Grab a paddle and seek out some free kayaking! NYC's waterways have never looked more beautiful from a kayak, and they'll reveal some of the best views of the city. You'll get to see New York City attractions in a whole new light by kayaking, which by the way one of the best things to do outside in the city. Check out our roundup of the best places to get out on the water.
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Best free kayaking in NYC
The health-conscious folks at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens have teamed up with the LIC Community Boathouse to bring you free first-come, first-served kayaking out of scenic Hallet’s Cove (weekend dates and times vary; visit website for details). Sessions run 20 minutes, or longer if no one is waiting. If you’re feeling adventurous, visit LICCB’s website to sign up for gratis organized trips to spots such as Hell Gate Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge Park; or join a “Chill Sunset Paddle” that’s optimized for orange-tinted views of the Manhattan and Long Island City skylines. For a better chance of a spot, you can request to join a trip as far as three weeks out. Through September 2016.
Head out to two locations along the Hudson River for a chance to enjoy some time on the water. Head to Pier 96 or the dock at 72nd Street for first-come, first-served sessions perfect for beginners. After you sign a waiver and strap on a life vest, climb into your kayak from the water-level floating dock and float away for 20 minutes. You will get wet, so wear the right clothing (and try not to drink anything)! You can also volunteer to help out at the boathouse as well as become a member by making a donation of $20 or more. Pier 96 at 56th Street in Hudson River Park; Saturdays and Sundays 10am–6pm May 28–October 9, 2016; Monday-Wednesday 5:30–7:30pm June 6–September 4, 2016. 72nd Street north of Pier i Cafe in Riverside Park, Saturday–Sunday 10am–5pm, June 4–September 4, 2016.
Located at the tip of Greenpoint, Brooklyn boaters offer free canoeing and kayaking throughout the warmer months. Walk up paddle days are typically the second and fourth Saturdays of the month (check the calendar for details). Grab a life vest and take a trip on a Sit On Top kayak, while experienced paddlers stand by to help out. You can also volunteer to become a deckhand or a trip assistant if you have a good amount of experience and training. Various dates through September 2016.
Queue up between Piers 1 and 2 to take a kayak out in the majestic shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. The wait is often long (show up early!), but it’s worth it: The BBPB folks have a 25-vessel fleet, and you can play skipper on the East River for twenty minutes. The organization is always looking for volunteers, and pitching in earns you access to volunteer-only outings (for seasoned paddlers only). Through August 2016.
The granddaddy of NYC’s free-kayaking scene, NYCDB offers gratis walk-up outings at three locations on the Hudson at Pier 26t. Once you’ve signed a waiver and donned a life jacket, you can take your kayak out in designated areas for 20 minutes at a time—or longer if others aren’t waiting. NYCDB also holds public classes on sundry kayaking topics—such as perfecting your paddling technique and what to do if you capsize—weekly at Pier 96 (Wed 6pm; free). Once you’ve got a handle on oaring, head to Pier 96 on weekends at 8am to join a four-to-five-mile guided trip on the river (if too many people show up, names are entered into a lottery). It’s up to the outing’s leader to decide whether your skills are up to snuff for the trek. Pier 26 Hubert St at the Hudson River. Saturday, Sunday, holidays 9am–4:30pm; Monday–Friday 5–7:30pm in July and August. Through October 2016.
For a decidedly less urban paddling experience that’s still within the five boroughs, hop the ferry to Staten Island, then take the S51 bus to Ocean Avenue. After you’ve sucked in a generous breath of sea air, head down the block to the beach and queue up in the sand for one of KSI’s Sit-on-Top kayaks (similar to traditional ones except you seat yourself in a depression on top of, instead of inside, the hull). From there, you’re free to oar around a delineated embankment area in the bay for 15 minutes at a time, and are welcome to get back in line if you fancy a second voyage. Don’t worry about the waves—experienced rowers are in the water to help if you get tripped up. KSI is also involved in conservation activities, including oyster gardening to build the bay’s bivalve population and water-quality testing; volunteer opportunities abound. Times and dates vary; see website for details. Through September 3, 2016.
RHB’s upstanding coordinators have a double purpose: Get urbanites out on the water and help breathe life back into Brooklyn’s aquatic ecosystem. Like many other organizations, RHB has a free walk-up kayaking program—but there are no idle hands here. While you’re waiting for your turn at Louis J. Valentino Jr. Park and Pier, volunteers have gloves and trash bags available, so you can pitch in with RHB’s ongoing mission to pick up refuse on the beach. Knowing that you’re helping keep the area thriving will make your 15-to-20-minute paddle in RHB’s protected cove all the sweeter. Bonus: See if you can snag one of several Peekaboo boats in the fleet, which have a window in the hull for underwater viewing. Sundays 1–4pm, June 5 through September 26, 2016; Thursdays 6–8pm June 9 through August 18, 2016.