You won't find ample opportunities for cruising around on a motor boat in the Catskills – but the area's vast reservoirs, lakes, and countless streams, rivers, and creeks do offer one of the Northeast's top paddling destinations. Whether you explore it via kayak, canoe, rowboat, small sailboat, or SUP board, well, that's up to you – in the Catskills, it's whatever floats your boat... paddling pun intended.
Paddling the Catskills’ Reservoirs
The Catskills are home to four of the six reservoirs that make up the New York City Watershed, including the Pepacton, Cannonsville, Neversink and Schoharie Reservoirs. These provide 90% of the city’s water supply and together compose the largest unfiltered water supply in the country.
Given this, it’s extremely important that the Catskills' reservoirs stay as clean as possible. So, before you paddle away on one of these vast bodies of water, there are a few steps you’ll need to take:
- Get a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Permit – Don’t worry, they’re free! But you will need separate permits if you plan on paddling multiple reservoirs.
- Pick Your Paddling Vessel – Paddling on reservoirs is limited to kayaks, canoes, rowboats, sculls or small sailboats. That’s it. Gas-powered boats are never permitted. Electric tolling motors are allowed on the Cannonsville Reservoir for flat-bottomed fishing boats.
- Steam Clean – To prevent the spread of invasive plant species, it’s mandatory that your boat be steam cleaned and tagged with a recreational boating tag by a local, registered vendor.
- Launch! – There are a variety of designated launch sites available at each reservoir. You are required to use these designated launch sites.
For more information on the Catskills reservoirs and their rich history (entire towns and villages were flooded to create these massive reservoirs) visit NYC Environmental Protection.
Canoe & Kayak Catskills Lakes, Ponds, & Creeks
Outside of the region’s reservoirs, the Catskills are filled with lakes, ponds, creeks, and streams that are perfect for not only paddling journeys, but camping outings, discovering a new favorite swimming hole, catching a big one while fly fishing, and beginning new adventures.
Top Paddling picks in the Catskills:
- East Branch of the Delaware River – Composed of two sections divided by the Pepacton Reservoir, the Delaware River’s East Branch has two put-ins below and above the reservoir and offers smooth, deep paddling conditions. Great for a summer weekend afternoon outing.
- Alder Lake – Located in the Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest, Alder Lake is a calm, peaceful body of water offering everything from hiking and fishing, to camping and of course, paddling. Hike Balsam Lake Mountain and see the oldest fire tower in the Catskills at the summit.
- Batavia Kill – Looking to up your paddling game? Head to the Batavia Kill and experience whitewater rafting, Catskills-style, on Class II-V+ rapids along a 5.7-mile stretch starting at Swinging Bridge and ending at the Route 23A bridge in Prattsville.
- State Parks with Lakes and Ponds – From North-South Lake near Haines Falls, to Mongaup Pond in Livingston Manor, the Catskills offer an array of lakes, ponds and other bodies of water ripe for paddling, fishing, swimming, stand up paddleboarding – or just lazing.