5 Best Fall Paddling Day Trips on the Hudson River Greenway Trail

From Constitution Marsh, where the launch is just steps away from a Metro North station, to the more rural Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, the Hudson River is a must-do for paddlers this autumn. Steep bluffs, forested islands, and otherworldly sunsets are the main attraction, but the historic sites dotting the river add a layer of intrigue to every trip. Think island-bound Bannerman’s Castle (which is said to be haunted) and the Clearwater, an 18th-century replica sloop that sails from port to port educating people about the environment.

Stretching from the Adirondacks to the tip of Manhattan, the Hudson River is fed by freshwater from the north and salt water from the Atlantic Ocean. Though you might feel far away from the ocean when you’re paddling, the River is subject to rising and falling tides and shifting currents. Checking tide charts before hitting the water is recommended to avoid working harder than necessary.

To ensure physical distancing during the pandemic, seek out launch points that are off of the beaten path. The Hudson River Greenway Water Trail runs the length of the river and is the ultimate guide to launches, take-outs, and overnight accommodations on 256-miles of the River. Use the trip ideas below for inspiration and use the Water Trail map to alter itineraries to suit your energy and skill level.

The author's husband at Constitution Marsh. | Credit: Carla Francis
The author’s husband at Constitution Marsh. | Credit: Carla Francis

Constitution Marsh

Accessed via a short jaunt on the main channel of the Hudson River, once you glide under the low-slung railroad trestle that separates the main channel from Foundry Cove you’ll have entered a different, quieter world. Officially known as the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary, when you leave behind the river channel you encounter a tidal marsh that is home to countless species of birds, fish, amphibians and other creatures. “Paddle through the marsh slowly and quietly to increase your chances of seeing wildlife,” recommends the Audubon Center.

Paddlers might notice channels interlacing the marsh — remnants of an 1800’s-era wild rice farm. While the channels make travel easier, be aware of the tide which limits paddlers to 2-hours within the preserve. High tide blocks the passageway under the railroad trestle and low tide will leave you stuck in the mud. Enjoy fall colors and migratory birds as they pass through on their way south, and as you exit, take a moment to gaze north up the river at Storm King Mountain, one of the highest points in the area. To extend your trip, head south where you’ll quickly pass West Point, the revered United States Military Academy to the west.

Launch your boat for free at Scenic Hudson’s Foundry Dock Park in Cold Spring, steps away from the Metro North Station, where paid parking is available.

The Esopus Lighthouse from Espopus Meadows Preserve. | Credit: Carla Francis
The Esopus Lighthouse from Espopus Meadows Preserve. | Credit: Carla Francis

Esopus Lighthouse

Perched on the edge of an underwater meadow, the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse is one of the last remaining wooden lighthouses on the Hudson River. Visiting by kayak will allow you to pass over the same meadows that the lighthouse warned countless vessels to avoid. Mostly choked by invasive water chestnut now, the meadow was historically visited by cattle which grazed on the thick grass at low tide.

There are several ways to access the lighthouse, with the shortest paddle being a .5-mile trip (one way) from Scenic Hudson’s Esopus Meadows Preserve, about 5 miles south of Kingston. Launch your boat for free and head to the lighthouse where you can admire the meticulous preservation of the building, which was built in the late 1800’s. The lighthouse is operated by volunteers and only open during sporadic tours so plan to enjoy this landmark from your kayak. Gaze across the river to another historic site, Mills Mansion, a Gilded Age home now owned and operated for visitors by the State of New York.

To extend your trip, consider heading south towards Esopus Island near the Norrie Point Environmental Center. Hug the shore to avoid turbulence and the main shipping channel while enjoying the open water feel of the River and the changing colors of autumn. The island is a nice place to stop for a picnic and is located about 3 miles from the Esopus Meadows Preserve.

Courtesy: John Morzen
Courtesy: John Morzen

Bannerman Castle

What’s a castle doing in the middle of the Hudson River? Built in the early 1900’s as a weapons arsenal, the decaying castle sits on uninhabited Pollepel Island south of Beacon. While the castle itself is accessible only through tours with the Bannerman Castle Trust, views from the water are, of course, free.

Launch for free from Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon and paddle about 3.5 miles south through a gorgeous stretch of river called the Hudson Highlands, so named for the mountains on both shores. To the east you’ll see Hudson River Highlands State Park and Breakneck Ridge and to the west you’ll see Butter Hill (the eastern summit of Storm King mentioned under the “Constitution Marsh” paddle). The river is wide at this point, about 1.5 miles across, offering a more open water experience. Circle the island to get the full view of the imposing castle.

On your way back to Beacon, stretch your legs by walking the Denning Point Trail at Hudson Highlands State Park. At just over a mile, this loop takes you near an abandoned brick works, evidence of which you’ll see long before the buildings come into view.

Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

Hudson River Islands State Park

Scenic year-round but most spectacular during fall foliage, Hudson River Islands State Park is a secluded set of islands accessible only by boat. If you launch north of the islands, consider visiting Stockport Middle Ground island to stretch your legs then continuing your paddle into Stockport Creek on the eastern bank for a more peaceful stretch of waterway. The islands are typically quiet, especially during the off-season, and chances are you’ll have your landing to yourself. Landings are plentiful along the shore of the islands, but beware of poison ivy before stepping out of your boat.

To extend your trip, bring your gear for an overnight stay. Camping is free and both sunrise and sunset offer some of the best views available on the Hudson River. Couple that with fall foliage, and you’ll have a trip for the ages.

A handful of kayak launches are available to suit different trip lengths, but the Coxsackie NYS Boat Launch and the Athens Boat Launch are good places to start. This map can help you determine the distance you’ll be paddling no matter where you decide to launch.

Courtesy: Hudson River Maratime Museum
Courtesy: Hudson River Maratime Museum

Rondout Lighthouse and Creek

A slightly more urban paddle than others on the list, the shipping vessels and pleasure craft that travel the Hudson and Rondout Creek are sights to see.

On river east, launch your boat at Rhinecliff’s Slate dock or from river west launch your boat at Scenic Hudson’s Sleightsburgh Park. Either way, steer your boat towards the mouth of Rondout Creek, where the Rondout Lighthouse is the star attraction. Operated by the Hudson River Maritime Museum (HRRM), you’ll have to enjoy it from the water because tours are temporarily closed due to COVID-19. According to HRRM, it is “still fully operational as a navigational light and one of only seven remaining on the Hudson River.”

After appreciating this historic landmark and the size of the Hudson River, head west into Rondout Creek. You’ll travel past Kingston’s historic waterfront, which experienced its heyday as a boatyard and manufacturing hub when the Delaware and Hudson Canal opened with its terminus at Rondout Creek. Nowadays, the waterfront has been revitalized as a commercial district. Urban trappings give way to forest as you head inland. In Eddyville, you’ll come across a dam which can be used as a turnaround point or portaged. If you turn around here, you’ll have traveled about 4-miles one way if you launched at Sleightsburgh Park or about 5 miles if you launched from Rhinecliff.