’s waterways freezing over.

In contrast, the summer months with temperatures ranging between the high 70s°F and the low 80s°F or 25°C to 28°C, making this season ideal for kayakers in this state!

The summer months can be quite humid, making the temperatures seem warmer than they are. The humidity will cause you to sweat when kayaking, so be sure to remain hydrated while kayaking in New York in the summer.

Kayaking Waters In New York

The waters available for kayaking in New York State are plentiful and diverse, ranging from rivers and lakes to coastal regions for kayaking in the sea.

Whether your preference is for flatwater kayaking, river kayaking, or coastal kayaking, New York has opportunities for everyone!

Flatwater Kayaking In New York

New York state boasts over 200 lakes and dams, with many other smaller bodies of water that are suitable for kayaking.

In the state’s northern regions, the most notable kayaking lakes and dams are Lake Ontario, which forms the border with Canada, Black Lake, Cranberry Lake, and the Stillwater Reservoir.

The eastern regions of the state have Lake Champlain, Lake George, and the Great Sacandaga Lake, offering superb kayaking opportunities.

The state’s central regions are known for the Finger Lakes, which run in a general north-south orientation. These include Oneida Lake, Skaneateles Lake, Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake, Keuka Lake, and Canandaigua Lake.

The lakes in the eastern region are dominated by Lake Erie, Chautauqua Lake, and the Allegheny Reservoir.

Downstate New York only has the Pepacton Reservoir, also known as the Downsville Reservoir, since most of this region is dominated by rivers and coastal kayaking opportunities.

River Kayaking In New York

New York State also has some great river kayaking, with the following rivers being the most notable in the region.

  • Saranac River. Located in the northeast region of New York state.
  • The Black River. Situated in the northern region of the state.
  • Eerie Canal. Extending from Lake Oneida in the central region to Lake Eerie in the West.
  • Black River. Just to the eastern shores of Lake Ontario.
  • The Mohawk River. A tributary of the Hudson River, this is a popular kayaking river.
  • The Hudson River. The Hudson is a long river stretching along almost the entire eastern border of the state, offering various types of kayaking along different sections of the river.
  • Genesee River. In the western central region of New York state, this river offers some great whitewater kayaking.
  • The Delaware River. This river offers a variety of kayaking opportunities along the western border of downstate New York.

These are only a small selection of the more than 70 000 miles of river waterways available in the state!

New York City And Coastal Kayaking Opportunities

Downstate New York, encompassing the entire metropolitan area of New York City, Staten Island, and Long Island, has many different kayaking types available. These range from rivers to flat water to coastal kayaking in tidal rivers, bays, and ocean kayaking.

The city authorities have built a network of 160miles of interconnected waterways spanning flat water, river, and open water coastal kayaking, called the New York City Water Trail.

This water trail caters to a range of kayaking skills, from novice to experienced. Kayakers can plan trips that will take a few hours to trips that can take a few days to accomplish, spanning different water types.

The coastal kayaking in downstate New York can be in fairly calm tidal rivers and the bay area to touring kayak trips in Long Island and Staten Island in the open ocean of the Atlantic.

You can also kayak in these locations, with national landmarks providing the backdrop to your kayaking excursion. From kayaking with the Statue Of Liberty towering above the water or with the Brooklyn Bridge as the dominating feature, there are many kayaking spots to inspire awe and amazement besides challenging your kayaking skills!

What Are The Regulations For Kayaking In New York?

Each state has its own rules and regulations governing watercraft use and navigating the waters within its jurisdiction. These rules will generally apply to boating, with specific kayaking regulations and other similar boating activities.

The rules and regulations in New York State are defined and enforced by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Many of the waters in New York State are restricted for non-motorized boating use only, making the states’ waterways a haven for kayakers of all skill levels.

The New York regulations classify kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards under the broad description of watercraft. In the legislation, the distinction is drawn regarding whether the watercraft is motorized or not and the size of the watercraft. These definitions have importance on the regulations that apply to kayaks and the operation of kayaks on public waterways administered by the state of New York.

Does New York Require Kayaks To Be Registered?

The regulations in New York state do not require a kayak to be registered unless a motor is fitted to the kayak. Most kayaks do not have motors, and these kayaks are exempt from registration.

Any kayak that has a motor fitted, even a trolling motor for fishing, must be correctly registered by filling in the required forms with the Department of Motor Vehicles before being used on any public waterway.

If you only use your motorized kayak of private water, such as fishing dams on private land. All rivers are considered public waterways, even if they border privately owned land.

Must You Be Licensed To Operate A Kayak In New York?

If your kayak is non-motorized, you do not need a license to operate a kayak on waters administered by the state.

However, if you have a motor on your kayak, even a trolling motor, you must obtain a boating safety certificate to operate the kayak. This legislation is being phased in, and all operators of motorized craft will need to have this certification by the 1st of January 2025.

Is There A Junior Age Minimum For Kayaking In New York?

There is no minimum age limit specified in the regulations for children to operate a non-motorized kayak. Obviously, the parents’ discretion should be the yardstick of safety in this regard, and all children should wear the appropriate safety gear and be accompanied by an adult where appropriate.

If the kayak is motorized, the minimum age limit is 10-years old. The child operating the motorized kayak will also be expected to obtain the basic boating safety certificate before being eligible to operate the watercraft.

Must You Wear A Lifejacket or PFD When Kayaking In New York?

The only kayakers who must wear a coastguard approved Type I, Type II, Type III lifejacket, or PFD are those 12 years of age or younger.

For all kayakers over this age, it is not required to wear a lifejacket, but there must be a lifejacket aboard the watercraft for each person on board. The lifejacket must be easily accessible and must be the right fit for the people aboard the kayak.

Even though the state regulations do not enforce the wearing of lifejackets or PFDs at all times, it is recommended that kayakers do so in the interests of safety!

Must A Kayak Have Lights When Operated In New York?

According to the watercraft regulations for New York State, all vessels, including kayaks, must carry a white light that can be illuminated with sufficient time to prevent a collision with another watercraft.

Kayaks do not need to display the different colored lights for port, starboard, bow, and aft required for larger watercraft.

Does New York Require Kayaks To Have Audible Safety Devices?

Larger watercraft are required to have audible sounding devices such as horns. The kayak regulation is that a mouth whistle is on board the kayak.

The whistle must be easily accessible and used to raise the attention of other watercraft when necessary for emergency situations with loud blasts of 2 seconds duration for each blast.

Do Kayaks Need Visual Distress Signaling Devices in New York?

Kayaks are exempt from carrying both day and night Visual Distress Signaling or VDS devices.

Therefore, it is not a requirement for a kayak to carry flare guns or similar signaling devices for emergency events.

However, there is no law against including these devices as part of your safety gear, and we would recommend including emergency signaling devices if you are kayaking in the open ocean or some distance from shore on a large lake.

What Are The New York Rules For Alcohol Use While Kayaking?

Operating a watercraft, including a kayak, while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is as much against the law as driving a car while in the same condition.

There are many terms for this; Driving Under the Influence or DUI, Boating While Intoxicated or BWI, Boating Under the Influence or BUI, but they all mean the same thing. If your coordination or cognitive ability is impaired by drugs or alcohol, you can receive a substantial fine for operating a kayak in this condition.

The Blood Alcohol limit or BAC of 0.08% is the legal limit. Anything above this value implies operating the vessel while impaired and will result in a fine, arrest, or suspension of any applicable boating licenses.

How To Find Out More About Kayaking In New York

The best way to find the best kayaking spots and locations in New York is to make contact with one of the many kayaking clubs or associations that organize events or provide group kayaking excursions in the various parts of the state.

The Adirondack Mountain Club, Genesee Valley Chapter, covers a wide range of kayaking activities on the Genesee River and surrounding areas.

If you prefer a competitive edge to your kayaking, the New York Paddlesports Racing Association will be able to supply you with the information you need regarding any organized kayak and canoe racing events in the state.

The Long Island Paddlers Club will be able to supply you with information regarding downstate New York kayaking spots and organized kayaking events.


New York state offers a vast range of kayaking opportunities for kayakers of all skill levels. The many rivers, dams, lakes, and coastal kayaking locations make New York a kayakers paradise!

Flatwater kayaking, whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking, and even sports such as kayak polo and kayak racing are offered in the state.

The kayaking in New York is best during the summer months since the winters are usually too cold to participate in waterborne activities!