With a gentle push off the floating dock, we steered our kayaks across the Hackensack River and rounded the bend of a reed-covered island where cormorants sunned themselves. A seagull flew overhead carrying the catch of the day.
Thanks to the Hackensack Riverkeeper’s quarter century of helping to revive the ecology of the Meadowlands, paddling recreation is a reality on or near the river at two North Jersey locations. “I started the paddle centers so people who wanted to get out on the water wouldn’t have to drive to the Delaware River or Barnegat Bay,” says Bill Sheehan, executive director of the Hackensack Riverkeeper.
Those with paddling experience can steer their way toward Laurel Hill Park Kayak Center in Secaucus. A grey, shiplapped shed with a green awning and a cool vibe is home to a helpful staff that will outfit you with a kayak, paddle and life jacket ($25 per paddler; must be 16 or up; no solo paddling). Depending on the tide, expect to take one to three hours to explore the marsh. At high tide, water covers the shoreline; at low tide, the mudflats are exposed, providing a feeding ground for wildlife, but less access for boaters.
Two-hour guided paddles ($30) are available at Laurel Hill for experienced and novice kayakers (reservation required). Sunday guided tours, timed to the high tide, take kayakers into the creeks and channels inaccessible when the water recedes. A birding and wildlife paddle provides a peek at herons, egrets and sandpipers feeding on the mudbanks at low tide. A moonlight paddle offers paddlers views of the moon rising over the Manhattan skyline.
Those who are new to kayaking, or who are paddling with children five and older, can opt for Overpeck County Park Kayak Center, Leonia. The calm, non-tidal water of the 134-acre Overpeck Lake, fed via a tributary of the river, is ideal for honing your paddling skills or just relaxing with the family ($20 per paddler for up to two hours; $10 per paddler each additional hour).
Paddling is available at both centers from late April through October.
For more information, visit hackensackriverkeeper.org.
Laurel Hill Paddling Center · 1005 New County Road, Secaucus, 201-920-4746. Weekends 9 am-7 pm; last rentals at 3 pm. Open Independence Day and Labor Day.
Overpeck Park Paddling Center · 50 Fort Lee Road, Leonia; 201-957-3085. Open 9 am-7 pm daily, June 20 through Labor Day. Last rental 5 pm.