Fall is a great time of year to enjoy a leisurely paddle down one of Long Island’s unknown rivers. Yes, you heard me, Long Island has rivers! The Peconic is the longest river on Long Island and it is almost entirely within the Central Long Island Pine Barrens (LI’s largest natural area and its last remaining wilderness).
This 15 mile, slow-moving, shallow river is ideal for canoeing and kayaking for everyone in the family. The Peconic is fresh water until you’re about halfway into Riverhead, at which point it becomes an estuary. If you choose to travel the full length, it will open up into the Peconic Bay.
What to expect…
The upper part of the river begins like a nature excursion. The path is narrow and winding. You will duck under branches and paddle around fallen trees that are now cozy rest areas for turtles and the like. You will see diverse wildlife and habitats if you keep your eyes open. As you continue to paddle eastward the river broadens. You will pass boat launches, duck blinds (we hope are not in use anymore!), and even people’s homes. The quaint houses on the river can be inspiring and sometimes humorous. One funny resident added a fake cow to his property to enhance your “wildlife” experience (we assume). The boat launches are another great area for a pick up area and/or lunch spot. This 9.5 mile Peconic River Blueway Trail Map shows all of the launch sites.
If you research the area, you can plan your trip to accommodate your individual needs. There are enough launches and different types of areas to plan out the desired length of time and mileage for your paddle. You can paddle to the local pizza shop on the river, an ice cream stand, and even the beaches on the Peconic Bay.
Not Your Ordinary Adventure
There are about eleven crossings to be aware of when taking the trip. Highways, streets, railroads, and dams intersect with the river, making it quite an adventure. Depending on how far you choose to journey, there are “tunnels” to paddle through and four dams that require you to take your watercraft out and carry across. You can also opt to make one of these crossings your pick up area or mid day lunch spot. We found some of the “tunnels” added an element of real daring to our trip. I’m not one to enjoy closed-in spaces even though you could see “the light at the end of the tunnel.” However, like a roller coaster, it was fun to try to spook each other and scream as we journeyed through.
Audubon Important Bird Area- NYS DEC Website
Taken directly from the NYS DEC website (I couldn’t have said it better)- “Habitat types include ponds and riverine wetlands, upland grasslands and old fields, and pine barrens on rolling terrain…. Extensive wetland systems along the Peconic River include two chains of coastal plain ponds (a rare habitat type). Extensive areas of pine/oak forest including a large block that in conjunction with the surrounding county owned lands forms the core of the Long Island Pine Barrens. This habitat also supports the only remaining population of ruffed grouse on Long Island.”
“Breeding species of particular interest include grasshopper sparrow (special concern), whip-poor-will (special concern), vesper sparrow (special concern), yellow-breasted chat (special concern), common nighthawk (special concern), Cooper’s hawk (special concern), and northern bobwhite. More than 50 other species have been recorded during breeding season surveys in the area. Migration and winter species include northern harrier (threatened), short-eared owl (endangered), Cooper’s hawk (special concern), and sharp-shinned hawk (special concern) as well as a wide diversity and abundance of songbirds and waterfowl.”
Don’t have your own kayak or canoe?
These local companies cover all of your needs to enjoy the Peconic River!
- Sales/Rentals of canoes, kayaks, stand up paddle boards
- Accessories needed including paddles, personal flotation devises (PFD) roof racks and trailers
- Special Events
- Seasonal guided tours
- Rentals- kayaks, stand up paddle boards, canoe, electric tour board, bicycles, fishing poles
Family Adventure Rating ♥♥♥
Cost- Your cost will mostly depend on whether or not you own your own equipment. Transportation costs are minimal coming from anywhere on Long Island. There are no parking fees. You can factor in pizza and ice cream or bring your own food. Renting equipment for a family of five will cost about $70-$150 depending on how long you plan to be out. (Plenty of people on Long Island and parts of greater New York have purchased their own kayaks. It’s a good idea to ask friends and family if they have any available for borrow before you spend money on a rental.)
Parking & Transportation– You will find plenty of areas to park depending on which launch site you choose. Some areas will be roadside parking and some will be dirt lots managed by the state. All of the parking is free. Riverhead has its own railroad station which is two blocks from the river (1.2 miles from ice cream and pizza on the river! .5 miles from the Peconic Paddler). The bus stops at the Railroad station also.
Location– This adventure is in a unique location! It’s technically on the main body of Long Island, but it is also at the entrance of the North and South Fork. You are right next to the Peconic Bay, a fifteen minute drive from the LI Sound, and a fifteen minute drive from the Atlantic Ocean and it’s bays. There is tons to do in Riverhead or you can also venture to one of the forks. (See Combination) Most importantly, being located within the Pine Barrens makes this a terrific location for getting close to nature.
Day Trip or Overnight- This is a terrific day trip. You don’t need to make this an overnight unless you want to take advantage of the many attractions in the area. There is a Hyatt hotel close by or you can camp out at Indian Island County Park .
Experience– This is an awesome family experience. The river moves slow and there’s lots to see. Adding a stop like pizza or ice cream just adds to the fun for a family. For nature enthusiasts, there’s plenty to explore. If you’re in for more of a challenge, paddling the length of the river will give you a workout, especially if you make it to the Bay or go on a windy day.
Combination– There is an abundance of things to do in this area. Riverhead’s unique location lets you take advantage of the North and South Fork of Long Island in addition to its own list of attractions— Splish Splash Water Park, Tanger Outlets, Riverhead Aquarium, Long Island Science Museum, Railroad Museum, Riverhead Raceway and the awesome Big Duck. Here’s a link to the tourist attractions listed on their town website.
The North Fork is home to many vineyards (aka Wine Country) and Greenport is a favorite village. Orient Beach State Park is at the tip of the North Fork and is another great destination for kayaking and nature. The North Fork is home to many farms (most now organic) and Lavender by the Bay.
The South Fork is home to the Hamptons and at the very end—Montauk Point. You will enjoy many farms, ocean beaches, and some eclectic roadside shops. Our favorites— Montauk Point Lighthouse, Camp Hero State Park, and Ditch Plains Beach. If you’ve never been in this direction, be advised that there are many “Hamptons.” Southampton is the closest to Riverhead and East Hampton is the last one just before Montauk.