Monday, August 8, 2011

Canoeing on the Peconic River (Long Island, New York)

One advantage of living on Long Island (and for me personally, advantages of living here are rather hard to come by) is the presence of large bodies of water open to kayaking and canoeing. Besides the obvious Long Island Sound and the Great Sound Bay, there are several rivers that can be explored by personal watercraft. One such river, is the Peconic on Eastern Long island. It originates near Brookhaven National Lab and lazily flows east, towards Riverhead and the crotch of Long Island and eventually empties into the Flanders Bay, which is apart of the Peconic Bay. This river has been on my list ever since I moved to Long Island but for variety of reasons (most of them bullshit excuses) never got around to it.
Starting to paddle down the Peconic River
The first few yards were difficult to say the least.

Finally, in early July, solid 11 years after I moved here, we rented canoes (no link, the guy behind the counter was grumpy and unpleasant) and were on our way. This place also didn't allow dogs in canoes, so we had to leave Curie at home. Bummer. it was also quite expensive, compared to other parts of the country. If one does not own a kayak or a canoe, however, this is pretty much the only option. In a nutshell, we would be dropped off around 8 miles upstream with the canoes and paddle back to the rental place. And so it was, Richard, Laura, Andi and I and another unrelated three people found ourselves being dropped off at a DEC canoe launch off of Connecticut Avenue. One interesting thing about the river at this point was that there really wasn't much of it. More like a stream, colored slightly brown from decaying organic matter (tannins and other organic compounds which are perfectly natural) and on top of it (literally) densely overgrown with scrubs, trees and bushes. We shoved the massive Grumman aluminum (Aluminium, for those who are British) canoe into the few inches of water, hopped in and started paddling. Well, pushing away from things mostly. Initially I started at the stern but was quickly told to switch positions. Apparently my steering wasn't up to Andi's expectations. It was the same with Richard and Laura. To be honest, the steering was quite difficult, especially in the beginning not as much due to my inexperience as because of the low flow, dense vegetation and frequent sand bars and shoals. Even then, the switch was a good idea. On several occasions the river was so shallow that we ran aground no matter how smart we thought we were about navigating. It wasn't all that bad, the weather was nice, the water quite warm and the river bed sandy.

Peconic River Canoe
Someone had to get out and pull the canoe.
Peconic River Canoeing
Richard, in anticipation of geocaching showed up wearing hiking shoes. Didn't keep them on for too long. 
Peconic River Canoe
The river eventually opened up.
Peconic River
About waist deep here.
Peconic River Canoeing
Richard. Always a winner.
 Eventually the landscape opened up, the river widened and deepened and we could actually paddle more, and push away from things much less. There was abundant wildlife, mostly birds but also occasional turtles. The water was only about waist deep but due to its color we couldn't really the bottom. After about a mile we crossed the LIRR track with some rocks under the bridge that made it impassable for the canoe and eventually floated into a series of former cranberry bogs. This was very nice paddling with abundant water lilies in bloom. In between the two bogs, there was the first mandatory portage of the trip. It is to the right of the dam thingy (what is this thing called, anyway), that from afar looks like it is passable. It is not, however, there is about a foot high difference (and a small water trickle) between the two water levels. The wooden ramp is easy to get onto, albeit it can get a bit slippery when wet.

Old cranberry bog Peconic river
Old cranberry bog.
Peconic river portage
Portage between the two ponds.
The reason for the portage. Not dangerous, just impassable in an aluminum canoes.
After the bogs, we approached Edwards Avenue with another portage. This was the only tricky part of the trip (although not really by absolute standards). You portage the canoe to bypass the outflow from the bog and then put it back in before the road, pretty much right into a concrete culvert. It was a bit tricking getting in the canoe but once we were in, we had no problems. There were a couple of people fishing from the bridge on the other side, so we made sure to announce our presence by a couple of loud yells to avoid getting snagged by the fish hooks. After another mile or so we finally got to the LIE crossing. There are two square-ish concrete culverts, both of them passable, that you need to go through to get to the other side. Depending on the water level, this may or may not get interesting. There is plenty of spiderwebs inside, it's dark and rather tight - not a good combination for some with arachno-, claustro- or nyctophobia (or some combination of the three). Otherwise it is just great fun. I think the ceiling gets progressively lower as you approach the end but it may be just an illusion.

Portage under the Edwards Avenue
Portage into the culvert under the Edwards Avenue.
Peconic River under the LIE.
Peconic culvert Long Island Expressway
Light at the end of the tunnel.
black snake peconic
Look what we found while looking for a geocache.
After the LIE, we paddled into the biggest body of water on this trip - the Peconic Lake. We moseyed on through, tried to find a couple of geocaches (unsuccessfully), enjoying the wildlife (mostly swans and turtles of respectable sizes). The weather was getting a bit gloomier at this point so we sped up a bit. The way out of the lake was another portage, this time over Dam Road. From this point on, the number of people on the river increased considerably, from kayaks to fishing boats. We picked up a geocache across the river from a trailor park and moved towards the last two portages of the day, one across some unnamed road into a DEC boat launch, and shortly thereafter next to a USGS metering station. This was the final stretch of the trip, there was some meandering and low hanging branches but nothing to write home about. We paddled by the Roadhouse Brick Oven Pizza, tempted to get out and get a slice but resisted. It stared to sprinkle a bit as we got to the rental place, so we packed up our stuff quickly and rushed back to the pizza place to a few well-deserved slices.

Turtles peconic
Turtles sitting on a log, floating in the Peconic Lake.
geocache peconic river
Geocaching from the canoe.
Portaging at the USGS metering station.
The last stretch of the trip, into Riverhead.

And here is a short of video from the trip:


  1. Krasa, uprimne zavidim taketo vylety. Hned by som sa pridal !

  2. I wonder what the same jouney would be like after experiencing the six inch plus rainstorm we had Sunday? I do enjoy your travel blogs, very much so as they give me ideas how to spend my recreational time. My only critique would be not to play music during your video. I would prefer the simple sounds of nature and narrative/commentary of the experience. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Ken, thanks for your comment. I would prefer commentary or sounds of nature as well, but it seems that is well below the camera's capabilities. The waterproof case that protects it is also quite sound proof and the sound quality is just horrendous. I am trying to decide whether or not to upgrade to a real HD camera with external microphone. I will see how much time I have once I start my new job in a few weeks.