"Peepers." That’s what New Englanders call tourists from Long Island, New York City and points further south who flock by the tens of thousands each October to greet fall’s changing colors. While the views do seem to grow increasingly intense as one heads north, there are some places to catch this show right here at home — and it can be spectacular.
"There’s no better way to see the leaves changing on Long Island than by kayak," says Lars Svanberg, of Main Beach Surf and Sport, who rents kayaks and provides guided tours by appointment in Wainscott. "Trees and bushes close to the water seem to burst with color by mid-October and with a kayak you can really get up close and take it all in from a water-level perspective. It’s an especially great activity this year considering it’s easy to keep your distance from others while on the water."
Indeed, as October begins, the trees and bushes aligning Long Island’s back-bay coves, tidal creeks, lakes and ponds, blossom in colors so rich you can practically taste them. Like the snowflakes we’ll be seeing in a few months, every tree, branch and leaf is distinct. Some seem to burst forth with color like juice from a fresh-bitten fruit. Others turn more slowly, gracefully morphing from green to yellow, orange or crimson. It makes for a delightful mix that can have a calming effect capable of melting away the stress and pressures of daily life — even during a pandemic.
"Timing is really important to catch the changing colors at their peak," advised Adam Mills, the owner of Shelter Island Kayak Tours, on the shores of Coecles Harbor. "The leaves at water’s edge change color first, so you’ll want to check them out sooner rather than later. Wait too long and you’ll still see plenty of color in the distance but the brilliance that edges most waterways will be fading before the leaves in your backyard reach their peak."
Shannon Kelly, of the Waterfront Center in Oyster Bay, agrees with Mills on the importance of launching when the change is in full bloom. "We like to take or send people along a stretch of Shore Road that is absolutely amazing this time of year," she revealed. "Oyster Bay Harbor is ringed with a variety of tree species and each type looks vastly different. I just love getting out during the first week or two of October. The colors are beautiful, and the air feels crisp and clean."
For those who already have kayaks, heading out to experience fall’s colors in all their glory is as easy as finding a launch site and pushing off the shore. Although just about any tidal creek with easy access should provide some good views, the more spectacular circuits tend to be in Suffolk County as there is simply more room and parkland as you head east. Those who don’t own kayaks can rent one or set up a tour.
"Our customers can paddle from Stony Brook Harbor up a creek and past Hercules Pavilion to see a waterfall and a historic grist mill that was built in 1699. It’s a real colorful trip in the fall," says Nicholas Barbara, of Stony Brook Harbor Kayaks and Paddleboard Rentals.
At Shelter Island Kayak Tours, a large part of Coecles Harbor borders natural wetlands, and roughly one-third of Shelter Island is preserved as parkland. "The views of parkland and Mashomack Preserve are just spectacular," said Mills.
Those looking to get right in tight with Mother Nature will love the five-and-seven-mile long paddle trips down the Peconic River provided by Peconic Paddler in Riverhead. "We drop you off at the starting point and you paddle back down to the shop," explained owner Tom Fredette. "It’s a narrow, stream-like beginning that opens into a wider river area and virtually the entire length is lined with trees and vegetation. It’s a beautiful, peaceful trip."
TOURS AND RENTALS
As the season grows late each year, most kayak outfitters continue to offer rentals daily but tours are usually scheduled on demand. Checking websites is a fast way to see what is available but do call ahead to ensure someone will be at the shop when you arrive.
The Waterfront Center; 1 West End Ave., Oyster Bay
Tour types: Kayak Wildlife Refuge; Mondays and Fridays, 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Fees: Tour is $45 per person; rentals start at $25 per hour.
Contact: 516-922-7245; thewaterfrontcenter.org
JK Kayak SUP; 130 Harbor Rd., Cold Spring Harbor
Tour types: Variety of tours from Cold Spring Harbor to the Hamptons
Fees: Starting at $59 per person for tours. Check website for current list of tours and dates.
Contact: 800-489-0398; jkkayak.com
Stony Brook Harbor Kayak and Paddleboard Rentals; 51 Shore Rd., Stony Brook
Tour types: Self-guided tour of Stony Brook Harbor
Fees: Rentals only; $45 per person
Contact: 631-834-3130; sbharborrentals.com
Peconic Paddler; 89 Peconic Ave., Riverhead
Tour types: Self-guided Peconic River tours on weekends only. No reservations needed.
Fees: $60 for up to 5 people
Contact: 631-727-9893; thepeconicpaddler.com
Shelter Island Kayak Tours; 80 Burns Rd., Shelter Island
Tour types: Tour of Coecles Harbor
Fees: $60 per person, half-price for kids under 12; rentals start at $30 for two hours.
Contact: 631-749-1990; kayaksi.com
Main Beach Surf and Sport; Wainscott, by appointment only
Tour Types: Sightseeing, Clam Bake, Moonlight
Fees: Starting at $75 per person for tours; rentals start at $60 for half-day
Contact: 631-537-2716; mainbeach.com
Belmont Lake State Park; Southern State Parkway, Exit 38, North Babylon
Tour Types: Self-guided on Belmont Lake. Kayak rentals available at the boathouse though Columbus Day on weekends only.
Fees: $20 for two hours, plus $8 parking fee. (Personal kayaks can be launched from shore year-round)
Contact: 631-667-5055; parks.ny.gov
SELECTED KAYAK ACCESS SITES
Launch your own kayak at these access sites. Note: All are welcome at Suffolk County parks between Labor Day and Memorial Day, Green card not required during this period.
Belmont Lake State Park, North Babylon: Southern State Parkway, Exit 38
Paul T. Given County Park, Smithtown: West Main Street
Blydenburgh County Park, Smithtown: Use Veteran’s Highway. entrance
Southaven County Park, Yaphank: Victory Drive
Carmans River (tidal), Shirley: DEC Access on west side of Montauk Highway.
Peconic River, Riverhead: DEC access on Mill Road and River Road
Forge Pond, Riverhead: DEC access on South River Road, Riverhead
Wildwood Lake, Northampton: DEC access on Old Westhampton Road
Laurel Lake, Laurel: DEC access on Main Road
Northwest Harbor County Park, East Hampton: End of Northwest Landing Road