Kayak Camping in the Hudson River Islands State Park

By Vladimir Brezina

I had hoped to post this last spring, in time for the 2012 camping season. But it’s not too late! The fall, with its spectacular foliage colors, is here—to my mind, the best time of the year to go camping at this spot… and in fact, Johna and I have plans to head up there for a couple of days soon to see the show!

The length of the Hudson River between Albany and New York City offers a number of kayak camping spots. But none is so attractive as the Hudson River Islands State Park, about 20 miles south of Albany and several miles north of the town of Hudson.

I’ve paddled and camped there many times in every season over the past decade, and I never fail to stop there on through trips down the river. In this complex of islands, back bays, and creeks, rich in plant and animal life, there is always something new to see. And most of the year, except during the peak season in the summer, chances are that you’ll have it all to yourself. Although it’s quite accessible, it feels secluded, remote, almost wild…

Here’s the place:

The most picturesque campsite in the park, to my mind, is at the northern tip of the central island, Stockport Middle Ground (“1″ in the satellite view above).

There is a nice sandy beach on which to land, with grass beyond on which to pitch the tent.

At one time, the tip of the island was relatively open under the tall trees

now it’s much more overgrown

(these photos are from May 2011, the last time we visited. Note the amenities, including a picnic table and an outhouse)

.
… but the view is still magnificent, to the north

and westward across the river

where every now and again a giant ship, an unbelievable sight this far from the ocean, appears… the channel is used by bulk freighters and barges all the way up to Albany.

Note in these photos also the remains of an old bulkhead, separating the deep channel to the west of it from sandy shallows eroded to the east of it, between it and Stockport Middle Ground itself. The bulkhead extends underwater a considerable distance to the north, and it is easy to run aground on it in the current at night. Just sayin’!

On the peninsula to the north of Stockport Middle Ground, there are additional camping possibilities in numerous sandy bays that fringe the shore (“2″ in the satellite view)

and farther north still is the main campground area, with a beach and, in the summer, a small dock, toilets, and water, I believe (“3″). This area, however, sees more boaters and campers and furthermore is accessible from inland—in the fall, beware of hunters on ATVs.

.

South of Stockport Middle Ground, under a railway bridge, is the entrance to Stockport Creek (“4″)

and its side channels (“5″) that wind their way through a labyrinth of overgrown marsh that can be explored only by kayak…

In the summer, camping on Stockport Middle Ground, the water is often mirror-smooth at dawn as the mist lifts off the river

and I drift out in my kayak to watch the sunrise…
.

And the river becomes still again toward evening.

Off-season camping in the Hudson River Islands State Park has its own special charm. You have the whole park to yourself. The river shimmers with a desolate beauty.

But the best season is the fall. On a crisp fall day, as you emerge from your tent on Stockport Middle Ground, you see the fall colors across the river, and on the island itself, lit up by the rising sun…

Still, for the most brilliant fall colors, I recommend paddling down the river a few miles, past the towns of Hudson, Athens, and Catskill, and into Ramshorn Creek, a small creek that meanders through the marsh on the west side of the Hudson River just south of Catskill (marked on the map at the top of this post).

There, on a sunny fall day more than ten years ago, I saw the most spectacular fall colors ever. Everything came together just right—the peak of the foliage season, the perfect weather—and an unbelievable profusion of yellows, reds, and purples sparkled in the sunshine against the crystalline deep blue of the sky, all reflected in the still water of the creek… these photos really can’t do it justice.

We hope for another day just like that on our trip this year!

________________________________________________________

The Hudson River Islands State Park is within easy paddle from boat launches at Hudson, a few miles south of the park, and Coxsackie, a couple of miles north on the other side of the river.  This year, we are planning to take our two folding kayaks on the train (Amtrak) from NYC to Hudson and launch there. Be aware that this portion of the river has surprisingly strong tidal currents, which you can look up here. And if you paddle into Ramshorn Creek, you will be a lot happier if you do so at high tide.

More photos from the area are here, here, and here. Caveat emptor: these photos are old, so some things may be different now.

96 responses to “Kayak Camping in the Hudson River Islands State Park

  1. Interesting post and so wonderful colorful shots… :-)

  2. I’ve (PJD that is) always been a bit sceptical, slash afraid, of kayaking. Boats in general just do not seem like a great idea. But your posts (and an experience on a lagoon in Tonga) are changing my mind! And, what’s more, so are the opportunities afforded by the combination of camera and water!

    • Yes, indeed! Although the combination of camera and water can be nerve-wracking. I am always nervous when, for some special reason, I feel the need to bring my “good”—but non-waterproof—camera on a kayak trip. I keep it in a dry bag and bring it out only under the most benign conditions. Most of the time I use my waterproof point-and-shoot, which produces nice pictures but is much more limited…

      • I guess I had better invest in a waterproof camera if I am going to get serious about the Kayak thing! (seriously, the results you get are inspiring!)

        • I am happy to hear you are inspired! :-)

          Yes, the waterproof camera takes the worry out of kayak photography. Each photo is not quite as good, but you end up taking many more. And that’s what counts, especially when bobbing around in a kayak where you can’t fully control each shot…

  3. I am to the city as you are to your camera and kayak.I enjoy your water level views of life and thank you for your open expressions which allow me to ride along with you capturing the sites.

    When I was a car salesman I would sit around with the other salesman telling and listening to stories enjoying the moment until just like your story a big ship enters the area. I see your campsite endorsements as value, and that Amtrak mention got me on track to ebiz and ecommerce.

    Now a car is a car, what you are looking for is a business man who knows his craft, like me. Shop around I will see you when you come back!

  4. Your photography and writing brought a flood of wonderful memories tumbling through my brain. I have seen, smelled, felt, heard similar places. Thanks you for helping me relive my wonderful camping life.

    • I am so glad my post had that beneficial effect, Pat. I see that on your blog you list travel and camping as one of the activities you enjoy, and I hope you have much more of it in front of you!

  5. The Hudson River State Park is on my sightseeing list. Well, it has been on my list for a few years. Good thing you highlighted this park in your post because I was able to view them with my husband Jim and we got a renewed commitment to go. Thanks you for the tour.

    • Great! I hope you make it up there, Allyson. And I hope you are able to go by water—I am not sure exactly how the area appears from the land, but I think you will not be able to access many of the interesting parts…

  6. The varied seasons and lighting made for a great post! ~ Kat

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  8. Fantastic photos :) we don’t get the beautiful autumn colours south of the equator

    • Really? I wonder why that is…

      • too warm in most of the country here … we tend to two seasons, hot and not so hot or sort of wet and dry … unless you go south to Melbourne or Tasmania. But in temperate and sub-tropical its too warm for autumn. Native trees are evergreens.

        • I guess there just isn’t enough landmass at temperate latitudes in the southern hemisphere to support the large deciduous forests that we have (or rather, had) here in the northern hemisphere…

        • oh we have the massive landmass .. its just ancient and wind eroded over millions of years .. and not very fertile in terms of large deciduous forests … have a look at a photo-blog i posted a while ago whilst flying across the country …
          http://wp.me/pZwzb-rJ

        • A wonderful series of photos! … reminds me of flying across the western US—the prairies, the Rockies, and the deserts, and finally the ocean. I just love flying on a day like that… of course, getting a window seat is by no means a sure thing nowadays…

  9. Lovely trip and wonderful shots…
    Well done

  10. thanks for sharing pictures. those are great!!
    http://lunadu.wordpress.com

  11. What wonderful, secluded spots. Love the sunrise/sunset shots of the river like a mirror.

  12. Love the water, light, colours, nature! Beautiful pictures!

  13. you are half aquatic – a merman visitng some of the most beautiful out-of-the-way spot. Thanks for sharing but can’t help wishing I was not here!

  14. Fabulous post Vlad! (Right up to the standard you have set for yourself)The photos and map — you are a Pied Piper of camping, enticing couch potatoes everywhere. Well Done!

  15. your photos shimmer too – what a terrific post – gives all of us pleasure and reminds us of pleasures we have had

  16. Sounds amazing and the pics are great!

  17. Is it your photos or your spirit of adventure that is so compelling? I know the area well but see it anew through your lens. Next time you are on this part of the Hudson check out the Cliff Swallow colony in the south bluff of Stockport Flats island, the indusrial remnants of the gentrifying river and some of the new residents, Mr. and Mrs. Osprey who this year moved to navigation tower 129 from the west tower of the power line south of Athens.

  18. My wife & I often paddle around Stockport Flats and nearby areas. As of Thursday few colors but last night’s frost may help push the leaves along, will find out later today. Early duck season opened, ends next Sunday, never been a problem around Coxsackie. Hoping it stays that way, also will find out later today.

  19. Update — lovely paddle yesterday south from Coxsackie past HRISP & Hudson — foliage improved a little but not what one could call vivid.
    Tug Potomac at Hudson — note Saint Winifred extreme left, in Promenade Park. At this point a saint’s intervention is needed.
    http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/showallphotos.aspx?imo=9475806
    Tug Viking at Nutten Hook, a mile or so above SMG, two views:
    http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/showallphotos.aspx?imo=7235202
    Going back today, windier & warmer!

  20. It”s been a strange fall. Two weeks ago the Maples were turning red before any hard frost set in but everything else stayed green. Last Saturday on the river south of Hudson the river edge was mostly green with some red underbrush (vines, Sumac?) and some yellowing Oak. It was well below frezing that evening so this weekend should be the best of the season even without the bright reds of the Maples. Let me know if you will be in the vicinity of Hudson this weekend and I’ll paddle by and visit. Wearhte looks good with possible light rain Saturday and sunny on Sunday.

  21. Magnificent Fall scenery, Vlad. I couldn’t even begin to choose a favourite pic. :)

  22. Vlad,
    My guess, supported by a couple of web sites, is this weekend. By next wekend it will be mostly brown or leafless.
    http://fallgetaways.iloveny.com/LANDING_FOLIAGE_REPORT.html
    http://www.weather.com/outlook/driving/fallfoliage/regiondetail/ny1
    I just drove up to Hillsdale, NY, the same Latitude as Hudson but about 700 feet higher and I would say it’s past prime here. I’ll be heading to the river Saturday and then again Sunday with my wife. It should be too good to miss.

    • Thanks, David! I’ve been looking at a couple of those sites too… I agree, this weekend sounds best. We’ll give it a shot, assuming the logistics can all get arranged tomorrow. If everything proceeds according to plan, we should be camping out on Stockport Middle Ground on Saturday night, and be out and about on the river in that area Saturday afternoon and most of the day Sunday. Hope to see you there!

    • Looks like the logistics won’t work out for this weekend, unfortunately… We’ll definitely try for next weekend, though—even if the foliage turns out to be past peak…

  23. Fall foliage predictions hopeless (witness the Albany Times Union’s hilarious “extra-colorful fall of fiery maples, golden birches and reddish oaks” — September 6 article, “Dry spell casts leaf magic” ) but my guess is the chance for improvement of river foliage by next weekend is at least as strong as deterioration. Some local oaks & maples here in Albany are blazing in the early morning light. Will the river follow suit? Can’t tell — it’s all a big question mark (#25 of the photo gallery).
    http://julie-elson.net/cgi-bin/kayak.cgi?section=cxe25
    We’re seldom off the river for long, will let you know how it’s shaping up mid-week.

  24. Very nice post – love the mirror smooth water, as gorgeous as I remember it. A wonderful part of the world, south of Albany.

  25. Some color, possibly intense in spots, quality hard to gauge because of the persistent steel gray sky. Lack of sun today cost me what might have been a spectacular photo of the distinctive Discovery Coast.
    http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/showallphotos.aspx?mmsi=367515850
    Cottonwoods bare but no matter. They seldom if ever have fall color. Only eagles delight in them. Oaks showing their stuff, degree unknown. Tomorrow I intend to find out.

  26. Chasing sun all week, still chasing sun, none today. The colors around Catskill & Rip Van Winkle Bridge probably the best in the area, but illumination is needed. The thick cloud cover seemed to lift briefly then darkened over with impenetrable grayness. A shame, this area looks prime, almost every tree sporting a fall color poised to be set aglow.

    • Unfortunately Hurricane Sandy has screwed up our plans to visit this weekend—we had to cancel again, since we were not very confident that Amtrak would be able to get up back to NYC by Monday morning, when we absolutely have to be back. But never mind—Monday and Tuesday should be quite exciting in NYC by all accounts… :-)

  27. Your photos want me more than ever to take a trip up the Hudson. Maybe next month.

  28. Wow! I love the blog and photos. I am moving back to the US soon and now have an idea of where to travel. The area looks gorgeous and the fact that nature is involved is even more spectacular. Thank you for taking letting us readers travel through your eyes.

  29. Your Fall photos are beautiful! I miss these scenes. We used to live in Toronto and we would take lots of what we called our Fall Family Walks through the parks, along Humber River, etc. You brought me back to those days with your post! Thank you.

  30. Pingback: Sandy Saga, Part 1 | Wind Against Current

  31. Oh dear, my mistake for not clarifying the date of the corpse discovery. It was Sunday 10/21 not yesterday. If your original plan had been carried out likely the vaguely bipedal mass of tissue would have floated by your campsite, maybe several times going back & forth.
    Kept secret because we did not want to broach your enthusiasm or scuttle your enchantment with the area — hoping next year you will try again.
    Not our first corpse! We discovered one in 2011 that had been in the water about six months and was quickly identified. In much better condition than #2, but I’ll refrain from providing details, other than noting the latter worse than anything we’ve seen in the movies.
    A few say they do not want to paddle with us….others are made of sterner stuff.

    • Thanks for that clarification, Michael! Yes, I thought it was last weekend—and it makes us regret all the more that we didn’t make more of an effort to overcome the obstacles and make it up there then. The way you describe it, the corpse would have been very Halloween-appropriate… Furthermore, the weather then was idyllic in comparison to now: as I sit writing this, the building is being battered by what sound like 90-mph winds (although it’s probably only 60 or 70…)

      Corpses in the river are (in principle) not a big deal—in the Harlem and East River, kayakers discover one or two a year, on average. (I say in principle, because we have never discovered any, yet.)

      Even though all the foliage color—and the foliage itself—will be gone, we might still try to make it up there this year. Otherwise, next year!

  32. Wow, these pictures are beautiful. It looks like you had a wonderful adventure, so peaceful looking!

  33. A beautifully documented trip, both in photos and narrative. THANKS for visiting my “pun-ny” photoblog and leaving a “like.”
    –John R.: http://TheDailyGraff.com

  34. Great job on this lengthy but detailed and informative guide along the Hudson. You didn’t run into Skully on your travels, did you? If I get to the City, I’d surely like to tag along, with camera in hand, to snap some “trout-level” shots of the great scenery. Thanks again for your hard work. From the feedback you’ve received, your efforts really paid off. Bravo!

  35. Lovely stretch of weather is supposed to last through the weekend. Water temps may linger in the mid 40s (47.7 at Albany this morning), no foliage but a sublime bleakness (possibly) in the works. Makes it easier to spot the eagles. Numbers down since the summer but usually see two or three adults. The multitude of juveniles was evidently sent packing.

    Purpose not to entice you into a quick expedition but to alert you to Scenic Hudson’s “Call for Work for Traveling Photographs Exhibition Celebrating Scenic Hudson’s 50th.”
    http://www.scenichudson.org/exhibitionrules
    With so many first-rate photos you may wish to submit a few. Sorry for the late notice!

    • Thanks for the update, Michael! You make it sound so tempting. But this weekend is out (again) for a trip up there, or anywhere, unfortunately. Among other things, we are still sorting out the boats and gear that got submerged by Sandy…

      Many thanks for alerting me to the Scenic Hudson photo call! I’ll see what I can submit…

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