Paddling Guide: Trips from New York to Virginia

Interested in kayaking the Atlantic Coast on points south of NYC? I recently reviewed a guide book of kayaking routes and the review which follows was published in the July issue of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker magazine.

Michaela Gaaserud’s ‘Best Sea Kayaking in the Mid-Atlantic : 40 Coastal Paddling Adventures From New York To Virginia’, a forerunnerand companion toMichael Dougherty’s‘Best Sea Kayaking in New England’ (recently reviewed in Atlantic Coastal Kayaker magazine),isa book certain to whet the appetite of sea kayakers who are unfamiliar with the coast of the mid-Atlantic states and who, like me, have vaguely considered large sections of that coastline to be too urbanized and heavily trafficked for enjoyable sea kayaking. 


Nothing could be further from the truth. As the author explains in her introduction to the book:‘With major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC and Richmond located in this region, it might seem as though it would be difficult to find solitude and nature while paddling this stretch of coastline.I have found the opposite to be true….many local and state kayaking organizations (such as the Virginia Seaside Water Trail)throughout the region have developed kayaking trails and have been instrumental in lobbying for the protection of natural areas and wildlife habitat.’ Thissimple factbecomes evident as you read her descriptionsof these 40 coastal paddling adventures between New York and Virginia.

The region has ‘just’ 428 miles of coastline, buthasatidal shoreline amountingto over 10,500 miles! Though the mid-Atlantic region is characterized by many major coastal features, including bays, harbors, tidal rivers and islands, it’s dominated by asinglefeature – the mighty Chespeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, whichextendsall the way from Havre de Grace, Maryland to Virginia Beach, Virginia – a distance of 200 miles.

For the author, the difficulty becamehow to select the 40 ‘best’ sea kayaking trips from thisextensivetidal shoreline, and sheadmitsthatthis wasa ‘tricky business’and thatany selection would be a compromise. But through both personal experience and extensive research she hasmanaged to selectplaces that would appeal to a broad range of paddlers – some city routes, some inisolated wilderness areasand many routes that fall somewhere in between the two. Some of the features she used in her choiceinclude scenery, accessibility, wildlife and unique history. Some are open water paddles, some are along protected shorelines, and witha good mix of point-to-point and round-trip routes.

Locations of the 40 tripsare indicated on a single regionallocatormap. There follows a very nifty at-a-glance Trip Planner, a table containing descriptors such as launch site, distances for choices of route, protected water, etcfor all40 trips. So in just five pages you can very easily make a quick plan for some optionsbased on geographybefore even getting to the trip descriptions. No wading through page after page of text needed - this is great. There is also a very nice little section on trip planning, safety andequipment,big topicswhich arecovered in detail in any number of books on sea kayaking. Here, just 13pages gives you a primer on stuff you probablyalready know but mayneed reminding of.

Each trip - organized by state - comes with a map, launch site info. and a description of the route which is standard for this kind of guide book. What’s different is the richdensity of information in each trip description, and this is where you can appreciate that the author is not only a sea kayaking enthusiast (thatgoes without saying) but is also a seasoned writer of adventure travel books. In fact, much of the text reads more like atraveloguethan a simple route description and in reviewing this book I found myselffrequentlystopping to look up information on various side topics. For example, on the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge trip in New York State…’The bay is known for its fantastic bird watching, and more than 330 species of birds have been recorded there. Thousands of feathered travelers stop in Jamaica Bay every year during their migrations. The area is part of an avian superhighway called the Atlantic Flyway that stretches from the northern Atlantic coast to South America. Millions of birds migrate in the Atlantic Freeway each year, and more than 500 species have been recorded along it.’ And all this in the heart of New York City!

In the same vein, scattered throughout the book is a series of short one-page essays, succinct gems on a range of topics relevant to the trips such as ‘Horseshoe crabs: nature’s success story’ and ‘Windmills of Long Island’. I particularly like the story of the wild ponies of Maryland’sAssateague Island, ponies whose ancestors swam to shore from a shipwreckedSpanish galleon in the 1700sand who today run wild in two herds, one in Maryland, one in Virginia,...’eating wild grass that grows on the dunes and the marsh, finding fresh water in the island’s ponds’.

n summary, this is a book that belongs on the bookshelf of anyone considering embarking on day trips onthe coast south of New York City and beyond. It should specially appeal to kayakers who never knew there are still wild places to be found near urban centers and that nature on the shoreline is flourishing there and is not too hard to find.