Taken at Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley NY. (Getty Images)

Summer is more than just beach season. For kayakers, paddle boarders, and other human-powered boaters, it’s also high time to explore the intricate maze of waterways off the coast of Long Island.

While the ocean draws most of the crowds, the back bays and connecting small waterways surrounding Nassau and Suffolk counties are overflowing with vistas of the region’s bountiful natural beauty and wildlife sightings.

“Paddling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and exercise at the same time,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

Of course, canoes, rowboats, and beachable sailboats are also welcome to wander through the shallow waterfront. So check the tide tables, make a float plan, and shove off at these coastal destinations. 

CAPTREE STATE PARK
This boating and fishing oasis of a park has more to offer than just party and charter boats. Paddlers can launch from the overlook parking field directly into the Great South Bay and cruise the coast of fabulous Fire Island. 3500 East Ocean Pkwy., Bay Shore, 631-669-0449, parks.ny.gov/parks/captree

HECKSCHER STATE PARK
Conveniently located at the eastern end of the Southern State Parkway, this waterfront park allows paddlers to launch from Field 7 into the north side of the Great South Bay and lower Connetquot River. 1 Heckscher State Pkwy., East Islip, 631-581-2100, parks.ny.gov/parks/heckscher

HITHER HILLS STATE PARK
Paddlers at this South Fork park located in the heart of the Hamptons can launch into Napeague Harbor, which opens into stunning Gardiners Bay. 164 Old Montauk Hwy., Montauk, 631-668-2554, parks.ny.gov/parks/hitherhills

JK KAYAK & SUP
Serving Nassau and Suffolk counties is this kayak and stand-up paddle board guided tour company. Their certified guides offer tours of Cold Spring Harbor, the Connetquot River, and more. 130 Harbor Rd., Cold Spring Harbor, 800-489-0398, jkkayak.com

NISSEQUOGUE RIVER STATE PARK
This North Shore river launch is less than a mile upstream from the mouth of Smithtown Bay, which opens into the Long Island Sound. But timing is key, as launching and landing are impossible during low tide due to mud flats. Reservations required. 799 Saint Johnland Rd., Kings Park, 631-269-4927, parks.ny.gov/parks/110

PAUMANOK TOURS
The company’s North Shore water tour guides supply the kayaks and bring the equipment to you. Its certified guides are there to assist everyone from beginners to experienced paddlers looking to experience new destinations. Guides offer tours of a half-dozen waterways: Flanders Bay, Port Jefferson Harbor, Carmans River, Peconic River, Mt. Sinai Harbor, and Setauket Harbor. 8 Three Village Ln., Setauket-East Setauket, 631-404-6447, Paumanoktours.com

SHELTER ISLAND KAYAK TOURS
Although temporarily closed due to the pandemic, nobody knows the secluded shores of majestic Shelter Island better. 71 Cartwright Rd., Shelter Island, 631-749-1990, Kayaksi.com

SMITH POINT MARINA
This Suffolk County-run park off William Floyd Parkway in Shirley has a self-launch ramp where Bellport Bay meets Narrow Bay, where the distance between Fire Island and mainland Long Island is the smallest. 1 William Floyd Pkwy., Shirley, 631-852-1313, suffolkcountyny.gov

THE SOUTH SHORE BLUEWAY TRAIL
This watery trail spans the four western bays south of Nassau County, from the West Bay in the Five Towns, Middle Bay south of Baldwin and Freeport, the East Bay off Bellmore and Merrick, and South Oyster Bay north of Jones Beach. It comprises hundreds of acres of tidal wetlands, creeks, channels, mudflats, and salt marshes that are home to a wide variety of fish and migratory shorebirds. The route steers users by scenic, historic, and environmentally significant points of interest, allowing the nonmotorized boating public to rediscover the coastal resources up close without harming the ecosystem. The Blueway features more than a dozen routes across 21,100 acres of waterways accessible from nine boat ramps along 18 miles of coast. Paddlers are advised to check permitting requirements for launching watercraft from town, village, county, and New York State-run facilities. Multiple locations, southshoreblueway.com

SUNKEN MEADOW STATE PARK
It’s not all about the South Shore. Check out the Long Island Sound and Nissequogue River from launch sites at the east end of Field 3. Sunken Meadow Pkwy., Kings Park, 631-269-4333, parks.ny.gov/parks/37

WHERE TO RENT

Bridge Marine, 40 Ludlam Ave., Bayville, 516-628-8688, bridgemarinesales.com

Dinghy Shop, 334 South Bayview Ave., Amityville, 631-264-0005, dinghyshop.com

Great Bay Marine, 1110 Flanders Rd., Flanders, 631-204-0034, greatbayboats.com

Rent-a-Boat, 320 South Country Rd., Brookhaven, 631-286-7816, rentaboat.com

Lighthouse Marina, 2229 Meetinghouse Creek Rd., Aquebogue, 631-722-3400, lighthousemarina.com

Long Island Boat Rentals, 403 Main St., Port Washington, 516-761-0840, liboatrentals.com

Puff ‘N’ Putt Family Fun Center, 659 Montauk Hwy., Montauk, 631-668-4473, puffnputt.com

Silly Lilly Fishing Station, 99 Adelaide Ave., East Moriches, 631-878-0247, sillylilly.com

Strong’s Marine, 2400 Camp Mineola Rd., Mattituck, 631-298-4770, strongsmarine.com

Ted’s Fishing Station, 143 Bayside Dr., Point Lookout, 516-431-4193, tedsfishingstation.com

The Waterfront Center, 1 West End Ave., Oyster Bay, 516-922-7245, thewaterfrontcenter.org

Uihlein’s Marina, Boat Rental, and Motel, 444 West Lake Dr., Montauk, 631-668-3799, uihleinsmarina.com

SAFETY TIPS
Wear a life jacket, sunscreen
Keep track of the weather, tides, and currents
Pack a waterproof VHF marine radio
Leave a float plan on your dashboard stating where you’re paddling and when you’ll return
Avoid swimming areas
Pack bottled water, snacks, and a first aid kit
Use common sense

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